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Brayden Benham Thea 1300 Final Assignment Submitted to: Faith-Anne Hine April, 9, 2009

There is no question that the influence of the French New Wave has been substantial. The seminal film of this movement is most often cited as Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless (1960) (The French, 128). Countless directors since the French New Wave's conception and up to the present day regard Godard, The New Wave and Breathless as having a major influence (The French, 129). Though the movement is generally regarded to have ended around 1964, the methods that defined the New Wave have been assimilated into a variety of subsequent cinematic movements. The Richard Linklater film Slacker (1991) was heavily influenced by Breathless and the New Wave and itself played a large role in the emerging American independent filmmaking movement of the early nineties.

Breathless has been described as the best example of French New Wave cinema. This is because of its comprehensive display of the defining methods of the movement. It includes innovative camera work, unconventional editing, an awareness of itself as a film, and challenges of conventional narrative structure. Most importantly it is

the personal vision of its director. This is the defining point of the New Wave: the ideal of the “Auteur” director (The French, 130). In the film Godard presents a world formed by his subjective interest. He makes references to Hollywood through the Protagonists mimicry of Humphrey Bogart and deals with themes that would continue through his body of work (masculinity and femininity, individual freedom, communication and morality). He also puts himself in the film along with friends of his like Jean-Pierre Melville as the novelist being interviewed. In this way the film is formed by the personal vision of its director.

Slacker carries on Godard's New Wave concept of the tracking shot as a "question of morality" (Mayne, 133). For conventional Hollywood films the tracking shot was no more than a simple narrative device employed for the necessary amount of time needed to show action. But for Godard the length of a tracking shot had a much deeper meaning. For him it involved the audience’s personal relationship with the characters on the screen. Very long tracking begin with a sense of immediacy because of the movement involved, but the longer they are dragged out the more they become a study of the characters, and a question the extent to which the audience is willing to observe the subject or subjects involved. In the scene of Breathless where Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) walks with Patricia (Jean Seberg) who is selling

newspapers we are given an example of this. The length of the tracking shot does not immediately serve the plot, although Poiccard has the basic goal of getting her to come to Rome with him the conversation goes off in a series of unrelated digressions: Patricia asks Poiccard the meaning of "bummer" and "horoscope" and they shoot random interjections at each other like "why don't you ever wear a bra?" All in all the conversation is more realistic then conventional Hollywood dialogue and other mainstream film. When the dialogue is not serving the plot we are given a deeper look at the psyche of the characters through how they interact. Here we see Poiccard as a naive but determined man with little time for Patricia’s actual feelings but plenty of time to objectify and attempt to posses her. The length of the tracking shot gives us enough time to understand these qualities in him and as it progresses it makes us ask what kind of person the protagonist is: is he good or bad, are we sympathetic towards him, if so what does that say about us? In this sense the tracking shot is a question of morality. This emphasis on the tracking shot can be seen in the final scene of the Italian Neo-Realist classic The Bicycle Thief (1947) and was later employed and advanced by the French New Wave filmmakers such as in the final scene of Truffaults 400 Blows (1959) and in Agnes Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962).

Richard Linklater carries this French New Wave ideal of the

tracking shot on in Slacker. The film consists of a series of loosely related vignettes shown through fluent panning and tracking shots which change focus from character to character. There are countless shots in the film that provoke a moral reaction in the viewer for being either to short or to long. There are about one hundred characters in the film and since most of them fall into the broad “slacker” category we are given a plethora of degraded characters who range from apathetic, to eccentric, to crazy, and to just plain pathetic. Te length of the tracking shots and continuous shots vary from character to character and there is no overarching flow to the length of time each vignette is given. Sometimes a tracking shot will follow one group of characters for a little while and just when their story seems to be getting interesting another character or group of characters will grab the cameras attention and the audience will then have to adjust to another story. It can be jarring at times but this is the desired effect of the director who does it in order to present a voyeuristic vision. But there is a limit to this voyeurism in that the director is the one controlling the situations that the audience becomes a part of. The viewer does not get to choose when they have had enough of a scene or set of characters, and in this way the voyeurism is turned back on the viewers who thereby question their own moral limits.

