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New Waves General Presentation

November 29, 2010

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What is a New Wave?

•The term ‘New Wave’ exists across different a range of forms.  There are new waves in painting, music, fashion, literature and theatre as well as film
•New waves are cyclical; often becoming conventional and part of the mainstream, so eventually in turn challenged by a new style

New waves, which appear at different times and places and in different artistic contexts, are always about criticising what has gone before and trying to create a new form to replace it

Therefore these movements tend to be associated with youth, experimentation and the rejection of the values of a previous era which is often perceived as boring and conventional

It is for this reason that new waves are often controversial, as they are (or are perceived to be) an attack on traditional forms and values

The French New Wave

The filmmakers of the French New Wave have influenced cinema in two ways:

– as critics of the film journal Cahiers du Cinema they developed the auteur theory

– as film directors they challenged the established conventions of filmmaking in form, content and institutional practice

The French New Wave

The filmmakers of the French New Wave have influenced cinema in two ways:

– as critics of the film journal Cahiers du Cinema they developed the auteur theory

– as film directors they challenged the established conventions of filmmaking in form, content and institutional practice

Authorship Theory

The key directors of the French New Wave – Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer – had been film critics for the French cinema magazine Cahiers du Cinema

This was the first film journal to treat cinema as an art form and to discuss it in an academic way

In the early 1950s, this group of critics developed an argument through a long series of articles which became known as ‘la politique des auteurs’ (auteur policy)

Taken up by American critics in the 1960s these ideas became known as the auteur theory or authorship theory

This is problematic, as it suggests that the Cahiers critics were putting forward a theory which would explain the way existing cinema should be interpreted – and this is often how it is used now

Auteur theory was originally developed as a policy – a statement of intent – in this attack on the French cinema of the time, but more importantly a statement of intent about what film should be like


A polemic is a subjective, passionate and strongly worded argument usually against an individual, a group or an idea

It is often very controversial and political, challenging established conventions

It is useful to think of ‘la politque des auteurs’ as a polemical argument specifically about the present and future of French cinema which was translated into a theory about cinema in general

In their writings the critics argued that film was primarily a visual medium rather than a literary one and that the director was the author of a film in the same way as a writer is the author of  a novel

In one influential essay ‘Le Camera Stylo’ (‘The Camera Writers’) (1945), Alexander Astruc argued that the film director ‘writes’ a film with the camera as if he was an artist with a paintbrush

Rather than film language being used for the adaptation of a script, it should be the visual language which is most important

Therefore, the director is the true auteur of a film because the visual language is the language of the cinema; the script is the literary, a different language entirely

New Waves and Oppositions

An influential way of defining any New Wave cinema has been in terms of oppositions

This is similar type of categorisation to that found in narrative theory, based on the assumption that new waves are in opposition to the mainstream form against which they are defined

French New Wave as Oppositional Form

The French New Wave is defined as such because of its attack on the previous generation of filmmakers who dominated French cinema

One of the most influential directors of the New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard, is quoted addressing a group of writers and directors of the French cinema in the 1950s:

“Your camera movements are bad … you no longer know what cinema is.”

There is a declaration about what cinema should be in the future and how it will be different from the present and the past

In this case, the ‘old’ cinema was referred to by the New Wave filmmakers as the ‘tradition of quality’ or the ‘Cinema du Papa’

Characteristics of the French New Wave

Films shot on location, rather than studio-based

Natural lighting

Handheld camera

Experimentation with sound

Linking devices

Uneven tone

Limited emphasis on cause and effect

Before looking in detail at the effects of discontinuities of narrative (limited cause and effect) and editing, it is useful to remind ourselves of what is meant by continuity in narrative and editing.

In studying any New Wave or mainstream cinema, it is important t remember that narrative structure and editing are very closely linked.

Narrative may be defined as the recounting of a series of fictional events which are linked in time and space.

Features of classic narrative

Events are organised in a cause-and-effect relationship and progress towards an inevitable conclusion

There is emphasis on identification with character

There is a high degree of closure (resolution)

In narrative films it is by linking together shots and scenes through editing that the moving forward of narrative takes place

Continuity editing

Cutting breaks a scene into fragments; continuity editing creates unity of time and space from those fragments

Editing imitates the space of Renaissance painting, creating an illusion of depth on a flat screen

Continuity editing aims to create coherence and orientate the viewer – it always positions the spectator on the same side of the action (known – from the theatre – as the fourth wall)

Continuity editing also creates dramatic focus, tempo and mood

The French New Wave is self-reflexive cinema – films about the process of filmmaking more than about a particular story.

As far as New Wave filmmakers were concerned, mainstream cinema’s reliance on unobtrusive techniques led to a denial of film itself; the audience forgot that they were watching a film.

New Wave Cinema and New Technology

Some of the aspects of film form derided by the French New Wave in the Cinema du Papa were a product of the limitations of the existing technology: sound cameras were heavy and difficult to move; studio shooting needed artificial lighting, which often looked unrealistic and lifeless

In the late 1950s the handheld camera was developed, which allowed filmmakers a greater freedom to film outside of the studio; to take cinema to the streets.

This development changed not only the look of films but also the institutional structure; films could be made independently, outside of the studios and for much less money, helping to make filmmaking a little more democratic.

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