Jean-Luc Godard and The Birth of Innovative Film

by Christina Donoghue on 13 September 2022

On the day of Jean-Luc Godard's death, we take a small look back at his revolutionary career and how he birthed a movement that continues to influence fashion film and film as a whole today.

On the day of Jean-Luc Godard's death, we take a small look back at his revolutionary career and how he birthed a movement that continues to influence fashion film and film as a whole today.

Jean-Luc Godard with muse Anna Karina
For me, Jean-Luc Godard has always had a part of my heart because his films encompassed my six-year-old memories of Paris when I lived there in the 60s, exactly; word for word, image for image - Nick Knight.

This morning, it was announced that the revolutionary director, subversive filmmaker and defiant citizen of French cinema Jean-Luc Godard has died, aged 91. His films - at once realistic and charismatic - changed the face of cinema forever, as did the movement they were part of, La Nouvelle Vague, of which Godard was a founding member, coupled with offerings from legendaries François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol and Jacques Rivette. Godard's death comes a little over a year since actor Jean-Paul Belmondo died, who famously appeared in many New Wave films and the director's signature 1959 debut À Bout de Souffle (Breathless), which is accredited with birthing the cultural movement.

If you're ever unsure about the philosophies practised by the French New Wave's founders, you just have to watch one of their films. Despite being shrouded in intimacy and mystery, the proclamations mirror the outlook of Godard and his contemporaries (to quote Nick Knight), 'word for word, image for image'. In Le Petit Soldat (1963) the protagonist can be found saying, 'photography is truth. And cinema is truth 24 times a second'; just like that, the cultural importance of cinema unravels itself in front of the viewer. These assertions, coupled with distinctive editing techniques they used to set their films apart from Hollywood (jump cuts, La Camera Stylo and breaking the fourth wall included), meant this new style of filmmaking slapped the face of conventional cinema. Rules were broken infamously, yet what was so great about Godard was that he never bothered to read the rulebook in the first place. Each and every rule burned in the process of the French New Wave hitting the big screen came as an acknowledgement of what had come before while establishing the new. What added to this much-loved movement was that Godard kept his cameras constantly moving, making the viewer feel as though they weren't just watching a film but were part of it. There was notably a 'fly on the wall' quality to his work that saw the sudden actualisation of art and reality becoming entangled, meshed in the presence of time.

Le Petit Soldat, 1963

Although Godard may have a reputation for being obsessed over by Tumblr-loving teens, there is a reason people regard him as somewhat of a cultural God of film (pun intended). Although beautiful in what they were, his films did not glamourise society; they reasoned with it and, in turn, became a reflection of the real. 'He was just an observer', notes Godard fan and fellow filmmaker Nick Knight. 'There were minimal differences between French life and his cinema at the time; he reflected the spirit of his era'. Speaking of his personal idolisation of Godard, Knight told me a story of when he was a little boy and lived in Paris, going on to reveal that it's Godard's films that remind him of this period.

'My father worked for Nato, and so we had to move over there in the early 60s. I can remember hating it in the beginning; the first 24 hours in particular, were not enjoyable, not as a six-year-old anyway. To get me out of this mood, my parents took me down to the Champs-Élysées to a little cafe open late at night with a pinball machine. Asides from this cafe existing in real life in comparison to the made-up cafe that appeared in the dancing scene in Bande à part (Band of Outsiders), they were virtually the same, it was uncanny. It was literally like that dancing scene. Nothing was different. Of course, the cafe didn't have Claude Brasseur and Anna Karina dancing, but they may as well have been there. That's what French life was like. Godard didn't glamourise; he was just an observer. It was such an important part of my life because I moved from a countryside village in Cambridgeshire when I was six and was plonked in the middle of 1960s Paris. His films hold the secret to the memories I have as a little boy living there.'

Although from two fairly different worlds, what binds Knight's fashion films with Godard's is their low-budget voyeuristic approach to life around them. 'Godard's work lends itself to fashion film through dabbling in a looser narrative', affirms Knight. 'Those films were incredibly influential in terms of how women saw themselves. They weren't fashion films but the fashion in them was so influential and they were stylish. They proposed a vision of a certain type of person which fashion similarly excels in doing'. Whether the cross overs appear in a 'jump cut' editing style (as seen through SHOWstudio's edit of Guy Bourdain's film footage), a low budget, small team approach or a more conventionally observational point of view as the plot, the similarities are there. The differences? They're much more subtle.

Bande à part, 1964

Dead or alive, his disjointed narrative style will live forever unfold in the medium of film and beyond. By being kept alive in the minds of those who continue to watch his films, some 60 years after they came out, Godard will never truly be gone, and his presence will be felt not only in cinema but in the every day; the subject matter which inspired him the most. Transformative, magnetic, and endlessly experimental in his creativity, it's no wonder why Godard was loved around the globe, as he will continue to be in the future of film forevermore.




Compulsive Viewing: The Films Of Guy Bourdin

17 April 2003
Discover the moving image work of Guy Bourdin; eleven fashion films edited from never-before-seen archival footage and showcased exclusively by SHOWstudio.

Nick Knight Introduces Compulsive Viewing: The Films of Guy Bourdin

24 May 2019
SHOWstudio Director Nick Knight tells the story behind working with Guy Bourdin's archive footage in 2003.

Art Film: The Murder of Jean Seberg

12 June 2011
Daphne Guinness and filmmaker Joseph Lally teamed up to explore the Hollywood history of the late Jean Seberg in this experimental art film.
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