Wednesday, 5 October 2016

New Wave Editing

While Godard's films stand out for their opposition to cinematic conventions, particularly those that manipulate audience reactions, generalisations about the director's style must acknowledge that "style" is a convention he appears to reject by constantly changing what he does and the way he does it. Breathless offers a comprehensive catalogue of New Wave stylistic traits: rapid movements, use of handheld cameras, unusual camera angles, elliptical editing, direct address to the camera, acting that borders on the improvisational, anarchic politics, and an emphasis on the importance of sound, especially words. In light of Godard's later work, however, Breathless can seem rather more conventional in style than its reputation as an "experimental" film suggests, a paradox that demonstrates the extent to which Godard's language has entered all realms of filmaking, including the mainstream. "What makes Breathless a quintessential New Wave film," Dudley Andrew explains, "is not a particular technique or techniques but the energy with which it speaks." Thus Godard's "style" is characterized primarily by displays of artistic freedom and imagination. Nonmainstream filmmaking allowed (and continues to allow) him a freedom from the "constraints" that come with larger budgets.

An analysis of the opening scene of Breathless confirms that Godard both avoids and uses most of the traditional techniques for establishing a scene and character. Within a conventional film, the first shot might have been a LS (or XLS) of Michel sitting at an outdoor café along a harbor quay. Instead, Godard uses a MCU of the front page of the Paris Flirtnewspaper, which conceals Michel's face and the Marseilles location, offering instead a photograph of a woman in a swimsuit. Despite the lack of a traditional establishing shot, we can recognize from the weather and clothes in the subsequent shots that the time is summer, but we would be hard-pressed to know from any outward signs that the location is the port city Marseilles in southern France. However, the location is not as important as Michel's self-description: "All in all, I'm a dumb bastard. After all, if you've got to do it, you've got to." Next, when a couple get out of a big American car, a woman signals Michel, who hot-wires and steals the Americans' car and drives away. Godard uses a dissolve, that most conventional of devices, to get us from the city to the countryside and the open road.

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