Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Some Quick Second Thoughts on 'Contempt'

As Band of Outsiders suddenly went on a wait list the morning my next Netflix shipment was set to leave, I went to my local Hastings to rent it in order to get to the other Godard films that comprised the shipment without skipping (again). While I was there, I decided to idly rent Contempt for a re-watch out of curiosity to see if anything changed after doubling back to catch the features I missed.

I don't have much to add to my initial observations of the film, so this will be brief. But this time I allowed the film to simply happen rather than take stringent notes, and I found myself more engaged overall. Also, having seen Les Carabiniers, his take on more traditional filmmaking, and taking into stock its reception, I can now better appreciate Godard's focus on the film-within-the-film aspect of Contempt, though I did enjoy it the first time around.

That's another reason I feel like writing this: looking over my original post on the film, it strikes me as more negative than I intended. I admired almost everything in Contempt, particularly its bits focusing on the relationship, but I took issue with the way the two distinct plots were used without ever intertwining properly. To some extent I still agree with that, but now I see Contempt as even more a work of self-criticism. The relationship plot clearly serves to reveal the director's sense of mistakes in his relationship with Karina, while the Odyssey film (in which Godard has Fritz Lang serve as his stand-in, which perhaps reveals a contradictory hubris for a self-critical work) speaks to his concerns of his future as an artist. These themes were readily apparent the first time, but they resonate more when I know the full context. I'm finding that I simply must run through Godard's filmography in order, because he does not seem to separate his personal life from his artistic one (which might explain the messy collision of the two here). It's an idea I'm only toying with now, but I shall be interested to see how that develops as I continue.

Anyway, while I still have some quibbles with the film, it's undoubtedly the most accomplished Godard film I've yet seen, as well as the most revealing about the auteur, but I still prefer A Woman is a Woman for the consistency of its ability to whisk me away whilst still being intelligent. And now I begin to fear that I'm going to end up running through his films (the ones I can find, at least), and then have to turn around and start again when I reach the end to get a definitive reading. Oh well, it's not like I have a social life.


  1. Interesting thoughts. It's true that Godard sees personal life and cinema as a continuum, with the two bleeding into each other constantly — not in the simplistic way that Richard Brody has interpreted nearly all of the 60s films as simple tracts about Karina, but in more subtle ways. Godard has always lived a life in which the cinema is central to his outlook, his way of understanding the world. I'm finding this interesting because I've actually never run through Godard's films in order, instead checking them out and rewatching them in totally random order, skipping around in time. But it's always been obvious that each new Godard film resonates back to his previous work, as I'm sure you'll see more and more as you get further into his oeuvre.

  2. I remember reading a review of Brody's book when it first came out and, despite having seen only Breathless at the time, it sounded reductive and simplistic. I can certainly see the influence of whatever ideas, personal or political, weighed on him at the time, but to assign it all to "bitches, man," to steal from Say Anything..., strikes me as simplistic and maybe -- I don't want to say without actually reading it -- sexist.

    I wonder to what extent I can keep moving in chronological order. I've been a bit proactive in checking out what I can find post Week-End, and I'm afraid this retrospective might start jutting about madly as I run into films that aren't available here. A number of his '70s essays are on Youtube (Ici et Ailleurs, British Sounds, Vladimir et Rosa, the '80s essay Soft and Hard), I downloaded versions of Nouvelle Vague and Numéro Deux and I managed to find King Lear and the first five "movements" of his Frace/Tour/Detour/Deux/Enfants TV program. But there are a lot of gaps between these and Netflix's sparse selection of post-'67 films, so I might have to just soldier on and perhaps come back if and when other works become available.

  3. Nice blog... just discoveerd it. And I agree with Ed about this. "Contempt" is probably my favorite Godard film becasue it feels so revolutionary without doing much. From the opening, my mouth just hangs open as Godard visualizes a perfect deconstruction of pretty much everything he loves..... the movies themselves and his all encompassing relationships. I could watch this thing over and over.