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Film Club: Breathless

Tuesday 22 May 2012, 14:29

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

Today is the first of my introductions in the new Kermode Uncut Film Club.

The film is Breathless from 1983 - get yourself a copy of the movie, watch the intro and let me know what you think.

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    Comment number 81.

    Thanks for your replies MCos.

    In reply to your last comment - you are correct, It should be "I cannot fathom". Please excuse, my poor grammar at this point in time - I have had a couple of glasses of gavi in the glorious sunshine whilst watching Luke Donald's win in Wentworth.

    On to your earlier comment:
    You state that my argument has gone circular but if you notice within comment no. 74 I qualify my statement at the end with "for some people". I explicitly did not state "for me", since I see no difference in terms of the "moral implications" brought about illegally streaming/downloading either a new release such as Prometheus or an older release such as Breathless.

    Also with the recognition comment, this was of course of personal opinion and I have also "watched it; thought about it; then I went onto an online discussion board to discuss it and read what others had to say also [about it]" but I also felt that, since the film (Dr K) had provoked me to watch it, I should reward the production/distribution/online rental service for the film. Sure the latter is probably the only beneficiary for this but it is still a reward for having the film in the catalogue. If we this ceased to happen, what desire would online retailers/rental services have to stock these more obscure titles?

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    Comment number 82.

    Thanks again Trueman

    "I see no difference in terms of the "moral implications" brought about illegally streaming/downloading either a new release such as Prometheus or an older release such as Breathless"

    Yet you still talk about "moral implications" as if I should know what you mean by that term. I don't. That's why I am asking what you think the moral argument is. Let's use your final argument here as a prompt to clarity - you wrote

    "I should reward the production/distribution/online rental service for the film. Sure the latter is probably the only beneficiary for this but it is still a reward for having the film in the catalogue"

    So - here is my question. Bearing in mind that, in your words, the "only beneficiary" of my legally acquiring 'Breathless' would be the online rental service .....in what way is it IMMORAL for me to ignore this legal avenue and download the film illegally?

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    Comment number 83.

    Many thanks for the fruitful debate MCos!

    In reply to your last comment - as I mentioned in comment 78. morality is of one's own personal viewpoint. I explained mine in comment 78, where among other things, I stated that I felt illegally downloading/streaming was an act stealing. This is of course my own personal opinion, and it may not be viewed in the courts or yourself as stealing, however in my opinion it is an act of swindling involved parties of income. Furthermore, I really feel that if this practice of illegally downloading/streaming dated/obscure movies became largely widespread than what desire would retailer/online rental services have to stock legal copies for people that maybe do not want to head down the alternative, illegal, route?

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    Comment number 84.

    Just a bit of pointless trivia regarding some of the comments made by people pointing out the Breathless influence on Quentin Tarantino.QT provided Tony Scott with some dialogue for his film Crimson Tide,it sticks out in the movie like a sore thumb and is quite ridiculous really.Two sailors get into a fight over an argument about the Silver Surfer,Denzil Washington has the last word by claiming that the Jack Kirby Silver Surfer era is better than the Mobieus period.
    Just thought i'd mention it ,don't know why,anyway,just rambling now,bye.

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    Comment number 85.

    "Many thanks for the fruitful debate"

    Thank you also.

    I cannot agree with you that illegal downloading is 'stealing' as I have already explained - the debate as I see it is about the moral implications of copyright violation; although this is often framed as 'copyright theft' I find that term highly political and plainly misleading. You cannot steal a copyright anymore than you can steal someone's right to free speech - rights are not stolen; they are violated/denied.

    "in my opinion it is an act of swindling involved parties of income"

    Your implication is that every instance of illegal downloading/viewing is an instance in which a legal 'sale' of the material would have been guaranteed - an assumption which is actually shared by much of the research which throws up colossal figures of 'lost revenue' due to piracy. It is a ludicrous and baseless assumption driven, again, by political self-interest masquerading as 'morality'. That is not just 'my opinion' - it is plain as day.

    "Furthermore, I really feel that if this practice of illegally downloading/streaming dated/obscure movies became largely widespread than what desire would retailer/online rental services have to stock legal copies for people that maybe do not want to head down the alternative, illegal, route?"

    It IS already, to revisit your tautology, 'largely widespread', probably because of the inherent moral ambiguity of copyright; though neither the music or film industries would ever acknowledge such a thing, since they reckon the truth to be too expensive. Furthermore, I wonder at the usefulness of the issue of 'stock' in 2012. I subscribe, I should mention, to LoveFilm (note that although I 'love film' I feel no obligation to 'hate piracy' as I am so often prompted to when I pay to see a film at the cinema) and specifically to their 'LoveFilm instant' service: that is an ever growing catalogue of film that is stored and distributed digitally. And it costs LoveFilm, presumably, very much less than having VHS copies sitting in warehouses. So 'stocking' material is not an issue - I can, should I so wish, watch 1973 Dean Stockwell classic 'Werewolf of Washington' right now on LoveFilm so I doubt that there are many films that are seriously confronted with being deleted for lack of demand as time goes on.

