Debuts Blogathon: Jean-Luc Godard – Breathless (À bout de souffle) (1960)

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It’s Day 3 of the ‘Debuts’ Blogathon, hosted by myself and Chris at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop. Today’s contributor is Ewan from Ewan at the Cinema. Ewan keeps it simple, concentrating on reviews of new releases, modern classics and more leftfield choices. Each of his reviews are well thought-out and give you plenty of food for thought and I highly recommend you get yourselves over there.

Jean-Luc Godard

Breathless (À bout de souffle) (1960)

There were, in 1960, certain ways of making feature films wherever you were in the world; methods that had been built up over the preceding half-century of filmmaking and which continue to endure to this day in mainstream cinema.

Breathless PosterThe key thing about this debut film from young French film critic Jean-Luc Godard is that few of these methods were followed, though such rulebreaking might have had less effect had the film not also been an enjoyable pulpy retrofitting of familiar American imagery. One of Godard’s famous aphorisms, which he attributes to D.W. Griffith, is that “all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun”, and here indeed there’s a girl (Patricia, played by the American Jean Seberg) and a gun, generally wielded by gangster Michel Poiccard (played by Jean-Paul Belmondo). He’s on the run, she hooks up with him: that’s all you really need to know about the plot.

Referencing pulpy B-movies from the States was part of a deliberate strategy by a number of like-minded French critics making their first films all at the same time, loudly rebelling against the staid cinema of their fathers’ generation. This movement became acclaimed as the nouvelle vague (or ‘French New Wave’), and if François Truffaut gained a lot of early attention for his Les Quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows, 1959), it’s Godard who set out a lot of what made this New Wave memorable and which define its lasting legacy.

BreathlessIn his films in particular you can see a youthful passion for cinema combined with formal innovations showing a blatant disregard for classical techniques, often informed by a self-consciously revolutionary politics. Even in this very first film of Godard’s can be seen a lot of what would later come to dominate his style.

First, let’s talk politics. Not party politics (of which there’s plenty as Godard gets older), but la politique des auteurs. That phrase translates as ‘the policy of authors’ in French, but the common translation of the term in the English language has been ‘the auteur theory’, thanks to Andrew Sarris’s writings from the 1960s onwards. It was a critical idea of Truffaut’s that helped to shape the way that the New Wave first developed as a director-focused movement, but I think its value has been overstated.

BreathlessIn many ways it’s a provocation like the Dogme 95 manifesto of Lars von Trier (and others), a way of focusing attention and signalling a change in methods from the mainstream. It has also helped to focus critical attention on the French New Wave, though similar changes in filmmaking practice were taking hold in various parts of the world at the same time, whether it be the Italy of Antonioni and Pasolini, or the American films of John Cassavetes.

The ‘auteur theory’ is alluring for Godard’s films in particular, which often seem like such personal expressions, but even in this very first film he liked to expose the mechanics of filmmaking. It starts here with Michel addressing the camera directly as if the audience is a passenger in the car he’s driving. There’s also a sequence later on when Michel and Pauline are walking and talking down the Paris streets, and all the passers-by can be clearly seen turning and staring at them and the camera (this scene also neatly illustrates both the simple energy of just capturing a spontaneous and improvised scene directly — an energy that suffuses the film as a whole — but also the technical changes in filmmaking that had in part opened up the way for the nouvelle vague, as smaller and more portable cameras became available).

BreathlessOnly a few years later, in Le Mépris (1963), Godard would kick off the film by showing the cameraman Raoul Coutard backed up by his crew dollying down a track filming the actors while Godard read out the credits, and this kind of breaking of the fourth wall would become a regular feature of his films.

Not unrelated is Godard’s habit for improvising dialogue. The script here is credited to Truffaut — and there was creative input too from Claude Chabrol (another critic and nascent filmmaker) — but that script was only apparently the outline of the film. The scenes as they play in the film were as often scribbled out by Godard himself, shortly before filming took place, and this would often be his method in future.

BreathlessYet this personal inspiration (that of the auteur) is one that draws heavily on other texts and influences. There’s scarcely a scene that doesn’t quote the American cinema he so loved — whether it’s Michel standing in front of a poster of Humphrey Bogart (The Harder They Fall), tracing his fingers around his lips as he imagines Bogart to do, or mimicking Debbie Reynolds’ melodramatic mugging in Singin’ in the Rain as he sits around Patricia’s apartment. These are just two examples, though. There are many more allusions to Hollywood movies, and it’s a habit that Godard would only extend, taking influences and presenting decontextualised quotations from film and literature like a magpie, until eventually entire films of his (such as Histoire(s) du cinéma) become playful interrogations of sources. Godard, more than most directors, has always remained a critic.

