Saturday, April 11, 2009


This is my second contribution to Joseph B's New Wave blogathon - or, since the two started out together, but both got a bit out of hand - part 2 of the first... Anyway - turn our attention to one film... The 400 Blows may be the founding film of the new wave, but for me, the definitive film remains, Breathless. It's the one, the early example, that sets the parameters for the new wave as it developed. It's all there - the jump cuts, the loose style, the movie madness, the appropriation of genres, the natural locations (shooting in the street, often enough), the seedy glamor - all there. And it establishes one of the key elements of these films - their mixed modes of discourse (to get nerdy about it.) In a number of ways - in the sense of appropriating genres and styles (the crime film); in the ways it incorporates other texts and images (newspapers, comics, films, ads, street signs, you name it); in the way it shifts registers - direct addresses to the camera, people stepping out of character, the in jokes, quotes of all sorts... This is a pretty significant change from most previous films: these films, especially Godard, but you get it from quite a bit of the new wave, do not present a unified "discourse" - what you see and hear does not all come from inside the fiction, or have the same relationship to the fiction. These films tell their stories - don't just show them. They keep the forms, the act of telling, of shaping the film, in view. And they don't pretend they are just telling a story that existed somewhere, sometime - their stories come from other texts, they are - the fictions, I mean - performances themselves - they are not to be taken as the real world...

All of which is there from the beginning:

This remains as audacious a film as I have ever seen - it's still more challenging and strange than most of its descendants. That blend of experimentation, art film, genre film, its loose humor, the whole breeziness of the story and style - and its pretty convincing melancholy - still holds up. Because it is beautiful - look at the light and space and smoke in this shot:

And - well - underrated as a straight fiction. Godard can tell a story - can get characters on screen - quick, without conventional detailing, but a shot like this, the first meeting between Michel and Patricia, packs so much of the film's style into it, a style that does sketch these people... Here they are - on the street - back tot he camera (they are indifferent to it, though they never seem to forget it) - moving, as always, the camera moving - glamorous, cool, and a bit shabby...

Finally - since I am eye-deep in Fritz Lang at the moment, it's hard to miss the parallels - not just the imagery, but the themes. Advertisements - newspapers - messages - cityscapes - Breathless is most assuredly a picture of its time, as well. And Godard seems to be aiming for the same deliberate blend of art film and popular film that Lang went for. He never quite masters making popular films in a popular style - but he never leaves the genres and forms behind either. And, like Lang never forgets the importance of information...

Throw in all the references - to Lang himself with his eyepatch and monocle:

Characters framed in shop windows:



Working class detectives:

And always, the city as media:

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