The Essential Movie Library #56: Contempt (1963) - The Culture Files Blog - Los Angeles magazine
 
 

The Essential Movie Library #56: Contempt (1963)

It’s not clear for whom or what is the contempt of the movie’s title; that it might be directed at the movie itself, or at filmmaker Godard himself, isn’t out of the question.

The Movies as Life, Part Three: “The cinema substitutes for our gaze a world more in harmony with our desires,” Jean-Luc Godard quotes film theorist André Bazin at the beginning of Contempt, before turning the camera’s gaze on us. It’s not clear for whom or what is the contempt of the movie’s title; that it might be directed at the movie itself, or at filmmaker Godard himself, isn’t out of the question. With a blind Fritz Lang (Essential Movie Library #54) as a director who appears to be named “Fritz Lang,” Jack Palance as a repellent producer, and Michel Piccoli as a screenwriter (are any adjectives required when you’re only a screenwriter?), Contempt deliberately tarts up three of the movies’ biggest attractions in their 1950s/early-‘60s claim on people’s attention: color, irresistible in the shots of the Mediterranean and its coast; cinemascrope, the widest the screen had ever been; and Brigitte Bardot as the screenwriter’s wife, as naked as she had been seen except in the imaginations of a few hundred million men. 

Thus Contempt opens with the nude Bardot stretched from one end of the epic screen to the other and flickering in blues and reds as fast as the lens could change them, all of it posing the question (with contempt, of course) of whether this is really what we want from the movies. Well, Jean-Luc, since you ask: Yes, pretty much. As Piccoli attempts to adapt Homer for Lang—which would seem preposterous except for all the times the movies have tried—his marriage to Bardot unravels while he implicitly pimps her out, or tries to, in order to get his script shot. The most cinemaphiliac of filmmakers, Godard at this point was confused by the art to which he so dedicated his head and heart, the chaos of the psyche congealing with the force of a confession into one of the director’s major statements.

Read them all:
The Essential Movie Library #55: Sunset Boulevard
The Essential Movie Library #54: Metropolis
The Essential Movie Library #53: In A Lonely Place
The Essential Movie Library #52: Talk to Her

The Essential Movie LIbrary #51: To Be or Not To Be
The Essential Movie Library #50: The Battle of Algiers
The Essential Movie Library #49: Notorious
The Essential Movie Library #48: Wings of Desire
The Essential Movie Library #47: L'Avventura
The Essential Movie Library #46: Malcolm X
The Essential Movie Library #45: In the Mood for Love
The Essential Movie Library #44: Touch of Evil
The Essential Movie Library #43: Once Upon A Time in the West
The Essential Movie Library #42: Belle de Jour
The Essential Movie Library #41: Apocalypse Now
The Essential Movie Library #40: Out of the Past
The Essential Movie Library #39: Branded to Kill
The Essential Movie Library #38: The General
The Essential Movie Library #37: Lord of the Rings
The Essential Movie Library #36: Aguirre, the Wrath of God
The Essential Movie Library #35: Raging Bull
The Essential Movie Library #34: The Rules of the Game
The Essential Movie Library #33: Chinatown 
The Essential Movie Library #32: Stalker
The Essential Movie Library #31: Weekend
The Essential Movie Library #30: Some Like It Hot 
The Essential Movie Library #29: Red River
The Essential Movie Library #28: The Passenger
The Essential Movie Library #27: Singin' in the Rain
The Essential Movie Library #26: Heat
The Essential Movie Library #25: L'Atalante
The Essential Movie Library #24: Sunrise
The Essential Movie Library #23: His Girl Friday
The Essential Movie Library #22: Black Narcissus
The Essential Movie Library #21: Blade Runner
The Essential Movie Library #20: Persona
The Essential Movie Library #19: The Shop Around the Corner
The Essential Movie Library #18: Lost Highway
The Essential Movie Library #17: Tokyo Story
The Essential Movie Library #16: 8 1/2

The Essential Movie Library #15: City Lights
The Essential Movie Library #14: Seven Samurai
The Essential Movie Library #13: Lawrence of Arabia
The Essential Movie Library #12: Citizen Kane
The Essential Movie Library #11: Jules and Jim
The Essential Movie Library #10: My Darling Clementine 
The Essential Movie Library #9: Double Indemnity 
The Essential Movie Library #8: That Obscure Object of Desire 
The Essential Movie Library #7: 2001: A Space Odyssey 
The Essential Movie Library #6: Casablanca
The Essential Movie Library #5: The Lady Eve
The Essential Movie Library #4: The Third Man 
The Essential Movie Library #3: The Passion of Joan of Arc 
The Essential Movie Library #2: Vertigo 
The Essential Movie Library #1: The Godfather Trilogy

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