Monday, April 12, 2004

Le Mepris

I know Godard half as much as I should. I'm a fan of Alphaville and Breathless, and have seen a couple of others over the years, but it was only this past weekend that I finally saw Contempt. It is perhaps his most commercial film, in blazing technicolor and cinemascope, with money from Hollywood and Italy, featuring Brigitte Bardot and Jack Palance.

Charles Taylor writing in Salon back in 1997 describes the plot...
"Contempt" is built on a single moment of seeming inconsequence. Paul Javel (Piccoli), a promising young French writer, is courted by Jeremiah Prokosch (Jack Palance), a brash, vulgar American producer, to rewrite the screenplay for Lang's film. Paul and his young wife, Camille (Bardot), visit the studio one day, and Prokosch invites them to his home for a drink. He suggests that Camille ride with him in his sports car and Paul follow in a taxi. Despite Camille's objections, Paul agrees. He arrives at Prokosch's to find his wife out of love with him, convinced Paul left her alone with Prokosch so the producer could make a pass at her. While coping with the unraveling of his marriage, Paul has to decide whether to work on the rewrite, which is expressly against the wishes of Lang. From that scenario, "Contempt" becomes another of Godard's explorations of how much of ourselves we can sell and still remain true, a questioning into how love or work is possible in a world constantly urging us to name our price.
But it is not just Bardot's contempt for Picolli that the film's title is about. Godard's contempt for Hollywood film making, his contempt for the crass producer played by Palance, even his contempt for the sex kitten icon Bardot is apparent.

Fritz Lang, who represents an older, more pure style of film making is the only one that seems to escape Godard's venom. Lang's filming of Homer's Odyssey becomes a metaphor for Picolli, a fedora wearing Ulysses, with Bardot standing in for Penelope, Palance the suitor, and Lang a sort of Zeus watching the whole thing from above.

Read Taylor's essay here.

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