This first film also exposes some common techniques and themes that Godard liked to use. There are those long-takes of characters talking that do away with the classical shot-reverse shot construction, so here you have Patricia questioning Michel in the car while you hear his replies from off-screen. There are the sequence shots of couples in cramped domestic spaces bickering about meaningless topics, trying to escape one another (and the film’s frame), but never succeeding. There’s the fecklessness of male desire, and its betrayal by women — it’s interesting in this regard that Patricia was explicitly noted by Godard as an extension of Seberg’s character Cécile in Bonjour Tristesse, another young woman isolated in a world of unconstrained chauvinist desire (and she’s great in both films).

BreathlessYet if there’s often in Godard’s films a self-important male figure (like Jean-Pierre Melville’s author at a press conference near the end) espousing generalisations about women, it’s also often accompanied and set in juxtaposition to lacerating self-critique (Godard himself plays an informer in the film). And I haven’t even mentioned the famous jump cuts.

But in 1960 none of this would mean very much if it was just another young director showing off his Brechtian or cineaste credentials, as so many like to do. The point is that around this time there weren’t any mainstream filmmakers doing this stuff. Sure, there were occasional isolated examples of these techniques beforehand, but for Godard (as for like-minded young directors of the era such as Cassavetes) it was just the way he made films.

It shows most of all in the looseness and jazzy rhythms of this debut, more akin to documentary than to feature films of the period. Godard would extend his interests as his career progressed, becoming ever more esoteric as his meaning became more opaque, but he was never more accessible than in this first, exciting despatch from the front lines of a new wave.

Meanwhile, head over to Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop where Keith from Keith & the Movies is covering John Huston’s noir classic The Maltese Falcon (1941). Get yourself over there now!

As for me, check back tomorrow, when Cindy from Cindy Bruchman will be stepping behind the radio mic for her take on Clint Eastwood’s 1971 debut Play Misty For Me. See you then!

Debuts Blogathon: Terrence Malick – Badlands (1973)

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Welcome to Day 2 of the ‘Debuts’ Blogathon, jointly run by myself and Chris at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop. Today’s entry is provided by Charles at Cinematic. This is one of the first blogs I followed and it remains one of the best out there. As well as sterling reviews, this great blog asks some fascinating questions that genuinely make you think. Do yourself a favour and give it a try.

Terrence Malick

Badlands (1973)

BadlandsIn his forty-year career, Terrence Malick has stood as one of cinema’s bravest, boldest directors. The filmmaker often approaches his subjects with such a poetic manner that his movies communicate and speak to me in such a way few films can. Malick’s serene imagery has defined all of his movies, and his most recent movies strongly exemplify this trait.

The director’s debut, Badlands, may not be as ambiguous as The Tree of Life or To The Wonder, but it’s one of Malick’s finest efforts and a pivotal moment in the New Hollywood movement of the 1970s.

kobal_badlands460Badlands is inspired by Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, who went on a killing spree in 1958 with 11 victims, including Caril’s father. The film revolves around two characters. Kit (Martin Sheen) is based on Charles Starkweather. He is 25-years-old, collects the garbage for work, and wears a James Dean-like outfit, symbolising his rebellious spirit.  Holly (Sissy Spacek) takes Caril’s place. She’s only 15; a lonely freckled schoolgirl who also narrates the story.

The two first meet out on the street while Holly is twirling a baton. Kit approaches her and talks to her a bit, telling her he just left his job as a garbage man. Holly looks at him and falls in love with him and soon the two embark on a romance.

BadlandsThe love between a 25-year-old and a schoolgirl may be a bit disturbing, but Malick assures the audience that this relationship is not sexual. Rather, he connects how these two different characters are much alike. They are shunned by society and don’t know how to react.

Within the first 20 minutes, Kit shoots Holly’s father (played by Warren Oates), an action that has severe repercussions that reverberate throughout the rest of the film. Kit burns down Holly’s house and soon the two run away into the woods, hoping to disappear and find a new life. But as more and more people run into their way, the bodies start piling up, which threatens the relationship between Holly and Kit.

