Cast & Crew
Odile, who lives in the Paris suburbs as an au pair girl in the home of her aunt, Madame Victoria, enrolls in an English language school and meets Franz, a young hoodlum. She casually mentions that her aunt keeps a large sum of money in a cupboard for her friend Monsieur Stolz. Franz talks of the money to his friend Arthur, who wrangles an introduction to Odile, infatuates her, and persuades her to help them steal the money. While checking on the amount, Odile forgets to replace her aunt's coat over the stash, and the money is gone when the trio arrives to steal it. Arthur beats Odile, who becomes disenchanted with him; and Franz, who loves her, is disturbed by his friend's violence. Arthur's criminal family hear of the affair; and to prevent Arthur's uncle from reaching the money before they do, the three return to the house the next day. When Madame Victoria interrupts them, she is locked in a closet and gagged. The three would-be thieves fail to find the money, and Arthur frees Madame Victoria to question her, but she has apparently suffocated. They flee, but Arthur, realizing that the money must be hidden in the dog kennel, returns on the pretext of finding out whether Madame Victoria is really dead. He finds the money, but his uncle arrives and they are both killed in a shootout. Monsieur Stolz drives up and finds the money just as Madame Victoria, who had only fainted, comes out to meet him. Franz and Odile escape to South America. [In bits of action, the characters parody Hollywood films, and a sequel is promised in CinemaScope and Technicolor. Godard, narrating the film, breaks into the action to explain the characters' feelings.]
Band of Outsiders
Since its release, however, Band of Outsiders has found its audience, particularly in the U.S. where it influenced such independent filmmakers as Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino, and where it was first championed by such important critics as Manny Farber and Pauline Kael; the latter wrote, "It's as if a French poet took a banal American crime novel and told it to us in terms of the romance and beauty he read between the lines; Godard re-creates the gangsters and the moll with his world of associations - seeing them as people in a Paris café, mixing them with Rimbaud, Kafka, Alice in Wonderland. This lyrical tragicomedy is perhaps Godard's most delicately charming film."
It was while Godard was in the final editing stage of Contempt (1963) that he decided to set up his own production company because he was having no luck attracting investors for his new projects in Europe. In desperation, he turned to Hollywood: "I wrote to Columbia, Paramount, United Artists, asking could they give me $100,000 to make a picture. They said, "Well, that's a huge fee for a director." And I said, "No, that's not for me, that's for the whole picture." Columbia was the only one interested."
The studio offered him a choice of three projects but he picked Fools' Gold, based on the recommendation of his friend, director Francois Truffaut. Like Breathless, Band of Outsiders gave Godard the opportunity to take lowbrow material and transform it into something highly original and idiosyncratic. In an interview with French critic Jean Collet, the director said, "I wanted to make a simple film that would be perfectly understandable. For instance, when distributors see Muriel or Contempt, they can't manage to decipher them. Whereas Band of Outsiders is completely clear. But that didn't stop me from putting everything I really like into the film....For instance, if a scene takes place in a car, the two guys talk about the cars they like. And in the choice of names, in certain dialogues, and in various parts of the commentary, I also managed to slip in everything I like."
As the first film produced by his production company Anouchka Films (named after his nickname for his wife Anna Karina), Godard had a lot riding on Band of Outsiders. He intended for the film to reestablish his commercial viability as an international filmmaker but to also give a boost to his wife's career who had yet to reach the level of fame enjoyed by other contemporary French actresses such as Jeanne Moreau and Brigitte Bardot. At the time Karina was recovering from losing a child during her pregnancy followed by a suicide attempt. She later recalled, "I had come out of the hospital. It was a painful moment. I had lost the taste for life at that time. In the meantime I had lost weight. I wasn't doing well, neither in my head nor in my body...I had no more desire to live. I was doing very, very badly. This film saved my life." The relationship between Karina and Godard was also on shaky ground by this point in their marriage and they would soon go their separate ways after working together on Alphaville (1965), although they were not officially divorced until 1967.
