One of the most celebrated aspects of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 classic Breathless actually came about by accident. Faced with a lengthy running time, Godard opted to trim any of the down time in his film, rather than take out entire scenes. He approached the film with a pair of scissors, cutting out any moments he deemed unnecessary or boring. The result was the jump cut. The editing technique is not only notable for it’s innovation but also for its representation of the importance of Breathless within film history.
Both the technique and the film threw down any traditional notions that audiences, filmmakers and critics had of cinema. A new era in film was born, and leading the charge was Jean-Luc Godard. Strange that a director so pre-occupied with the death of cinema should breathe so much life into the art form with his debut film.
There have been few movements in film that have been as influential as the French New Wave. The wave itself began when a group of young critics, including Jean Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and Claude Chabrol, gathered to write and direct their own films. Championing the movement were two key figures; Henri Langlois, the co-founder of the Cinémathèque Française and Andre Bazin, film critic and co-founder of the now legendary film journal Cahiers du cinéma.
The future directors of the French New Wave were cinephiles. They attended screenings at the Cinémathèque and many of them, including Godard, began as critics for Cahiers du cinema. Their work reflected their deep knowledge and love of cinema. Godard once said in an interview “…we were the first directors to know that Griffith exists.” He was referring to D.W. Griffiths, director of the silent classic The Birth of A Nation (1915). Not so much implying that Griffiths was unheard of before the French New Wave, but rather that the directors of the French New Wave were the first to delve into the history of cinema for inspiration. They were some the first filmmakers who were actively engaged in the art form and they were key figures in the birth of cinema studies.