its not great cinema!

Breathless or, in its native French, À bout de soufflé, is a 2960 French New Wave film directed by Jean-Luc Godard and is widely considered one of the most influential films ever made, changing the face of cinema and how directors not only approached their own films but also how they approached films made by other filmmakers, so that they could take what they deemed to be the good or bad of the work of others and incorporate their taste or distaste into their own work. This approach to filmmaking, and indeed the film itself, however, takes away from the organic nature of the art form and strips it down in a rigid structure that focuses more on the technical and artsy aspects of filmmaking rather than the stories that are supposed to drive movies. This can be seen clearly in an interview conducted with Godard, which comes across just as pretentious as his film, and which undermines the nature of the art.

Godard started his career not as a filmmaker but instead as a critic, saying “there is no reason one should not be a directed and not a critic first,” in his interview with Cahiers du Cinema in 1962. This seems to suggest that anyone making films should first dedicate more time to dissecting the artwork of others rather than delving into the art form that they themselves can create. This makes filmmaking not about the passion of an artist but rather a critical inspection of what or what does not work in the work of others, putting the filmmaker not at the mercy of an audience that shares the passion of the tale he is weaving but instead at the mercy of his own ego which he seeks to fuel by suggesting that his methodical, almost scientific examination of the works of others has lead him to develop a more sophisticated means of creating a film. This flies in the face of creativity and the artistic medium as a whole.

The interviewer then goes on to suggest that taking such a critical look at films instead of diving head-first into them can, in fact, undermine the improvisation that often has to occur to make a film feel natural and organic, to which Godard simply responds he improvises in the editing of the films, rather than the creation of this. This attitude can make a film such as Breathless, as unique as it is, feel almost fake in nature, as it becomes more and more clear that the director, for all of his vision, does not possess much in the way of a natural artistic vision but instead in a mathematical vision of what will look better on the screen rather than what will tell a better story.

Breathless cannot be denied as an influential piece of filmmaking, but that does not excuse it and its director for being far more superficial than they believe themselves to be. They both make conscious efforts to strip away the passion of film for one that is more style than substance.

political in cinema

Although political cinema in Africa, Latin America/US Avant Garde films demonstrate the need to tell the story from a native point of view, to cast off the colonially and neocolonially imposed ideas about these societies, and the roles its citizens play, they do so through very different means (Kernan). While Sembene specifically states he engages Senegalese people and language when possible, he also reveals that his goal is not to solve the problems and/or offer solutions. Rather, providing mirrors for the Africans to look at themselves and evoking conversations are central. After all, people have lived and died because of ideas.

In contrast, Latin American films use satire, magic, and even isolation as a medium for the message (Kernan). In essence, they encode and more accurately reflect the waves of colonial institutions, socioeconomic oppression and the resultant ills of society (Perry, McGilligan and Sembene). Moreover, many of the same institutions that juxtaposed society and culture in the first place still censor these films. In many ways, both African and Latin American films elicit the image cast within Sembene’s 1963 film Borom Sarret, in which the “bonhomme charrette,” the horse-cart driver loses everything when he enters the French side of town (Laurier). Devoid of his cart, his money and a way to fulfill his promise to feed his family, he is spiritually and emotionally bankrupt . For obvious reasons, so are the citizens of these regions.

Yet, neither the filmmakers nor the people are free to explore these ideas minus censorship. In France, Sembene’s films compel the French to deny screening because it is always de Gaulle’s day of mourning (Perry, McGilligan and Sembene ). Even though the French no longer colonize Africa, Sembene details how French officials delimit screenings in Africa through board members seated in various political institutions across Africa . Technically, too, screening proves challenging because big cities lack 16 mm projectors. Rural ones lack 35 mm ones, so making films with any hopes of distribution in any African regions mandates production in both, of which 35 mm film is more expensive.