Quite possibly it is this tension between the actress and director and the underlying sadness and anxieties of their lives at that moment in time that resonates through Band of Outsiders and provides a striking contrast to the spontaneous, lyrical bursts of exuberance, youthful high spirits and madcap fun that occur throughout the movie. Amazingly, the entire production took only twenty-five days to shoot and was filmed under mostly gray, wintry skies in the Parisian suburb of Bastille and at deserted points along the Marne River. "Everything was very precise, decided in advance - even the details," noted co-star Sami Frey, and Raoul Coutard, the film's cinematographer, confirmed Godard's methodical working methods. "...it was a given that we would work with a handheld camera, always following the actors - whereas in his other films the camera had moved freely, independent of the actors...First the actors' movements were pretty thoroughly prepared; Godard himself stood in the place of the camera. Then there were the rehearsals with the camera, to synchronize the movements of the camera and the actors."
One of the most memorable sequences in Band of Outsiders is when the three characters go to a café and break into a seemingly impromptu display of 'The Madison' by the jukebox. According to Godard, "...we rehearsed for two weeks, three times each week. Sami and Claude [Brasseur] didn't know how to dance. We invented the steps. It's an original dance, and we had to perfect it. It's a dance with an open, line figure. It's a parade. They dance for the camera, for the audience." The immediacy of the scene, which holds up to repeated viewings, reveals as much about the three characters as it does the director. "None of them has a finer moment than the Madison, just a couple minutes during which each manages to telegraph everything you might need to know about them," wrote Joshua Clover in his liner notes for the Criterion Edition DVD of Band of Outsiders. "If it's a set piece, it's also the heartbreaking heart of a total, complex movie; it makes a microhistory of the changes at stake...But Godard sees in such a moment more complexity than a musical comedy would allow, or a grand tragedy for that matter. There's something of both in the joy and alienation expressed equally in Arthur, Franz and Odile's dance, choreographed to bar jukebox and internal monologue. Never have three people been so alone together, a band and apart, in a singular double-exposure of one moment arriving as another passes away."
Band of Outsiders premiered at several film festivals after its completion but won no awards and in most cases, either baffled, disappointed or angered audiences (it was booed at the Locarno Film Festival). And it didn't fare any better when it opened at theatres in Paris and experienced more attacks and dismissals by the French critics. Of course, by this time, Godard was already deep into his next projects, which included Une Femme Mariee, Alphaville, Pierrot le Fou and the episode "Montparnasse-Levallois" for the anthology film, Six in Paris - all of which were shot, astonishingly enough, in 1965!
Among his many early triumphs, however, Band of Outsiders is for many the supreme achievement. Amy Taubin in her perceptive Village Voice wrote that the film "is less nostalgic for the past than it's heartbroken by the present--by the knowledge that the last traces of the world of Verlaine and Rimbaud, of Claude Renoir, the father, and Jean Renoir, the son, are about to be obliterated by the onrush of '60s consumer capitalism. So Godard, who had already made his love-hate pact with the future, kisses the past good-bye by eschewing, just this once, the self-consciously brilliant camera moves, the electrifying edits, the political polemics, the radical narrative disjunctions, and the blam! blam! iconography that had already made him cinema's foremost postmodernist."
Director: JeanLuc Cinéma Godard
Screenplay: Dolores Hitchens (novel); Jean-Luc Godard (scenario, uncredited)
Cinematography: Raoul Coutard
Music: Michel Legrand
Film Editing: Françoise Collin, Dahlia Ezove, Agnès Guillemot
Cast: Anna Karina (Odile), Danièle Girard (English Teacher), Louisa Colpeyn (Madame Victoria), Chantal Darget (Arthur's Aunt), Sami Frey (Franz), Claude Brasseur (Arthur), Georges Staquet (Le légionnaire), Ernest Menzer (Arthur's Uncle), Jean-Claude Rémoleux (L'élève buveur d'alcool).
by Jeff Stafford
Godard by Colin MacCabe (Bloomsbury)
Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard by Richard Brody (Faber & Faber)
Band of Outsiders
Restorations - Band of Outsiders
THE RETURN OF A JEAN-LUC GODARD MASTERPIECE
At long last someone has taken the effort to restore one of Jean-Luc Godard's seminal films of the sixties - Band of Outsiders. Accessible even to non-fans of the French filmmaker, this 1964 release looks just as fresh, spontanteous, and inventive as it did upon its original release. On the surface, the plot is deceptively simple: two students, Arthur (Claude Brasseur) and Franz (Sami Frey), befriend their new classmate, Odile (Anna Karina). A rapid chain of events follows sparked by Odile's confession that she lives with her aunt in a villa that houses a hidden fortune. Like kids playing movie gangsters, the trio plot to steal the money but soon discover that their scheme is no match for the grim reality that awaits them.
