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58 IntroSems. 25 Stanford fountains. 1 Spring 2020. Don’t suffer from FoHo FoMo!
Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students
The New Wave: How the French Reinvented Cinema
When 27-year-old François Truffaut walked the red carpet with his 14-year-old lead actor Jean-Pierre Léaud at the 1959 Cannes Festival for his first film, 400 Blows, the world took note. Journalists and critics heralded nothing less than a revolution in film-making. They called it "The New Wave", and it changed forever the way films are made and the ways we think about films.
Shooting on location with small crews, light cameras, unknown actors and improvised scripts, young film-critics-turned-filmmakers circumvented the big studios to craft low-budget, "indie" films that felt fresh, irreverent and utterly modern. In just a few years, the Nouvelle Vague delivered such landmark works as Truffaut's 400 Blows, Godard's Breathless and Pierrot le Fou, and Resnais' Hiroshima mon amour. Together with a bunch of young directors, they redefined the essence of cinema as an art form as complex and multilayered as literature.
Why did these films look so radically fresh when they borrowed from American films noirs? What do they have in common, when each director claimed to "write" his films in an utterly personal style? How did they impact cinema forever, influencing renowned directors like Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese?
Students will learn to see—and make—films in an entirely different light, not as story and psychology only, but as a myriad of aesthetic, technical, moral and even financial choices (why not cast your girlfriend if you don’t have the budget for a star?). Godard defined cinema as “truth 24 times per second”; we will look at this “truth” of fiction at all the different levels of film analysis, including technical practices and choices afferent to studio/location shooting, narrative construction, camera angles and movement, choice of reels, sound and music scores, lighting, acting and casting, etc.
Students will write film reviews as if they were critics at the Cahiers du Cinema, and learn frame-by-frame analysis. Students can choose to either write a final essay on a film or to write a screenplay or shoot a short film. You can see an example here: youtube.com/watch?v=TEjxp4RbNqg
This course will explore a unique moment in French culture and the history of cinema, when radical politics, youth culture, and high aesthetic ambitions coalesced into dazzling experiments on the screen that continue to influence world cinema to this day.