Films against war can never go out of fashion, and this revival of the (mostly) French ‘new wave’ directors’ collective protest against the Vietnam War in 1967, restored by the Archives Françaises du Film (CNC) in collaboration with SOFRACIMA, needs no excuses. A classic example of what documentary historian Erik Barnouw has called guerrilla filmmaking in its angry, violent denunciation of American aggression in Vietnam, the co-operative project brought together Agnès Varda, Joris Ivens, William Klein, Claude Lelouch, Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Resnais, co-ordinated by Chris Marker, who mobilised 200 technicians, cameramen, editors and the like for more than four months to knit together imagery of the war, interviews, intellectual styles, fictional incursions and documentary footage in a bid to counter and interpret the intensive media coverage and propaganda manipulated by the American government. Necessarily dated and unwieldy though the film may now seem, it was a group film-making effort unique in the cinema’s history and remains a powerful and passionate plea for peace. William Klein summed it up thus: ‘How to make a ’useful’ film? Fiction, agit-prop, documentary, what? We were never able to decide, but we had to do something.’ The film has been restored from the original reversal 16mm print and blown up to 35mm. —bfi
Agnès Varda has been called the “Grandmother of the New Wave,” a well-meaning if curious tribute for a woman who directed her first feature film at the age of 26. Born in Brussels, Varda studied literature and psychology at the Sorbonne, and art history at the École du Louvre. She’d originally wanted to be a museum curator, but a night-school course in photography changed her mind. Rapidly establishing herself as a top-rank still photographer, Varda became the official cameraperson for the Theatre Festival of Avignon and the Theatre National Populaire, and then pursued a career as a photojournalist.
Encouraged by filmmaker Alain Resnais, Varda made her movie directorial bow in 1955 with La Pointe Courte. She based the film on a William Faulkner short story, to which she was attracted because of its parallel plotlines (a recurring device in her later films). That same year, she accompanied another future New Wave director, Chris Marker, to China as visual advisor for his Dimanche… read more
Joris Ivens (18 November 1898, Nijmegen – 28 June 1989, Paris) was a Dutch documentary filmmaker and committed communist.
Born into a wealthy family, Ivens went to work in his father’s photo supply shop and from there developed an interest in film. He completed his first film at 13; in college he studied economics with the goal of continuing his father’s business, but an interest in class issues distracted him from that path. Originally his work focused on technique – some argue that it had that focus at the cost of relevance, especially in Rain (Regen, 1929), a 10-minute short filmed over 2 years which features impressive cinematography and a number of ‘characters’ (but no information about them aside from what was visible) and in The Bridge (De Brug, 1928), which showed a frank admiration of engineering and also featured a number of “characters” but again did not give any information about them.
In 1931 Ivens went to the Soviet Union… read more
William Klein (born in New York, New York, USA, on April 19, 1928) is a photographer and filmmaker noted to for his ironic approach to both media and his extensive use of unusual photographic techniques in the context of photojournalism and fashion photography.
Trained as a painter, Klein studied under Fernand Léger and found early success with exhibitions of his work. However, he soon moved on to photography and achieved widespread fame as a fashion photographer for Vogue and for his photo essays on various cities. Despite having no training as a photographer, Klein worn the Prix Nadar in 1957 for New York, a book of photographs taken during a brief return to his hometown in 1954. Klein’s work was considered revolutionary for its “ambivalent and ironic approach to the world of fashion”, its “uncompromising rejection of the then prevailing rules of photography” and for his extensive use of wide-angle and telephoto leneses, natural lighting and motion blur. The world of fashion… read more
Born in the 9th arrondissement of Paris to a Jewish family of Algerian origin, Lelouch won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1966 for Un homme et une femme (A Man and a Woman), as well as two oscars including best foreign language film. The 1981 musical epic Les Uns et les Autres is widely considered as his masterpiece, and his credits now add up to 50 or so films. His father gave him a camera to give him a fresh start after his failure in the baccalaureat. He started his career with reportage – one of the first to film daily life in the U.S.S.R., the camera hidden under his coat as he made his personal journey. He also filmed sporting events like the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Tour de France. His first full length film as director, Le Propre de l’homme, was decried by the critics – ‘Claude Lelouch, remember this name well, because you will not hear it again’ – Cahiers du Cinema said. La Femme Spectacle (1963), following prostitutes, women shopping, going for nose-jobs… read more
The lynchpin of the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard was arguably the most influential filmmaker of the postwar era. Beginning with his groundbreaking 1959 feature debut A Bout de Souffle, Godard revolutionized the motion picture form, freeing the medium from the shackles of its long-accepted cinematic language by rewriting the rules of narrative, continuity, sound, and camera work. Later in his career, he also challenged the common means of feature production, distribution, and exhibition, all in an effort to subvert the conventions of the Hollywood formula to create a new kind of film.
Godard was born in Paris on December 3, 1930, the second of four children. After receiving his primary education in Nyon, Switzerland – during World War II, he became a naturalized Swiss citizen – he studied ethnology at the Sorbonne, but spent the vast majority of his days at the Cine-Club du Quartier Latin, where he first met fellow film fanatics Francois Truffaut and Jacques Rivette. In May… read more
“I write to you from a far-off country…”
Information regarding the early life of Chris Marker, photographer, filmmaker, videographer, poet, journalist, multimedia/installation artist, designer, and world traveler, is scarce and conflicting. The year to which his movies, videos, and multimedia projects are dated depends on which source you use, and in which country you live. Personal data is in a state of complete disarray: Derek Malcolm, writing about ¡Cuba Sí! (1961) for The Guardian, reports that Marker was born in Mongolia, of aristocratic descent. Geoff Andrew of Time Out London isn’t sure (Andrew, 146), and most sources, along with the Internet Movie Database, use the location I’ve listed above as his place of birth. Some say his father was an American soldier, others that he (Marker) was a paratrooper in the Second World War. Still others, that he comes to us from an alien planet. Or the future. Throughout his career, he has rarely been interviewed, and even more rarely… read more
While a seminal figure of the French New Wave, Alain Resnais was not, like so many of his contemporaries, an alumnus of the film journal Cahiers du Cinema. In fact, he existed well outside of the sphere of filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, and Jacques Rivette, with a dedication to formalism, modernist concerns, and social and political issues not found in the work of his fellow innovators. Focusing repeatedly on themes of time and memory, Resnais drew from the well of serious literature to offer a singular philosophical and artistic vantage point, employing enigmatic narrative structures, lush cinematography, and lyrical editing patterns to create some of the most provocative and controversial work of the period. Born June 3, 1922, in Vannes, France, Resnais began making his first 8 mm films at the age of 14. In 1943 he enrolled at the newly formed Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinematographie, leaving the following year after declaring his studies too theoretical. He… read more
Also: Jean Rollin, Ryan Trecartin, Andrei Tarkovsky, Alex Proyas and a browsing tip.