Breathless is often described as a pastiche of pop culture references. Identify some of these allusions and explain their significance.
The very first reference to the B-movies of the past that inspired Godard’s film comes title card dedicating the movie to Monogram Pictures. Monogram Pictures is a very significant pop culture reference because it was one of the studios collective known as Poverty Row which were responsible for the bulk of those low-budget film noirs that inspired the French New Wave every bit as much as the splashier films from Hollywood’s major studios. One of those big budget films is the Humphrey Bogart film noir The Harder They Fall which is also references through the prominent display of a marquee poster. The suggestion to Michel that silk socks do not go with a tweed jacket is actually less of a fashion critique than it appears to be and more of a direct reference straight out of Dashiell Hammett’s novel—later turned into an Alan Ladd film noir—The Glass Key.
Godard was instructed to cut the running time of Breathless for it to have any chance at becoming a commercial success. Rather than cutting out entire scenes, Godard’s solution was to trim individual scenes, thus solidifying the “jump cut” as one the defining cinematic techniques of the New Wave. Describe the way that the editing effects of Breathless contribute to the narrative.
The time slips that result from the jump cuts enhances the overall feeling of being disoriented. That strange hiccup in time and space is not a camera effect associated with traditional Hollywood filmmaking so it also gives the effect dislocation from what is normally expected. That disconnection from the convention and the expected also contributes to the heady disorientation, thus connecting the viewer more strongly to the characters than to standard filmmaking techniques. In a very palpable sense, the jump cut effect helps the audience feel like the outsiders in much the same way as the characters in the movie.
Identify another way that Godard rejects traditional Hollywood filmmaking and explain how it helps to situate the narrative of Breathless within an ideological framework.
The basic foundation for the construction of a scene in all Hollywood films before Breathless and after—whether low budget or big studio production—is the shot/reverse angle in which the first character to speak is film from one point in space and then the person to whom are they speaking is filmed from the opposite point so that they are facing the camera and the first character now has their back to the camera. In Breathless, Godard steadfastly rejects this conventional approach, thus creating what technically would be considered lapses in continuity, but since it is done purposely, the continuity issues are not actual cases of oversight. Thus, what would be considered a “film flub” in a traditional Hollywood movie actually becomes part of the ideological rejection of Hollywood technique. Since Hollywood technique in Godard’s philosophy is actually synonymous with capitalist control of the artistic process the rejection of something as simple as expectations of continuity within a shot serves as a critique of capitalism to the point that the life of crime chose by his characters is accepted as a revolutionary act of freedom.
Breathless was a breath of fresh air in its day and considered a revolutionary moment in the history of filmmaking. Does the revolutionary aspect of the film still hold up today?
The problem with Breathless for today’s audiences is twofold. One, all the anti-Hollywood techniques of filmmaking which absolutely seemed like something from the avant-garde for many moviegoers when the film was first released have in the decades since been adopted and standardized by Hollywood. The second problem is that the despite all the innovative techniques, the film moves surprisingly slowly and for some modern audiences raised on those movies using those innovative techniques, the pace might be described as glacial. With this in mind, the answer is also twofold: clearly, the film remains revolutionary since so many of its techniques that were innovative at the time have become the status quo. The great irony of all revolutions is that when they are successful, they lose their ability to excite. So while Breathless is likely to bore as many members of a modern audience as it excites, both reactions confirm its status as revolutionary.
Name one element that connects Breathless to the B-movies produced by studios like Monogram Pictures.
The low budget crime movies that stimulate the imagination of the characters in Breathless were on the whole less of the “movie star” type and more of the average person type than those movies produced by studios like MGM or Warner Brothers. Not to suggest that Jean-Paul Belmondo or Jean Seberg don’t have movie star looks, but they are not presented as A-list characters in Breathless. Instead, they have the appearance and are directed in a way that aligns them more with the less stylish and less perfectly groomed and coiffed inhabitants of the typically more common dreary underworld in which B-movie film noir characters went about their search for existential meaning in a seemingly random universe.
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