The French New Wave: Critical Landmarks
Edited by Peter Graham
Introduction by Ginette Vincendeau
Palgrave Macmillan, April 2009
This is a revised and enlarged edition of Peter Graham’s The New Wave (1968) and, like the earlier book, it presents a number of key texts (there are a dozen or so here) relating to the Nouvelle Vague. Ginette Vincendeau has contributed a full, lengthy and structured introduction, bringing the story of the influence, significance and response to Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol and the rest bang up to date.
In a sense, the greatest legacy of the Nouvelle Vague today lies in the prodigious blossoming and prominent position of independent film, outside of the mainstream studios. They introduced almost a punk ethos into the until-then rarified, expensive, cumbersome and complicated art of film-making. And anyone who sets out to make films must grapple with the kind of problems that they themselves confronted. They led the way.
The essays collected here date from 1948-1962 and exactly half originally appeared in Cahiers du cinema, ‘the most significant journal of the twentieth century’ according to Colin MacCabe; and who is to say that he is wrong? It should not be thought, though, that all of these essays are positive or congratulatory or show the Nouvelle Vague in a radiantly unblemished light; Robert Benayoun’s ‘The Emperor Has No Clothes’, for instance, is scathing in the extreme about Godard and Truffaut’s supposed incoherence, incompetence and puerility. There is balance to be found in the collection as a whole, that much is clear.
For me, the highlight of the book were the three essays by Luc Moullet, Raymond Borde and Georges Sadoul, each taking as its subject Godard’s seminal A bout de soufflé (some of the dialogue from the film lifted straight from Hammett’s The Glass Key notwithstanding). Close on the heels of this trio, a couple of analytical, nuts-and-bolts type essays also stood out: Chabrol’s ‘Little Themes’ (contra grand narratives and big, ‘important’ ideas) and ‘The Evolution of Film Language’ by Bazin. His essay (Bazin’s, that is) examined the way in which cinema has gradually differentiated itself from the experience of theatre, so that what happens on screen is radically different from what occurs on stage (of course, it is even more different today; Bazin was writing in 1958).
All in all, The French New Wave: Critical Landmarks is a classic collection of writings, essential to an understanding of the Nouvelle Vague and their cultural milieu.