Breathless – The System Used to Film Movies

The efficient mode of production and distribution created by Hollywood is known as the studio system. The narratives of classical Hollywood cinema displayed certain important traits found in the majority of studio productions. The first is that the events on screen should be clear to the viewer and he should never be in doubt about space or time. The second is unity, meaning there should be direct cause and effect connections, third are goal-oriented characters, and fourth is closure. The other elements of the film, including mise en scene, editing, lighting, and sound become secondary to the narrative by using transparent techniques, which allow the viewer to pay more attention to the narrative and less attention to the less important elements of the craft. Breathless (Jean-Luc Godarard, 1960) is part of what is called the International Art Cinema.

This system does not emphasize the narrative in most cases. Hollywood films were made with the main goal of being commercial profitable having stock, featuring uninteresting characters and a style which was virtually transparent to the viewer. International Art Cinema departs from these conventions having characters that are not necessarily goal-oriented, plots in which not much action takes place on screen for extended periods of time. Godard’s Breathless is a perfect film to juxtapose the classical Hollywood studio system. In Breathless the mise en scene, sound, and editing are all determined by Godard’s attempt to at once duplicate and pay homage to genre, specifically film noir, and the Classical Hollywood style.

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Breathless is about a petty thief who shoots a motorcycle cop and needs to go into hiding. He returns to Paris to coax his American girlfriend to come to Italy with him and to collect money from someone who owes it to him. This is the basic story Breathless and differs from Classical Hollywood in its execution. All of the aspects of Classical Hollywood style (clarity of events, cause and effect connections, goal-oriented characters, and closure) are put under the microscope by clever use of mise en scene, sound, editing and lighting.

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The most notable editing choice in Breathless is its use of jump cuts, which remove the middle section of a continuous shot. Not only does this distort space and time, it is disorienting to the viewer and can make events seem unclear. Classical Hollywood Cinema avoids using jump cuts by either implementing the 30-degree rule or by use of shot/reverse shot technique. Early on in the film, Michel is driving his stolen car back to Paris the montage of his car trip is show through the jump cut edit. The entire audio track remains uncut. Time is cut in the video but remains whole in the audio so there is a dissonance between space and time in the audio and video. This technique is also implemented in a scene involving Michel and another woman in her apartment. Both characters will seemingly change their positions because the middle part of a shot was cut out while the audio track remains constant and uncut.

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by Jesus Smith