Loosely based on Fools' Gold, an American crime novel of the fifties written by Dolores Hitchens, Band of Outsiders works on one level as a playful homage to B-movies while at the same time critiquing the dangers of movie-fed fantasies. Even today, the film remains consistently unpredictable: characters occasionally address the camera, jump cuts and unusual camera angles accent the erratic, slapdash behavior of the three principals, and the sombre, grey cinematography by Raoul Coutard often resembles the look of an Arget photograph. Of the many famous set pieces, the Madison dance scene is easily the most celebrated with Karina, Brasseur, and Frey unexpectedly going into a line dance at a small bohemian cafe. If you're a Francophile, you'll enjoy Godard's use of Parisian locations as much as his Gallic re-working of Hollywood cliches. Much of Band of Outsiders was shot in the working-class neighborhoods east of the Bastille and along the Marne River but there are also such familiar Parisian sights as the Metro, billboards, cafes, and, of course, the Louvre, which figures prominently in one madcap sequence.
Thanks to Rialto, who brought us the original director's cut of Fellini's Nights of Cabiria (1957) a few years back, Band of Outsiders is being distributed theatrically in a beautiful new 35mm print which accents the overcast, wintry look of the film (It was shot in February and March). It was recently screened in New York City at the Film Forum where it had critics rhapsodizing about its poetic qualities all over again. Amy Taubin of The Village Voice wrote "Band of Outsiders is less nostalgic for the past then it's heartbroken by the present - by the knowledge that the last traces of the world of Verlaine and Rimbaud, of Claude Renoir, the father, and Jean Renoir, the son, are about to be obiterated by the onrush of '60s consumer capitalism." Charles Taylor of Salon.com said, "We never feel more complicity in "Band of Outsiders" than we do when Karina, addressing the camera, says, "My heart goes out at the sight of you." Odile may be speaking about the boys she loves; Karina may have directed the line to her then-husband behind the camera. Today, she seems to be speaking directly to those of us in the audience whose lives - and fantasy lives - have been dominated by the movies, who still love them with the ardor of a first romance, even as we're convinced that there has to be something more."
With a little luck, Band of Outsiders might spark enough interest in Godard to inspire Rialto or another enterprising distributor to restore other early works by the director. At any rate, if you're never seen a Godard film before, this is a great place to begin.
By Jeff Stafford
BOB LE FLAMBEUR
Often cited as one of the most influential filmmakers of postwar France, whose work anticipated the look and style of the French New Wave, Jean-Pierre Melville is finally starting to receive some belated international recognition for his films. Bob Le Flambeur (1956) is currently enjoying a revival in major cities across the U.S. and several of his other films have recently been remastered and released on VHS and DVD.
Bob Le Flambeur was Melville's fourth feature and a distinct departure from his earlier adaptation of literary classics like Jean Vercors' Le Silence de la Mer (1947) and Jean Cocteau's Les Enfants Terribles (1950). The film is a detailed depiction (strikingly photographed in black and white) of the robbery of the Casino de Deauville's bank vault on the eve of the French Grand Prix. Melville was first approached with the story idea for Bob Le Flambeur just prior to seeing John Huston's The Asphalt Junge (1950). "After I had seen Huston's masterpiece," Melville told interviewer Rui Nogueira, "I could no longer deal, either dramatically or tragically, with the preparation and execution of a robbery. So I decided to reshape my scenario completely and turn it into a light-hearted film. Bob Le Flambeur is not a pure policier, but a comedy of manners."
Even at the time of its original release, Bob Le Flambeur was referred to as 'a love letter to Paris which no longer exists,' particularly in its evocative views of the Montmartre neighborhood. The film is just as atmospheric and beguiling today and has been championed by such critics as J. Hoberman of the Village Voice who called it, "The cinematic birth of the cool! Melville's drollest, most likable gangster movie!....a superb riff with a boffo finale!" The newly restored print of Bob Le Flambeur, which recently appeared at the Film Forum in New York City, features newly translated sub-titles by Lenny Borger, who did such a wonderful job on the recent restoration of Rififi (1955). With any luck, Bob Le Flambeur will get a release on home video and DVD later this year. In the meantime, you should check out Le Doulos (1961), Le Samourai (1967) and Un Flic (1971). There is also the possibility that Rialto, who distributed the original cut of Fellini's Nights of Cabiria (1957) a few years back, will be releasing a restored version of Melville's Le Cercle Rouge (1970) later this year.
APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX
Maybe you've heard the news that Francis Ford Coppola has re-edited an extra hour of material back into Apocalypse Now (this version premiered at the Cannes festival with a U.S. release planned for later this summer entitled Apocalypse Now Redux). What's new in Francis Ford Coppola's restored version? Here are a few highlights, culled from the Miramax web site: The much-discussed French plantation sequence, which includes a riverside encounter, the funeral of Clean, a rancorous dinner, and Willard's seduction of (and by) Roxanne, a young French widow (played by Aurore Clement). At the dinner, the patriarch of the French plantation, Hubert deMorais (played by the late Christian Marquand) asks rhetorically: "Why do we stay here? It keeps our family together. We fight to keep what is ours. You Americans fight for the biggest nothing in history." This sequence, Coppola says,"captures an exotic yearning, groping for long-vanished ideals and a crumbling way of life that presages and essentially predicts the folly of America's experience in Vietnam. These characters are sort of ghosts like Bunuel has ghosts: people who are trapped in their own thinking from years ago."
An expanded Playboy playmates sequence. Coppola remembers: "This was never even in the assembly because it was shot during the typhoon when we had to stop shooting, and the scene was never completed. But in this new version Walter found a way to get in and out of the sequence; In the beginning of the sequence, we learn that the Playboy helicopter has run out of fuel and landed at a remote Medevac base along the river. As Willard
leaves the boat, the chief (Albert Hall) asks: "Captain, are you giving away our fuel for a Playmate of the Month."; Willard replies: "No, Playmate of the Year, chief." Coppola says: "In their way, the girls are the corresponding characters of those young boys on the boat, except they're being exploited in sexual ways. But it's the same thing, you know how they're being consumed; used up by a society that calls itself moral and yet isn't."
A new scene with Marlon Brando: "Don't try to escape, or you'll be killed," Kurtz tells Willard in their first meeting. Kurtz, holding Willard captive in a metal shed, quotes an American intelligence analyst recently returned to Vietnam to sound out the situation for President Nixon. "He told the President last week that: 'Things felt much better, and smelled much better over there.'; How do they smell to you, soldier?" Kurtz asks his charge. The deletion of this scene was one of the last cuts the filmmakers made in 1979, in the interest of time. Restoring this philosophical scene, Murch says, "sets up the last scene in the film much more effectively."
All of this talk about Apocalypse Now Redux started us wondering about films that exist in two versions. Sure there are countless films that were slightly different in America and overseas (such as Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train), had minor trims for content (Robocop), were reworked by the director (The Wild Bunch) or other similar oddities (Abbott and Costello's first film One Night in the Tropics was for years missing an entire scene that triggered the plot!). But what really got us thinking are films that can be seen in your choice of Version A or Version B. Our crack TCM researchers came up with the following:
The Big Sleep - Made right at the tail end of World War II, this Humphrey Bogart classic was held up by the studio because they had a glut of films to release. In the meantime, though, co-star Lauren Bacall lept from new face to major star which, along with some other behind-the-scenes maneuvering, resulted in the filming of new material and some re-editing to emphasize her new status. This reworking is the familiar one but the original was recently released to the public. You can see both versions on TCM.
The Godfather - Coppola isn't new to re-editing. For a TV showing of the first two Godfather films he put all the material into chronological sequence and added deleted material to make one giant epic called The Godfather Saga. Then that big saga was again slightly re-edited and released on video as The Godfather Epic. Then after the third film appeared, that too was edited into the chronological story for a video set called The Godfather Trilogy. And of course all the films are also available separately.
Passion of Joan of Arc - Here's one that's even more complicated than the Godfather films. This 1928 classic was immediately denounced by censors which resulted in some small cuts but the real tragedy occurred when the negative and most of the prints were destroyed in a laboratory fire. Director Carl Theodor Dreyer reconstructed another negative using outtakes and other surviving material but guess what? That too burned up in a fire. Apparently still floating around at the time were prints of these two versions but they seem to have been chopped up or simply destroyed. In the early '30s the film was trimmed to almost an hour and had voice-overs added while during the next decade came a poorly regarded "restoration" and then in 1951 there was yet another version done with additional dubious shots added. Finally 1981 brought a wonderful surprise. A Norweigan mental hospital discovered that it had a print of Dreyer's original cut stored literally in one of their closets. This was restored to as much of its full glory as possible and can be seen on TCM.