Slacker broadens the French New Wave concept of the tracking shot as a question of morality, but it has much more in common with the movement than just this one aspect. It retains a slice-of-life feel, reminiscent of Truffault's 400 Blows, Breathless, and the Italian Neorealist films of De Sica and Rossellini, which heavily influenced the New Wave movement (The French, 142). Much like the Italian Neo-Realists Godard, Truffault and other New Wave directors would cast non-actors in large roles in order to create a sense of reality. Similarly there are no big name actors in Slacker, they are all normal people right off the street, which makes the acting fairly bland and straight forward giving the dialogue a more true to life feel. In this way Slacker opposes mainstream Hollywood film in much the same way that the French new wave opposed conventional French cinema (Pierson). The film offers slice-of-life situations that are not presented merely to serve the plot but rather for the simple reason of showing how people interact, much like what Godard achieved in Breathless. There are no sets in Slacker, just as all the mis-en-scene in Breathless is purely natural. The overall budget of Slacker was about $23,000 just as Breathless had a very low budget. In this way Richard Linklater carries on the sentiment of the New Wave that anyone can make a film. Breathless is a testament to low-budget filmmaking, this can be seen in that it was dedicated to American B-movie company Monogram pictures (The French, 136). One of the main sentiments of the New Wave movement was that films

shouldn’t have to be made on huge budgets by large production companies, but instead should be made by individuals with the goal of impressing their own unique vision upon film. This spirit is very much alive in Slacker. Here we are given an idiosyncratic look into the slacker culture of early nineties Austin, Texas. Linklater produced directed and scripted the whole film and casts himself and friends of his in it. The whole film is shaped by Linklaters personal vision and the result is a wholly incomparable film. Linklater cites Max Olphus’ La Ronde (1950) and Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) as influences for Slacker (Pierson), but despite some thematic and methodic similarities we are offered something wholly different and new.

While the sort of naturalistic in acting, mis-en-scene, and innovative camera work - which characterized the French New Wave is present in Slacker, the film is in no way an attempt to display the tenets of the French New Wave movement, but merely employs some of its distinctive methods. There is not much in the way of Brechtian distancing in Slacker like there is in Breathless and throughout the New Wave movement. The editing is not nearly as eccentric as the rampant jump cutting in Breathless. Slacker is simply less technically experimental. But it still retains the spirit of the French New Wave. In a

way Linklater selects what he thinks works best from the New Wave and puts it to use in Slacker in his own way. This method - in keeping with the New Wave tenet of auteur(ship) - retains the true spirit of the movement and at the same time distances itself from it.

Jean-Luc Godard has said that watching Orson Welles’ A Touch of Evil (1958) is what inspired him to make Breathless (Mayne, 133). It can be said that a good deal of New Wave directors got a desire to make films after watching Breathless (Pierson, 139). Though it cannot be said that watching Breathless inspired Linklater to make Slacker, he was definitely inspired by the movement. And it can be said from there Slacker has had an enormous impact on the American independent film movement of the nineties. The film was a major success in Austin, Texas in 1991 and went on to play a part in popularizing the term Slacker and the subsequent slacker based “generation-x” films that would emerge in the nineties. For example the twenty-four hour structure of Slacker is present in Kevin Smith’s highly influential 1992 film Clerks (1994), which he has said he would never have made if it weren’t for Slacker (Smith). The study of aimless twenty-something’s against a big city backdrop of underground and pop culture went on to define the emerging “generation-x” films of the nineties, such as Cameron Crowe’s Singles (1992), Ben Stiller’s Reality Bites (1994), and

Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming (1995) (Williams). Similar to the way in which the methods that defined the French New Wave were eventually swallowed up by major film studios (The French, 142), the techniques that made Slacker so original were exploited by big studios who saw a market in the success of such “generation-x” fair. The 1995 film Empire Records follows the 24-hour motif of “Slacker” and also has two actors who’ve have worked with Linklater in the past, Rory Cochrane and Joey Lauren Adams. But in it is none of the New Wave spirit that made “Slacker” so original. But this is beside the point, what matters is the influence that Slacker had on film through channeling the spirit of the French New Wave. Linklater is not the only director to do this he is merely an example of how the spirit of the New Wave continues to show its influence throughout time and in different ways.

Richard Linklater’s Slacker is evidence of the lasting influence of the French New Wave movement on film. It shares the methods of naturalism and auter(ship) that characterized the films of the movement, specifically Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. Though it shares the French New Wave tenets of naturalism and auteur(ship), it is in no way a simple recreation of a French New Wave film. Linklater keeps with the spirit of the movement by impressing his own personal mark upon the film and is not restricted to any objective cinematic

guidelines. The influence of Slacker has been seen in the American independent film movement of the early nineties and in “generation-x” films, which were then popular. Slacker is a testament to the eternal inspirational power of the French New Wave. Bibliography

Mayne, Judith. Claire Denis. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2005. Marie, Michel, and Neupert Richard. The French New Wave: An Artistic School. London: Blackwell Publishing, 2002. Pierson, John. "Slacking Off". Criterion.com. April, 9, 2009 <http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/338>. Smith, Kevin. "Slacker Now on Hulu". hulu.com. April, 9, 2009 <http://blog.hulu.com/2008/10/9/slacker>. Williams, Karl. "Kicking and Screming". Allmovie.com. April, 9, 2009 <http://www.allmovie.com/work/kicking-and-screaming-135655>.