Wednesday, 20 September 2017

New Wave Cinematography

The cinematic stylings of French New Wave brought a fresh look to cinema with improvised dialogue, rapid changes of scene, and shots that go beyond the common 180° axis. The camera was used not to mesmerize the audience with elaborate narrative and illusory images, but to play with the expectations of cinema. The techniques used to shock and awe the audience out of submission and were so bold and direct that Jean-Luc Godard has been accused of having contempt for his audience. His stylistic approach can be seen as a desperate struggle against the mainstream cinema of the time, or a degrading attack on the viewer's supposed naivety. Either way, the challenging awareness represented by this movement remains in cinema today. Effects that now seem either trite or commonplace, such as a character stepping out of their role in order to address the audience directly, were radically innovative at the time.

Classic French cinema adhered to the principles of strong narrative, creating what Godard described as an oppressive and deterministic aesthetic of plot. In contrast, New Wave filmmakers made no attempts to suspend the viewer's disbelief; in fact, they took steps to constantly remind the viewer that a film is just a sequence of moving images, no matter how clever the use of light and shadow. The result is a set of oddly disjointed scenes without attempt at unity; or an actor whose character changes from one scene to the next; or sets in which onlookers accidentally make their way onto camera along with extras, who in fact were hired to do just the same.

French New Wave: Key Works

Alphaville: Une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (Alphaville: A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution) is a 1965 black-and-white French science fiction film directed by Jean-Luc Godard. It stars Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina, Howard Vernon and Akim Tamiroff. The film won the Golden Bear award of the 15th Berlin International Film Festival in 1965.

Alphaville combines the genres of dystopian science fiction and film noir. There are no special effects or elaborate sets; instead, the film was shot in real locations in Paris, the night-time streets of the capital becoming the streets of Alphaville, while modernist glass and concrete buildings (in 1965 they were new and strange architectural designs) represent the city's interiors. The film is set in a futuristic alternative present. The characters refer to twentieth century events; for example, the hero describes himself as a Guadalcanal veteran.

Expatriate American actor Eddie Constantine plays Lemmy Caution, a trenchcoat-wearing secret agent. Constantine had already played this or similar roles in dozens of previous films; the character was originally created by British pulp novelist Peter Cheyney. However, in Alphaville, director Jean-Luc Godard moves Caution away from his usual twentieth century setting, and places him in a futuristic sci-fi dystopia, the technocratic dictatorship of Alphaville.

The 400 Blows (French: Les quatre cents coups) is a 1959 French drama film directed by François Truffaut and starring Jean-Pierre Léaud, Albert Rémy, and Claire Maurier. One of the defining films of the French New Wave, it displays many of the characteristic traits of the movement. Written by Truffaut and Marcel Moussy, the film is about a misunderstood adolescent in Paris who is thought by his parents and teachers to be a troublemaker. Filmed on location in Paris and Honfleur, The 400 Blows received numerous awards and nominations, including the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Director, the OCIC Award, and a Palme d'Or nomination in 1959.

The film’s most famous shot is the closing freeze-frame, in which the boy is caught with his back to the sea. Simultaneously both sad and defiant, it remains one of the most famous endings in film history.

Jules and Jim (French: Jules et Jim) is a 1962 French film directed by François Truffaut based on Henri-Pierre Roché's 1953 semi-autobiographical novel about his relationship with writer Franz Hessel and his wife, Helen Grund.

One of the seminal products of the French New Wave, Jules and Jim is an inventive encyclopedia of the language of cinema that incorporates newsreel footage, photographic stills, freeze frames, panning shots, wipes, masking, dolly shots, and voiceover narration (by Michel Subor). Truffaut's cinematographer was Raoul Coutard, a frequent collaborator with Jean-Luc Godard, who employed the latest lightweight cameras to create an extremely fluid film style. For example, some of the postwar scenes were shot using cameras mounted on bicycles.

Jeanne Moreau incarnates the style of the Nouvelle Vague actress. The critic Ginette Vincindeau has defined this as, "beautiful, but in a kind of natural way; sexy, but intellectual at the same time, a kind of cerebral sexuality, — this was the hallmark of the nouvelle vague woman." Though she isn't in the film's title Catherine is "the structuring absence. She reconciles two completely opposed ideas of femininity".

