Bardot reigns over land of lost chances in noirish ‘Contempt’

By Mike Wilmington

Contempt posterJean-Luc Godard’s “Contempt” is a melancholy drama about love’s dissolution and the compromises of moviemaking. Few films on either subject project so much beauty and bitterness. Thanks to Godard and Brigitte Bardot, it’s a masterpiece of mournful eroticism, one of the cinema’s most anguished portrayals of the ways love turns to hatred and passion curdles to contempt.

Based on Alberto Moravia’s 1954 novel “Ghost at Noon,” about a couple falling apart during a blighted film production of Homer’s “Odyssey,” Godard’s movie was considered a failure on its release in 1963. But “Contempt” gradually became acknowledged as one of the great French films of the ’60s.

The doomed husband and wife are played by Michel Piccoli, as Paul, an opportunistic young playwright doctoring the script of “The Odyssey,” and Bardot – then the world’s reigning movie sex goddess – as Camille, Paul’s infinitely desirable but thoroughly alienated wife. Supporting them are Jack Palance as the brutal, lechy and egomaniacal American producer Jerry Prokosch, and Fritz Lang as himself, a legendary film director trying to create art in the midst of madness.

"Contempt" features a classic love triangle.

“Contempt” features a classic love triangle between Bardot, Palance (center) and Piccoli (top right).

When Godard (who also appears in the movie as Lang’s assistant director) started “Contempt,” he had one foot inside the door of the studio system. He was a maverick art-house director with a big international hit (1960’s “Breathless”) and an ambivalent but strong affection for classic Hollywood, especially film noir. Godard has called “Contempt” a film with an Antonioni subject done in the style of Hitchcock and Hawks.

But, after his fracases with “Contempt” producers, Carlo Ponti and Joseph Levine, and the picture’s commercial disappointment, he was an independent and an outsider again – and remains so to this day.

“Contempt” is a sad, sarcastic film and a stunningly beautiful one. It dazzles us with visions of Bardot and the sun-drenched backdrops of Italy’s Cinecitta Studios and Capri, photographed by Godard’s master cinematographer Raoul Coutard. Godard, then more famous for the nervous, jump-cut editing style of “Breathless,” here favors long, luxuriant takes in the Max Ophuls-Vincente Minnelli style.

Filmed in Capri, the movie is full of stunning scenery and memorable shots.

Filmed partly in Capri, the movie is full of stunning scenery.

His elegantly composed shots drink in the sumptuous sights of international moviemaking: plush screening rooms, swimming pools, the sparkling blue ocean. Perhaps most memorably, Bardot’s radiant blonde Camille, a ravishing yet vulnerable sexpot, is shot in the nude through red, white and blue filters, in the movie’s opening. (That scene was a strip tease the producers demanded, and that Godard and Bardot turned into an ironic/iconic triumph of her sexuality and his cinematic “gaze”).

Camille is the movie’s object of desire and its victim of love. And when Paul loses Camille, his life, we feel, is almost deservedly shattered. The movie resonates with regret over lost romance and squandered lives, showing the exact points at which love dies, could be rescued and is thrown away again.

BB plays Camille, the alienated wife.

BB plays Camille, the alienated wife.

“Contempt” also shows us another kind of threatened passion: love for the cinema of the great auteurs (like Lang), a cinema that seems to be dying along with Camille‘s love for Paul.

Moravia’s novel was said to be inspired his relationship with his wife, novelist Elsa Morante, a goddess of fiction. Godard, retelling the story in pictures, turns Bardot into another kind of deity. She is BB, flesh become art: high priestess of the land of lost chances, the cinema queen of the moving camera and measureless desire.

(In French, with English subtitles. Available to buy at Criterion. It’s also shown from time to time on TCM.)

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Film Noir File: Marvelous mystery appears in ‘Lady Vanishes’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). All movies below are from the schedule of TCM, which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Pick of the Week

The Lady Vanishes” (1938, Alfred Hitchcock). 10 p.m. (7 p.m.) Saturday, Oct. 4.

"The Lady Vanishes" is full of tricks and surprises.

“The Lady Vanishes” is full of tricks and surprises.

In “The Lady Vanishes,” his marvelous 1938 mystery classic set aboard a train racing though the Balkans, Alfred Hitchcock pushes the romantic-comedy-thriller form to near perfection. It’s one of the most purely entertaining movies he ever made, and it can be watched over and over again with no diminution of pleasure. With Michael Redgrave, Margaret Lockwood, Paul Lukas and Dame May Whitty.

Read the full review here.

