The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Band of Outsiders (1964/France/dir. Jean-Luc Godard) appeared at #34 on my original list.
What it is • Two wannabe hoodlums, Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur) enlist an odd, naive young woman, Odile (Anna Karina), into an attempt to rob the bourgeois family she lives with. Romantic, deadpan, perpetually bemused, the trio spends most of the film lounging (and dancing) in cafes, bantering about movies and current events, and deciding who Odile is going to sleep with. As Pauline Kael noted, it comes as a shock when they actually endeavor to commit the crime, as if one type of movie has been dropped down in the middle of another. Godard based the film on the pulp novel Fool's Gold by the Californian crime/western writer Dolores Hitchens. Thus we have another quintessential example of the French New Wave's interest in fusing taut American genre fare with a more leisurely French sensibility; Godard's early work in particular was an exemplar of this tendency from Breathless onward. The influence boomeranged back to America again, impacting the auteurs of New Hollywood down to Quentin Tarantino, who named his production company "Band Apart" - a play on the French title - and many others (while reading into the subject for this review, I even stumbled across an article comparing the dance sequence to Audrey in the diner on Twin Peaks). For such an influential film, Band of Outsiders has a mixed legacy - some consider it very minor Godard (including biographer Richard Brody and perhaps even the director himself), while others mark it among their favorites. Obviously, I'm with the latter group.
Why I like it •
Like many, I saw the most famous scene first, as a selected clip isolated from the rest of the movie. Franz, Arthur, and Odile, bored at a cafe table, challenge one another to a minute of silence. Accordingly, Godard cuts out the entire soundtrack, albeit not quite for a full sixty seconds. Then one of the trio proposes a new dance, the "Madison", and they line up in the middle of the cafe where they stomp, snap, and shuffle their way back and forth for several minutes of screen time. The dance itself is catchy and charming enough (it's amusing to see the actors glance at the feet of the person in front of them, trying to keep in step) but the most memorable aspect of the sequence hits our ears, not our eyes. Godard cuts out the music, leaving only the sounds of shoes squeaking and hands clapping, as he himself narrates the characters' feelings, ranging from the self-conscious (Odile wanders if the men can see her breasts moving under her sweater) to the amusingly poetic ("He wondered if the world is becoming a dream, or if the dream is becoming the world"). I was smitten, and once I saw the entire film, I found it just as charming and intoxicating as this clip. As someone who hadn't been particularly won over by a first viewing of Breathless, it was this film and others like Weekend and, of course, Masculin Feminin (coming on up...) that won me over. In addition to the stylistic gambits, there is a moody, foggy atmosphere to the whole film, and it's as much a pleasure to linger in this milieu as to speed through lightning montages and sonic experiments. As we'll have opportunity to discuss later, few directors are better able to fuse the lingering gaze of the Lumieres with the magic tricks of Melies in a single film - sometimes, a single scene.
More from me • Images and sounds from the film are incorporated into my video essay on Anna Karina from earlier this year, titled The Passion of Anna K. (I discussed the Band of Outsiders portion of the montage in my companion piece for Fandor Keyframe.) A clip of the Madison sequence opens "That Total Film", a chapter in my "32 Days of Movies" video clip series.
How you can see it • Band of Outsiders is not streaming (or open for digital rental) anywhere that I could find, but it is available for blu-ray/DVD rental from Netflix.
What do you think? • Is the film "light" Godard and, if so, does it matter? How do you place this film within the trajectory of not just Godard's, but Karina's career, and particularly their evolving collaboration? What, if anything, distinguishes Band of Outsiders from the works it influenced, and the works that influenced it?
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Yesterday: The Man With a Movie Camera (#35)
Tomorrow: White Heat (#33)