Timothy Corrigan


What for you makes the French New Wave such an exciting topic to study? Or… Is the French New Wave still an exciting topic to study?

Along with the Italian neorealists, the French New Wave announced a postwar cinema that would be different from anything that preceded it.  Critics and filmmakers would share the same project, Hollywood would  be seen and appreciated through new eyes, and claims for an expressive, thinking cinema would impact different new waves for the next fifty years.

What can moviegoers of the 21st century take away from French New Wave films?

That ideas and movies are not at odds with each other, and that good movies are born of passion, not money.

What advice would you give to an average moviegoer being introduced to the French New Wave? What do you feel is the most pertinent information they know about the movement before seeing Breathless, for example?

Watch and listen with historical eyes and ears. Often the early French New Wave films seem less “new” and radical than they originally were.  This is partly because many of their techniques and strategies have gradually become mainstreamed by commercial media. Try watching a typical Hollywood movie from 1959 and then watch Breathless, 400 Blows, and Hiroshima mon Amour.

What would you say are the most under- or over-rated films produced by the French New Wave? Who are its most under- or over- rated filmmakers?

Over-rated: Jean Pierre Melville and Le Doulos
Under-rated: Everything by Chris Marker

What was the most innovative change that the French New Wave brought about?

Redirecting our attention away from stars and stories and towards style and structure.

Do you think there’s a danger in being nostalgic about the French New Wave era?

Absolutely, we’re all nostalgic about the French New Wave. We should be. Of course it was not the romantic movement we sometimes want it to be, and of course it was permeated with economics and other industrial issues. But, the idea of film bucking main stream systems and creating new IDEAS about the cinema is something we should always believe in and want to retrieve. In this case, nostalgia should inspire future cinemas.

Posted on May 28, 2012

Timothy Corrigan is Professor of English and Cinema Studies at The University of Pennsylvania, and an expert in post-WWII European cinema.  His book publications include New German Film: The Displaced Image (1994), and The Essay Film: From Montaigne, After Marker (2011).  He has published numerous essays in Film Quarterly, Discourse, Cinema Journal, and is an editorial board member of Cinema Journal.