Contempt (1963)

I love soundtracks. I listen to film scores almost daily and as my charts show, I never get tired of my favorites. My blog’s name “Cinebeats” is directly tied to my love for films and film soundtracks.

When I heard about the Film Music Blog-a-thon I thought long and hard about the composers that I love and the scores that have left a deep impression on me. I couldn’t decide on one composer or soundtrack to write about, but one particular piece of music kept haunting me and reminding me of the incredible power that a great musical score can have over a film and its audience, and that was composer Georges Delerue’s theme music for Jean-Luc Godard’s film Contempt (a.k.a. Le Mépris, 1963).

Contempt is one of my favorite movies and I can’t think of another film that so perfectly captures that painful moment when two people fall out of love. There are countless romantic movies about couples falling in love, but very few films manage to capture the human anguish and profound sorrow of what it’s like to deeply love another human being and to have that love completely destroyed by one stupid gesture or careless action.

Some might say that Godard uses Georges Delerue’s theme for Contempt excessively within the film and he does. Delerue’s theme music is heard again and again throughout Contempt, but instead of becoming irritating or distracting, Delerue’s beautiful score only adds more layers and depth to Godard’s film as it pushes it onward towards its explosive conclusion.

Is there another piece of film music as perfect and as powerful? I’m not sure that there is and that’s why I couldn’t resist writing about it for the Film Music Blog-a-thon. Delerue’s theme for Contempt completely captivates me every time I hear it and I’m instantly brought back to the film’s complex emotional core and carefully constricted themes.

When I first watched Godard’s Contempt the film completely shattered me. I was a wreck for days after I saw it, but the movie’s incredible beauty also managed to take me to new heights that I’ve never really come down from and I truly believe that’s what a good film score is capable of. Great soundtracks can elevate a film as well as the audience to new unimaginable heights and bring meaning to the mundane.

The theme music for Contempt is part of my Radio Playlist and you can listen to it by scrolling down to Cinebeats Radio and clicking on the song Georges Delerue – Le Mépris featured in the right hand column of my blog. You can also hear it in the film’s trailer which I came across on Youtube.

The soundtrack for Contempt seems to have gone out of print, but you can still find used copies selling at Amazon.

13 thoughts on “Contempt (1963)

  1. I think “Contempt” is one of the most perfect movies ever made and Delerue’s score just about the most beautiful music I have ever heard.
    I first saw it in my early teens after discovering a photograph of Bardot that put me on the road to discovering European cinema.
    I love the way Godard uses the theme in this film, there is something so obviously cienmatic about it but it also gives the film a much more emotional resonance than most of his work.
    I think Bardot is just magnificent in this role and I must say everytime I hear the theme, I picture her in this film.
    Scorsese loves this theme so much that he used it quite a bit in his “Casino” but it belongs to “Contempt” as one of the most perfect marriages between music and the image in screen history.
    Great choice Kimberly…I will be posting mine later.

    By the way, have you ever heard Piero Piccioni’s score for the Italian version of this film, called “Il Disprezzo”? As an album I like it very much but I can’t imagine it with the film. I wish Criterion would have included the Italian soundtrack on their otherwise incredible set, as I have always been curious to see how the film would have played with Piccioni’s score. I just can’t imagine it with out Delerue’s music.

  2. Thanks much for the thoughtful comment Jeremy!

    I’ve never seen Scorsese’s Casino (I’ve been avoiding his films since Goodfellas I’m afraid only because they haven’t interested me. I do want to see the Aviator though), but nothing bothers me more than when filmmakers take a crucial piece of music from another movie and slap it in their own because they’re too lazy to hire their own composer or come up with an original score. For me it’s like hearing a song I love used in a car commercial. I get nauseous from it.

    Too many modern filmmakers do that and it really irks me.

    I have heard Piccioni’s score and I like it a lot, but I can’t imagine it in the film.

    I’m looking forward to reading your contribution to the blog-a-thon!

  3. So glad to have found your blog – my list of films to see keeps growing! Now I just need the time! Contempt sounds so interesting – thanks for the promo.

  4. Thanks so much Anna! I think you’d really enjoy Contempt, but just make sure you have a large supply of tissues on hand when you watch it. Bardot is so fabulous in the movie and it’s beautifully scripted and shot by Godard.

    Godard is one of the few filmmakers I can think of who makes what I consider to be great “women” films. . . whatever that might mean. I do believe he has an incredible understanding of how women think and often feel.

  5. Le mepris is a truly wonderful film. Coincidentally i just ordered this last monday, i’m expecting it any day now. It’s been ages since i last saw it, can’t wait to revisit it.

