Aims of Today’s Lecture• What is a New Wave in Cinema?• What were the origins of the French New Wave?• What were the ideological principles behind the nouvelle vague?• What were the defining features of nouvelle vague film?
What is a New Wave in Cinema? A New Wave is a movement in cinemawhich seeks to stylistically and narratively differentiate itself from the dominantparadigm of mainstream film production.Usually, the people driving the movement are young and are driven by an ideological/political imperative.
Origins of the French nouvelle vague• Due to the Nazi occupation of France, American cinema had been banned during World War II. After the war, restrictions were lifted and Hollywood product flooded the French market.• Fearing that there was little exhibition space for alternatives to Hollywood, Andre Bazin established a number of cineclubs in which he would screen non-Hollywood, non-commercial films. Other like-minded people began to do the same, and an underground movement was born.• The screenings were organised and attended by people like Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut who would go on to be leading figures in the French New Wave movement.
Cahiers du Cinéma In April 1951, the first issue of Cahiers du Cinéma (Notes on Cinema) was published. CDC was headed by Bazin, Jacques Donoil-Valcroze and Joseph Marie Lo-Duca. The magazine aimed to restore French cinema to prominence, as well as to discuss all film with the same kind of intellectual context which other art forms were treated with. CDC would only write about new films, and favoured looking at independent films over studio productions. From its inception, future and current filmmakers were heavily involved in the magazine. Eric Rohmer serves as CDC’s initial editor, and Truffaut, Godard and Jacques Rivette were amongst those who wrote for it.
The Director’s CinemaAndre Bazin firmly believed in evaluating afilm through the prism of the director. Assuch, CDC constantly interviewedfilmmakers, and established a canon ofdirectors who they believed to be above thecorporate machinations of studio filmmaking.These names included Jean Renoir(France), Kenji Mizoguchi (Japan) and AlfredHitchcock (America).
Alexandre Astruc - Camera stylo (1948)• ‘The cinema is quite simply becoming a means of expression, just as all the arts have been before it, and in particular painting and the novel.’• ‘After having been a successful fairground attraction, an amusement analogous to boulevard theatre, or a means of preserving the images of an era, it is gradually becoming a language.’• ‘By language I mean a form in which and by which an artist can express his thoughts, however abstract they may be, or translate his obsessions exactly as he does in a contemporary essay or novel.’• ‘That is why I would like to call this new age of cinema the age of caméra-stylo.’
The Auteur TheoryAstruc’s writing was picked up on by Francois Truffaut, who in a1954 article attacked the perception of French studio cinema asbeing a ‘quality’ cinema. Truffaut believed that too much of apremium had previously been placed on the screenwriter, ratherthan the filmmaker. He proposed la politique des Auteurs, whichvalued a director’s personal stylistic and narrative contributionsto a film over all else. Filmmakers who achieved this wereauteurs, and those who adhered to generic conventions werelabelled as metteur un scene – literally, a stage setter.This was a hugely influential mode of thought, and many otherCDC writers followed Truffaut’s lead in looking at cinema fromthis perspective. Bazin, on the other hand, surprisingly attackedTruffaut for ignoring the historical, social and industrial factorsinvolved in film production and for simplistically assuming that adirector alone was responsible for a film.
Truffaut on Cinema• "For some critics, there are good and bad films, whereas my idea was that there are no good or bad films, but good or bad directors. A bad director may give the impression of being good for having had the luck of counting on a good script, or talented actors… however, this ‘good’ film would have no value for the critic, for it is the result of chance, something originated by circumstances. On the other hand, a good filmmaker can make a ‘bad’ film due to adverse circumstances, and nevertheless this film would be more interesting to the critic’s eye than a ‘good’ film made by a bad director. Furthermore, in a similar way – and since the concept of success or failure has no importance whatsoever – what matters in a good filmmaker’s career is that it reflects his thought, from the beginning of his career to his maturity. Each one of his films marks a stage of his thoughts, and it does not matter at all if the film is a success or a failure.”
The Auteur Theory and The nouvelle vagueWhen Truffaut turned to filmmaking, he naturally tried tomake his films as personal/auterist as possible. Othercontemporaries followed suit, and this loose movementbecome what is now known as the nouvelle vague. Thesefilms were shot by groups of friends on a low-budget usingnewly available, cheaper cameras.Truffaut defined the members as sharing nothing incommon but their rejection of the excess of mainstreamcinema.
Key DirectorsFrancois Truffaut Claude Chabrol Jean-Luc Godard Jacques Rivette Eric Rohmer
Stylistic TendenciesA general disregard for many (but not all) ofthe principles of continuity editing. The filmsfeatured techniques such as:• Jump cuts rather than eyeline matches• Breaking the 180 degree rule• A heavy reliance on lighter, handheld cameras rather than staged, static shots• Extremely long takes, as opposed to the quick cuts of Classical Hollywood• Filmed on location rather than studio.
Stylistic TendenciesAll of this amounts to a film style which doesnot attempt to conceal that the viewer iswatching a film. In fact, it often seeks toactively remind them of this fact.Narrative is subservient to personal stylerather than vice versa.
Narrative• More personal, autobiographical plots. For example, Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups, 1959) was mostly based on his early childhood. As such, narrative themes tended to be broad – love, desire, friendship, questioning of one’s place in the world – rather than generic.• A concern with the situation of the common man – born out of the left-wing politics of most of the filmmakers.• Sometimes overtly political – Godard’s The Little Soldier (Le Petit Soldad, 1961) was banned in France for two years because of its attitude to the Algerian resistance movement.• Unresolved endings – often no narrative closure, or resolution to the ‘problem’ – if there even is one at all.• Sometimes there would be no script, only a loose set of ideas, and certainly written dialogue was not adhered as strictly as mainstream film productions.
Why was the nouvelle vague important?• Presented a clear alternative to Hollywood, establishing that not all films needed to be made in a uniform fashion.• Influenced other New Waves (Japanese, Czech, Thai, British) and continues to be a reference point for left wing and art cinema today.• Had a theoretical underpinning which remains influential in Film Studies to this day – auteur theory, intellectual discussion of film as a legitimate art form.