Video Editing Structure: Guidance

  • Outline the principles and context of your 'new wave' study
  • What did they oppose/achieve? - techniques/social/break from tradition
Brief summary of the period
  • Historical context
  • What you will be focussing upon - era/directors/films?
  • Films/Directors/Actor
  • Techniques - more detail
  • Issues - more detail
  • On audience?
  • On industry?
  • On other 'new waves' ?
  • Summary
  • Implications and legacy
What Makes a Video Essay Great? from Fandor Keyframe on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

American New Wave: Documentary

Video Essay: The New Wave and the Left Bank, or A Certain Tendency in Modern French Cinema

“I need images, I need representation which deals in other means than reality. We have to use reality but get out of it. That's what I try to do all the time.”
– Agnès Varda

This video was a labor of love. Made for an undergraduate course on Avant-Garde movements in France, it attempts, as Madame Varda suggests, to use images in order to recreate reality. In this case, that reality is modern French cinema from the late 1950s to the late 1960s. Using Jean-Luc Godard’s trailer for Masculin Féminin (1966) as a template, this montage of French films, which date from 1958 to 1967, gives a visual and aural understanding of modern French cinema. Having stated this, it is important that the reader not confuse the umbrella term of “modern French cinema” to solely mean the French New Wave. While the New Wave was influential, and is a popular term to use for filmmakers of that time, it was one of two movements that coexisted in France at the time.

La Nouvelle Vague (The New Wave)

The French New Wave was an idiosyncratic movement that sought to revolutionize narrative structures, genres, characters, plots and film techniques.François Truffaut, one of the founding members of the New Wave, foreshadowed the arrival of this movement in 1954 when he wrote “A Certain Tendency in French Cinema,” a manifesto published in the film journal Cahiers du Cinéma. Truffaut argued that French films lacked individuality and self-expression. Citing such directors as Jean RenoirAlfred Hitchcock and Roberto Rossellini, Truffaut called for a new group of directors to take the reins and follow in these men’s footsteps by creating films that unmistakably belonged to their respective director. Five years after the publication of Truffaut’s article, the Cannes Film Festival awarded Truffaut Best Director for his feature film debut, The 400 Blows(1959), which told the story of a hopeless boy named Antoine Doinel (Truffaut’s doppelgänger). The premiere of this work was an important event that introduced the first ripples of the New Wave.

A year later, Jean-Luc Godard, a fellow critic at Cahiers du Cinéma, premiered his own debut feature, Breathless (1960), that recounted the adventures of a Bogart-loving criminal and his American girlfriend. Cinema would never be the same. Éric RohmerClaude Chabrol and Jacques Rivette joined Truffaut and Godard in creating a slew of iconic films. The New Wave directors, like Charles Baudelaire, who a century before them invented the “poem in prose,” created works that crossed artistic boundaries by incorporating philosophy, theater, linguistics, journalism and painting into films. This band of cinephiles opened the door for the potential of cinema.
La Rive Gauche (the Left Bank)

While the French New Wave directors were making a splash in the international film scene, a second group of directors were making their own movement in France. In 1958, Louis Malle screened his first film, Elevator to the Gallows(1958). Revolutionary for its intricate plot, brilliant acting (especially by Jeanne Moreau) and jazz score by Miles Davis, audiences were introduced to the birth of a new movement: the Left Bank. Unlike the New Wave directors, the Left Bank directors focused on narrative-driven plots, experimentations in time and space on screen and transpositions of literary works, especially those of the Nouveau Roman, onto the screen. A year after Malle’s debut, Alain Resnais' Left Bank masterpiece Hiroshima mon amour(1959) drew praise for its ability to experiment with personal and collective memory, and its boldness in confronting the politics of the Hiroshima bombing. These two films solidified the reputation of the Left Bank as an important movement in cinematic history. Other directors, including Agnès VardaJacques Demy and Chris Marker, would join the movement and help the 1960s become a decade for modernization of cinema.
Yet like most artistic movements, the Left Bank, along with the New Wave, would slowly die out.
The “Waves” Begin to Crash