BadlandsBadlands has a similar story to Bonnie and Clyde, another pivotal film in the New Hollywood age. But Bonnie and Clyde focused on the two eponymous characters’ crimes and the outside world’s reaction, while Badlands shows some indication of the pedestrian perspective, particularly at the end, and it’s really about how Kit and Holly react to their victims. Malick takes a unique perspective and portrays the duo as a lost, innocent couple who seem ignorant of the world around them. In the pivotal scene where Kit shoots Holly’s father, Holly really doesn’t know what to do afterwards. She slaps Kit out of anger but still follows him like a blind puppy, as she does throughout the rest of the film. Kit, on the other hand, possesses little awareness on the vileness of his crimes. He does not seem pleased or angry about his killings, but sees it as a needed action. After shooting a few men who were following him and Holly into the woods, he argues: “I killed them because they was bounty hunters who wanted the reward money. If they was policemen, just being paid for doing their job, that would have been different.” Kit’s lack of remorse towards his victims defines the detached attitude of the film. Like Bonny and Clyde, Holly and Kit are lost, rejected souls but, unlike them, Holly and Kit don’t seem to have an urge to rejoin society. And while Bonny and Clyde is a great movie, I would argue that Badlands is a stronger, more confident film.

BadlandsWhile Badlands is a narrative-based film and not quite as surreal as Malick’s other pictures, it sets up many common and recurring traits that have defined the director’s style. Malick’s love of nature is evident here, as he presents clear, pristine, and beautiful images, be they bugs climbing through leaves or flowers bustling through the wind. He also utilizes voiceover to describe Holly’s inner emotions and thoughts, which become more direct into introducing plot elements than what his later films do. With many of the Malickian elements toned down, Badlands may be the director’s most accessible piece.

BadlandsWhile my favorite Malick movie is The Tree of Life, Badlands is certainly a highlight in the director’s filmography. Coincidently, the film debuted in the New York Film Festival in 1973, which also featured the breakthrough from one of cinema’s best directors: Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets. While both movies share different stories, both show two great filmmakers providing viewpoints on American society.

Editor’s Note: The Debut blogathon gave me a good excuse to buy the new Criterion Blu-ray of Badlands, which was approved by Malick himself.  The restoration is top-notch and the disc is loaded with some great extra features, including a documentary about the making of the film.  It is well worth the price and one of the best Criterion sets I won.

Head on over to Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop where Isaac from The IPC is covering Jodie Foster’s 1991 debut Little Man Tate. Get yourself over there now!

Check back tomorrow, where Ewan at Ewan at the Cinema will be covering Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 classic Breathless (À bout de souffle).

Debuts Blogathon: Wes Anderson – Bottle Rocket (1996)

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Welcome to the first in what promises to be a fun and diverse examination of directors’ first features. The ‘Debuts’ Blogathon is being run by myself and Chris at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop. Each day, Chris and I will run a different entry in the Blogathon. The first of my entries comes from the informative and varied Big Screen Small Worlds. This great site features lots of different stuff, from thought-provoking essays to great lists and informative reviews. Make sure to check it out.

Wes Anderson

Bottle Rocket (1996)

Bottle Rocket was the directional debut of Wes Anderson, as well as the debut of brothers Luke and Owen Wilson working together onscreen. After this film, Anderson continued on to direct movies such as Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and his most acclaimed work to date, Moonrise Kingdom.

Bottle RocketBottle Rocket was based on a short film with the same title, translated into a feature film. While I do favor Anderson’s latter works, I think that as a follower of his work, Bottle Rocket deserves a place in one’s viewing shelf, as it displays earlier styling that Anderson would soon later hone and strengthen in his future films.

The movie introduces us to two main characters, Anthony and Dignan, as they pick up where their friendship left off after Anthony’s stint at a mental hospital. With that friendship comes Dignan’s plan to live off as fugitives, working for a certain Mr Henry and pulling off heists. They soon recruit their friend Bob, simply because he has a car. After some planning they soon pull off a small-time robbery, leading Dignan to plan bigger heists and soon put their lives on the road. However, their plans come to a halt when Anthony falls in love and Bob faces a family dilemma. Soon enough the three go on their separate ways, but not long after Dignan goes back with a new plan, reeling Bob and Anthony back to his schemes and revealing a twist in the end.

