Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless: How World War II Changed Cinema & Helped Create the French New Wave

Jean-Luc Godard during the filming of ‘Sympathy For the Devil’ (aka ‘One Plus One’), featuring the Rolling Stones.

“Did World War II help create the French New Wave? In a roundabout way, yes, according to this video essay by Nerdwriter. Although Jean-Luc Godard’s A Bout de Souffle (aka Breathless) was not technically the first Nouvelle Vague film, it was the film’s revolutionary look and feel, and Godard’s exquisite sense of how to work the promotional machine, that caused it to reverberate around the world. A few years later, many other countries would be launching their own New Waves: Britain, Germany, Eastern Europe, Australia, Japan, Brazil, Iran, and America. Each were particular to their own countries, but all sought to create an alternative to the dominant film culture, either Hollywood or their own country’s Hollywood-influenced film industries. That decision did not come about in a vacuum, as the video points out. After the war, France was left with $2 billion in debt. Former Interim Prime Minister and then Ambassador Leon Blum signed an agreement with America’s Secretary of State James F. Byrnes to cancel debt and to start a new line of credit. One of the provisions of the 1946 Blum-Byrnes agreement was opening France up to American cultural product, in particular Hollywood films. In French cinemas, four weeks out of every thirteen weeks would be devoted to French films. The other nine were reserved for foreign (i.e. mostly American) films. But the trade off included a tax on movie tickets, so the increased audience helped fund the French film industry. Certain results came about that were not planned. A young cinephile generation was born, and its main journal was Cahiers du Cinema, edited by writer and theorist André Bazin. The French could not lay claim to an industry like Hollywood’s, but they could point to inventing movies as we now know them (Georges Méliès and the Lumière Brothers were French), and for treating film as an art form (by the Surrealists, by the Dadaists) before anybody else, and not just as entertainment. The young critics who wrote for Cahiers du Cinema certainly loved the influx of American films, which they devoured daily in a city like Paris, especially at the Cinémathèque Française. Curated by Henri Langlois, this cinema/museum screened both new and old films, so much so that those critics began to see the artist behind the entertainment. The rise of the auteur theory, coined by Bazin among others, placed the director at the center of not just their one film, but demonstrated certain techniques and interests threading through all films that they directed. …”
Open Culture (Video)
What is French New Wave? Background and Revolutionary Techniques (Video)

Breathless (1960)

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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