I DID NOT WRITE THIS; THIS EMAIL WAS SENT TO ME:
Ok, so i saw contempt last night. I thought it was pretty bad.
In fact, I'm surprised you could have recommended it. I haven't read your essay about it — do you have
one? — so I'll just tell you what I thought in a vaccuum.
First, yes: the visuals were beautiful.
The characters were shallow (I mean not just in personality but in
their conception) and cartoonish. Caricatures, not characters. I
realize that was to some degree intentional — it was supposed to be
somehow funny or stylized to see Jack Palance doing all that, but it
wasn't. It was lame.
The movie betrays Godard's essential weakness as a thinker — he's a
shallow man who throws a lot of ideas and theories at you that he
hasn't fully digested, thinking that will somehow give his works
intellectual resonance. The Bazin quote at the start, the reading
from Sartre, the various parables told throughout, the quotes from
Dante and Holderlein and the like — they don't make the movie any
deeper, because they don't hang together. They don't make much
sense. To take one example, Lang tells the hero that Ulysses is
great because it presents nature as it is — the Greeks understood
nature as it was. What does that mean? It means nothing, really: it
sounds sort of interesting, but it isn't. And since it's never fully
taken up — we have to get on to the next heavy quote — it feels
like so much decoration. And because the movie clearly aims at so
much — it's not just trying to be a diversion — when it fails at
what it aims for, it fails in a much bigger way than it would if it
were just aiming for, say, Raiders of the Lost Arc (which is 20 times
the movie contempt is).
The ulysses parallel — driven home through the constant cutting
between the hero and the statue of poseidon, who's harassing him in
the same way ulysses was harassed — is equally empty. It does
nothing — the hero is not a modern day ulysses. Not only has that
metaphor already been done in Joyce, to much greater wisdom, it isn't
even fully developed.
The love story is fatuous and boring. Who cares if she loves him or
not? Their relationship is of no interest to us — whether it lasts
seems equally pointless. The hour they spend arguing in the
apartment... had a few moments. But like the rest of the film it was
self-indulgent and pretentious.
The woes about producers who care only about money, and the poor
great artist sacrificed in the bargain are the kind of things 19 year
olds bitch about when they're signed to a new record company. It's
not new, it's not interesting — in this context. The whole movie is
an argument to give the producers and the market even more power —
maybe if they'd worried more about commercial success, they wouldn't
have been allowed to make such self indulgent trash. To think that
trying to make something popular and commercially successful is
somehow a sign of artistic shallowness or failure is as shallow as
thinking that just because a movie isn't popular it's deep. It's
not. Shakespeare, Beethoven, Mozart — all of these men were popular
successes in their day. (I know I'm off subject here.)
Anyway, that movie was not good. There was almost nothing redeeming
about it — and it made me mad, that Godard thinks he can foist off
such a poorly done story, with such shallow characters, as art.
There's an almost perceptible scorn for the viewer in that movie —
as if telling us nothing, and depriving us of the barest elements to
make us care about the reader — is to test our fortitude, to weed
out the weak and the ignorant. I find it kind of offensive, really.