When it comes to French cinema, punk luminary Richard Hell is something of a connoisseur. As one of the founding members of seminal CBGB bands Television, The Heartbreakers and Richard Hell and The Voidoids, Hell helped define the look, sound and texture of US punk in its formative years.
Considering his impact on the landscape of modern music it always comes as something of a surprise that he retired from music in 1984, only coming out of retirement once in the 1990s to release an album with The Dims. Pushing music to one side allowed Hell to concentrate on his other passion: literature. It is this literary sensibility that also defines his taste in cinema.
Speaking to Criterion, Hell opened up some of his favourite films of all time, citing works by directors Robert Bresson, Jean-Pierre Melville and, of course, Jean-Luc Godard. Interestingly, Melville actually starred in Godard’s most revered work Breathless, in which he plays an oh-so-cool director batting off journalist’s questions with a series of profound insights into the human soul. But it wasn’t Breathless that Hell selected as his favourite Godard Work. Instead, he chose the equally playful Band Of Outsiders.
Released four years after Breathless, Band Of Outsiders saw Godard take another shot at rewiring the American gangster film, remodelling and subverting it in an attempt to bring the aesthetic and intellectual principles favoured by his fellow Cahiers du Cinéma critics to the fore.
The fact that Godard credited himself as Jeal-Luc ‘Cinema’ Godard in the titles for this film reminds us that the director was in the midst of a winning streak when he released Band Of Outsiders. Indeed, is one of Godard’s most confident and life-affirming works.
At the same time, the 1964 film carries the weight of the director’s own self-destructive melancholy. As Hell explained: “The director has a deep, fatalistic, despairing streak. [Francois] Truffaut, who conceived the original story for Breathless, described how, when at the end of that movie Belmondo is shot, Godard wanted one of the cops who’s responsible to shout to the other ‘Quick, in the spine!’—but Truffaut persuaded him it was excessive. While, again, what’s really striking about Band of Outsiders is the sheer thrill of life in it. It’s so pretty and overflowing with life it hurts.
Even when the director is boring or a buffoon, it’s moving and happy to see. You feel like he wants you to come out and play with him.”