Bottle RocketAs a debut feature of the Wilson brothers, they did have some on-screen chemistry together, albeit their characters were not far from the people they play in their other works. Characterisation was no problem for them, although I’d prefer it if Owen Wilson played his character in a more convincing manner. The plot itself requires some conviction to be believable, and although Dignan seems sold on his plan, it takes a lot more conviction on his act to make it seem believable and absurd. Plus, it would look like his character was more of the insane one, and not Anthony, who checked himself in because of exhaustion.

Bottle RocketThe plot was absurd in nature, as there was really no logical reasoning for it, except that it seemed like the next logical step for the characters to take. As I’ve said, the plot needs the characters to be convincing that this is the rational thing to do, and while it is to some extent, the whole premise doesn’t seem to be sold to Anthony and Bob, as it quickly falls apart after some time. While it also promised an interesting movie, I felt that the plot fell flat in the middle, but somewhat redeems itself during the final act. If I would have caught the film in the middle, I wouldn’t think of it as an Anderson film as it felt way out-of-place in his usual style and writing.

The writing was weak in comparison to future works. However, Bottle Rocket has a sense of realism, in the way that the characters don’t exist entirely in the sort of Anderson-like world we see in his later work. As I’ve mentioned, the plot fell in the middle, and his characters weren’t solid to begin with. While he was molding what the characters would seem like in the writing, I think it might have gotten lost in translation. The characteristics are there, but it has a difficult time embodying itself in the portrayal of its characters. However, the writing becomes the start of how Anderson would soon take his characters and mold them to the interesting beings they are.

Bottle RocketWhile the supporting cast themselves played a bit of pivotal role in the film, their presence was rather minimal, therefore making little impact. I thought Bob was a good character, and Mr Henry is a strong character, but with minimal lines and presence they didn’t make much of an impact. Bob, played by Robert Musgrave, felt more of a floating character, as he wasn’t exactly a sidekick, but he wasn’t a main character either. However, the movie made it seem like he had a purpose, or he really was just there because he had a car. Mr Henry was a strong character, but with only a few minutes of screen time his presence didn’t strengthen the film. The only supporting character that had more of an on-screen presence was Inez, who was essential to Anthony’s story.

Anderson’s Future Filmography

Bottle RocketBottle Rocket was the film that launched Anderson’s career critically and, over time, his work has become acknowledged and acclaimed both critically and commercially. It already exhibits pieces of his style that is to be expected in his films. Over time, his work has carried his trademark style, whether the setting is on an isolated island, inside a train or even rooms inside a house. Looking back, his vision hasn’t changed, but has improved and developed over time. His writing and his visuals certainly improved, and he has taken into practice featuring staple actors in his works.

In my opinion, his work has definitely changed and improved over time, and it did not take him several tries to do so. He succeeded with Rushmore and his movies never seemed to falter after that. While my personal favorite is The Royal Tenenbaums, his mainstream career is beginning due to recognition of Moonrise Kingdom. His writing style definitely improved in such a way that there is a clear distinction of his characters and what he wanted them to portray. He takes simple ideas and turns them into enjoyable films. It’s not only his work that he excels at, but even through adaptations of others stories. Another favorite of mine is Fantastic Mr Fox, an adaptation of a Roald Dahl story. I found the writing to be witty and his take on the book simply amazing. He manages to make a great film in a different medium that still has his name written all over it.

Bottle RocketHis films may vary but his style is written all over them. His filming style and his visuals definitely improved (granted that technological advances should also be given credit for it) and evolved over time. He still kept some elements from his previous films, but it’s rather evident that there was significant improvement, both in content and translation. With a new film coming in, there is already a high expectation of what it will deliver, but based on Anderson’s filmography, I’m quite certain it wouldn’t be a disappointment. I don’t think he’s going to be stopping anytime soon.

Bottle Rocket may not be his famous work or his best work but it deserves its space on Anderson’s shelf. It’s the film that gave him notice, not to mention that it provides the basis for the evolution his work eventually went through feature after feature. What Bottle Rocket is, at the heart of it, is an ‘experimentation’ film, to see how potential audiences would receive his work, and what elements would he keep, leave out or continually change. In a sense, this becomes an essential viewing of his filmography, because it maps out how the director started, and what bits and pieces became predominant in his future works. While Rushmore technically became the film that launched him into director-stardom, Bottle Rocket should definitely not be set aside and a must-watch for any Anderson fan out there.

If that’s whetted your appetite, over at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop is a tremendous look at John Lasseter’s ground-breaking 1995 debut Toy Story, courtesy of the excellent Video as Life site. It’s well worth checking out, so make sure to do so after you’ve read the review.

