French New Wave

Breathless Movie

The legacy of the French New Wave looms large over modern film history, yet its legacy is decidedly messy, one that refuses to fit comfortably within one stable tradition or definition. The movement became popular alongside the rise of European art cinema during the late 1950s and early 1960s, yet many of its films preferred playfully anarchistic pastiche over a reverent approach to cinematic modernism. Unlike other European postwar filmmaking traditions, the French New Wave both loved and hated Hollywood filmmaking, with its members ranging from the political dissidence of Jean-Luc Godard’s work after 1965 to the cheeky MGM-invoking festivals of radiance that were Jacques Demy’s 1960s musicals. And there were as many, if not more, consequential French filmmakers only tangentially associated with the New Wave as there were decidedly within it, with Alain Resnais and Louis Malle’s late 1950s work often awkwardly placed as its inciting texts. The French New Wave was a school without formal rules, without clear qualifications for induction, and without an interest in legibly framing its own legacy – its criteria required seemingly little else than a distinct expression of difference from what’s come before. But beyond the intellectual and artistic changes the French New Wave brought upon the greater cinematic landscape, no contribution of the movement is more apparent than the term New Wave itself, a term that both reinforces and confuses the French New Wave’s legacy each time it’s applied. And while “New Wave” might be a useful shorthand for recognizing significant shifts in filmmaking style […]

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Au Hasard Balthazar

Looking for any excuse, Landon Palmer and Scott Beggs are using the 2012 Sight & Sound poll results as a reason to take different angles on the best movies of all time. Every week, they’ll discuss another entry in the list, dissecting old favorites from odd angles, discovering movies they haven’t seen before and asking you to join in on the conversation. Of course it helps if you’ve seen the movie because there will be plenty of spoilers. This week, they try to understand the symbolism of an ass in Robert Bresson‘s truly excellent Au Hasard Balthazar. Is he all of us? Is he a savior? Or is he just, you know, a donkey? In the #16 movie on the list, a beast named Balthazar is born on a farm where Marie (Anne Wiazemsky) loves him. Through the mutable circumstances of life, Balthazar and Marie are separated, but both make their way through a world where abuse is more common than kindness. But why is it one of the best movies ever?

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Breathless Godard

Looking for any excuse, Landon Palmer and Scott Beggs are using the 2012 Sight & Sound poll results as a reason to take different angles on the best movies of all time. Every week, they’ll discuss another entry in the list, dissecting old favorites from odd angles, discovering movies they haven’t seen before and asking you to join in on the conversation. Of course it helps if you’ve seen the movie because there will be plenty of spoilers. This week, they celebrate a by-the-numbers movie that changed everything. Jean-Luc Godard‘s Breathless. In the #13 movie on the list, Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) does his best Bogart impression, steals a car, shoots a cop, and hides out with his American girlfriend Patricia (Jean Seberg). But why is it one of the best movies ever?

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Criterion Files

Much of Jean-Luc Godard’s cinematic output is inaccessible to American audiences. His most prolific period, the 1960s (in which he made 18 feature films) is almost entirely available, due in no small part to the Criterion Collection’s well-justified infatuation with the cineaste’s important and influential work. The output of much of his later career, however, isn’t commercially accessible in the US including much-lauded work like Nouvelle Vague (1990) and the Histoire(s) du Cinema entries (1988-98). In fact, Tout va Bien (1972 – his most recent title included in the Collection) is to my knowledge the only film he made in the 1970s that’s available on Region 1 DVD. This is all to say that here in the US, what we know of Godard we know mostly the first decade of his career. While it’s unfortunate that cinephiles have minimal access to his later work, this complaint is not meant to undervalue the importance of the work he did in the 1960s. Godard made an unbelievable amount of brilliant and challenging work in an astoundingly short amount of time, and by 1970 he had emerged as a different kind of filmmaker altogether. Godard’s 1960s work is, in a sense, the only logical starting point in order to approach an understanding of this later work. Godard’s films are an ongoing exercise in personal growth, aesthetic experimentation, and political criticism. Each work builds off of what came before. With this weekend’s US release of Godard’s most recent work, Film Socialisme, the gaps in […]

