Why You Need To Know Godard’s Breathless

On the film’s 60th anniversary, we look back at the unconventional techniques used to make this seminal film
Why You Need To Know Godard’s Breathless

Marking the sixtieth anniversary of Jean-Luc Godard's revolutionary Breathless (À Bout De Souffle), this film has an impact on the landscape of cinema to date. Sixty years after its release, it is as audacious and avant-garde as it was then — even by today's standards, it still is technically unconventional with its random jump cuts and unorthodox pacing. The movie, just like its protagonist, rejects all forms of authority. We explore Breathless' alchemy and how it moulded the cinema we devour everyday and today.

Iconoclastic Shooting Techniques in Breathless

It's stated that all you need to make a film is a camera and an idea, and if there was anybody who embodied that best, it was Godard and his debut film Breathless. Godard dragged cinematographer, Raoul Coutard, around on a wheelchair to shoot the film because a dolly was too much of an expense for them. The portable equipment took long takes, they used natural light, had no sound stages and dubbed all scenes after they were shot. Godard spent more time writing the script during the shoots that actually shooting. He wrote as he went along with pure instinct and constantly embraced a culture of experimentation-ism.

Godard's Rejection of Big Studios

The New Wave filmmakers were a band of rebels. They worked with shoestring budgets and were against conforming to filmmaking conventions. The iconoclasm of the New Wave was not just stylistic but also financial. Breathless, shot in less than 25 days, had a budget of USD 80,000. Godard's disdain for big studio productions was a result of trite and predictable filmmaking processes and ideas at the time. And this rebellion, what would now be considered a class of indie cinema, is what actually paved way for it.

Impact of Breathless on Independent Cinema

Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (1967) took much inspiration from Breathless, and so did a good number of independent films like Easy RiderReservoir Dogs and Paper Moon. The inherent boldness of independent cinema is accentuated by so many levels in Breathless that, spiritually, it then became the guiding and stimulating force for indie filmmakers and cinema. Breathless carved a niche for independent filmmakers and changed the course of cinema overall, from what it was expected to be — to anything it wants to be.

Godard's Influence on Tarantino and Scorsese

Quentin Tarantino has been vocal about Godard's impact on his oeuvre. American film critic Pauline Kael's had described Godard's filmmaking technique as, "It's as if a couple of movie-mad Frenchmen took a banal American crime novel and wrote down the poetry that they read between the lines." In response to that, Tarantino said, "When I read that, I literally thought that's what I wanna do…What I wanted to give to movies. I had never heard anyone describe it so well before." And while we cannot really trace Tarantino's foot fetish to Godard, the former's production company, 'A Band Apart,' pays homage to Godard's film, Bande à Part.

In Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets, he revisits Godard's editing techniques for Breathless by adopting the same subversive methods in the opening sequence. Right before the classic 'Be My Baby' is cued, Scorsese reproduces the same stylistic technique of jump cuts. Godard and Breathless have generated a lasting impact on oceans of films and filmmakers, and Scorsese, too, championed the maverick of cinema.

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