Check back tomorrow to see Cinematic take a look at Terrence Malick’s Badlands.

Debuts Blogathon – The Final List!

Following yesterday’s reminder about the ‘Debuts’ blogathon, hosted by myself and Chris at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop, we’ve taken the difficult decision to stop accepting any further submissions in light of the overwhelming response we’ve had. I can speak for both of us when I say how taken aback we’ve been by the enthusiasm for the blogathon and the fascinating range of directors and films that have been submitted. It’s proven so popular in fact, we’ve regrettably had to turn some people away. Can I thank everyone for their interest in the blogathon.

We’ve had a whopping 22 submissions and the final list of contributors is as follows:

Head in a Vice – Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992)

The Soul of the Plot – Alfred Hitchcock’s The Pleasure Garden (1925)

Cindy Bruchman – Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty For Me (1971)

FlixChatter – Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone (2007)

Committed to Celluloid – Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores Perros (2000)

Cinematic – Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973)

Tranquil Dreams – Hayao Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

Karamel Kinema – Darren Aronofsky’s Pi (1998)

The IPC – Jodie Foster’s Little Man Tate (1991)

The Silver Screener – Christopher Nolan’s Following (1998)

And So It Begins… – David Gordon Green’s George Washington (2000)

She Speaks Movies – Joon-ho Bong’s Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000)

Film Police – David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977)

Ewan at the Cinema – Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960)

The Running Reel – Sam Mendes’ American Beauty (1999)

Marked Movies – Joel Coen’s Blood Simple (1984)

Big Screen Small Words – Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket (1996)

Keith & The Movies – John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The Cinematic Katzenjammer – Duncan Jones’ Moon (2009)

Video as Life – John Lasseter’s Toy Story (1995)

From the Depths… – Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case (1982)

Blank Page Beatdown – Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave (1994)

In addition, I’ll be covering Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989), while Chris will be casting his critical gaze over Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire (1953). This means there are a total of 24 films on the list – not bad for a first blogathon!

Now that we have our list, we’ll be aiming to start the blogathon on Monday, September 2 and will post one review each on our sites (12 on this site and 12 on Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop). We’ll make sure to flag up each other’s daily posts to ensure every review on the list gets plenty of exposure.

Thank you to everyone who’s taking part in what we’re sure will be a great blogathon.

Debuts Blogathon – Second Call


Myself and Chris at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop are jointly hosting our first blogathon … and there’s still time to join us!

We’re both delighted at the response so far to what is our first Blogathon, entitled ‘Debuts’, which focuses on a director’s first feature (shorts not included). We put the call out for you to get involved and you haven’t let us down! So far, the following are on board with their director and first feature of choice:

Head in a Vice – Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992)

The Soul of the Plot – Alfred Hitchcock’s The Pleasure Garden (1925)

Cindy Bruchman – Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty For Me (1971)

FlixChatter – Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone (2007)

Committed to Celluloid – Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores Perros (2000)

Cinematic – Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973)

Tranquil Dreams – Hayao Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

Karamel Kinema – Darren Aronofsky’s Pi (1998)

The IPC – Jodie Foster’s Little Man Tate (1991)

The Silver Screener – Christopher Nolan’s Following (1998)

And So It Begins… – David Gordon Green’s George Washington (2000)

She Speaks Movies – Joon-ho Bong’s Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000)

Film Police – David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977)

Ewan at the Cinema – Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960)

The Running Reel – Sam Mendes’ American Beauty (1999)

Marked Movies – Joel Coen’s Blood Simple (1984)

Big Screen Small Words – Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket (1996)

Keith & The Movies – John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The Cinematic Katzenjammer – Duncan Jones’ Moon (2009)

Video as Life – John Lasseter’s Toy Story (1995)

From the Depths… – Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case (1982)

On top of these discerning types, Chris will be reviewing Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire (1953), while I’ll be writing about Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989).

As well as reviewing the film itself, we’d also love your write-ups to look at how their first feature has impacted on their work. How have their subsequent films fared against their debut? Has the director improved or steadily declined over subsequent features?

Do you have a director whose debut you’d like to cover? If so, then there’s still time to contribute! We’re looking to run the blogathon from Monday, September 2. Before you get cracking, please drop me an email at or email Chris at by Sunday, August 25 letting us know who you’d like to write about (just so we don’t get duplicate posts) or for more info.

Thanks for reading and, most importantly, DON’T MISS OUT!