Around 1967, the New Wave and Left Bank had become outdated forms of expression. By May 1968, many of the New Wave and Left Bank directors became politically involved in the student riots. In the aftermath of this political revolution, the band of filmmakers began to disperse and pursue different paths: Truffaut began making commercial films that appealed to the masses; Godard explored the limits of the “film essay” genre and the philosophical potential of film; Malle went on to make films overseas; and Resnais explored other projects beyond his political works of the ’50s and ’60s. Although these two movements were short-lived, the influences of these men and women were (and still are) incalculable. Had it not been for these two movements, the films of Quentin TarantinoWim WendersChantal AkermanPedro AlmodóvarRainer Werner FassbinderBob RafelsonPeter BogdanovichJohn Woo and countless others would be shells, devoid of the influences and energy they attempted to replicate from the two movements.
The images that the New Wave and the Left Bank provided did not just offer an alternative to reality, they created a “modern” reality for future filmmakers and audiences alike. This “modern” reality opened doors that would allow for other movements in other countries. The waves of the two movements may have crashed, but the ripples still linger.
Jose Gallegos is an aspiring filmmaker based in Los Angeles. His student films can be found on YouTube and you can also follow him on Twitter.
Re-posted from: Indiewire

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.

Sample Evaluation for a Video Essay


To produce my French New Wave essay I had to do large amounts of research on why it had such an effect on cinema. I started by researching the key individuals who went from writing reviews for the film magazine 'Cahiers Du Cinema'. Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol and Rivette all shared a vital role in the New Wave as they decided to go from writing about films, to directing them. I then watched a few of the most famous texts from the New Wave. This included the likes of Godard's 'Breathless' (A Bout De Souffle) and Truffaut's 400 Blows (Les 400 Coups).

For my video essay I decided to really go into depth with how the French New Wave started in a country that was seriously lacking real entertainment. Therefore the first half of my essay solely focuses on France during the start of the New Wave and how the individuals who were part of it, went on to make a large impact in later cinema. I have tried to find footage and pictures of France during the 1950's and 60's whilst the voiceover describes life during those times, to show how cinema was a vital part of culture damaged, post-war France. Once I felt that I had gone into detail on the culture at the time, I began to one by one, explain how each of the Cahiers critics went from writing about films to actually making them. To do this I had to find lots of images of the likes of Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol and Rivette whilst they were making these New Wave films. I was able to find useful footage of each of them participating in interviews. I then placed the focus of the essay on Godard's 'Breathless' and Truffaut's '400 Blows' as I began to go into detail about the changes that the New Wave brought to cinema. Along with the voiceover explaining the commonly used features during the New Wave, I used examples of footage and stills from both of the films so the viewer of my essay can visually recognise the conventions that the French New Wave consisted of. I then finished off my essay by explaining the effect that the French New Wave has had on today's cinema. For example, as Quentin Tarantino is inspired by the New Wave and specifically Godard, it is said that 'Pulp Fiction' is inspired by 'Breathless', so therefore accompanying my voiceover are clips from films such as Pulp Fiction.

'Une Femme est Une Femme'

With A Woman Is a Woman (Une femme est une femme), compulsively innovative director Jean-Luc Godard presents “a neorealist musical—that is, a contradiction in terms.” Featuring French superstars Anna Karina, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Jean-Claude Brialy at their peak of popularity, A Woman Is a Woman is a sly, playful tribute to—and interrogation of—the American musical comedy, showcasing Godard’s signature wit and intellectual acumen. The film tells the story of exotic dancer Angéla (Karina) as she attempts to have a child with her unwilling lover Émile (Brialy). In the process, she finds herself torn between him and his best friend Alfred (Belmondo). A dizzying compendium of color, humor, and the music of renowned composer Michel Legrand, A Woman Is a Woman finds the young Godard at his warmest and most accessible, reveling in and scrutinizing the mechanics of his great obsession: the cinema.