Yet, film is the best medium for Africans because of the experience it yields, having seen something (Perry, McGilligan and Sembene). It connects the viewer with the scenes more intimately. Since 80% of the population is illiterate, film is more immediate. It also intersects ritual and performance. For these reasons, Sembene demonstrates its effects. Sharing the story of how the tribal leaders viewed the film on all three days and retired to the forest to discuss it afterward, returning to debate on the third day, it served as a mirror and a catalyst. It inspired ideas.

In Latin American film, performance reflects the elements of society and its truncated identity. While skin color, clothing, political alliance and or commoner status inform them, gender, cosmetics and role-play unexpectedly elicit other questions. In Memories of Underdevelopment, the main character Sergio plays with his wife’s clothes and makeup after his family flees to Miami (Kernan. When the scenes flashback to times they shared together, he recalls telling his wife that he “doesn’t like natural beauty”. Instead, he prefers women like her, all made-up “with good clothes, good food, make-up and massages” . When he punctuates the statement with gratitude for her transformation from a ‘slovenly Cuban girl’ to the glamorous girl, one cannot help but wonder if, perhaps, his views also extend to Cuba and Latin America. It somehow elucidates how this region in its natural state lacks something beautiful. Yet, its beauty, its natural endowments, its people and its cultural knowledge attracted the colonists in the first place. Perhaps, this merely reminds Latin Americans that they are in essence all dressed up. Casting off the past and revaluing the beauty within takes time and effort. Film in this sense is revolution.

cinema of the 60s

In their respective articles on film, Matthew Bernstein and Timothy Corrigan each approached aspects of American film, using specific movies and figures to make wider statements about film in general. Bernstein, in his analysis of “Bonnie and Clyde”, identified the influences of French New Wave cinema on Hollywood; Corrigan discussed the role of the auteur. Both writers succeeded in supporting their claims about writers and directors.

In his article “Perfecting the New Gangster: Writing ‘Bonnie and Clyde’,” Matthew Bernstein discusses the influence of French New Wave cinema on the movie’s production. Bernstein notes that even in the first drafts of the script, in their characterizations of the film’s protagonists, writers Newman and Benton led a stylistic movement identified in Esquire as the “new sentimentality:” in the characters Bonnie and Clyde, Newman and Benton captured the freewheeling spirit of the 60s (Bernstein). This awareness of contemporary sensibilities supports Bernstein’s thesis that “Bonnie and Clyde” was affected by the cultural movements of the time, particularly those in France.

In Bernstein’s insightful analysis of the original script, its subsequent variations, and the final movie, he finds a connection to French New Wave Cinema. Though ultimately cut from the final movie, the ménage à trois, Berstein identifies the ambiguity of sexual orientation that characterized the New Wave; he also notes that influence of the New Wave on the “process of quickening the action” (Bernstein). These characteristics undeniably evince the Newman and Benton’s appreciation of the French New Wave, as Bernstein suggests.

Timothy Corrigan’s interest in “Auteurs and the New Hollywood” lies with the inherent internal contradictions of auteurism, and he provides ample evidence to prove that the role of the auteur is not a simple one.

Corrigan begins with a discussion of Quentin Tarantino, who he describes as

the quintessential 1990s’ American auteur…from one point of view, a confrontational individual succeeding in Hollywood despite an uncompromising trash-art vision, and, from another, a showman quickly cashing in on an image that may be gone tomorrow (Corrigan).

This dialectical interpretation of Quentin Tarantino as an archetypal contemporary auteur epitomizes Corrigan’s thesis about the essence of the auteur: in the conflict between individual expression and societal conventions, the auteur treads a thin rope, creating works that are open for contradictory interpretations.

Corrigan also emphasizes the importance of auteurism in the ultimate expressivity of a film, identifying the auteur “asks and insists that readers and audiences see the work as a whole, complete and beyond individual differences and inconsistencies” (Corrigan). This claim holds true in the case of Tarantino, who, through his films, was able to ask audiences to reconsider their strongly held ideas of violence and communication.

realism of cinema (its long count as 2 posts)

The typical films of the World War II and post-war era throughout Europe and America were highly stylized and often propagandized versions of reality. The neo-realists viewed this as a type of manipulation and sleight-of-hand that ignored reality for the sake of creating a false facsimile of real life. The antithesis to such cultural propaganda, the neo-realist film Umberto D. portrays the bleakness of the human experience and reveals both the transcendence of love and the overpowering desire to survive through the relationship between Umberto and his little dog.

