Saturday, April 13, 2013

Saturday, Blessed Saturday; "Contempt"

I've come through getting two adjacent and very bad, broken-down teeth pulled this week. It gave me all of Wednesday off, and I enjoyed the day, slighted dazed on Advil, eating a bit of yogurt and some pudding and watching several Robert Ryan movies, one in which he battles Nazis in near-post-war Berlin, the ruins a big part of the show, then shifting to the waterfront docks of San Francisco in 1950, where the "commies" are taking over the longshoreman's union with the help of the gentle dupe John Agar, freshly married only a year or so to Miss Shirley Temple, brought to tears by John Ford in "Yellow Ribbon," now marching inexorably to his murder by auto after he's discovered the "commie" plot and Ryan's double identity. Ryan's always good. What's with this thing, "charisma," anyways?

I ended the evening with Goddard's "Contempt." I've watched this film three times. First time was back in 1969, at a showing at U.C.-Berkeley, where I sat just behind Fritz Lang, who got up wearing his eye patch and lectured in a difficult German accent on his role in the flim, and on Goddard's "meaning." I really didn't get the movie much that time, or two decades later, when I rented a tape of it and watched it with Libby. We both fell asleep, but it might have been due to our schedules of the era, driving our daughter back and forth to her school 35 miles away, working long days, just tired parents.

This time I really loved "Contempt." Ebert says he thinks Jack Palance is miscast, but I thought he was perfect, and riveting. Bardot is perfect too, and represents her side of a relationship under stress wonderfully, as does her playright husband, Michel Piccoli, in his first major role. Lang as Lang, or as a character named Lang anyways--terrific too. The film moves through marvelous art photos, "sets" including a remarkable villa carved out of the small volcanic island of Capri in the Mediterranean.

The pace is languid, interior, yet full of fireworks if you look and listen for them. "Contempt" is a truly modern novel, or more accurately, a poem. There are always several levels at play, of irony, meaning, misunderstanding. Approaching it as a simple "story" is making a disastrous initial mistake; possibly that's what caused Ebert to call the film a "failure." (And this is a bit ironic since there is much oblique reference to the philosophical problem of story-telling through the film--reference not only in the conversations, but in the actual visual experience.) The Odyssey Lang is creating in the "plot" is seemingly comprised entirely of photos of statues, and of empty seascapes--something which rather reasonably enrages Palance's producer: who then recreates the sculptural pose of the Discus Thrower for a moment as he hurls the disks of film canisters about the screening room. This is poetry, or poetic logic. "Contempt" is choc-a-bloc with it. While we "see" this poetry in image as well as listen to it in the passing dialogue (as rich as Elliot, in at least four languages!), there is the further irony of Lang explaining to an uncomprehending Palance that the Odyssey's characters are really but simple folk living in a simple time, a straight-forward culture where things are just as they seem--unlike our own he implicitly makes clear.

"Contempt" is a movie I may have to actually buy, if TCM doesn't hurry up and show it at 3 AM some Sunday morning. I want it on my small shelf of saves. My favorite line--perhaps Lang quoting Brecht on Hollywood, or perhaps Lang saying "I don't need a producer." The film should be watched with Truffaut's "Day For Night," made ten years later as a sort of comment on "Contempt" among other things. Apparently "Day for Night" cemented the two directors' animosity. Once they'd been close friends.

Here is a google search for images of Villa Malaparte, where much of "Contempt" takes place:

The Villa is as enigmatic and provocative as the film, and must have inspired Goddard in many ways. As a mason, I am breathless. The man who built the villa, Curzio Malaparte, was unknown to me. Here is a short biography:

One imagines that Goddard was at least familar to some degree with Malaparte's work. His remarkable life would surely be worthy of a film. That he built the villa while being mostly in prison in Rome, at the hands of Mussolini, who he had initially championed in the '20s. Well, as I say, there's a film here.


Now here it is, sunny Saturday. We go down to Greenville, NC, to play a contradance this evening. We'll drive back afterwards, just in time to rescue the three Houdahenians from starvation. Yesterday when I got home I let them all out into the wilds. Two came back, but one, Wuzzy, was late as the dusk fell. I called him over and over. At one point, far away down in the darkening woods, probably at least to the little stream, I heard some dogs. Still no Wuzzy. Momma cat, who now lives most of the time on the kitchen stoop, walked out with me looked (I thought) worried. It was too dark to go very far. I called some more, sat on the stoop and asked Momma if she heard her boy. She looked at me, then out into the woods. I went inside, finally. Some later I came back into the kitchen and there he was, looking in through the French doors. He was fine if somewhat excited. He kept looking backwards, out the door, as he ate his supper, as though something might have been chasing him. But it wasn't a pack of dogs, or if it was, he only heard them and skedaddled. None of the boys are up for dogs. Little Momma might have taught them some stuff about that, as she's got great self-preservation instincts obviously, but we took them in too soon. So as a trade off, they are sweet, purring things, each with their own personalities, and the thought of them encountering something ferocious and beyond their athleticism and optimism is not a happy one.

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