Friday, August 24, 2007

Band of Outsiders (1964)

(Original Title: Bande a Part, Directed by Jean-Luc Godard, 1964, France)

Band of Outsiders is a happy-go-lucky anomaly among Jean-Luc Godard's early 1960's work, made between Le Mepris (Contempt) and Alphaville. The film is a modified gangster story (based on a crime novel) that never quite seems to take itself seriously and contains numerous inside jokes. Two pals Arthur (Claude Brasseur) and Franz (Sami Frey) persuade a student in their school Odile (Anna Karina) to help them commit a robbery at Odile's aunt's home. Along the way there are a few jokes about film sound (Karina feeds a tiger one hears before seeing); a "moment of silence" in which the film's soundtrack goes literally silent. A few classic moments as well that were shamelessly quoted in later films: a run through the Louvre and the ever fabulous fun sequence of the trio dancing "the Madison" in a Paris bistro, complete with requisite voice-over by Godard himself, explaining each characters interior life.

As an almost frivolous 'stylistic exercise' (think Raymond Queneau), Band of Outsiders is a study of a film, but is enjoyable to watch as the film invents and seems to re-invent itself. Godard would only be this playful again in the later film Masculin/Feminin, and would begin to pursue the (then) fashionable Marxist societal critique of his later 1960's work. At least, Band of Outsiders, (besides giving Quentin Tarantino's production company a name), is a 'transitional' film in the work of one of cinema's true innovators. And Karina dances very well too.

The Criterion DVD release is quite commendable: while not containing the usual 'commentary', special features contain a 'behind-the-scenes' short feature with Godard (which contains the only known footage of the making of "Band of Outsiders"), and interviews with long-time Godard cameraman Raoul Coutard and Anna Karina, as well as a silent movie parodic sequence lifted from Agnes Varda's "Cleo from 9 to 5" starring Godard, Karina and Frey.
Now, if only Rialto Pictures could restore "Une Femme Mariee" life would be ....