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Contempt: The Criterion Collection

We forget that Jean-Luc Godard was a film critic for 10 years before the release of his first feature. In fact he noted that "I'm still as much of a critic as I ever was during the time of Cahiers du cinema. The only difference is that instead of writing criticism, I now film it." The release of 1963's Contempt on DVD reminds us that criticism is a fine foundation for a career in movies. Based on a novel by Alberto Moravia, the film comprises a morning, in Rome, and the following afternoon, in Capri, in the life of Paul Javel (Michel Piccoli), a playwright induced into re-writing a movie based on Homer's Odyssey, directed by Fritz Lang. The producer is Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance), a vacuous vulgarian. Things go awry for Paul when he contrives to be late to a meeting so that Prokosch has a chance to come on to Paul's wife, Camille (Brigitte Bardot). She doesn't believe his explanation for his tardiness, and this incident makes her suspicious of her husband. Suddenly she finds that she lacks sympathy for him. After a remarkable 30-minute long argument scene, they disband, with unhappy consequences. Like all great works of art, Contempt is about many things at once. It chronicles the disintegration of a marriage. It portrays prostitution as a metaphor for life in capitalist society. It makes a statement about how movies are made. It is a contemplation of the soul of cinema and the role of the filmmaker in society, and a meditation on two approaches to life, essentially modernity versus antiquity. Contempt expresses contempt for contemporary society. In Godard's view, we are distanced from the kind of harmonious intimacy the ancients held with the natural processes and with their society. We are so distanced, in fact, that our relationships, which should be guided and thrive though instinct, inevitably go awry. Criterion's two-disc Contempt features a beautiful anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and the original French audio in Dolby Digital 1.0. Features include a commentary by critic Robert Stam, the interview "The Dinosaur and the Baby," a conversation conducted between Godard and Fritz Lang (61 min.), the short documentary "Encounter with Fritz Lang" (14:25), the "making-of" spots "Le Parti des choses: Bardot et Godard" (9:31) and "Paparazzi" (17:48), a 1964 television interview with Godard, a 2002 interview with the director, the theatrical trailer, a widescreen versus full-frame demonstration, and a 10-page folding insert. Dual-DVD keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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