Academic journal article CineAction

French New Wave: 40th Anniversary

Academic journal article CineAction

French New Wave: 40th Anniversary

Article excerpt

This issue celebrates the fortieth anniversary of the French New Wave, its directors, creative output and the legacy the movement has given to film culture. The radical impulse that guided the New Wave filmmakers is found in the pages of the 1950s Cahiers du Cinema. The journal served as a forum for a reevalutation of French and American cinema. Cahiers also provided a space for a number of young critics, most prominently Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette, to voice critical concerns which were eventually given a material embodiment in their films.

One of the founding tenets of the movement was to encourage freedom for an artist to create a work that openly expressed a personal vision. In part, this was a reaction to the French film industry which was seen as producing a manufactured product with a formulaic base. While Cahiers critics recognized the value of genre and cinematic conventions, they advocated using film language as a point of departure for films that were individual creative expressions. Henri Langlois' Cinematheque and the Parisian cineclubs provided an invaluable opportunity for cineastes to view a diversified body of films necessary to informed critical practice.

The historical placement of the New Wave movement within post World War II Europe was essential to its existence. Rossellini, and the neo-realist movement in general, was a formative influence on the Cahiers critics. The neo-realist dictum of stressing historical urgency, of using films as an intervention in the reality of post war society by taking the camera onto the streets, was seminal to their conception of the function of the filmmaker. Neo-realism was a politicized aesthetic in that its practitioners perceived their work to be a necessary contribution to the process of reconstructing a decimated world. The concept of film as entertainment entrenched in the classical Hollywood cinema or in the various national versions ("cinema de papa") was radically altered by the neo-realist commitment to using cinema to re-envision a social world that would regain a sense of meaning, value and even spirituality. The New Wave filmmakers, inspired by neo-realism, Alexandre Astruc's notion of the `camera stylo' and benefitting from new advancements in the area of film technology--particularly lightweight, portable camera and sound equipment--began producing works that reflected their immediate environment and contemporary world as they perceived it (Jean Rouch's groundbreaking ethnographic documentaries and the cinema verite movement helped shape this direction in filmmaking). The New Wave films, highly personal in style and content, portrayed a sense of immediacy and the quality of a direct recording of a social moment.

This movement towards integrating reality and a sense of spontaneity into fictional forms extended beyond filmmaking. For instance, in the immediate post World War II period, the Paris-based Magnum Photo agency was founded by several prominent photojournalists, including Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson and George Rodger. Magnum elevated photojournalism to the level of an aesthetic which equally valued art, social life and popular culture. The Magnum assignments included Hollywood celebrities and movie set location shoots, reaffirming the intimate connection between still photography and motion pictures. The creative confluence of 1950s photojournalism and 35mm feature-length fiction film production perhaps was most fully celebrated with Little Fugitive (1953), which received the Silver Lion of San Marco at the Venice Film Festival and was also nominated for an Academy Award, written and directed by Ray Ashley, Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin. Orkin, although not a Magnum photographer, was a well-known photojournalist. Interestingly, according to Orkin's book, A Photo Journal (New York: The Viking Press, 1981), Francois Truffaut, in a 1960 New Yorker magazine interview acknowledged the influence, claiming "The French New Wave would never have come into being if it hadn't been for Little Fugitive. …

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