Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

Posts Tagged ‘french new wave

Auteur Spotlight: Jean-Luc Godard

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Jean-Luc Godard, champion of the French New Wave and peer to Truffaut

 Jean-Luc Godard emerged with post-war cinema and the French New Wave, right when Truffaut was defining what we now recognize as auteur films. Godard had weighty political and social influences that cropped up in all of his works, as subtle flavors in earlier shorts and later as major plotpoints. He began, as most auteurs have, by making short films. His very first short work was Une Femme Coquette (1955), in which he was credited as Hans Lucas. He began with this pseudonym when he was writing for several film periodicals as a critic, along with his friend, Francois Truffaut. He dropped the false name soon after.

Godard’s filmography is extensive, and his name is universally recognized among cinephiles. Though he was born in December of 1930, he continues to make films today, at the ripe old age of 80. What defines Godard’s style as an auteur? That would be quite a long discussion, but an article from the New York Times movie website sums it up nicely:

Crafted with a rough-and-tumble, home-movie-like quality, it dodged all accepted notions of narrative and visual storytelling, adopting a freeform hipness unlike anything before it and sparking a revolution in low-budget, on-the-fly independent filmmaking. Seemingly overnight, Godard was revered as the most important cinematic talent of his generation. Quickly, however, Godard’s refusal to be pigeonholed became apparent, and despite a few works of lesser quality, his work over the course of the upcoming decade was a remarkable period of innovation, experimentation, and sustained genius.

The author is speaking specifically of A Bout de Souffle, one of his later features, but I think its applicable to much of his work. The same style and themes are present in a short of his that I analyzed earlier in the semester, De l-origine du XXIe siecle (2000). Undoubtedly, Godard has made a lasting impression on the film industry by simply attempting to subvert it in every way.

Below is an interview with Godard where he discusses his themes and his goals as a director, describing specifically a film he released in 1972. Enjoy!

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Critique and Development of Auteur Theory

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Astruc, Bazin, Truffaut, and Sarris.

The overarching theme of Francois Truffaut’s article was that film should be analyzed as its own artform, with its own set of techniques, themes, and discoveries. Filmmaking before the French New Wave (again, I refer back to post-war cinema and the anti-Hollywood, independent film movement) was defined by adaptations of classic literature and other stories that were already familiar to the popular culture machine. Indeed, we still see films made of these same beloved stories today. I’m thinking specifically of Grimm’s fairytales, classic stories originating from books like Robin Hood and Tarzan, and costume dramas based on historical legend such as Arabian Nights or King Arthur. Truffaut was writing from the perspective of the avante-garde, the surreal, and the simply unique: every movement that was just beginning to blossom in film that stemmed from the art world and not from literature.

Truffaut wanted film to push the audience’s boundaries rather than cater to their norms.

Harry Tuttle wrote a fabulous article that supplies a historical context for Truffaut’s thoughts as well as analyzes them for their value. He says:

 “The accomplishments pre-war French cinema was praised for (‘talented adaptation’ and the ‘faithfulness to the spirit of the novel’) are seriously questioned here to highlight the absence of filmic expression which must differentiate Cinema from Literature.”

The whole basis of auteur film is that filmmakers took what Truffaut wrote (and produced in his body of work) and created their own form of filmic expression. It is their consistency of expression and exploration of film as a medium that defines great filmmakers as “auteurs.”

 Polish scholar Andrew Sarris wrote a much-studied article in reaction to Truffaut’s work on the auteur theory titled “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962.” He defined the three essential aspects of auteur work: technique, personal style, and interior meaning. To clarify:

 “[The] three premises to ‘auteur’ theory: the technical competence of the director, the director’s distinguishable personality and interior meaning. He says that three concentric circles can represent the three premises, of which the outer one represents technique, the middle one – individual style and the inner one – interior meaning. The director’s interrelated roles can be designated as the roles of the technician, stylist (metteur en scene) and the ‘auteur’ respectively.” (Sarris)

 As I continue to highlight the work of great auteurs, it will become clearer how specific techniques and personal styles of filmmakers enhance their films. For instance, think of David Lynch and his feature films like Eraserhead or his 1990 television series Twin Peaks. If we refer back to some of his short films, from the late 1960s into the 1970s, it is obvious how his personal style informs every project he has had a hand in. But more on the Lynchness of David Lynch later.

Andrew Sarris continues his analysis by making some bold statements on how the work of auteurs has affected the film industry. He hypothesizes that auteur theory makes it impossible to think of a bad director making a good film or a good director making a bad film. And in a statement that I feel makes a perfect summary of auteur film:

 “The way a film looks and moves should have some relationship to the way a director thinks and feels.” (Sarris)

 Therefore, I want to explore the work of a few distinct, celebrated auteurs and discuss how their work is indicative of how they think and feel.

 Also, as we transition into looking specifically at auteurs of short film, I would like to leave off with a comment on the beauty of short film from director Guillermo Del Toro, behind the popular movies Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth:

 “I think that a short film is a perfect nugget of a film. A seed. The perfect pitch that a producer can promote and push for people to ‘get a glimpse’ of the film that lies there.”

 

References

Truffaut’s manifesto: La Politique des Auteurs by Harry Tuttle

“Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962” by Andrew Sarris

Additional Sources (not referenced, but helpful!)

