Movies about the making of movies are a genre unto themselves, and one of the most innovative of these has to be Jean-Luc Godard's 1963 film Contempt.
This rare behind-the-scenes footage shows an insight into the working methods of Godard (making this clip a documentary about the making of a movie that's about the making of a movie):
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=AItgM9ALvSA
By 1963, Godard had fully transitioned from a writer and critic, mostly for Cahiers du Cinema, into one of the world's most innovative directors. His first feature, the tremendously influential Breathless (1960), had introduced a loose, verité style, as well as the now ubiquitous "jump-cut," and been produced on a shoe-string budget. Three years later, though, he would turn out his biggest budget production to date, the $900,000 Contempt, also known as Le Mepris.
Approached by producer Carlo Ponti, Godard's film was an adaptation of the novel Ghost At Noon, and follows the story of an American film producer (Jack Palance, in rare form), who hires Fritz Lang (playing Fritz Lang), the legendary Austrian filmmaker behind such classics as M, Metroplis, and, in his Hollywood career, the famous film-noir The Big Heat. In the film, Lang comes up with a treatment for a movie that is ostensibly an adaptation of The Odyssey (and in a decidedly modernist gesture, both the film within the film and Contempt both parallel Homer's ancient work). When he is dissatisfied with Lang's treatment of the film, which he finds too commercial, he hires a writer, played by Michel Piccoli, to rework the script. The writer's wife, played by the international sex symbol Brigitte Bardot, takes up with Palance's producer. Lang's vision of The Odyssey, the story of the hero Odysseus' years-long journey home to his wife, is, according to a great essay at Off-Screen:
"...not about the fidelity of Penelope and Ulysses’ will to return home to Ithica, but rather it is about the contempt of a wife towards her husband who has decided not to return. In his modern vision of life, it is a film...about ‘the absence of the gods,’ which reflects, as in a mirror, Godard’s opinion on modern society: that nowadays gods are substituted by idols, mere mortals that conventions make near divine (such as a movie producer who throws a film can like an ancient Olympic athlete tossing a discus, or a movie star, etc.)"
The movie, which paralleled in part Godard's marriage to the actress Anna Karina, is shot in a luminous series of tracking shots which have become justifiably famous. This trailer, is, as the title suggests, really one of the best trailers I've ever seen:
Ironically, ten years later, Godard's former colleague at Cahiers, Francois Truffuat, produced his own film about the making of a film, Day for Night, though his was a more affectionate look at the filmmaking process. The title refers to the practice of shooting tungsten-balanced film (i.e., film stock meant to be shot in artificial light) in daylight conditions, then underexposing the results in order to give the impression that the footage was shot at night (at the time, night shooting was prohibitively expensive).
Contempt is a film notable for several reasons, not the least of which is its huge (for Godard, anyway) budget, its stars (Palance, Bardot and Lang), and its formal achievements. As a film about the artifice of filmmaking, and the way art and life collide, Contempt is required viewing for all lovers of cinema. By turning the camera on the filmmaking process (a long-time practice, as can be seen in Singin' in the Rain, to name but one of countless examples) but with a far darker edge, Contempt is a singular film in Godard's canon and a timeless masterpiece about, among other things, the intersection of art and commerce, and their effects on human relationships.
What are some of your favorite movies about movies?
I've never gotten anything out of his movies. They have felt constructed, faux intellectual and completely dead. Cinematographically uninteresting and infinitely boring. Godard is a fucking bore. He's made his films for the critics.
January 4, 2016 at 5:03AM
Just leaving that there for anyone to agree with/disagree with. It's not even my quote - it's Ingmar Bergman, who was a far better filmmaker.
This is me: Contempt? So boring I wanted to scream. The most annoying score in any film I've ever seen. Weekend? Only watchable if you have to write an essay on it. Alphaville? Utter shite. A Bout De Souffle? Alright. Not as good as anything made by Truffaut though. Bande à Part? Apart from the dance bit, can't remember a single detail. Gave up after those - he's shit.
Save yourself the pain - dodge Contempt and go watch some more Bergman.
January 4, 2016 at 5:10AM
Who is this guy? Oh! Alex Richardson?! The incredible, brilliant director behind such classics as...oh...never mind.
Have you even made anything that's worth talking shit about? Or is it so shitty no one is even talking about it?
You sound like a film student who saw The Seventh Seal once and think everything else is shit because it was so "deep". Get out of your own ass.
Your criticisms of Godard are weak and offer zero insight. The only real criticism is a quote you ripped off that only makes you sound more uppity and elitist.
Bergman was a master filmmaker. Godard help define and popularize the French New Wave and is a master in his own right. They are complete opposites in their approaches. That certainly doesn't mean one is a genius and one is shit.
January 4, 2016 at 2:51PM
Hahaha! Nick, I think we'd get along. Godard's still shit though.
January 6, 2016 at 12:37AM
u mad bro?
January 4, 2016 at 8:19PM
Yeah, bro. Now that you're here I'm all better. Thanks for being a bro, bro.
January 4, 2016 at 10:14PM
chill bro. that was a reply to the bro Alex Richardson.
January 5, 2016 at 8:08PM
Hey bro. I'm not mad bro. At least, I don't think so bro. Nick might disagree though bro. Though he might be mad that you've called him Nick Broland, bro.
But Godard's still shit.
January 6, 2016 at 12:38AM, Edited January 6, 12:38AM
Apologies, Broseiden. Glad we could all bro-down here.
Alex Richardson - stop being such a boner. Godard still has merit whether you like his films or not. He is a staple in film history. Now if this was a post about Uwe Boll then yeah - he's total shit.
January 6, 2016 at 8:36AM
I don't think I've been called a boner since 1994 - good work on the retro insult bro!
And Godard's still shit - being in the history books doesn't change that.
January 6, 2016 at 2:09PM, Edited January 6, 2:09PM
testing to see how nfs post bracketing looks. Yea chill bro my replies to Alex Richardson are adjacent with your replies Nick Broland
January 5, 2016 at 8:09PM, Edited January 5, 8:11PM
Le Mepris his one of his best and most accessible. It is so subtle yet so clear, a must watch!
January 7, 2016 at 11:42AM
Most accessible? What are you smoking?! This is one of the most tedious, useless pieces of film I have ever witnessed. It amazes me how these pompous cinephiles drool over it and declare it a stunning masterpiece - it goes NOWHERE. I couldn't even finish it, I really couldn't. None of the verve or innovation of Breathless for sure.
And on a shallow level Bardot is nowhere near as beautiful as everyone says; she's actually rather odd looking.
September 5, 2016 at 5:53PM, Edited September 5, 5:53PM