Mind Theater

Godard's New Wave | Video Essay

October 31, 2022 Ayo Akingbade Episode 76
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Show Notes Transcript

Godard's New Wave

  1. There’s few people that have had the impact that Jean-Luc Godard has had, over ANY medium, let alone a medium as big as cinema. He rose to prominence as a pioneer and central visionary of the French New Wave alongside familiar names like Truffaut, Rohmer, and Bazin. And it was during their time as writers for the french publication Cahiers du Cinema that a group of passionate french film critics and cinephiles would become transformed into french filmmakers
  2. Godard and his contemporaries stylistic innovations were a direct response to Old Hollywood, characterized by films that encouraged their audiences to approach understanding both the filmmaking process and the movies born of that process on a deeper physiological level. While Old Hollywood films in their big budget nature sought above all else to entertain despite taking on formats that were rather formulaic and derivative, French New Wave had a way of directly exposing audiences to the minds, thoughts, and feelings of their directors in a way that had never really been done before, choosing instead to stress greater emphasis on the creative freedom of the authors or auteurs. And it’s the French, Godard in particular, that we have to thank for the birth of auteur theory which conceptualized the director of a film as being its author, its single creative visionary now unburdened by the expectations of demanding movie executives, free to create and conjure up emotions and ideas within their work as they saw fit.
  3. Despite French New Wave defining itself in opposition to old hollywood it’s influence came from the very best of that ilk, The Young Turks likened Hollywood greats such as Hitchock and Orson Welles as being some of the very first auteurs. Outside of these giants who loomed larger than life however, the French new wave sought to break down old Hollywood sensibilities, steering away from the big and bombastic heavy handedness that defined so much of American cinema.
  4. The films of the new wave were characterized by their use of natural lighting and sound.. Godard would often go out and film directly in the streets of Paris, using it has a living backdrop to his movies, concerned with not only depicting city life but the lives of its young people in a raw and realistic way. For him cinema wasn’t a tool to invent realities to escape to, but rather one used to depict the deeper truer emotions that exist within our daily lives, and it was his emphasis on the subtler more naturalistic elements of film from how he lit a scene to his personal kind of observant camera that aided in capturing this realness.
  5. The second thingnew wave stressed was forming a very different kind of relationship between their audiences and the auteurs, reframing and redefining the way film was used as a vessel for language. So often featuring stylistic jump cuts, breaking continuity, and the fourth wall. These films were not inherently stylish, they were quite literally inventing new style along the way, new motifs, visual themes, and iconography that would later go one to be inseparable from defining the genre itself, and we have none more to thank for this than Godard himself. Films from Breathless to Masculine-Feminine are defined by their jump cuts and jaggy aesthetic, these films not only broke continuity with their editing style but they actively sought out to, with characters leaving and entering the frame seemingly at will, without the camera following them. Randomness, Spontaneity, Liveliness, Virality. These words all describe Godard’s style and by extension new wave’s, and it’s an editing style that worked to distance the spectator from a conventional viewing experience, forcing viewers to figure out what’s happening somewhat on their own rather than following a formulaic story.
  6. This intrusive style spoke the self-referential quality of manyn new wave films. When the editing is intrusive, when it calls attention to itself at every turn, you can’t help but remember you’re watching a film, an effect the directors who pioneered new wave sincerely wanted you to experience, once again showcasing new wave’s emphasis on films more overtly concerned with having the thoughts and analyses of the director and their ambition become more understood and easily apparent to their audiences. And so there was deliberate purpose within that breaking of cinematic boundaries
  7. Another stylistic technique that helped achieve this was montage, which translates to assembly when editing, another term we can thank then french for. Godard’s films not only broke spacial rules with their irregular editing motifs, but temporal rules as well. Intently concerned with the most important moments in a film, and keeping that moving evocative rhythm in order to properly depict them. In other words he wasn’t afraid of cutting out unnecessary scenes, leaving only the most important to be interpreted by the viewer. This style of editing requires a certain level of trust in the audience to understand. Same thing goes with Godard’s use of cropping within a scene, having entire conversations held fixed on the face of a single subject as other subjects talk just out of frame, so often as concerned with what existed outside of the frame as much as what he chose to capture within it.
  8. And it’s within and around those frames that Godard interrogated all that there was to interrogate, from war, to love, to existentialism, to masculinity and femininity, to marxist philosophy, to cinema itself. Not only did he interrogate these themes but so often his characters did as well, harkening back to that self referential quality of film as a vessel that not only spoke truth to our world but through our world as well.
  9. For Godard, film was truth at 24 frames a second which is quite a lot of truth to behold. And what enamored Godard more than anything was the provocative power of cinema to promote not only the radical political ideology that defined him, but to showcase these ideals through a lens that reinforced them as being deeply human. A reality that in it’s soul defining clarity  is enough to leave you, well [breathless]
  10. Mind theater is a solo effort produced and written by me, ayo akingbade, for updates on the show as well as my other content follow mind theaterpod on twitter, ig, and tiktok. If you wanna show monetary support, the kofi link is in the shownotes. Thanks for listening, ill catch you next time.