Auteur Theory in Film Criticism from the BBC

Short Film, ‘An art form in themselves,’ by Suchandrika Chakrabarti

Francois Truffaut & Auteur Theory

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Francois Truffaut

 Definition

The word auteur is simply the French word for “author.” The essential idea behind auteur theory is that a filmmaker exercises an authorship over his work, and this authorship is present in every film he (or she) makes. The theory was born with the French New Wave cinema, from 1958-1962, with a group of French filmmakers headed by Francois Truffaut. I’ve previously analyzed two of his short films, Antoine et Collete (1962) and Les Mistons (1957). The French New Wave was one of many film movements that sprung up around the world in protest to Hollywood’s monopoly of popular film in the post-World War II years. You can read more about post-war cinema and the anti-Hollywood sentiment on Eric Elie’s blog.

At a mere twenty-one years old, Truffaut wrote the defining article for auteur film, titled “Une Certaine Tendance of Cinema Francaise” (“A Certain Tendency of French Cinema”), first published in the magazine Cahiers du Cinema in January 1954. Since then, a horde of scholars and critiques have added their thoughts to the tenets of auteur film, and a even greater horde of filmmakers have added their mastery to the history of the art. Here I hope to highlight a few of those scholars and many more of those excellent filmmakers.

Truffaut’s “Certain Tendency”

 When he originally wrote the article, Truffaut was writing in protest of the filmmakers who were receiving critical acclaim at the time for their well-crafted, however voiceless, literature adaptations. He termed this group of screenwriters and filmmakers who translated the ideas of previous writers the French “Tradition of Quality,” complimenting them for their adept filmmaking as he also criticized them for having no personal vision to deepen their films. Truffaut says in the article:

“The war and the post-war years have transformed our cinema. It has evolved through internal pressure and in the place of “poetic realism” – which can be said to have died out, closing behind itself The Gates of Night (The Portes de la Nuit) – “psychological realism” represented by Claude Autant-Lara, Jean Delannoy, René Clément, Yves Allgret and Marcel Pagliero, was substituted.”

 

He was advocating for filmmakers including their own experience in their films, their own “psychological realism,” rather than the work of literary masters. Film, as its own artform, deserved storylines and themes that were crafted specifically for visual storytelling. Truffaut condemned the tradition of the screenwriter having the greatest control of the story a film told; he thought the director should have more creative power. He saw the creative process as so emotional and personal for a filmmaker, he should feel himself as if he were on display. He goes on to write:

“The artist cannot always dominate his work. He is sometimes its God, other times its creature. One knows the modern play whose main character, in peak form when the curtain rises, finds himself fully amputated as the play ends, as a successive loss of each of his limbs has marked the changing of acts.”

 

As with many artists, Truffaut was advocating for total mastery of the filmic art. Just as a painter cannot help adding his own personality to his work through his paintbrush, Truffaut saw a filmmaker as having no choice but to displaAs with many artists, Truffaut was advocating for total mastery of the filmic art. Just as a painter cannot help adding his own personality to his work through his paintbrush, Truffaut saw a filmmaker as having no other choice but to display his deepest emotions onscreen for the judgment of an audience. Thus, he condemned the soulless process of literature adaptation not for its lack of technical skill but for a lack of psychological truthfulness. One last quote from Francois:

“I do not believe in the peaceful co-existence of the Tradition of Quality and the cinema of auteurs. At base, Yves Allegret and Jean Delannoy are but caricatures of Henri-Georges Clouzot or Robert Bresson. It’s not the desire to cause a scandal that leads me to deprecate a cinema so praised elsewhere. I remained convinced that the unduly prolonged existence of ‘psychological realism’ is the cause of the public’s incomprehension when confronted by works as new in concept as…”

 

… and he goes on to list several underappreciated films by his friends and colleagues that he feels defines his outline of an auteur. His analysis of good filmmaking seems a bit self-serving, but it is his ideas and films we remember and study today, while those of the “Tradition of Quality” he comdemns have fallen to the background of film history.

References

My Gleanings: “A Certain Tendency of French Cinema” (translated)

 Truffaut’s manifesto: La Politique des Auteurs by Harry Tuttle

Next up, I will outline some of the critique and further development of auteur theory.

Antoine et Colette (1962)

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Similar to Les Mistons (1957), Francois Truffaut once again focuses this short on the pains and miscommunications of young love. Truffaut obviously felt adolescence very intensely. This film is part of an omnibus collection L’Amour à vingt ans (Love at 20), and is also the second of five films the director made starring his alter ego, Antoine Doinel. Culture Cartel describes more of the context of the film.

Colette was of more interest to me. Unlike the typical Hollywood female roles of the time (I’m thinking of Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot), Colette (played by Marie-France Pisier) is an independent, educated girl. She weilds all of the power in her friendship with Antoine, and whether or not she is purposefully toying with his emotions is unclear, though probable. Even though she’s the reason the film does not have a “happy” ending, I can’t help but like her. I also cannot help being reminded of a more recent film with the same themes, 500 Days of Summer (2009), starring Joseph Gorden-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. The female lead in that film, Summer, fosters a relationship with the male lead while spurning his romantic advances, just as Colette does with Antoine. Independent female aside, the trials of young love are obviously a theme filmmakers return to continually and explore in a myriad of personal ways.

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