August 14, 2018

Watch: How Jean-Luc Godard Liberated Cinema

From 1960-1967, Godard made 15 films that would change cinema forever.

Few artists have the kind of creative burst that Jean-Luc Godard had back in the 1960s. Not only did he create 15 films in a span of seven years, but the celebrated filmmaker also changed audience expectations of what a film could be. For Godard, this meant a full-on assault of the senses.

Up until Breathless, mainstream cinema had a pretty regular formula. Godard seemingly went out of his way to deconstruct every piece of it. He wanted to keep the audience on their toes, throwing different genres at them from scene to scene with relentless energy and frenetic pacing. He would mismatch styles, flip from black and white to color, and toy with the contrast of naturality and extreme theatricalities. 

In a video essay created by The Discarded Image, we really get a sense for the strategies Godard employed to create a "new wave" of motion pictures. His films, again unlike most at the time, were designed to feel artificial. He didn't care so much if the audience suspended their disbelief, as long as they were drawn into the world he was trying to create. He wants them to know that they're watching a film, or perhaps more accurately, a work of art.

In that vein, even his actors play a part. Many times the people themselves are more present than their actual characters. Godard would use takes of actors screwing up their lines, leave in the seconds before he called "action," and would even edit in shots where actors are very clearly reacting to a direction, often inserting those scenes within more natural sequences.

"Pierrot Le Fou" Credit: Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC)

Apparently, he would only shoot for three hours a day and spend the rest of the day thinking up new ways to approach cinema (like new ways of shooting dialogue or littering films with text). This led to his embodiment of what many would call a deconstructionist.

Music cuts in and out in his films to catch you off guard. Tracks are often completely isolated, and the same goes for language, dialogue, narration, and even the framing of different parts of an actor's body. As the essayist puts it, "Separate components are abstracted from the whole." They are then brought back together in an almost collage-like form, throwing juxtaposing layers on top of layers, to create a feeling that was philosophical, cosmological, and all together new.     

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