09 Nov How The French Saved You From Overlong Videos
In a previous blog I showed why Soviet Montage has been important for editing and how its techniques for creating meaning are still being used today. Another revolution in cinema took place in France: the French New Wave. We all know that revolutions and the French are a match made in heaven, although this revolution had nothing to do with ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’. Well actually, in some ways it did… I’ll tell you why.
How The French Film Industry Was Revolutionized
Films that French filmmakers were producing in the first half of the 20th century weren’t that special. Worse yet, they were pretty horrible – according to a group of French critics who were extremely frustrated about their national cinema. They loathed it. They thought that the working directors had no creative vision, and were unable to produce films that stood out. And what do you do when others mess things up? Indeed, you do it yourself! So these French critics started making films themselves, but not in a conventional way… They broke every cinematic rule known to man. By doing so, they created a completely new visual language. This revolution in cinema is commonly known as The French New Wave, or: La Nouvelle Vague.
So here we have a group of filmmakers that broke free from the existing rules and encouraged others to do so as well: liberté. Furthermore, these filmmakers lowered production costs by introducing a whole new approach to filmmaking, which involved handheld filming, recording sound on location, and writing scenarios themselves. This transformed the film business from being elitist to approachable: égalité. Finally, the directors of the French New Wave collaborated on a lot of projects and stimulated each other to keep making better films: fraternité.
Now that I’ve got that analogy out of the way, I want to focus on one of the most influential successions of the French New Wave: its radical editing.
The Best Part?
In the period after World War II, cinemagoers became used to Hollywood continuity editing, meaning a logical progression through time and space. The idea behind continuity editing was that it had to be invisible: the spectator must not notice that he’s watching a film, but rather has to be immersed within the story. Continuity editing was thought of as a fundamental rule. Guess what? A French filmmakers broke this rule. In his explosive debut film À Bout de Souffle, Jean-Luc Godard introduced the (now very common) jump cut: a cut that undermines space and time. He didn’t want to make his interventions invisible, like Hollywood. He wanted the audience to notice the construction behind the film. Look at how this sequence from À Bout de Souffle was edited:
This was extremely radical at the time, though these days the jump cut is integrated in most films and videos. I would even say that it has become emblematic for the postmodern society in which we, Riparian Citizens, are used to receiving information in fragments.
The idea of constantly reminding the spectator that he is looking at a construction gave new dimensions to the watching and making of films. Both filmmakers and audiences did it from a sort of meta perspective. The following clip from Godard’s Vivre sa Vie shows this idea perfectly.
Godard edited the shots on the rhythm of the firing machine gun. The editing points directly to the film experience itself: we, as spectators, cannot ignore the jarring cuts and are therefore reminded of the fact that we’re watching a construction. We are made to immediately reflect upon our own spectatorship.
How Can You Actually Use This?
So, in short, the directors of the French New Wave made it possible to tell more in less time; to compress information, as it were. In an earlier blog I touched upon the power of the brain to process images extremely quickly. The introduction of the jump cut gave directors and editors a new option, a way to bring across information quickly. This would go on to become a very fundamental aim of online videos: show as much as possible in a short amount of time. Grab the audience’s attention by using clever imagery, edited in high speed.
For this, we have the French to thank.