Friday, March 12, 2010

1963: Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard)

1963: Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard)
I've long considered Paul Schrader the most articulate chronicler of The New Hollywood, that unusually great period for American cinema from approximately 1967-1980.  In much the same way, I've always felt that Jean Douchet, more than anyone else, excelled when it came to looking at The French New Wave.  In his fantastic book, appropriately entitled French New Wave, Douchet makes the following statement:

"This young generation felt that beauty was refracted through goodness and truth, lucidity and struggle, in short, by a spirit of resistance, and that ugliness often prolonged a collaborationist mentality..."

This statement rings especially true for me because when I think about some of my favorite French New Wave films, aside from their infectious playfulness, the thing I love most is their startling beauty.  Take Contempt, for instance, which I consider in the following way:

1.  One of the five most beautiful scores in the history of film.
2.  One of the five most beautiful women, also in the history of film.
3.  One of the five most beautiful color films ever made.
4.  Some of the most beautiful footage of water ever put on film.
5.  And one of the most beautifully perfect endings of any film I've ever seen. 

I think people sometimes forget this aspect of The French New Wave. Sure, there was an emphasis on a certain looseness and a more naturalistic approach.  But that was always at the service of esthetic beauty and lyricism.  And, when it comes to beauty, of all the French New Wave films, I put Contempt right up there at the very top. 

Other contenders for 1963: I have some things I still need to see from this year.  These include:  Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 (a bit embarrassed about this one), Luis Garcia Berlanga's El Verdugo, Ingmar Bergman's The Silence, Joseph Losey's The Servant, Robert Wise's The Haunting, Jerry Lewis' The Nutty Professor, Samuel Fuller's Shock Corridor, Alain Resnais' Muriel, Jacques Rozier's Adieu Philippine, and Elia Kazan's America, America.  I haven't seen Peter Brook's Lord of the Flies since we watched it in high school English class.  So I need to revisit it at some point to know where it'd place on this list.  I really like Orson Welles' The Trial and Martin Ritt's Hud.  I love John Sturges' The Great Escape and Stanley Donen's Charade. And my closest runner-up is Luchino Visconti's The Leopard.  

1/5/11 I watched William Asher's Johnny Cool.  It's a worthwhile noir, very obscure, that I was happy to catch.  Henry Silva is fantastic as the titular character.  And the opportunity to see a pre-Bewitched Elizabeth Montgomery is a real treat.  Has a nice naturalism to it and some memorable, raw moments, particularly the bomb in the swimming pool.  

5/12/11 I watched Forough Farrokzad's The House is Black.  This short film has a huge reputation, and I was very glad to see it.  There's a certain poetry in it and an unflinching determination to show leprosy in a non-judging manner.  I admired it, although I can't say I was particularly engrossed in it.  Perhaps I am too uncomfortable with the subject matter.  Whatever the reason, the experience was more one of admiration than feeling.  

5/15/11 I watched Robert Wise's The Haunting.  Did not really do much for me.  I didn't find it terribly atmospheric nor frightening.  But Wise does demonstrate some inventiveness in terms of moving the camera.  

5/17/11 I watched Ingmar Bergman's The Silence.  The first half felt incredibly alive, sexually charged and quite unlike anything else I've seen from Bergman.  But the second half settled into heavy symbolism, Bergman's usual fascination with human pain and suffering, and lost much of its vitality and interest for me.  

6/14/11 I watched Federico Fellini's 8 1/2.  Several of the sequences are absolutely masterful, including the beginning and the ending.  And Fellini certainly shows himself to be one of the most uninhibited filmmakers to ever work in the medium.  But his taste for absurdism keeps me at a distance, and as personal as the film may be, I still find it a bit cold.  

7/15/12 I watched Elia Kazan's America, America.  Although thorough, clearly personal, and more often than not visually stimulating, I also found it uneven and overlong.  I prefer Kazan in more intimate registers.  

5/19/14 I watched Jean-Luc Godard's Les carabiniers.   One of those early Godard films I could not find when I first started getting into JLG and then that I kind of avoided thinking it nearly unwatchable.  Well it is a tough watch.  But it's interesting in its deadpan tone and its unexpected lyricism that emerges at moments.  

11/29/15 I watched Terrence Young's From Russia with Love.  Often considered one of the very best of the Bond films, it is pretty taut and well-conceived.  Personally I found the girl lacking much interest but was fascinated to see Robert Shaw in such an early and strong performance.  

