The New Wave flourished for a relatively short period, between 1959 and 1963, when certain historical, technological, and economic factors combined to give considerable influence to a number of young French filmmakers who had started out as film critics, theorists, and historians. Aside from Truffaut, the most well known New Wave directors were Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, and Eric Rohmer, all of whom wrote polemical articles on the cinema in the 1950s for the film journal Cahiers du Cinéma, founded and edited by André Bazin. Although the style and content of the films they eventually would make varied considerably, New Wave directors resembled the Soviet filmmakers in the 1920s in that their cinematic innovations were strongly influenced by their theories about film and the nature of the film medium.
"New Wave" Theory
A major inspiration for the New Wave critics-turned-filmmakers came from the writings of the French film critic Alexandre Astruc, who published an influential article in 1948 called "Camera Stylo" (Camera-Pen). Astruc argued that cinema was potentially a means of expression as subtle and complex as written language. He argued that cinema too was a language, "a form in which and by which an artist can express his thoughts, however abstract they may be, or translate his obsessions exactly as he does in a contemporary essay or novel. " Influenced by Astruc, New Wave directors embraced what was then a revolutionary new way of understanding and interpreting films. They promoted in their critical writings what Truffaut called "les politiques des auteurs" (the author policy), which the American film critic Andrew Sarris referred to as "auteur theory. "
An underlying assumption of auteur theory was Astruc's idea that, despite film's status as primarily a commercial entertainment medium, it could potentially be an art form as powerful in its means of expression as literature or poetry. In order to propose filmmaking as an art, however, there had to be an artist, a central consciousness whose vision is inscribed in the work. How was this possible in a medium that is basically collaborative, a combination of the efforts of producers, directors, scriptwriters, set designers, editors, cameramen, actors, and others? For the French New Wave theorists, the author of the film (the auteur) was the director.
Traditionally the "author" of the film was thought to be the screenwriter, the author of the script upon which the film was based. The French New Wave theorists disagreed. They believed that the written script of a film is only a blueprint, raw material that achieves meaning or significance only when the words are embodied in images on the screen. As they saw it, since the director is responsible for the images, he oversees the set designs, cinematography, editing, and performances of the actors, and also, in many cases, reworks the screenplay or script. Thus, according to the New...