' Cinema Romantico: Band of Outsiders

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Band of Outsiders

Pop quiz! Did you know that the one, the only Quentin Tarantino's production company A Band Apart was named after this film made by the famed French New Wave auteur Jean Luc Godard?

Well, he did. And I knew that and I also knew that Tarantino was supposedly highly influenced by said film though I did not know how much or in what way. It was because of this supposed influence I'd always been interested in seeing "Band of Outsiders", though I never had (I'd also never seen a Godard film, though I probably should see more of his - and more of French New Wave in general - when you consider how influential he was on current American filmmakers).

I recall having an argument with my best friend in regards to Q.T.'s "Kill Bill Volume 1" after I declared it the best film of 2003. My friend didn't think such praise was warranted when considering that "Kill Bill" was nothing more than an homage (or a ripping-off, as he said) of Q.T.'s beloved chop-socky/kung fu movies. I did not argue the homage, or ripping-off, theory a bit. But I also don't think that lessened the film in any way. He is a master at taking the things he loves, the things that influenced him, and then brewing them up onscreen in his own special way so that it feels thrillingly original while still being a nod to the past. He doesn't mind if people see the influences - in fact, he encourages it.

"Band of Outsiders" has that exact quality. Netflix advised it continued Godard's "fascination with dime store novels and American crime films". There are a plethora of moments in the film's voice-over (given by Godard himself) in which he actually references the influences out loud. It's "like a pulp movie" and a "dime store novel" he says at different points and at another compares Franz to someone in a "legendary romance" and in an English class at the start a character reads from "Romeo & Juliet".

The basic story is this: Arthur (Claude Brasseur), Franz (Sami Frey), and Odile (Anna Karina) scheme to steal a significant sum of money from Odile's aunt while the two guys simultaneously wrestle for her affections. Odile seems to simultaneously want to go through with the heist and to not go through it. She knows if it does she can escape her current life, but she also seems to know something is bound to go wrong. But perhaps she doesn't care. And it's probably needless to say things don't go as planned but they don't.

This is the plot but Godard allows them to talk - just talk about life, love, these sorts of things, in between the caper and planning of the caper which is, well, sorta' like a Tarantino movie, huh? At one point the three are sitting in a cafe and suddenly they climb to their feet and bust out in a choreographed dance that lasts for quite some time (with the music occassionally stopping altogether while Godard as narrator recites some words of his own). If you ever wondered where the Jack Rabbit Slim's Twist Contest came from it can be found here.

There's another moment prior to the dance sequence which one may say influenced Tarantino's "uncomfortable silence" dialogue from "Pulp Fiction" in which the three characters share a literal "minute of silence". I say literal because the movie's soundtrack actually cuts off completely and the characters truly share a minute of silence.

The strangest flourish of all is this: at one point Anna Karina as Odile looks right into the camera. It's not one of those momentary, accidental looks that turn up in movies now and again. No, she looks right into it. I know this because I rewound it twice and freeze-framed it. Sure enough, there's no mistaking it. She's looking at us. The lines before this reference Franz and Victor wanting to make a plan and then Odile asking "Why a plan?" It's that line she speaks as she looks into the camera so I guess I'm meant to interpret that she's asking us. But why was this necessary? I can only assume it's far beyond my level of meager intelligence.

It's always a bit weird watching movies like this, movies that so clearly influenced later efforts. You're watching so many things people then were seeing for the first time but you've already seen except you've seen them other places without knowing from where they initially came. One of my favorite shots in "Bonnie and Clyde" occurs at the very beginning when Bonnie puts her face between the metal posts of her bed to simulate prison bars. And, lo and behold, there's a shot in "Band of Outsiders" where Anna Karina does the same with the metal posts of a staircase. And instantly I thought, hey! They're ripping off "Bonnie and Clyde"! Except I had to remind myself that, in fact, "Band of Outsiders" came first.

"Band of Outsiders". A major influence on what I would personally consider to be the seminal American film of the 60's ("Bonnie and Clyde") and the seminal American film of the 90's ("Pulp Fiction"). I'm not sure there's much more I could say.

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