Riding La Nouvelle Vague*

         The French new wave movement became unique to the history of film as established film critics picked up the camera and consciously attempted to create a new era of French cinema. Under the mentorship of Andre Bazin, editor of Cahiers du cinema, the film theorist magazine, the directors of the new wave were all young, inexperienced film makers that felt the need apply the theories and critics made in Cahiers to practical filmmaking. They drew from established film theories, their own and others, to create a style of filmmaking that emphasized the vision of the director over the marketability of the film.

         Unlike their Italian counterparts many French filmmakers fled Europe during the Second World War, some never returning to work in France. After France’s liberation film directors-much to the Cahiers’ writers cringe-began turning out what they considered formulistic, glossy and ultimately meaningless films. During this time the Cahiers developed the auteur theory, which stresses a director’s personal touch on their films. After film subsidies were developed by the de Galle government in the 1950’s it became possible for the Cahier’s group become directors themselves (Nottingham).

         As all the initial new wave directors were originally film theorists, and all worked closely together and exchanged ideas as such, their films shared many characteristics that became known as the tenets of French new wave. Some of these characteristics, such as shooting on location, the use of ambient sound and natural lighting, were borrowed from other film genres, such as Italian neo-realism, that were praised in Cahiers. Other conventional new wave characteristics grew not out of theoretical debate but from practical application. The directors were learned scholars of film theory but had no experience making a film and were faced with creating their visions on a tight budget. This led to improvisations on scripts, locations, shooting schedules and materials. The extensive use of jump cuts also stemmed from the lack of materials, specifically the lack of film (Phillips).

         The film movement, which lasted from the 1950’s to the early 1970’s, became instrumental on an international level. As the French new wave style began to gain recognition outside France the tenets of the movement were exported to other countries and adapted to different locals creating distinct new wave movements in other cultures. The American film movement “New Hollywood,” which encompasses such directors as George Lucus, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Spielberg, is considered the Americanized version of new wave, with the strong adhesion to auteur theory (Kramer). Many of the directors from these different cultural new wave movements are still creating films and still use many of the characteristics of the new wave movement.

         Cahiers du cinema was instrumental to the creation of the characterizations of the new wave movement. But without the theorists jumping behind the camera and putting into practice the theories they developed the concepts of new wave would be confined to the pages of a film magazine, possibly never to be put into practice.

Works Cited

Kramer, Peter. The New Hollywood: From Bonnie and Clyde to Star Wars. New York: Wallflower P, 2005.

Nottingham, Stephen. Stephen Nottingham: The French New Wave 1 June 1998. 11 Apr. 2008 .

Phillips, Craig. French New Wave | Green Cine 27 Mar. 2007. 11 Apr. 2008 .

Michael Belcher

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