5/24/18 I watched Ermanno Olmi's I Fidanzati.  It is this interesting mix of Antonioni visuals and tone of alienation mixed with Rossellini's feel for the people and the working class.  There are some extraordinary scenes, particularly when Olmi drops out all sound such as when the two main characters are swimming together and along the beach.  But in its entirety it never fully moved me.  

4/7/20 I watched Jean Eustache's Du cote de Robinson.  Interesting more than anything else as an early look at Eustache's style, his interest in his generation and the streets of Paris at the fore.

12/31/20 I watched Adolfas Mekas' Hallelujah The Hills.  As Nouvelle Vague as any American film from the early Sixties I have seen.  It is impressive in its looseness and spirit of deconstruction.  But it is difficult to connect very much to anyone onscreen.

7/15/22 I watched Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures.  I did not see a great print.  But my impressions were that it got a little repetitive after a while.  From a stylistic point of view, it seems to have been a massive influence on Lynch, both in the way he utilizes early rock 'n roll juxtaposed with awkward subject matter (Orbison in Blue Velvet for instance) and the masterful way he plays with frame rate in many of his later works, particularly in a staccato and distortive manner.

10/27/23 I watched Sam Peckinpah's The Dick Powell Theatre "The Losers".  Peckinpah seems under the influence of Zazie and even though there are a couple of great moments it all feels thin and dated compared to what he would go on to achieve.


  1. My #1 Film of 1963:

    The House is Black (Farrokhzad; Iran)


    Le Mephris (Godard; France)
    8 1/2 (Fellini; Italy)
    The Silence (Bergman; Sweden)
    When the Cat Comes (Jasny; Czechoslovakia)
    El Verdugo (Berlaga; Spain)
    Vidas Secas (dos Santos; Brazil)
    The Servant (Losey; UK)
    The Leopard (Visconti; Italy)
    Lord of the Flies (Brook; UK)
    High and Low (Kurosawa; Japan)
    The Insect Woman (Imamura; Japan)
    I Fidanzati (Olmi; Italy)
    The Haunting (Wise)
    Billy Liar (Schlesinger; UK)
    The Big City (S. Ray; India)
    This Sporting Life (Anderson; UK)
    The Whip and the Body (Bava; Italy)
    An Actor's Revenge (Ichikawa; Japan)

    My #1 choice was only seen within the last eight months, and it's 22 minutes in length. But it's one of the most devastating works of cinema I've ever seen, and needs to be seen by the most discering cineastes. But had this film not moved under my radar, your own top choice here, the Godard Masterpiece, would be my top film as well. It's one of cinema's most spectacular achievements, as is Fellini's 8 1/2 and several others!

    Jeffrey, I love these passionate declarative points here:

    1. One of the five most beautiful scores in the history of film.
    2. One of the five most beautiful women, also in the history of film.
    3. One of the five most beautiful color films ever made.
    4. Some of the most beautiful footage of water ever put on film.
    5. And one of the most beautifully perfect endings of any film I've ever seen.

  2. Sam, thanks for the great comments! So you know, I put THE HOUSE IS BLACK in my 1962 post. I've heard wonderful things about it and am excited to see it.

    So happy to hear that you and I share fandom for this Godard. Of the others you mention, the only other one I've seen is HIGH AND LOW. I like it but just a little less than the other ones I highlight in my post.

    Thanks, Sam. Invaluable as always to have your perspective!

  3. Jeffrey, an amazing work and excellent choice. I am going with a film that is more of a personal choice, though films like Contempt and 8 1/2 are unquestionably better, and that is “Hud” which I thought was revolutionary for its time in American film for presenting such a bastard as a hero or more correctly an anti-hero. Newman’s performance here is one of my favorites. Films like The Leopard, The Trial, and High and Low have eluded me, as has Kazan’s America, America, a film I most want to see.

    Runner ups

    The Servant
    8 ½
    The Birds
    The Haunting
    The Lord of the Flies

  4. Thanks so much, John! I love HUD, too. And must admit, I find Patricia Neal to be one of the most alluring women ever to grace the screen. I also agree with Newman's performance here.

    Of the others you mention, the only other one I've seen is THE BIRDS. I've struggled with it in the past but will definitely need to revisit it at some point.

    Thanks, John. Always great to have you here!

