Cast & Crew
Paul Javal, a young French dramatist who has found commercial success in Rome, accepts an offer from vulgar American producer Jeremy Prokosch to rework the script for German director Fritz Lang's screen adaptation of The Odyssey . Paul's wife, Camille, joins him on the first day of the project at Cinecitta. As the first discussions are completed, Prokosch invites the crew to join him at his villa, offering Camille a ride in his two-seat sportscar. Camille looks to Paul to decline the offer, but he submissively withdraws to follow by taxi. He does not catch up with them until 30 minutes later, explaining that he was delayed by a traffic accident. Camille grows uneasy, secretly doubting his integrity and suspecting that he is using her to cement his ties with Prokosch. The feelings of doubt are heightened when she sees him exchange familiarities with Prokosch's secretary, Francesca. Back at their apartment Paul and Camille discuss the subtle uneasiness that has come between them in the first few hours of the project, and Camille suddenly announces to her bewildered husband that she no longer loves him. Hoping to rekindle Camille's love, Paul convinces her to accept Prokosch's invitation to join them for filming in Capri. Prokosch and Lang are locked in a conflict over the correct interpretation of Homer's work, an impasse exacerbated by the difficulty of communication between the German director, French script writer, and American producer. Francesca acts as interpreter, mediating all conversations. When Paul sides with Prokosch against Lang by suggesting that Odysseus actually left home because of his wife's infidelity, Camille's suspicions of her husband's servility are confirmed. She deliberately allows him to find her in Prokosch's embrace, and in the ensuing confrontation she declares that her respect for him has turned to contempt because he has bartered her to Prokosch. He denies this accusation, offering to sever his connection with the film and leave Capri; but she will not recant and leaves for Rome with the producer. After an auto crash in which Camille and Prokosch are killed, Paul prepares to leave Capri and return to the theater. Lang continues to work on the film.
Georges De Beauregard
Joseph E. Levine
Freely adapting the Italian novelist Alberto Moravia's 1954 opus A Ghost at Noon, Godard's narrative opens on the boudoir of crime novelist-screenwriter Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) and his lovely young ex-secretary wife Camille (Bardot). Paul has been summoned to a studio screening room, to bear witness to a clash between esteemed director Fritz Lang (Fritz Lang) and his gauche, overbearing producer, Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance). Apparently, Lang's artistic perspectives on Prokosch's latest project, an adaptation of The Odyssey, are too high-minded for the boorish backer's taste, and the producer, sufficiently impressed by Paul's doctoring of the recent Toto Meets Hercules, offers the writer a hefty check to "rescue" Lang's output.
While trying to seem diffident to Prokosch's porcine posturing, Paul's only too willing to meet at the producer's villa to discuss the matter further--and only too willing to agree to let his obviously discomfited wife accompany Prokosch to the conference in his snug two-seat sportster. Though only a half-hour behind in arriving at Prokosch's palatial digs, Paul finds the once-affectionate Camille distant and cold, and she remains so upon their return to their apartment. Paul tries to wheedle positive responses from her, which come only fitfully; whether angered by his prostitution of her, or of his art, she seems to have no interest in bridging the gap.
The narrative moves to Capri, where Prokosch has invited the couple for sun and surf in between location shoots. Though Paul is willing to back out of the assignment if it will restore Camille's affections, the likelihood is dashed when he catches her willingly receive a pass from the producer. The wronged wife accompanies Prokosch back to Rome for the scenario's appropriately Greek-tragedy denouement.
By all accounts, Godard was all too quickly chafing at the constraints attached to Contempt; Levine might have been the one person upon whom the savage parody of the vulgar Prokosch persona was lost. Palance, for his part, seized upon the role with brio, whether hurling the film cans bearing Lang's handiwork in philistine mockery of a discus thrower, or barely concealing his oafish lechery over rushes of an actress in a nude swim.
As for the leads, Ponti had shot down Godard's professed choices of Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak; the producer's counter of Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni left the director cold. While a compromise was reached, Godard was unhappy about being expected to tailor the film around Bardot's established screen persona. The prolonged bedroom opening was added as a sop to his producers' insistence that the film's nude footage of Bardot was insufficient--and it's a credit to the director's ability that he made a lingering skin shot of BB seen patently unerotic. It was a tenuous relationship, but it still resulted in what was perhaps the most cerebral and affecting performance of the young Bardot's heyday.
In what's regarded as his star-making role, Piccoli hit all the right notes in rendering his self-absorbed, abusive and ultimately sadly clueless scribe, almost always seen in a fedora so he can come off like Dean Martin in Some Came Running (1958). Godard, who's onscreen briefly as Lang's AD, obviously enjoyed allowing the great German expressionist some world-weary venting about Prokosch's ilk, and the state of the industry, at one juncture lamenting of CinemaScope, "It wasn't made for people. It's only good for snakes and funerals."
With the lush locales strikingly captured with the bright palate of cinematographer Raoul Coutard, and an appropriately somber score from Georges Delerue, Godard delivered a finished work of unprecedented big-dollar polish. Still, he was only too happy to return to the autonomy of pursuing his own vision. Rescued in the late '90s by Martin Scorsese after languishing for years out of distribution, Contempt has gained another deserved crop of adherents from an entirely new generation of film aficionados.