The Rules in Editing French & American New Wave

“Tidal wave” would have been a more appropriate name for this explosion of vibrant, innovative, and highly self-conscious films by young French directors in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The informal movement was spearheaded by a handful of critics from Cahiers du cinéma—Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, and Jacques Rivette—whose incisive writings were matched by their films: bold, modern takes on classical masters that reworked genres like noir and the musical, and experimented with techniques antiquated and discovered. While Godard’s Breathless and Truffaut’s The 400 Blows remain the twin groundbreaking events of the movement, films such as Alain Resnais’Hiroshima mon amour and Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7 were watersheds as well, finding excited audiences hungry for a new, energetic, political cinema opposed to the stuffy “cinema of quality,” as Truffaut put it, of the old guard. Though the movement quickly dissipated, filmmakers like Godard, Rivette, Varda, and Rohmer continue to pioneer today.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Jean-Luc Godard: The Original Auteur

When one thinks of an auteur director, who is the first that comes to mind? Martin Scorsese? The Coens? Pedro Almódovar? Though these three would all make an iconic filmmakers list, the word “auteur” would have a different meaning, if it existed at all, if it were not for Jean-Luc Godard. He matches both radical themes and eccentric characters with unconventional cinematography – breaking diegesis left, right and centre. During a time when the French film industry could only be described as “Le Cinema du Papa”, Godard rebelled in a massive way, disregarding the traditions of lavish sets, rigid scripts and willowy, upper-class characters; he had his own way of telling a story.

Born in 1930’s Paris to wealthy parents, Godard first began his quest into filmmaking when he co-founded a Gazette du cinema in 1950. A year later, his parents had cut off his financial support and left young Godard with little money but big ideas. Along with contemporaries André Bazin, Jacques Rivette and François Truffaut, Godard began his foray into experimental cinema, forming the nucleus of what we now call “French New Wave directors” or cahiers du cinéma. He dabbled in documentaries and short films before finally making his most successful and iconic feature film: Á bout de souffle.

Roughly translated as "Breathless", Godard’s first feature film, co-written by Truffaut, was released in 1960. It was praised for its uniqueness and innovation; never before has a director used the jump cut so prolifically. He uses back-to-basics filmmaking, abandoning sets in favour of real locations. He rarely uses anything but natural lighting and handheld cameras and intentionally breaks the spell of cinema. He has no problem with revealing cinematic artifice; at one point, our hero, Michel Poiccard is humming a tune while the shot cuts several times despite tune remaining intact. Poiccard also uses direct address. Here Godard uses abstract realism. His themes reflect the existential boredom suffered by the youth of the time, explored through his non-motivated dialogue and fragmented narrative.

Keyframe presents the online debut of Godardloop, a multi-part video essay on the films of Jean-Luc Godard. Produced by Michael Baute and edited by Bettina Blickwede, this video explores a treasure trove of imagery found in dozens of Godard’s features and shorts, grouping them among several distinct themes. 47 films spanning 50 years of filmmaking are transformed into a stream of images that attest to an inimitable talent: an artist who can transform the world simply by the way he looks at it through his camera.

Italian Neorealism

Before the indies and even before the French New Wave, Italian neo-realism staked out new cinematic territory. One of those blanket terms that mean all things to all people, neo-realism has few absolutes, though there are elements that set the Italian version distinctly apart. Screenwriter and poet Cesare Zavattini wrote an actual manifesto to guide these films, but their creation was just as much a result of timing, chance and fluke. 

Unquestionably, their greatest single influence was the anti-Fascism that marked World War II's immediate postwar period. Key elements are an emphasis on real lives (close to but not quite documentary style), an entirely or largely non-professional cast, and a focus on collectivity rather than the individual. Solidarity is important, along with an implicit criticism of the status quo. Plot and story come about organically from these episodes and often turn on quite tiny moments. Cinematically, neo-realism pushed filmmakers out of the studio and on to the streets, the camera freed-up and more vernacular, the emphasis away from fantasy and towards reality. Despite the rather short run - 1943 to 1952 - the heavyweight films of the period and the principles that guided them put Italian cinema on the map at the time and continue to shape contemporary global filmmaking.

From: GreenCine

Italian Neorealism (Student Video Essay) from Kelli Marshall on Vimeo.