I can't recall precisely where and when I first saw Jean-Luc Godard's landmark 1964 picture Une femme mariée, but I know it wasn't until well after I had seen Alphaville, which came slightly after Une femme, or Le mepris, which appeared slightly before it—the years 1962 to 1968 represented a rather incredible flurry of activity for the director, seeing the creation/release of fourteen features and, depending on which source you believe, eight or nine shorts. That's practically Fassbinderean output. I imagine a good statistician might be able to prove that it actually outpaces Fassbinder at his most fecund. The more salient point is that each of these films—also among them are Vivre sa vie, Bandé a part, Made In USA, and so on—are remarkably different from each other in perspective, look and tone, and yet all are unmistakably Godardian. Nevertheless, a triple feature comprised of Le mepris, Une femme mariée, and Alphaville would/will give one a sense of precisely what multitudes Godard contained at the time. Of course at the time I couldn't have seen such a triple feature had anyone programmed it, as by 1965, at which point all three films were in the can, I was just turning six. But. As I was saying. I first saw Alphaville, and Le mepris, the same way more or less that Martin Scorsese first encountered the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger: on television, in black and white, severely edited and dotted with commercials. Channel 7 WABC screened Alphaville at least once a year in the late '60s/ early '70s, cutting it by about 10 minutes to fit in a 90-minute time slot. It was also dubbed into English; the guy who did the voice for Lemmy Caution/Eddie Constantine was appropriately gravel-voiced. Certain images made a permanent impression: poor Akim Tamiroff and that single light bulb and the brief swatches where the frames go negative. And the whole grainy low-light romanticism of it all. I remember carrying my parents 13-inch Sony up to the bedroom I shared with my brother so I could watch the thing at 2 a.m., which was invariably when ABC would slot it. Le mepris was more problematic: not only was the picture cropped (or course) from its widescreen dimensions, but it was dubbed entirely into English—making Georgia Moll's translator character entirely superfluous. I don't recall what dialogue was concocted for her—it's possible that the dubbing concern just left it as it was!—but it gave the picture a level of absurdism that was, alas, entirely inapt.
And that was how a kid in the suburbs of Jersey who didn't have quite the stones to sneak into the city where he wasn't permitted to go without an escort absorbed some Godard back in those days. That, and Grove Press film books and other such printed material. Boy was I excited when Milne's Godard on Godard turned up in my local library.
Now as for Une femme...did I program and project a 16mm print of it while in college in the late '70s, or did I go see it at Manahttan's Upper West Side Thalia, where they showed a for-institutions-only 16 print, and the projectionist put his hand over the lens when the tacked-on leader specifying that this was a for-institutions-only print came on screen? I don't quite recall. I do recall the image quality was not anything to write home about...the print scratchy, washed-out...a poor dupe God knows how many iterations away from the original negative. Still, what a film! In Le mepris, Godard is at his most self-lacerating, fully in sympathy with the Bardot character against her sniveling, equivocating husband—but Godard kills her anyway. In Alphaville he still evinces some mad hope for the redemptive powers of romantic love. And in Une femme mariée, with its beautiful but rather doll-like female lead Macha Meril, we get a cinematic illustration of the misogynist maxim Godard formulated over a decade prior, in his 1952 piece "Defense and Illustration of Classical Construction:" "The cinema does not query the beauty of a woman, it only doubts her heart, records her perfidy...sees only her movements." Add a critique of consumer culture and the society of the spectacle (which are not entirely analogous phenoms) and...and this is the crucial part...shoot it all with the crispness of a B&W television commercial of the time...and you've got Une femme mariée.
And really, there is the rub, because for too long too many of us were under the impression—because how could we tell otherwise?—that Une femme mariée was shot similarly to, maybe Alphaville: with constant low light photography, constantly push push pushing the exposure and upping the grain. Now look at the image above, shot with a camera off of my own personal plasma display in my personal living room with all sorts of ambient light bouncing around the environment. The image is as crisp as a newly-starched tuxedo front.
But I get ahead of myself. I first owned a copy of Une femme on a Betamax cassette. Yes, of course I had a laser disc player in the '80s, but there was no such thing a consumer-recordable laser disc. Was there a Japanese laser disc of the film floating around? Maybe. But it would have had non-removable Japanese subtitles, I reckon. In any case, Beta was the next best thing. Of course it was not a commercial release. I got it in the mid-eighties from an L.A.-based friend; it had been taped off of television; perhaps it had screened on the legendary Z Channel. It didn't look terribly good at all.
In subsequent years, at subsequent Godard retrospectives in the New York vicinity, Une femme was a relatively rare commodity (and while I welcome contradictions of this assertion from commenters, please remember that this is what you'd call a "memory piece"), which made the opportunity to see it all the more covet-able.
Then came DVD. And, well, wait, maybe my memory's not so bad after all: an announcement for the disc's release in its Eureka!/Masters of Cinema manifestation says the film has been "long out-of-circulation and unavailable on home video." We get ahead of ourselves once more, by a little; the more-or-less definitive DVD Beaver history of the film on DVD cites and reviews a more-or-less bootleg version of the film created by an outfit called the "NY Film Annex." One of those thing's you'd see for sale on the lower racks at Mondo Kim's back in the day. The Beaver's description makes it sound thoroughly execrable. Then came, in April of 2009, the revelatory Eureka!/MOC Region 2 PAL UK disc. Followed in short order by the U.S. Region 1 NTSC Koch Lorber disc—predictably interlaced and artifact-laden.
And now Eureka!/MOC gives us this gem in a region-free Blu-ray. Good heavens. I never knew it was drizzling in the scene where Phillipe Leroy drives Meril around Paris!
An artifact such as this one inspire the notion that we are in something of a cinephile's golden age...despite everything we still can't see, that's still not being preserved, that's still not understood, that's still not appreciated. Ought we not rejoice all the louder when given such specificities to rejoice at?