Debuting as a director in 1960, Godard became known around the world by 1968 for his French New Wave films when he ushered in an era of “revolutionary,” dark and overtly political films. With a growing commitment to Maoist ideology and an active participation in class struggles, Godard paired up with Jean-Pierre Gorin and formed a socialist-idealist cinema group, Dziga Vertov. Godard and Gorin produced a number of short films which outlined Godard’s political ideology, but most of which were never finished or never showed. This experimental, political wave in Godard’s work would last until the late ’70s.
Godard’s influence on filmmaking, however, came from his early 60s work. Godard’s early films, beginning with A Bout de Souffle (1960), would give him recognition as one of the founders of the French New Wave. During the early 1960s, French New Wave, then a relatively new film style, swept across the world and would eventually revolutionize the world of cinema. The movement demanded a careful attention to realism–with long scenes, jump-cuts, filming on the streets–a realism that could only be achieved through aesthetic and contextual media.
“Throughout the 1960s, starting with A Bout de Souffle… Godard’s films are a lexicon of how to intervene into and create a new language of cinema,” said Patricia Zimmerman, professor of cinema at Ithaca College. “When you say the name Godard, it exemplifies not just groundbreaking cinematic practice, but groundbreaking conceptual modeling of what cinema can be as a philosophical discourse. When you say Godard, it equals a politically engaged cinema that is about disrupting consciousness.”
Considered one of the most significant pieces of work by Godard, A Bout de Souffle was his first feature-length film. The film overturned the conventions of the classic Hollywood model of filmmaking by imposing discontinuity and using techniques that worked against the action of the film, creating an entirely new way of making films, said Elisabeth Lyon, associate professor of English at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and French cinema academic.
A Bout de Souffle was shot with hand-held cameras, used real locations rather than sets, used jump-cuts and utilized character asides. It also included single swept sequences, lengthy shots with no major action and sound interrupting the dialogue. It also contains many references to pop culture, particularly of American cinema: a poster of Humphrey Bogart, who the main character tries to imitate, lines from other films and a reference to American film with actress Jean Seberg. “[A Bout de Souffle] is part of youth culture, it was shot cheap, it’s conceptual film,” said Zimmerman.
It is important to note, however, that Godard’s films were part of a worldwide phenomenon of an evolving idea of filmmaking. Godard, with other filmmakers around the world, helped to change the process of filmmaking, but they were all part of a greater cause.
“[Godard’s films] don’t happen in a vacuum. Godard was not just a genius. Godard is part of the intellectual filament of radical anti-war politics, of pro-labor union struggles in France… these are international struggles of which he as an insurgent intellectual was part of… This is a person who is in dialogue with a world, and with movements, of which he is one a small part,” said Zimmerman.
Yet it’s hard to deny Godard as a solitary figure in filmmaking: he did, after all, develop a new style of film and influence the world of cinema. Godard’s influence comes from the political and social context and dialogue in his films; he intrigues us with visual elements that were unique in a time when film was still conventional.
With the use of jump-cuts, real locations, and low budgets, Godard made the process of filmmaking visible. He explored ways to reach the audience and make them see the reality of cinema. He created a new cinematic language, which has completely changed the process of filmmaking for today’s working directors. Having influenced Latin American and Asian cinema, as well as American cinema with films like The Graduate?ass=”Apple-style-span” style=”font-family: ‘-editor-proxy’;”> and contemporary directors, Godard’s presence remains alive even today.
Cornell Cinema, borrowing new 35 mm prints from New York City, will continue Godard in the ’60s through Nov. 11. “We were able to choose 10 significant films that Godard made in the 1960s. These prints are also available because they are in such good condition. It ties into the anniversary of 1968, and some of the films sighted the events that were on the horizon,” said Mary Fessenden, Director of Cornell Cinema.
Tickets are $4 for students. Visit cinema.cornell.edu for more information.
Julissa Treviño is a junior writing major. E-mail her at jtrevin[at]@ithaca.edu.