That Jean-Luc Godard was at the peak of his powers in 1963-64 is gloriously borne out in these two immaculately produced Criterion titles. While “Contempt” and “Band of Outsiders” are both steeped in the director’s passionate cinephilia, they represent the pinnacles of two distinct styles, with the former bidding a melancholy farewell to classicism and the latter exulting in the euphoria of spur-of-the-moment creation. Profoundly expressive of the moments and places at which they were made, they also superbly stand the test of time, more than ever in these bonus-filled super-sized editions.
Few color/widescreen films were more majesterially photographed than “Contempt,” so to have this high-def digital transfer personally supervised by Raoul Coutard is a bit of heaven for buffs who, from the ’60s through the ’80s, died a bit inside as they watched the existing original prints gradually go pink.
A new interview with Coutard is just one element in the bounty here, which also includes the wonderful hour-long TV conversation between Godard and “Contempt” costar Fritz Lang, “The Dinosaur and the Baby”; Peter Fleischmann’s short, “Encounter with Fritz Lang”; an unusually upbeat and forthcoming contemporaneous interview with Godard, and two rare B&W docus shot on the Capri locations by fellow nouvelle vague director Jacques Rozier. Shorts are haphazard and unrevelatory but do remind that, in the context of 1963, “Contempt” was first and foremost a Brigitte Bardot film.
After shooting his most expensive film, Godard returned to the streets of Paris for the rough-hewn “Band of Outsiders,” which is 95 minutes of brilliant visual jazz. As stimulated by a wintry chill as “Contempt” is baked in Mediterranean sun, “Band” is adorned here by some behind-the-scenes footage of Godard in action courtesey of a TV docu of the period. It also includes interviews with Godard, star Anna Karina and Coutard (who once again supervised the transfer); Agnes Varda’s silent comedy parody “Les Fiances du Pont MacDonald,” which was part of her “Cleo from 5 to 7,” featuring Godard (in Harold Lloyd getup) and Karina; and even a visual glossary of references and wordplay in the picture.
These two Godard masterpieces have never looked better.