  6. i dont know. i have a copy of the film but i was very disappointed by “bande a part” and ive heard that “le mepris” is very boring and… you know… havent watched it yet.
    looks like everybodys very excited about it here. maybe i should check it out… i will…

    ad soundtracks:
    present soundtracks suck. sure there is lot of good original music, but there are more mtv hits soundtracks. just collections of modern pop (rock, r&b, numetal,…). in the 70s almost every cheap b action flick had original music. maybe im wrong… but i have a lot of old film music albums and no radio hits.

  7. Dear Cinebeats,
    You are so right in describing the emotional landscape of Contempt. Godard captures the inexpressible, invisible realities of life in his films in a way no one else ever has. A Woman is a Woman for example conveys the energy of a young woman, maybe just out on her own, in love for the first time, experimenting with life, in such a powerful way. It’s intoxicating. And Contempt does leave you numb like you just broke up with your first true love. I also love Fritz Lang in the film. It’s as if one of the Greek statues came to life, a god of Cinema walking the earth.

  8. Robert – The Criterion DVD of Contempt is really beautiful and well worth owning. It has some fantastic extras so I hope that’s the one you picked up. It’s one of my favorite Criterion discs.

    Ada – If you didn’t enjoy Bande à part, you may not like Contempt. Godard’s films are probably a required taste I suppose and they’re often very slow moving and contemplative.

    It does seem like a lot of modern scores just haphazardly slap a bunch of popular tunes into a film without much thought these days. A lot of modern soundtracks remind me of old K-tel records.

    Joe – Thanks for the nice thoughts. There’s a lot of wonderful themes going on in Godard’s Contempt such as the death of old cinema and birth of the new and of course the whole thing is wrapped in Homer’s Odyssey, but I really love the way Godard deals with human relationships in Contempt. He has such a wonderful understanding of the inner working life of people and the women in his films are so beautifully written. Fritz Lang’s appearance is wonderful and he does seem extremely god-like in the film.

  9. I’m always discovering new films by checking out your blog. I thank my lucky stars that I found your blog through Jeremy’s Moon in the Gutter. This film looks wonderful. I’ve always thought Jack Palance was so cool. Plus I totally adore Brigitte Bardot. She’s like a goddess who I want to fall down and worship. She’s so stunningly beautiful.

  10. The italian version (by Carlo Ponti) of Le mepris is different in music, cut and colors. The are less images with half-naked BB and the two ending scenes are changed in the order too. G.

  11. I stumbled across your blog while searching for a place to download Contempt’s score. Let me explain…

    I’m a filmmaker and saw Contempt in my 1st year of film school and it’s been my response to the dreaded, “what’s your favorite movie?” ever since. I believe I can answer that question not solely based on Godard’s genius seen throughout, but because of Georges Delerue – Le Mépris score. You see I’m more of a “Casino” kind of guy, but Contempt just struck me so differently than anything I’d been exposed to that it shook me to my core. Which brings me to the point of this post.

    There’s been a shake up in the hip-hop world (stick with me) over an artist, Jay Electronica, and his use of Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind’s score as the only thing to rap over. No drums or other resampling involved added. While Jon Brion, the original score’s composer, has notably worked with Kanye West, this score was not intended for rap music yet it’s created a buzz about what direction hip-hop should be headed. Simply put, it was an outside the box idea that just worked. How many times can that phrase be applied to filmmaking?

    So I thought I’d pass this info along to other fellow film fans as a reminder that what you think you like may just be what you’re used to.

    Have a listen here

  12. Hiya Bigface! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Some of my favorite musicians and bands have been sampling film scores and using them in their music for many many years and for me personally that’s a totally different thing than another filmmaker taking a score from a great film and sticking it in their own movie. I can appreciate it when musicians sample bits of film scores and dialogue, etc. and use them in their own songs as long as it’s used in a creative way and not to excess. Of course there’s that little thing called copyright involved too. These days it seems like good film composers are few and far between mainly because filmmakers don’t use them anymore and instead inject their movies with the latest pop hits or just borrow music composed for another film.

    Film is a visual medium and soundtracks are used to evoke emotions or express what is visually taking place on screen. I personally attach memories and feelings to the film scores I love (I do it to songs as well, which is why I hate hearing a song I love used to sell cars or jeans in TV ads) and great composers create great scores with an original film in mind. If another director just borrows a score from another film it lacks the punch and power of the original (at least for me anyway). It feels like a director is trying to co-opt the good feelings or evocative moods already created by another director in a previous film. I would much rather hear an original piece of music in a new movie.

    Composing original music for films is becoming a lost art (hell, making original films is becoming a lost art due to the hundreds of forgettable remakes released every year) and I really think that’s a shame. I wish more directors would work with young aspiring film composers or musicians interested in creating original scores. I think the film world as well as the music biz would really benefit from it.

Comments are closed.