Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Alberto Moravia wrote La Disprezza in 1954, and the novel later became the basis for Jean Luc Godard’s 1963 film Le Mepris (Contempt). Both the novel and the movie concern a hack writer, Paul, who is hired to pen a latter-day version of The Odyssey. Contempt stars Fritz Lang as the director, Jack Palance as the producer, Michel Piccoli as Paul and Brigitte Bardot as the writer’s all-unknowing wife Camille. The poet Anne Carson touched on her recurring themes of French New Wave cinema and classics, of which she is a professor at the University of Michigan, in the recent Academy of American Poets Blaney Lecture, held at Manhattan’s Philoctetes Center. Carson provided a Marxist economic analysis of the Homeric world in which the society of elites pass their wealth around “to reify their noble status.” Lewis Hyde and Marcel Mauss’s notion of the gift economy received a new interpretation from Carson, who described the gift as both inalienable and a sign of dependency between the giver and the recipient. Carson contrasted this with the mercantile exchange of goods for profit between two independent parties. What does this have to do with Contempt? The answer was provided with a segue into the making of Godard’s film, for which American producer Joseph E. Levine paid five million francs to hire Bardot, and then blew his top when there were no nude scenes. Godard is the latter-day Odysseus in Carson’s retelling of the film’s creation myth, full of canniness and irony, knowing how to bridge the gap between the gift (the opportunity to create art) and his need to survive as a filmmaker. Neither Bardot nor the uneducated character she plays is a Penelope, but Carson quoted Oscar Wilde“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it”in explaining Godard’s caving to the lure of a box-office draw like Bardot in his odyssey to become one of the major figures of the Nouvelle Vague

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