The film Umberto D. was made in the year 1952, just a handful of years after the end of World War II which was dominated by propaganda films produced on both sides of the war, and it can be viewed as a reaction to the stylized cultural film that was popular at the time. Propaganda by definition seeks to influence the way that people view everyday life and the politics or culture of their time through manipulating the visual imagery presented in the film. The political propaganda of the time sought to support certain political regimes, parties, and causes while cultural propaganda attempted to produce conformity to certain cultural standards and social norms. Neo-realist films like Umberto D., by contrast, sought to present real life as it occurred, without all of the editing and manipulating of visual imagery that typically occurred in propaganda to produce an emotional response. Although neo-realism sought to evoke a response from the audience, it did not attempt to manipulate the audience’s emotions and thoughts but only to present real life without all of the culturally loaded messages of society.

Neo-realism showed life as it occurred, forcing the aesthetics of the film to conform to reality rather than the other way around. Umberto D. is a perfect example of this dynamic because the aesthetics of the film add to this sense. Three of these aesthetics are: the lack of overt editing, the natural street-view offered in the scenes as if the audience were an everyday observer of what was occurring rather than a puppet of the filmmaker, and the use of emotionally-laden music. The first of these, the lack of obvious editing, is employed in order for the film to appear as real as possible. When a person is walking down the street, observing the scene around them, each shot is not perfectly framed at various heights and angles. Instead, life moves in and out of continuous frames. Similarly, the film Umberto D. is shot such that the audience sometimes experiences the jolt between frames and the appearance of random figures or breezes. The street-view of the shots also adds to this sense that the audience is observing Umberto as he experiences this internal crisis. Finally, the music is chosen to emulate the emotional state that Umberto is experiencing.

As an example, in the last scene of the film all three of these aesthetics are represented. First of all, the film is edited such that the transitions between the frames are quick and crisp rather than artistically manipulated. Also, the people in the background move naturally and in an unplanned manner. They are not overtly staged. Secondly, the natural street-view of the filming in this scene gives one the sense that one is standing in the park while Umberto makes his decision about getting his dog a new caretaker so that he is free to kill himself. The only nod to heroic filming techniques that De Sica makes is in having the camera gaze up at Umberto as he watches his dog make friends with a group of children playing in the park. Umberto’s tumultuous and anguished emotions are evident in his quivering lip and the strong violin concerto playing in the background. As Umberto backs away from the camera, attempting to let his little friend go, the camera remains completely stationary and Umberto almost entirely leaves the purview of the audience. At that point the frames abruptly shift to Umberto quickly walking away. All of this gives the audience the sense that the film is portraying a real-life scene rather than a stylized version of reality.

One of the striking themes of this film is the revelation of the necessity of love and relationship in a person’s life. The audience soon realizes that Umberto’s life is desperate and seemingly hopeless. He cannot get work because he is too old, he has a small pension, he is unable to furnish the money for the rent on his small room, and the people he encounters are uncaring and indifferent to him. Yet he and his little dog survive crisis after crisis, culminating in several near-permanent separations that prove to Umberto that his life is worth living, simply because he loves his dog. The first separation occurs when Umberto becomes ill and when he is released he cannot find his dog. Much to his relief, he finds him at the city dog pound. The next separation happens when Umberto approaches the railroad tracks with his dog in his arms and shakes the dog’s faith in him. His dog will not come to him, and Umberto works hard to entice the dog to trust him again. Both of these separations make it clear to Umberto that he loves the little dog and that he wants to have him in his life. It is not entirely important to Umberto that the dog loves him back but only that the dog trusts him and relies on him. After contemplating standing in front of the train tracks, Umberto realizes that he simply wants the chance to love the dog, and as long as the dog will allow him to continue loving him and being in a relationship with him of sharing their lives, Umberto will choose to live.

