The Pursuit of Freedom: The New Wave, Jazz and Modernism


Jeanne Moreau and Miles Davis

“In the late 1950s and early 1960s, cinema and jazz were at the forefront of an artistic revolution – one of improvisation, immediacy and invention. Both were born around the turn of the century, came of age in the 1910s and 20s, and attained a ‘Golden Age’ of mass-popularity in the 1930s and 40s. The late 1950s and early 60s, however, saw a convergence of these two artforms that, for a moment in time, shared a common spirit. Both sought to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy, to express what was modern and true about the world, to invent new forms, to re-invent old ones, and to create a language of ‘the now’. For a brief moment, across the world, they stood together against the old guard. Here we’ll look at how they came together, what they stood for, and how they eventually went their separate ways. In European cinema after World War II there was a conscious effort by filmmakers, beginning with Italian neo-realism, to reinvent classical forms and methods of production, and to create work that better reflected modern society. Jazz music too, began a period of rapid development from the mid-1940s onwards with the emergence of what became known as ‘bebop’, a new, faster style of jazz characterized by complex chord progressions, frequent changes of key and improvisation based on harmonic structure. In both cases, individual self-expression took precedence over mere entertainment, and innovation over traditional forms. … In the film’s most original and expressive sequence, Jeanne Moreau’s character Florence wanders the night time streets of Paris in search of her missing lover, while, what one later critic described as ‘the loneliest trumpet sound you will ever hear’ plays on the soundtrack. It’s a moment of pure cinema in which music, camera and acting blend in perfect accord. Though Jean-Luc Godard never commented on Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, it is hard to imagine that he wasn’t influenced by these tracking shots filmed by cinematographer Henri Decae on the Champs-Élysées from a moving wheelchair. Two years later, Godard and his cinematographer, Raoul Coutard, used a similar device to film Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo on location for his debut feature, À bout de souffle (Breathless, 1960). …”
New Wave Film


John Coltrane records in the studio in circa 1958.

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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