Sunday, Oct. 5

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “Scarface” (1932, Howard Hawks). With Paul Muni, George Raft, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley and Boris Karloff. Reviewed in FNB on July 17, 2014.

12 p.m. (9 a.m.): “Cool Hand Luke” (1967, Stuart Rosenberg). With Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Jo Van Fleet, Strother Martin and Dennis Hopper. Reviewed in FNB on March 21, 2014.

Tuesday, Oct. 7

7:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.): “The Letter” (1940, William Wyler). With Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, Gale Sondergaard and James Stephenson. Reviewed in FNB on Sept. 19, 2012).

Maltese Falcon poster9:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m.): “The Maltese Falcon” (1941, John Huston). With Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook, Jr. and Ward Bond. Reviewed in FNB on March 11, 2014.

1:15 p.m. (10:15 a.m.): “The Unfaithful” (1947, Vincent Sherman). With Ann Sheridan, Lew Ayres, Zachary Scott and Eve Arden. Ann Sheridan, with lots of oomph, takes over Bette Davis’ old role (and Jeanne Eagels’) in this Americanized remake of the film versions of the classic W. Somerset Maugham short story “The Letter.” (See above.)

3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m.): “Where Danger Lives” (1950, John Farrow). With Robert Mitchum, Faith Domergue and Claude Rains. Bob Mitchum on the run with one of his blander leading ladies, Faith Domergue. No “Out of the Past,” but it holds your interest.

4:45 p.m. (1:45 p.m.): “Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). With Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman and Leo G. Carroll. Reviewed in FNB on April 14, 2011.

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “A Kiss Before Dying” (1956, Gerd Oswald). With Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter and Joanne Woodward. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 10, 2012.

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Tense neo-noir ‘Gone Girl’ is the go-to movie this weekend

Gone Girl posterIn the poster for “Gone Girl,” star Ben Affleck stands near a body of water – not a sandy white beach burnished by the sun, but a murky strip of gray bounded by non-descript industrial buildings. A dump, in other words, and just the kind of place that could drive you crazy, especially if the rest of your life isn’t going so great and if your relationship is, well, a bit frayed.

Director David Fincher conveys that strong, vivid sense of place (North Carthage, Missouri) as well as a mood of dour frustration (Affleck’s Nick Dunne is in a strained marriage) within the first few minutes of “Gone Girl,” the much-anticipated neo-noir movie based on Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel. (Flynn also wrote the script.)

“When I think of my wife, I always think of her head,” Nick tells us. Literally, as he touches her sleek blonde hair, and figuratively: “What are you thinking, Amy? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?”

It seems that Nick’s fate is to ponder these questions and consistently come up short on answers. That’s because elegant and efficient Amy (Rosamund Pike), a trust-fund only child from an upper-crust East Coast family, is always several steps ahead of Nick, a good-looking, polite Midwestern guy who fancies that he might one day write the great American novel. They meet in Manhattan, where they both work as magazine writers but, when they lose their jobs, they move back to Nick’s hometown, which has been decimated by the recession.

On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy mysteriously disappears and Nick becomes the No. 1 suspect. As the drama unfolds, we discover that the answers to the questions about Nick and Amy are far more devastating than we could have imagined.

Flynn’s smart, multi-layered script (which closely follows her book) is just right for Fincher’s capable hands. The film is tense, gripping and darkly funny, and Fincher draws stellar performances from Affleck and Pike as well as Kim Dickens  as the low-key but tenacious lead detective on the case, Tyler Perry as Nick’s slick, smooth-talking defense attorney and Carrie Coon as Margo, Nick’s straight-shooting and sarcastic twin sister.

Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn

The plot of both the book and movie eventually becomes fantastic, even absurd. Sticklers for plausibility likely will grumble by the end.

But that didn’t bother me much because I think Flynn’s aim, as outlined on page one, was to raise thorny questions about the façades we present when dating, the fronts we gain from our jobs (or lack thereof), the compromises of intimacy and the unconscious crafting of a joint identity, the waning and waxing distance between two people over time, and the creeping self-denial and even outright lies that sometimes prop up a relationship, not to mention the current state of sexual power and politics. (The “cool-girl” soliloquy, particularly in the book, is downright searing.)

It’s a lot to think about and Flynn makes it entertaining to boot. That said, there is one central flaw to both the movie and the book, and that’s a deep connection, an undeniable, goose-pimply intensity, between Nick and Amy. That needs to be there for the story to work completely and it’s missing – there isn’t much chemistry, let alone a combustible, powerful passion. In establishing Amy as the alpha girl, Nick’s character remains a bit dull and two-dimensional.