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Criterion Files

Welcome to the second installment of Guest Author month at Criterion Files: a month devoted to important classic and contemporary bloggers. Each Wednesday for the month of April, a writer and fellow Criterion aficionado from another site will be giving their own take one one of the collection’s beloved titles. This week, Joshua Brunsting, writer for CriterionCast and Gordon and the Whale, takes on Jean-Luc Godard’s beloved musical, A Woman is a Woman. Tune in every week this month for an analysis of a different title from a new author. Sometimes, the splash a filmmaker makes with his or her first feature ultimately breeds a wave too harsh to ride as a career living up to the beginning. While everyone and their mother points to a film like Jean-Luc Godard’s debut feature, Breathless, as the (in my eyes definitive) auteur’s crowning achievement, it’s almost as common to hear the director discussed as a filmmaker of diminishing returns. However, while his debut is for all intents and purposes a brilliant, all-time classic, it’s not until his third feature, the neo-musical fever dream known as A Woman Is A Woman, that one truly gets a hold of what kind of filmmaker Godard, in all of his feverish style, truly is. Starring a trio of fantastic thespians — Godard staple Jean-Paul Belmondo, Godard’s muse Anna Karina, and French New Wave star Jean-Claude Brialy — Woman follows the story of Angela, a sweet and caring exotic dancer, who is not only torn between two […]

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Culture Warrior

Acts of spontaneity have been an essential component of artistic expression in the twentieth century, based in the notion of a perceived “purity” within the spontaneous act that allows art to be directly articulated without mediation or interference from social pressures and constructs. From the improvisatory paintings of Jackson Pollock to the idea of the rewrite as heresy within Jack Kerouac’s prose, spontaneity in many cases is seen as the only way to make art that has any “real” meaning. According to Daniel Belgrad, mid-century efforts toward artistic spontaneity provided a means of expression free from the constrains enforced by an oppressive, conformist hegemonic culture: “This new avant-garde shared the belief that cultural conditioning functioned ideologically by encouraging the atrophy of certain perceptions and the exaggeration of others…In the recovery of such an alternative “reality”…they saw the only basis for constructively radical social change.” Spontaneity through art then doesn’t alter perception as much as its restores it to its ideal original state, allowing artists and spectators of art to see beyond a regime’s oppressive confines.

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Criterion Files

Just as film noir isn’t one single definable thing, noir itself contains many offshoots and categories. And every Noirvember, it’s important to not only examine good ol’ film noir, but its corresponding variants as well. One aspect of noir that complicates its designation as a genre or a style is the persistence of neo-noir, a cinematic form that arose in direct reaction to noir. In the US, canonical neo-noirs include films like Roman Polanski’s Chinatown or Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye. These were films made by filmmakers who knew cinema’s history, who have seen and studied noir’s origins and staples. These were filmmakers who worshiped film history and used classic cinema as a prototype for their own creation, embedding references to the old while departing from it in creating the new.

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Veteran French filmmaker and New Wave-co-founder Claude Chabrol passed away in Paris this morning at the age of 80. Chabrol, like Éric Rohmer who died this past January, wrote for the Cahiers du cinéma film journal in the 1950s before making his own feature films later that decade alongside New Wave contemporaries Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Jacques Rivette. But while Rohmer’s late career slowed down a great deal and Godard’s oscillated between experimentation and obscurity, Chabrol continued to prove himself a particularly prolific filmmaker well after the New Wave’s late 1950s and 1960s heyday.

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A. O. Scott recently referred to Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960) as “a bulletin from the future of cinema,” and the fact that a film can be fifty years old and still feel like a product of the medium’s future is telling as to how palpable the manic originality of Godard’s debut film is fifty years on.

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Martin Scorsese

Last week I wrote about the history of the auteur theory and its strengths and weaknesses when applied to actual film practice. Regardless of the theory’s apparent problems, it’s clear that the idea of the auteur still holds great weight in framing the way even the most casual of filmgoer goes about experiencing cinema.

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This week, on a very special episode or Reject Radio, Landon Palmer attempts to explain why his fascination with nun orgies hasn’t gotten his Masters degree taken away from him.

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