Rope (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1948) – It’s usually just chalked up as a “great experiment,” by virtue of the precious few cuts in the film, and the disguising of most of them, along with it being shot more-or-less in real time and all in one enclosed space. But it really stands out as one of Hitchcock’s strongest moral statements. The superiority of the two main characters and their mentor gets critiqued by their mentor and by the snowball effect of the murder the men commit. But Rupert, the mentor, hypocritically criticizes the men even after inspiring the killing himself. What’s the disconnect? Was he skirting the line between serious and silly with recklessness, such that his proteges were incapable of knowing the difference? When he loses it at the end, firing a gun out the window instead of just calling the police, his own violent tendencies come to the fore. This is Hitchcock at his most didactic, illustrating the effects of speaking without thinking, or thinking without considering the consequences of our thought. It’s in vogue to like Nietzsche these days, but Hitchcock here puts a lid on that.
Contempt (dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 1963) – Contempt is the most “important” of Godard’s films I hadn’t yet seen, and like most “important” films, a single viewing isn’t enough. It’s usually compared with 8½ on account of it being a film about film, but I see more in common with L’Avventura and Godard’s earlier Vivre sa vie and later Pierrot le fou. Like Vivre sa vie, Godard tries to give agency to a female character, this time played by Brigitte Bardot. At certain moments, the film offers convincing opportunities for the viewer to sympathize with her, as she’s offered within the narrative as a fetish object to be desired by the power-holding male characters and also outside the narrative as slightly more than just a fetish object. Many scenes in this film are difficult to take seriously, since I get the impression that Godard isn’t taking them seriously. The music, although beautiful, is far more melodramatic in tone than most of his soundtracks. The love triangle, told in the grammar of Antonioni, is silly and juxtaposed with impressive human architectural feats springing up out of majestic scenes in nature. I’ve tried hard with Godard, but I continue to get the impression that making movies is, for him, like winking into a mirror.
Viva Maria! (dir. Louis Malle, 1965) – So maybe it isn’t Malle’s best work, but its sheer weirdness makes it fascinating and even worthy of close analysis. By casting Jeanne Moreau and, again, Brigitte Bardot, viewers are likely to expect a real display of feminine glory. Instead, after the obligatory narrative about two women who accidentally invent the striptease, the film kicks itself into political gear. The more political it gets, the sillier it also gets. However, the slapstick humor and sight gags somehow don’t seem intended to subvert the political impetus. The film sets itself apart as an oddity within its genre of 1960s French films, holding a similar contempt for audience expectations as…Contempt.