After the plethora of sweeping, epic melodramas in post-WWII films, the next era of innovation in moviemaking took the opposite road: exploring the “profoundly personal” experience.In Part IV of the 15-hour documentary, THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY (2011), filmmaker and historian Mark Cousins delves into the work of cinema’s great New Wave innovators of the 1950s and 1960s.
During the beginning of this new wave in film history, Cousins cites four great directors as the movers and shakers who took film to this new, personal level: Ingmar Bergman, Robert Bresson, Jacques Tati, and Frederico Fellini. These innovators championed the role of film itself becoming an integral part of the narrative.
Citing Bergman’s SUMMER WITH MONIKA (1953), for example, there is a groundbreaking scene where Monika looks at us directly, straight into the camera, changing the audience’s relationship to the story being exposed on the screen. In Robert Bresson’s masterpiece, THE PICKPOCKET (1959), Cousins notes that the film demonstrates the “total rejection of gloss,” stripping down the story to emphasize the flatness of the everyday. Thirdly, he recognizes the briliance of visionary director Tati with MONSIEUR HULOT’S HOLIDAY (1953), a film which basically affirms that “the story doesn’t exist,” Tati preferring incidence and details to a plot line. And last but not least, Cousins highlights the work of Frederico Fellini, whose major construct was portraying life as a circus world, with films such as NIGHTS OF CABIRIA (1957), using improvisation as opposed to linear storytelling.
As the story of film evolves, these four influential filmmakers gave way to the French New Wave directors of the early sixties. Cousins calls these innovators “the film school generation,” who embraced filmmaking as an intellectual endeavor, creating even more “narrative ambiguity” in movies and focusing on the meaning of life and existentialism.
For starting an exploration of this period, go with classics such as CLEO FROM 9 -5 (1962) by Agnes Varda; LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD (1961) by Alain Resnais; Francois Truffaut’s 400 BLOWS (1959); Jean Luc Goddard’s A MARRIED WOMAN (1964); Marco Ferreri’s THE WHEELCHAIR (1960); Sergio Leone’s FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964); and I AM CURIOUS YELLOW (1967) by Filgot Sjoman.
And then like every other era, the French New Wave lost its steam and made way for a new world cinema that “dazzled” the industry. Stay tuned….
THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY (2011) is a 15-part, 15-hour documentary exploring the convergence of technology, business, intelligence, and vision that has created the remarkable and powerful art of cinema. Music Box Films is distributing this new documentary, and Chicago’s Music Box Theater is conducting a multi-week screening of this ambitious effort. The DVD will be released in November 2012. You will want to add it to your collection.
P.S. — Part of the experience of watching this series is sinking down into your seat and giving into the filmmaker’s hypnotic narration. Have a listen….