One of the more fascinating moments in many auteur filmographies is the moment when he or she tackles their first big studio project. Stepping (at least financially) into the Hollywood big leagues can be both wonderful and disastrous (and sometimes both).
Contempt was a film that, for Jean-Luc Godard, stands out as such a creative oddity; a studio-fueled adaptation of a 1954 novel (by Alberto Moravia, also known for the source material of Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist) with big name stars like Jack Palance, Brigitte Bardot and (playing himself) Fritz Lang. More after the jump:
Michel Piccoli plays Paul Javal, an American novelist who has been hired by a producer, Jeremy Prokosch (Palance) to rewrite a film version of Homer’s Odyssey for Lang to direct. Traveling with his wife (Bardot), Javal is torn between his own creative wants and needs and the desires of Prokosch. Paralleling this is an increasingly distant relationship with Camille (Bardot), who threatens to be consumed by the same intangible distance.
Godard’s work here is unquestionably that of a cinematic master, letting the story seep in on every level, creating not only a film within a film, but a film about itself as well as about the sacrifices, both mental and physical, that any creative force makes — willing or otherwise — to their art.
StudioCanal, who owns the distribution rights to Contempt, caused somewhat of a stir in the collector community when it was learned that their Blu-Ray series (dubbed the StudioCanal Collection) would rub heads with titles previously licensed to the Criterion Collection.
Criterion, long a fan-favorite among DVD collectors (and with good reason) would be forced to give up a number of its titles. Thankfully, the first wave of the StudioCanal collection proves that these titles shouldn’t be seen as the publisher “taking their ball and going home”. These are legitimately well-made discs with, in the case of Contempt, fairly pristine sound and picture, certainly a marked improvement over the SD Criterion disc and it’s hard to imagine the 47 year old film looking much better.
StudioCanal also does not skimp on the extras, the most notable being The Dinasaur and the Baby a nearly hour-long conversation between Lang and Godard, recorded near Contempt’s release. While (naturally, it was recorded for television) not in high definition, the featurette is of so much interest it could almost have warranted its own release, packed with fantastic tidbits from two cinematic masters.
Almost as long is Once Upon a Time There Was… Contempt, a (also SD) documentary about the making of the film. Primarily in French, this is a great supplement that goes surprisingly in-depth about Contempt’s production.
Clocking in at just over half an hour comes Contempt…Tenderly, a decent making-of that would would put a lot of other discs’ special features to shame if it wasn’t already eclipsed by the longer, more in- depth documentary already included. Still, StudioCanal can’t be faulted for having too many special features.
At about 15 minutes is Conversations with Fritz Lang which consists of interviews recorded on-set. At five minutes is an introduction by writer Colin MacCabe which is, sadly, a bit forgettable (though that’s primarily due to the wealth of special features).
Rounding things out is the original trailer which is also the focus of an essay included inside a 20-page booklet, something that is very good to see given Blu-Ray’s tendency to ditch inserts altogether.
The case itself is a standard blu-ray keepcase, housed within a textured slipcover and some very fine painted artwork of Bardot. Short of Criterion’s unique cases, this is probably the best I’ve seen a Blu- Ray package look.
While the Criterion fanboy is me wants to tell you to avoid these in the hopes that poor sales might encourage StudioCanal to give up the rights, I can’t. Contempt is a fantastic release and we need more studios releasing classics in HD right now. I have a bit more trepidation about the RAN set, but, for the time being, these discs look to be in really solid hands.