Granted, she’s drawn to the good-looking, affable Milquetoast because she can boss him around, but a Type A like Amy would tire of mere arm candy and look for more of a challenge – someone to push back a bit and stand up to her. After all, she appears to be the golden girl with the world as her oyster.

And there are still a few stand-up, take-charge guys out there, right?

“Gone Girl” opens today in theaters.

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Hollywood Costume comes to the Wilshire May Co. building

 Tippi Hedren’s pale green dress from “The Birds,” shot by Richard Harbaugh / ©A.M.P.A.S.


Tippi Hedren’s pale green dress from “The Birds,” shot by Richard Harbaugh / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Starting on Oct. 2, you can stroll through history in style at the Hollywood Costume exhibition, which is housed in the Wilshire May Company building (at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles), the future location of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and sponsored by Swarovski, this show explores costume design as an essential tool of cinematic storytelling. (The show runs through March 2, 2015.)

The designer Adrian at work.

The designer Adrian at work.

Summing it up perfectly was a quotation inside the show from Adrian, a legendary Golden Age designer and creator of “The Wizard of Oz” ruby slippers, which are on display. Said Adrian: “Few people in an audience watching a great screen production realize the importance of any gown worn by the feminine star. They may notice that it’s attractive, that they would like to have it copied, that it is becoming.

“The fact that it was definitely planned to mirror a definite mood, to be as much a part of the play as the lines or the scenery seldom occurs to them. But that most assuredly is true.”

More than 150 iconic costumes curated by Deborah Nadoolman Landis will be on display – including Marlene Dietrich’s costumes from “Morocco” (1930) and Marilyn Monroe’s infamous white dress from “The Seven Year Itch” (1955) as well as Jared Leto’s costume from “Dallas Buyers Club and several entries from “American Hustle and “The Great Gatsby” (all 2013).

Film noir makes a showing (there’d be trouble otherwise!) with Kim Novak’s emerald-green dress from “Vertigo” and Tippi Hedren’s pale green dress from “The Birds,” not to mention examples from “Mildred Pierce,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “L.A. Confidential,” “The Big Lebowski,” “Basic Instinct” and “No Country for Old Men.” The work of legendary Edith Head is well represented.

Curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis

Curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis

In conjunction with the Hollywood Costume exhibition, the Academy will present screenings, starting Saturday with a terrific double feature: the Coen Brothers’ “No Country for Old Men and “The Big Lebowski.” Several of the featured costume designers will appear in person to introduce their films.

Designer and curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis originally approached the Academy several years ago with the idea for the show. The Academy passed on Hollywood Costume, so Landis took it to London’s V&A, which snapped it up.

Now the Academy apparently feels the time is right for the show. Commenting on the irony of London having the show first, Landis said, at the press preview Monday: “You can’t be a prophet in your own land.”

Most assuredly.

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Film noir and shoulder pads spur Crawford’s comeback

Wanted to share my talk on “Mildred Pierce” (1945, Michael Curtiz) on Saturday, Sept. 20, at the West Hollywood Library. The library’s Corey Roskin introduced me. Hope you enjoy!

The movie was popular with critics and audiences, and it garnered six Academy Award nominations including best picture. Joan Crawford won for best actress. The superb cast members (Eve Arden, Ann Blyth, Jack Carson, Bruce Bennett, Zachary Scott) balance Crawford beautifully. Arden and Blyth both got Oscar nods for supporting actress.

The screening was part of WeHo Reads, a noir-themed month-long literary program.

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Joyeux anniversaire, Brigitte Bardot!

Today, the French blonde bombshell, Brigitte Bardot, turns 80! As she put it: “It is sad to grow old but nice to ripen.”

BB was born Sept. 28, 1934.

BB was born Sept. 28, 1934.

Born into a comfortable Parisian home, Bardot studied music and dance at a young age and aspired to be a ballerina. She also pursued modeling, which led to her first film: 1952’s “Crazy for Love.”

In the mid-‘50s, she became, along with the U.S.’s Marilyn Monroe, the world’s reigning movie sexpot –  the always fetching and frequently undressed young star of a series of frothy French sex comedies, culminating in the international box-office triumph of Bardot’s and director Roger Vadim’s ultra-steamy erotic drama  “…And God Created Woman.”

If Monroe was the era’s instantly identifiable “M.M.,” Bardot was her equally recognizable French counterpart “B.B.”

