Check Out Rare BTS Footage from Jean-Luc Godard's 'Contempt'
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):
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?