The French New Wave: Challenging Traditional Hollywood Cinema. The French New Wave cinema movement was put into motion as a rebellion

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1 Ollila 1 Bernard Ollila December 10, 2008 The French New Wave: Challenging Traditional Hollywood Cinema The French New Wave cinema movement was put into motion as a rebellion against the traditional Hollywood filmmaking techniques. It not only challenged the objectives of Hollywood, but also manifested its own objectives in a manner that directly contrasted those of Hollywood. For the sake of this argument, Jean Luc Godard will be attributed as the most influential of the French New Wavers, and his films will be those discussed. Regarding narrative structure, traditional Hollywood cinema relied on a strict mode of cause and effect storytelling. Peter Wollen examines this in his Godard and Counter Cinema: Vent d Est. Godard and the New Wavers relied on the random nature of life and chance to tell their stories. In order to appropriately do this, James Monaco studies how they had to modify the filmmaking devices available at that time to narrate their stories, particularly sound, editing and mise-en-scene, with their ultimate goal being a reflection of reality that was as dependent on unpredictability as reality itself. There is one more, and probably the most crucial, aspect in representing reality with fictional film that Godard and the French New Wave employed: the characters that inhabit the world of the films. Brian Henderson analyzes the freedom that they exhibit. Thus, the French New Wave s most significant divergence from the traditional Hollywood tendency lays in its aim to capture the random absurdity of life.

2 Ollila 2 In the French New Wave, [Tight plot construction is substituted by] a random and unconnected series of incidents, supposed to represent the variety and ups-and-downs of real life, (Wollen 121). This plot structuring practice disagrees completely with the traditional Hollywood plot structure. Conventionally, as Wollen discusses before he makes this point, the plot structure of a Hollywood film was assembled as a series of causes and effects, each dependent on the other. It s as if Godard and his French New Wave threw a wrench into the gears of film storytelling format. Structured narrative is the key element in the Hollywood film s plot. According to Film Form, Narrative is a fundamental way that humans make sense of the world, (74). But the world, unfortunately, is not a place that one can successfully narrate. Recognizing this, Godard and the French New Wave wanted to reflect the random absurdity of life that plagues day-to-day existence. So, it is understandable that with the arrival of Godard and the French New Wave came a new, incredibly significant originality in the world of cinema. They took the idea that structure was the key element in storytelling and made it a variable, dependent on chance and the uncertainty of existence, much like its new key element: the audience. But, they couldn t just appear out of nowhere hoping to revolutionize one of the world s foremost forms of entertainment. It was their storytelling conventions and devices that made their movement so significant.

3 Ollila 3 Godard, in radical form, toyed with diegesis. He employed strategies such as voice dubbing and other sound substitutions such as dubbing over character voices with one voice speaking for every character, and each character speaking in different tounges (Wollen ). How does this reflect reality? In an abstract, slightly contradictory form. In Godard s films the juxtaposition and recontextualization of discourses leads not to a separating-out of meanings but to a confrontation, (Wollen 127). His film, Weekend, is one example. The film s characters each speak different languages, as do certain parts of the film; thus, the audience is confronted with a perplexing array of semantics. The semantic component of a language is composite and contradictory, permitting understanding on one level, misunderstanding on another. Godard systematically explores the areas of misunderstanding, (Wollen 125). This concept is in direct correspondence to the idea that Godard s films were meant to represent reality, because of the way in which it reflects the randomness of life Wollen previously had discussed. It has been established that the French New Wave sought to reflect reality in the truest sense through different diegetic practices; but, there were more techniques used to achieve this as well. Godard also did so through a unique editing format, and neglecting manipulation of mise-en-scene. Traditionally, Film Art says that montage is synonymous with editing. It adds, it (editing) emphasizes dynamic, often discontinuous, relationships

