A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1960 – Breathless

And this is where everything changed.

Foreign cinema was a huge factor in the fall of the old school studio system and classical Hollywood as it existed in the 30s, 40s and 50s. The studios had already lost all their theaters through the Paramount Case, so the monopoly was over, but even so, the studio system was still in prime form until now. This is when you start to see it decline. Part of that is the changing culture of the country, part of that is the end of the production code and censorship, and part of it is the influx of foreign films, which proved they could cross over and become part of the marketplace. And part of it is Doris Day. Fucking Doris Day.

Not to mention, more countries were able to have sustained film industries that could churn out movies of merit. The Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars didn’t even have nominees until 1956. But, starting around this time, you started to see more and more foreign films break through and get actual U.S. releases. The films began to be rated on par with American films, and a lot of that is (at least perceptually) due to this movie.

Because when you go over the influx of foreign films that broke through into Hollywood during the 60s, and their importance to the medium of film itself, you have to start with Breathless.

This is a film that broke all the rules, deliberately, and really broke free of the mold of classical cinema. It’s a breath of fresh air of foreign cinema. (Pun ridiculously intended.) It’s new, it’s vibrant, it doesn’t give a fuck about what the standard is for putting a film together.

Godard cuts this movie all over the place. Jump cuts, and bold camera movements – he also commits to the long take, which is terrific. They shot the whole thing handheld, in natural lighting.

It’s the kind of movie that lays out the future hipster template for movies and ideology. Pretty much all of your pretentious film majors are going to love this movie.

It’s one of those movies that epitomizes the culture change of the 60s and the emergence of foreign cinema as a legitimate alternative to Hollywood.

It’s also a movie that’s aware of itself as a movie, and aware of other movies. You don’t get that in Hollywood so much during this era. Here’s a main character who idolizes Bogart (which is pretty great, since Bogart never really became a huge cult figure until the French got that started), and wants to be like a gangster character in the movies.

There’s almost no plot to this, or most of Godard’s films, but they’re still captivating to watch simply because of how he puts them together. I’m not a huge fan of all of his work (look at anything he’s made over the last 20-30 years as evidence), but I think what he was doing in this era specifically is exactly what movies needed. And this movie speaks for itself on the historical scale.


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