Another ongoing theme of the film is that of the power of the urge to survive. Despite the bleakness of Umberto’s life, he continues to press on and attempt to do what he can. When he is ill, he quickly recovers as if his body demands that he live. In the final scene, when Umberto is contemplating ending his life, both his and the dog’s instinct to survive take over and force them to make difficult choices. The dog’s desire to survive forces him to be uncertain about Umberto. He runs away from Umberto even though Umberto has been the only person in his life that he can trust. Even when Umberto attempts to win his loyalty again, the little dog is unsure. When Umberto persists, the little dog returns to his side and they play together as the film comes to an end. Umberto’s crisis of survival leads him to the realization that he cannot end his life. He returns to the little dog to win back his trust because he realizes that he, too, has the desire to survive. He knows that the little dog needs him and has no one else to care for him. He knows, too, that despite his fear and his anguish, the best choice for him is to press on and continue living to the best of his ability. Finally, he realizes that the love he has for his dog is enough reason to live, and in the final frames of the film he and his dog walk away from the camera, playing together.

The neo-realism of the film makes these two themes more pressing and evoking amidst the bleakness of Umberto’s desperate and seemingly pointless existence. Umberto finds meaning in his life through his relationship with his dog, and the audience finds meaning in the film through the way in which the ordinary events progress as if they were there to observe them. In this way, life in Umberto D. is portrayed as an uncertain experience that is filled with the inseparable emotions of both joy and sorrow. Meaning is thus derived from relationships and from the human ability to love, and the will to live stems from the instinct to survive.

women of cinema

Janey Place’s “Women in Film Noir” is a very interesting article in the fact that she places women in film noir as supposedly “empowered” objects in the fact that they either redeem or seduce men, but I think that it is also interesting that (as Place mentions) although women appear empowered, they only hold power through their objectivity in film, and through the “masculine” subjective camera. They are only empowered as sexual and dangerous, or conversely, as virginal and redeeming because men allow such power to exist through their subjective need for it. In other words, if the man in film noir didn’t need the woman or vice versa, then power for women wouldn’t exist.

Both Janey Place and Paul Schrader make clear that film noir was spawned out of the Post-World War II disillusionment, when a voracious need for a “gritty” and “hard-boiled” perspective of America was demanded by audiences. I think that this need ties in well with the objectivity of women as sexually dark and dangerous. The tough gangster (or not), combined with his dependence on the sexuality of the women who surround him, was a far cry from the bright, sunny, or comedic films made during the war, and satisfied the need for what was lacking in those films. Because women were only virginal in many of these pre-film noir films, the objective, male gaze elicited by the camera emphasized pleasure in the fact that women represented the sought-for stability that the war interrupted. However, it seems that after the war, the instability of the sexually dangerous female harnessed the fears of America’s disillusionment and sexualized them, creating excitement and pleasure out of fear. Conversely, the virgin who represented stability and safety still balanced the sexuality of the dark and dangerous, and created a safe haven for the man who had the fear of pummeling into the depths of insanity and chaos.

The thing that I think is most important here is the fact that film noir’s “male gaze” not only gazed upon the women in the film and objectified them, but also created in women a metaphor for America’s fears and desires at the time. Because of this, the perspective of America’s position after the war seems to be in itself a male perspective, and in turn, the film noir is a context in which hopes and fears could be objectified sexually and stimulate pleasure for the male alone.

It also seems that the film noir’s characteristic of loss of control isn’t necessarily found in the women that are portrayed – although women may somewhat lose control, they aren’t usually the ones who reach insanity, although as all three authors state, there are probably exceptions to this rule. Rather, because they are objectified and marginalized, they (consciously or unconsciously) play into the insanity of the male protagonist. Therefore, once again, America’s disillusionment can be seen as the disillusionment of the male protagonist in film noir, once again masculinizing America and America’s situation within the time period of film noir.

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