Thursday, 24 February 2011

Catching The New Wave Tide...

In as much as I like films which are dark, fantastical, a window in the mind of their creator, or even something I can lose myself in for a couple of hours... having such an imagination is something afforded to few, and the ability to capture it is even rarer still. Also, such films tend to be somewhere I can go and hide and forget about the stresses of the day They don't tend to say much about how the creator feels about the state of the world, or the political or social climate in which they're made.

I think that's why I enjoy looking at the films of the 'New Wave' so much... (or Nouvelle Vague, if we're treading across the pond). There's an immediacy and urgency to them, a desire to shout and be heard, despite a lack of, say, formal education, a privileged background, a huge budget or even bankable stars. In fact, the new wave films of the mid-20th Century reflected exactly the opposite. They were made by a generation who had grown up in the rubble and ashes of WW2, and were living through the consequences- and boy, did they have alot to say about it.

The first movement to flourish in this environment was Italian neo-realism, which reflected a guerilla style of film making at its more desperate and extreme. Recycled news film reel, soldiers as extras and literally filming on the run showed a desire to capture things how they really were that had never been seen before. Films like The Bicycle Thieves and Rome Open City caused a ripple effect throughout Europe- in France, young upstarts like Truffaut and Godard flourished with work like 400 Blows and A Bout De Souffle, while the British New Wave made an impact thanks to The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner and Saturday Night, Sunday Morning.

Obviously there are far, far more examples, too many to list, but the point is- these films were bold and innovative, but they weren't saying anything new- not to the working classes. In a cinematic sense, yes, they were dealing with themes like poverty, unemployment, homelessness and desperation. For the disenfranchised in society, however, they were finally being portrayed in a way that didn't talk down to them. It gave them a voice in a way that they never had before. There was no fancy trickery, it was all done on a shoestring budget, with actors who didn't even look like Hollywood stars. They were real people, going through the motions of their everyday real lives.

The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner struck a chord because it was a simple story, simply told, about a young man, Colin Smith, who can't abandon where he came from. After being banged up in Borstal, he's given every chance to redeem himself in a race against the local public school. Even the chance to show up the 'toffs' would still leave him on the side of the borstal governor- while it may be the lesser of two evils in his eyes, it's still an establishment. Running for him is an escape- he comes from a background where they run from the police, not run towards a pat on the back from bigwigs. Running is a solitary thing; it's not for prizes and it's not for bettering yourself.

It doesn't seem like a particularly bold thing to do, but it is... despite being shot with no special effects per se, there's a wonderful montage during the end of the run reflecting Colin's thoughts, of how he got to be where he is, and in trying to reform all he's really done is conform. He is representative of the generation of angry young men, and finds happiness in his own situation, rather than trying to better himself. I think it's a really compelling message- although probably not the most edge-of-your-seat stuff, it takes patience, and feels more relevant today than if I'd been watching it, at this age, ten years ago.

I think what I love most about the 'new wave' style of film making is its simplicity. There's no pretence, just a desire to show things as they really are. What's frightening is how much of a resonance I can see even now. With the country being hit so badly by recession, and literally everyone I know being affected by it in some way, could there be a need to bring back this style of film? British film making in the last decade or so has been dominated by the fluffy Richard Curtis rom-com style- notable exceptions like Shane Meadows stand out, but even so, This Is England was a reflection on times gone past- not what's happening now. Where are the voices who are going to show things as they really are? Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave and Trainspotting might have shown a cooler, edgier (albeit very 90s) side to British counter-culture were false snapshots of a surrealistic, sinister Scottish lifestyle... Ken Loach's Sweet Sixteen was as close as I've seen recently to a British 'new wave', but even he has been around since the first tide. But in terms of there being an actual movement, an upsurge in voices shouting about what they feel is wrong with this lousy and country and what's going overlooked, there's nothing... not as far as I can see.

I think there's a definite need for film making to go back to a stripped down, socially conscious way of telling stories... for all the bloated CGI of expensive flops, or the blandly smiling faces of forgettable Hollywood romcoms, there are hundreds of far more interesting stories waiting to be told- but rather than being fantastical yarns or high concepts, they're all around us. I think it might be an area I'd like to explore- after all, like I've said before I'm far more comfortable walking around with a camera than I am with one on sticks. I think it's a way of getting closer and more personally acquainted with characters, telling simple but effective stories in a way that is visceral, compelling, but most of all honest. I think that's what the industry needs- far more than any special effects-ridden eyesore.

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