Touch of Evil - Orson Welles' struggles with the studios are legendary and perhaps only the butchering of The Magnificent Ambersons rivals his travails with this one. A 1958 film noir classic, Touch of Evil apparently so horrified the studio that they looked for a way to cut their losses. So they took a 108 minute version prepared for preview screenings that Welles was still working on, cut it down to 95 minutes and dumped that into theatres. For years, this was all that was available until the preview version quietly appeared on video in the 1980s. But that wasn't enough. Welles had prepared a 58-page memo about how envisioned the film, information that guided a 1998 revision by restoration expert Rick Schmidlin which may be as close as we're likely to get to Welles' intentions. So where does this leave us? Three different versions of the same film, none of them definitive or a "director's cut" and all three available at one time or another on video (though unfortunately only the revision is on DVD).
The Big Sky - Maybe you've noticed that when TCM shows Howard Hawks' classic Western (chosen by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum as one of the 100 greatest American films) it runs about 20 minutes longer than most reference book listings and the video release. That's because the material was trimmed shortly after release and practically unseen until our airings.
Black Sunday - A good example of how small changes can really alter a film is Mario Bava's classic horror film. It's a subtle and atmospheric story (adapted from the same Gogol tale used for the cult Russian film Vij) but marketed almost as kiddie fare in the U.S. The grown-up dialogue was watered down, the moody music replaced by a typically schlocky Les Baxter score, and numerous small edits were made to protect sensitive Americans. Recently, though, the original version appeared on DVD and can be seen for the striking visual experience it really is. (An even more extreme revision exists in Bava's career. After his oblique, dream-like film Lisa and the Devil was considered unreleasable it was taken over by the producer and so drastically reworked with new material that the story turned out quite different. That version was released as House of Exorcism to capitalize on that trend but both can now be found on DVD.)
Restorations - Band of Outsiders
Franz is wondering if the world is a dream or a dream the world.- Le narrateur
A few clues for latecomers: Several weeks ago... A pile of money... An English class... A house by the river... A romantic young girl...- Le narrateur
We now might open a parenthesis on Odile's, Franz's and Arthur's feelings... but it's all pretty clear. So we close our parenthesis and let the images speak.- Le narrateur
What's that big building? asked Odile. The Louvre. The whitewash is great, she said. That guy deserves a medal.- Le narrateur
Arthur said they'd wait for night to do the job, out of respect for second-rate thrillers. How do we kill all that time? asked Odile. Franz had read about an American who'd done the Louvre in nine minutes 45 seconds. They'd do better.- Le narrateur
Arthur, Franz and Odile beat Jimmy Johnson by two seconds.- Le narrateur
The "minute of silence" lasts 36 seconds.
Opened in Paris in August 1964 as Bande à part. Some sources credit Danièle Girard with the role of the English teacher, while Chantal Darget is credited variously as the English teacher, Arthur's aunt, and the mistress.
Released in United States 1964
Released in United States 2001
Released in United States July 5, 1964
Released in United States November 1964
Released in United States September 18, 1964
Released in United States Spring March 1966
Re-released in United States August 17, 2001
Re-released in United States September 21, 2001
Premiered at Berlin Film Festival July 5, 1964.
Shown at 1964 Locarno Film Festival.
Shown at London Film Festival November 1964.
Shown at New York Film Festival September 18, 1964.
Shown at the National Film Theatre in London, England as part of a special two-month program dedicated to Jean-Luc Godard, June 1 - July 31, 2001.
Shot between February-March 1964.
Released in United States 1964 (Shown at 1964 Locarno Film Festival.)
Released in United States 2001 (Shown at the National Film Theatre in London, England as part of a special two-month program dedicated to Jean-Luc Godard, June 1 - July 31, 2001.)
Released in United States Spring March 1966
Released in United States July 5, 1964 (Premiered at Berlin Film Festival July 5, 1964.)
Re-released in United States August 17, 2001 (New York City and Los Angeles)
Released in United States September 18, 1964 (Shown at New York Film Festival September 18, 1964.)
Re-released in United States September 21, 2001 (San Francisco)
Released in United States November 1964 (Shown at London Film Festival November 1964.)