4 Ollila 4 between shots and the juxtaposition of images to create ideas not present in either shot by itself, (479). And the book also states that mise-en-scene is anything put in front of the camera, such as lighting, costume, and behavior of the figures (112). Where the traditional Hollywood style of filmmaking manipulated just about everything it gave its audience and presented to them a synthesized, completely fictitious world through montage/editing and mise-en-scene, Godard s New Wave combined them without manipulating what was on camera, presenting the world as it was, in an attempt to create a more natural on-camera world. Building on Bazin s theory of the basic opposition between mise-en-scene and montage, Godard created a dialectical synthesis of these two theses that had governed film theory for so long Godard rethought the relationship so that both montage and mise-en-scene can be seen as different aspects of the same cinematic activity. (Monaco ) In essence, Godard sought to combine mise-en-scene with editing to enhance the relationship between his films and his audience. A great many of the devices Godard uses are designed to produce a collective working relationship between filmmaker and audience, in which the spectator can collaborate in the production/consumption of meaning, (Wollen 127). This concept, though not particularly exclusive to the French New Wave, is one of the many traits that characterize it. Fundamentally, it brings the audience into the action of the story. It can be seen in Godard s film, Breathless, most notable when the character Michele is driving

5 Ollila 5 through a French landscape, speaking directly to the camera. In exercising this strategy, Godard has broken any barrier that existed, or presumably existed, between the film and the audience. What s most fascinating about this is that it makes the audience a part of the film s mise-en-scene through eliminating the audience s conception that they are merely watching the film. They are now taking part in it. In film, this is known as breaking the fourth wall. Through these elements, Godard transcends the over-synthesized traditional Hollywood filmmaking technique. He has made his film a reality for his audience, should they choose to accept it as such. This starkly contrasts any of the Hollywood traditions. Godard has redefined the limits of Realism so that we now no longer locus on plastic reality (the filmmaker s concrete relationship with his raw materials) nor on the psychological reality (the filmmaker s manipulative relationship with the audience), but on intellectual reality (the filmmaker s dialectical, or conversational, relationship with the audience). (Monaco 411). By using the term locus, Monaco implies that traditional Hollywood filmmakers created and presented a world for their audiences to simply observe as a third party, to use it or prey upon it. Godard transcended this plastic reality through placing the dependence of the audience s relationship with the film on their participation. The mise-en-scene, or concrete materials, the editing, or how they manipulate how the audience should feel,

6 Ollila 6 were not the central aspects of the storytelling. Instead, there is an intellectual relationship established by Godard through breaking the fourth wall, having the film s characters communicate directly with the audience to bring them into the story. The interactions of these characters with the audience is key in bringing the audience into the story. They exhibit a freedom within their realm that the audience exhibits in their day to day life. This freedom is essential in the reflection of reality. Godard examined the techniques used by traditional filmmakers and rejected their strict adherence to script. Godard said that they played God with their characters, implying that some outside force controlled them, and thus takes away from their realness, that is, for failing to endow them with that freedom, (Henderson 34). This enhances the realism perspective of the work of the artist who uses this technique in a way to communicate actuality. The French New Wave, with Jean Luc Godard at its forefront, aimed to make films not solely for the sake of rebellion or being different. Instead, they saw major faults in the traditional Hollywood film making system, particularly regarding the representation of actual life. In response, they modified film making techniques to better signify reality. To be particular, the strategies of diegetics, mise-en-scene, and editing were changed to accommodate their aspirations, specifically Jean Luc Godard. Even within the framework of fiction, he has stuck to contemporary life, (Wollen, 127).

7 Ollila 7 Godard thought that traditional cinema wasn t inconsistent with communicating reality; rather, he believed that the manner in which it was done was not consistent with reality itself. To refer back to the combination of editing and mise-en-scene, these work with the freedom of the characters to create a realm of emotional and physical reality. Its effectiveness depends upon rhythm, pacing, and intensity, (Henderson 35). The rhythm comes from diegetics, the pacing in French New Wave comes from the combination of mise-en-scene and editing, and the intensity comes from the freedom of the characters.

8 Ollila 8 Works Cited Bordwell, David, and Kristen Thompson. Film Art. Eigth ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill, Breathless. Dir. Jean Luc Godard Henderson, Brian. "Godard on Godard." Film Quarterly 27 (1974): Monaco, James. How to Read a Film: The World of Movies, Media, and Multimedia Art, Technology, Language, History, Theory. New York, NY: Oxford UP, Weekend. Dir. Jean Luc Godard. Youtube.com. 8 Dec < _type=&aq=f>. Wollen, Peter. "Godard and Counter Cinema: Vent d'est." Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology. By Philip Rosen

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