Later, in the ‘60s, Bardot began working for more serious filmmakers, in more estimable projects, including “La Verite” (“The Truth”) (1960, Henri-Georges Clouzot, a film-noir master), “A Very Private Affair” (1962) and “Viva Maria!” (1965), both by Louis Malle, “Spirits of the Dead” (a 1968 omnibus film by Vadim, Malle and Federico Fellini), and her best film, the New Wave noirish classic “Le Mepris” (“Contempt”) (1963, Jean-Luc Godard).

Vadim was the first of four husbands. She has been married to Bernard d’Ormale since 1992.

She retired from movies in the 1970s; after leaving the world of filmmaking, she became an outspoken animal-rights activist. On her 50th birthday, in 1984, she told the London Times: “I have been very happy, very rich, very beautiful, much adulated, very famous and very unhappy.”

Before her 80th, she told the Times: “I only keep one man in mind, the next one.”

Here, we offer a photo tribute. To see recently discovered photos of BB as a teenager, click here.

BB -- in car

BB -- evening gown

BB -- polka dot

BB -- hat

BB -- plaid

BB -- pantsuit

BB -- boots

BB -- pink

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Film Noir File: ‘Strangers on a Train’ just the ticket for suspense

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). All movies below are from the schedule of TCM, which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Pick of the Week:

Strangers on a Train posterStrangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). Saturday Sept. 27, 3:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m.). With Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman, Marion Lorne and Leo G. Carroll. You can read the full review here.

Saturday, Sept. 27

1:15 p.m. (10:15 a.m.): “Under Capricorn” (1949, Alfred Hitchcock). With Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten and Margaret Leighton. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 17, 2012.

5:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m.): “North by Northwest” (1959, Alfred Hitchcock). With Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau and Jessie Royce Landis. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 17, 2012.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Laura” (1944, Otto Preminger). With Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price and Judith Anderson. Reviewed in FNB on April 18, 2014.

Monday, Sept. 29

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “The Informer” (1935, John Ford). With Victor McLaglen, Heather Angel, Preston Foster and J. M. Kerrigan. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 12, 2012.

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On the radar: Events galore at WeHo Reads Noir; ‘Nightcrawler’ at Beyond Fest; ‘True Detective’ gets a clue

Rachel McAdams rocks and we’d love to see her on “True Detective.”

Rachel McAdams rocks and we’d love to see her on season two of
HBO’s “True Detective.”

WeHo Reads event flyerThe City of West Hollywood has been celebrating National Literacy Month with a series of free events collectively called WeHo Reads Noir. On Saturday, Sept. 27, there will be a day of panels, presentations, theater, poetry, art, music and film.

At 7:15 p.m. on Saturday, there will be a free outdoor screening of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”

Nightcrawler,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal as an LA crime photographer, is the must-see title Friday, Sept. 26, at Beyond Fest 2014, which runs through Oct. 4 at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The movie will open in theaters next month.

Nightcrawler posterAs the organizers put it: The fest is dedicated to delivering the elite in horror, sci-fi, fantasy and badass cinema. This year’s programming reflects a globally diverse and eclectic mix of premieres, rare repertory screenings and special events, all of which are anchored in bringing firsts to genre fans in Los Angeles.

Beyond Fest has also partnered with Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network as its presenting sponsor, a partnership that will make much of the festival’s programming free to creative makers and film fans alike.

Rachel McAdams is said to be locking down the female lead role in season two of HBO’s “True Detective.” Read details here.

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Film Noir File: Ryan seethes with rage in ‘Crossfire’

Crossfire posterLast Friday was my birthday and I have been having much fun celebrating. As a result, the Film Noir File has just one entry!

Tuesday, Sept. 23, 12:15 a.m. (9:15 p.m.) on TCM:

Crossfire” (1947, Edward Dmytryk). Based on the novel “The Brisk Foxhole” by the young Richard Brooks and directed by Edward Dmytryk in what many feel was the best period of his career, this is the famous postwar thriller about an anti-Semitic murder and the returning American soldiers mixed up in it. Co-starring Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Robert Young, Sam Levene and Gloria Grahame.

The film is moody and gripping, filled with noirish dark-hued scenes, and the entire cast is excellent. But the performance everyone tends to remember best is Bob Ryan as the anti-Jewish soldier – a role that Ryan packs with seething, psychopathic hatred and rage. Incidentally, in Brooks’ original novel, the murder victim was not Jewish, but homosexual.

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Noir City returns to Portland, Ore. Sept. 19-21!

Noir City Portland

For more info: http://hollywoodtheatre.org/noir-city/

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