  5. Great choice, of course. Godard goes Hollywood and comes away with a masterpiece, both totally atypical and totally in line with his aesthetic and thematic concerns of that period in his career. Even his concessions to commercialism — like the nude shots of Bardot — wind up enriching and complicating the film. It's telling that he made the scene where Bardot is lying naked in bed into a consideration of how "love" has been abstracted from an interpersonal emotion into a summation of disconnected body parts, an idea he'd continue to pursue in films like A Married Woman and 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her. Her husband can't just say he loves her; he loves each of her parts individually.

    Anyway, my own personal #1 from this year would have to be The Silence, Bergman's finest, strangest, most sensual film. I also love:

    Mothlight (one of Brakhage's true classics)
    Towers Open Fire (a great Balch/Burroughs cut-up film)
    8 1/2 (of course!)
    The Cardinal (underrated Preminger epic)
    The House Is Black (thanks to Sam for introducing me to this harrowing, poetic documentary)

    I should really revisit The Birds since I saw it quite early in my exploration of Hitchcock and didn't really know what to make of it at the time. I think I'd enjoy it much more now, in the context of his other work.

  6. You like it more than THE LEOPARD and HUD (my numbers 1 and 2 this year)? Never seen it, but I'm glad I have this one on the DVR.

  7. Ed, I completely agree with all that you say above about CONTEMPT. I also really love its structure, which like BREATHLESS, has one of these extraordinarily long interior scenes of two people talking.

    I haven't seen MOTHLIGHT, TOWERS OPEN FIRE, nor THE CARDINAL. I'll add all of them to the list though.

    Thanks, Ed. Always fun having your unique perspective here!

  8. Tony, I actually do. But I don't think it's as warm or accessible as the other two films. But I also just don't admire it. The music, locations, and of course Bardot are so sensuous that they actually end up making me really care.

    Thanks, Tony. Always a treat to have you here!

  9. Excellent choice indeed. Though I am still working my way through Godard's stuff at the moment, Contempt for me his his most beautiful masterpiece, and I have a hard time not agreeing with you on any of your five declarative points. Having just watched it again recently, Delerue's sweeping and haunting score particularly stands out to me as one of the greatest in all of cinema.

    There are of course many fantastic films on your runner-up list, of which I probably hold the most affection for Welles' The Trial. The Silence is the only film from that Bergman trilogy I've not yet seen, something I obviously need to rectify.

  10. Drew, thanks so much for the wonderful comments! I couldn't agree more about the achievement of Delerue's score. As most know, Scorsese would re-use it in CASINO. The music has always reminded me a little of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings. I have to imagine Barber's piece was an influence on Delerue.

    Glad to hear you like this one as much as I do. And great to hear from you. Thanks, Drew!

  11. Contempt has always left me cold... I've just never been able to find much pleasure in it. I'm perfectly aware that this likely says more about me than the film, as many people I respect rate it among the best ever made, but it's never been a favorite.

    I have to go with another little-seen film, one that I knew nothing about before seeing it in Allan's 60s countdown at Wonders in the Dark - Luis Garcia Berlanga's EL VERDUGO. It's a hilarious dark comedy. The only way I was able to watch it was actually through YouTube, which sadly shows how hard it is to come by. But even in that horrible quality it was great to see.

    Visconti's THE LEOPARD comes very close.

  12. Dave, I completely understand your feelings for CONTEMPT. It seems we all have certain movies that just don't connect for whatever reason.

    EL VERDUGO sounds fantastic. I might just have to follow suit and grab it off YouTube.

    Thanks, Dave. Always fantastic to hear from you!

  13. Jeffrey, in a year when a lot of the big guns were firing full blast you make a very strong case for Contempt. Right now I lean towards 81/2 if only because I've seen it most recently of the major films, but to me it's almost a photo finish, with the Fellini, the Godard, the Kurosawa and the Visconti all hitting the wire together, followed pretty closely by Insect Woman, Louis Malle's The Fire Within and a sentimental favorite of mine, Jason and the Argonauts. But whatever I think, this is your strongest essay yet and I congratulate you.

  14. Samuel, thanks so much for the great words of encouragement. That's really nice of you to say.

    I've never seen INSECT WOMAN, THE FIRE WITHIN, or JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS but will add them all to the list.

    Thanks so much, Samuel. You made my day with those comments.