Producer: Joseph E. Levine, Carlo Ponti, Georges de Beauregard
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Screenplay: Jean-Luc Godard, based on the novel by Alberto Moravia
Cinematography: Raoul Coutard
Music: Georges Delerue, Piero Piccioni
Film Editing: Agnes Guillemot, Lila Lakshmanan
Cast: Brigitte Bardot (Camille Javal), Michel Piccoli (Paul Javal), Jack Palance (Jeremy Prokosch), Giorgia Moll (Francesca Vanini), Fritz Lang (Himself).
by Jay S. Steinberg
But the very idea of Godard Lite is unthinkable from one of the movies' least compromised directors and Contempt is no exception. He famously acceded to the producers' request that there be a Bardot nude scene but in such a non-prurient manner that the producers probably wished they hadn't asked. The rest of the film is full of Godard's idiosyncratic tracking shots, musings on the nature of cinema, endless cultural references (Homer to Dante to Dean Martin) and sudden plot jumps. More importantly Contempt is a mature, deeply emotional look at at love in various forms.
The story is fairly simple. Paul (Michel Piccoli) is a writer brought to Capri by a commerce-minded producer (Jack Palance) to spice up a film version of The Odyssey. His wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot) comes along with him but on location they find their marriage starting to crumble. As usual with Godard, though, a dense pattern of relationships builds through the images and dialogue that deepens the story. Georges Delerue's lushly sad music is a perfect fit and so is the location choice of the austere, cliff-hugging house designed by writer Curzio Malaparte, a one-time Fascist later turned Communist. (Malaparte willed the house to the People's Republic of China--which perhaps attracted Godard's budding political interests--but the writer's heirs had the donation set aside in court. The house was recently restored.)
For years, Contempt was available in the US only in a shoddy videotape that was not only dubbed (perhaps not a major sin since parts of the film are already in English) but panned-and-scanned, all the more unacceptable since Contempt has perhaps the most famous remark ever uttered about CinemaScope with Fritz Lang's comment: "It wasn't made for people. It's only good for snakes and funerals." (Contempt was actually shot in Franscope, a French variant of CinemaScope with the same image dimensions.) But in the late 90s, the film was touched up and restored under the auspices of Martin Scorsese for a revelatory theatrical release. Now you can watch a sparkling transfer on DVD along with Criterion's usual array of extras. The film itself comes with three audio options: the original French and English soundtrack, a complete English dub, and a commentary by critic Robert Stam. The second disc is filled with first-rate extras: an hour-long conversation between Godard and Lang called The Dinosaur and the Baby, two short documentaries made during Contempt's filming, longer interviews with Godard and Lang separately, a recent interview with cinematographer Raoul Coutard, a demonstration of how the pan-and-scanning altered the original widescreen image, and the wonderful, pure-Godard trailer mentioned above. In short, the Contempt DVD is something no film lover will want to miss.
For more information about Contempt, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Contempt, go to TCM Shopping.
by Lang Thompson
Whenever I hear the word culture, I bring out my checkbook. (To his assistant) Come here. (He places his checkbook on his assistant's back and writes out a check.)- Jerry Prokosch
Some years ago -- some horrible years ago -- the Nazis used to take out a pistol instead of a checkbook.- Lang, Fritz
I like gods. I like them very much. I know exactly how they feel - exactly.- Jerry Prokosch
Jerry, don't forget. The gods have not created man. Man has created gods.- Fritz Lang
You like all of me? My mouth? My eyes? My nose? And my ears?- Camille Javal
Yes, all of you.- Paul Javal
Then you love me... totally?- Camille Javal
Yes. Totally... tenderly... tragically.- Paul Javal
To know that one does not know, is the gift of a superior spirit. Not to know and to think that one does know, is a mistake. To know that this is a mistake, keeps one from making it. I have the knowledge here.- Jerry Prokosch
I like cinemascope very much.- Paul Javal
Oh, it wasn't meant for human beings. Just for snakes... and funerals.- Fritz Lang
Filmed on location in Rome and Capri. Opened in Paris in December 1963 as Le mépris at 100 min; in Italy in October 1963 as Il disprezzo at 87 min. Filmed in Franscope.
Released in United States Fall October 1964
Released in United States October 1997
Released in United States on Video March 1984
Re-released in United States July 11, 2008
Re-released in United States June 27, 1997
Re-released in United States March 14, 2008
Re-released in United States on Video 1987
Re-released in United States September 6, 2013
Film withdrawn from 1963 Venice Film Festival by Joseph Levine. Godard had his name removed from the credits of the Italian version due to footage cut from "The Odyssey" sequence, as well as music and some dialogue being altered, color changed and various sequences re-edited.
Shown at Denver International Film Festival October 23-30, 1997.
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.
Formerly distributed in the United States by Embassy Pictures.
Restored print re-released in New York City March 14, 2008.
Began shooting April 1963.
Completed shooting June 1963.
Released in United States 1963 (Film withdrawn from 1963 Venice Film Festival by Joseph Levine. Godard had his name removed from the credits of the Italian version due to footage cut from "The Odyssey" sequence, as well as music and some dialogue being altered, color changed and various sequences re-edited.)
Re-released in United States on Video 1987 (subtitled version)
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 on Video March 1984 (dubbed version)
Re-released in United States March 14, 2008 (New York City)
Re-released in United States June 27, 1997 (restored)
Re-released in United States July 11, 2008 (Los Angeles)
Released in United States 1963
Released in United States 2001
Released in United States December 27, 1963
Re-released in United States September 6, 2013
Released in United States Fall October 1964
Released in United States October 1997 (Shown at Denver International Film Festival October 23-30, 1997.)
Released in United States December 27, 1963 (Premiered in Paris December 27, 1963.)
Re-released in Paris February 13, 1991.