I need help. I want to do my thesis on godard's films and the following are some of my thoughts on 'Contempt'. Please read them and critique my ideas or simply comment on them, whatever. Would appreciate any help...
MUSINGS ON CONTEMPT A FILM BY JEAN-LUC GODARD
- Shayan Banerjee
August 6, 2006
The fight is between art and commerce. The battleground is cinema.
I begin with an acknowledgement of the most beautiful theme music that a film could hope to have. Godard uses the piece abundantly throughout the film, often with great and varying effect until this gloriously haunting piece by Georges Delerue becomes synonymous with the film.
Indeed the film begins with this music as we see a camera tracking towards us, the credits are read out, not shown in writing. All this to make the audience aware that this is a film they are watching. Why? Because this is going to be an essay on film-making the audience must therefore be made conscious of this fact.
The cinema substitutes for our gaze a world more in harmony with our desires. Contempt is a story of this world. With this, the camera turns to us, and what follows is an essay on our filmic gaze. This explains a lot of the film the beautiful panoramic shots, the glorifying gaze on Brigitte Bardots naked body, the deliberate movements of the actors
Jeremiah Prokosch, the American producer of the film-within-the-film, emerges from inside a once-glorious but now abandoned film studio (as if Godard were incriminating the American movie industry for the demise of European in this instance Italian cinema) and the camera moves away to position the eye as audience in a theatrical performance of the archetypal pompous American producer.
A note on the casting of Lang Fritz Lang was one of the great exponents of thoughtful cinema in the early days when the medium was looking for direction, however his lack of popular acceptance and historical events leading to the decline of German cinema meant that he had to move to America just so he could make some money directing mass-targeted Hollywood films. This contemporary reality becomes the reality of the film-within-the-film a comment on the decline of artistic cinema and the helplessness of the artist which forces him to compromise his artistic vision.
A note on the character of Paul Paul himself is another artist mirroring Langs dilemma. Once a crime novelist, now he is forced to write movie scripts in order to make more money. (Is Godard saying that even the crime novel is a more honorable art-form than cinema?) He needs the $10,000 that Prokosch offers to pay for his flat.
Because the Odyssey needs a German director everybody knows a German () discovered Troy, this is the logic the American producer provides for his selection of the German director Fritz Lang. Another ironic and this time witty comment from Godard on the skewed logic that many American production houses employ their obsession with organization and routine of bare functional knowledge sans the artistic vision jars the European film-makers sensibility; this idea is expressed on various occasions throughout the course of the film.
Moremore says Prokosch by way of instruction on what the screenwriter should write for his movie on the Odyssey suggesting the aesthetic of BIG that the Americans want from their movies. The trite aphorisms from Prokosch, read out from a tiny little red book are ironic for they seem contrary to Prokoschs own boisterous and cocksure character.
Finally you get the feel of Greek culture Lang says this referring and following on from his previous comment about the fight of the individual against his circumstance being the theme of the Odyssey. A mocking and truly funny comment at the expense of the American Prokosch as he expresses his frustration over the contents of the film that Lang has made.
Lang asks how do you say strange in Italian? rather earnestly signifying perhaps that even as an old man he still has the desire to learn.
Scene: Paul arrives at Prokoschs house late, followed by Francesca on a bicycle. Pauls wife stops in her tracks as she sees her pass by, she turns slowly the scene conveys the suspicion that Pauls wife has that something might be going on between her husband and the translator. But then something strange happens we see shots of Bardot putting on make-up, trying on a hat, and consequently making the audience aware that she is playing a role in a movie.
Significance: Godard, in this sequence, is making a very strong statement about film philosophy. He is emphasizing a rejection of the vicarious eye with which we receive motion pictures. The viewer is refused any feelings of emotional response to the life of the character on screen.
The conclusion one draws from this little audiovisual essay is this:
This is not the written form where the narrative is played out in the readers imagination, nor is it a painting whose representative form is determined in the viewers mind. This is motion pictures and there are real people. They are pretending to be someone they are not. Should we, as viewers of the spectacle, be stirred to emotion by this fakeness? This is a question that Godard asks repeatedly. It is one of immense significance to the legitimacy of cinema as an art-form. And it is a question that Godard poses through this simple yet ostensibly baffling sequence. The genius of the man!
And running hand-in-hand with all of Godards little essays and commentaries is the artifice of a story of marital discord, itself deserving critical attention.
When the scene shifts to the couples flat, the representation of this reality, that of the man and woman as couple, is a stark departure from the idealized, glossed over portrayal of man-woman scenes in popular cinema, especially Hollywood. The two characters carry out mundane activities, just like couples do in real life, and this presents a true-to-life picture that is also tinged with a certain irony the flat looks more like a set, the setting in which the couple interacts seems brazenly artificial, but the subtle turns of conversation have a very real effect in suggesting the growing distance between this man and woman.
The nature of love is another question raised in this film. Why does she stop loving him? Where does love come from? How does it disappear? Is there an event, a turning point when love just goes away? Godard seems to think the explanation is not that simple. Somehow, in the course of the day Camille has arrived at the knowledge that she doesnt love Paul anymore what the reasons are, the viewer is left to decide. This is again a deviation from the norm of establishing certainties as is done in Hollywood cinema which defines popular notions of the aesthetics of cinema.
Contempt is also a tragedy, not quite in the grand scale of a Greek tragedy, but a tragedy nonetheless. Paul realizes much too late, when his love has already decided to leave, that he has turned his back on his ideal that of writing plays and substituted it for the false glamour of cinema. In a passionate speech he bemoans the compromises the artist has to make to survive in the world. Why does money matter so much in what we do, in what we are, what we become? the words are powerful and yet, coming from Paul sound more like a petulant complaint. But the point is being made, this is not a world perfectly suited for artists and especially with works of cinema whose commercial viability is crucial in determining what the artist can and cannot do. For example, in this film itself, Godard was forced to shoot some nude scenes of Bardot to appease his producers, this compromise is a reality all film-makers have to deal with. As also Lang, who concludes the scene with the poignant words, One must suffer. Pauls speech thus becomes a platform for this complaint of Godards.
The final act ends with the tragedy of Camilles death, in a supremely stylized shot of an automobile accident a shot that underlines the stylish vision of the cinematographer Coutard.
Final shot: The camera moves slowly to focus its gaze on the sea, so that our gaze can finally rest upon its tranquil surface. Silencio