    You contend that morality is a question of one's own opinion or 'conscience' and therefore it doesn't really matter that we disagree. However the whole possibility of 'law' (which is at the centre of what we are really talking about here) is that it reflects the outcomes of essentially moral arguments - the terms of which will often change over time, and law will adjust accordingly. My real problem here is that when I see an ad against "piracy" from the film industry (and they have been going on for years) what I really see is a coarse, cynical denial of the depth and complexity of the copyright issue in modernity. That is why I reject terms like 'steal' and 'theft' in this debate and that is why I think, finally, that talking about this is so much more than just an exchange of 'opinions'. There is a 'truth' to this issue, however ambiguous and elusive it appears to be, and it is worth trying to get to so.....let's argue; let's throw ideas at each other; let's not stop at saying 'I 'feel' a certain way...' as you are doing.

    Anyway sorry for the rant - I see a 'love film, hate piracy' propaganda piece every time I go to the cinema now (and i go often) and the rage builds - apologies if I have come off as unduly aggressive.

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Thank you MCos for you reply.

    I think we are just going to have to agree to disagree on this one. For instance, I disagree with your first point especially within the context of this thread, where had there not been an illegal copy of Breathless available online to stream freely, then a number of individuals with no access to a copy of Breathless would have had to purchase/rent a copy in order to engage with this inaugural film club discussion. This would have led to guaranteed legal sales. Moreover, given the case of unpopular/obscure titles, I agree that many people who stream these illegally will not have been driven to the point of actually purchasing if there was no illegal stream copy available. However, a number of those that have streamed these more unpopular/obscure titles will undoubtedly have purchased/rented a copy had a free illegal copy not been readily available. Another case of legal sales of these sort of titles being seriously threatened.

    Also, with regard to legal on demand streaming, I agree as a customer myself (to the aforementioned service in your last comment) I am an avid fan of the service. However, I notice how you have not stated that you can watch Breathless (1983) online. Sure the more popular original is available, but the more less popular version is not. If demand for these more unpopular titles is low, what desire would these services have in securing rights to add them to their streaming catalogues? None, or at best very little. Market demand - if the industry think we are not interested in it, why would they spend money it? But as we have found here, we are interested in these sort of titles, but far too often their demand on the legitimate market has veered of to more shady avenues meaning those like myself who do not assosciate with this practice could in future suffer from this. The "propoganda" at the cinema may annoy you to no end, but on the other side of the coin this exact practice continually gets on my wick and my rage builds due to the possibility in the future of having to miss out on films due to, out of principle, rejecting to engage in this illegal practice.

    "apologies if I have come off as unduly aggressive."

    Not at all, I enjoy a passionate debate and have enjoyed this debate thoroughly and I hope you have too.

    Now back to the grind tomorrow, but we will pick up again in the near future.

    Thank you for your sharing your opinions.

    Until next time...

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    Comment number 87.

    I should note that, when I say this "exact practice" in the last sentence of paragraph 2, I mean the practice of illegal streaming/downloading - not the practice of anti-piracy adverts at the local multiplex.

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    Comment number 88.

    1: I'm usually not a fan of an introduction, but I thought this one to Breathless was very very good. If a film is for recommending, it should be *in Bollywood English* "bloody good!" category. One caveat, because I have seen Breathless already watching the Introduction 1st then the movie afterwards does not create a clash of preconceptions?
    2: Rules of Film Club should be like that "game of no rules" some British guys used to play and make up the rules as they went along; can't remember their names atm.
    3: I avoid piracy on principle though it's good that dvds can't get away with charging 19.99 or higher these days (£7 max imo for 90-120mins types). ^_^ And if flatmate downloads then flicks on a movie while I'm around, er... !

    Breathless: I love this movie. Watched it many times during my teens as a movie that captivated and was fun. I always saw Richard Gere's "Jesse" as someone who wants to live larger than life, where for him a moment is an event; who obviously could handle themselves (history of street-smarts/deal with people) but underneath all that could spot something worth risking freedom for (Valerie Kaprisky). I also liked the comics as a folk wisdom the "pro/anta-gonist taps this limited spring to help make sense of things in an impassive world. So always acknowledged that he was both superficial character (emulating others); an exciting but dangerous spark, but ultimately looking for a deeper meaning. And I think this is where the film holds for me: You could interprete him favorably or unfavorably. It's true Kaprisky's acting is very clunky but her beauty is (very) convincing and the naive and innocent role is possibly important contrast for the main character, Jesse? To sum, why I like this film so much which may be so ordinary/crass to others, is the flow of the film captures a flow of ordinary small events but succeeds in making them feel large.

    I finally managed to watch À Bout De Souffle when I got access to the entire film collection at a University over one Summer : ) . I watched this film with huge anticipation and when it was over: That was very boring! I've read the comments of this blog and still have not found the solution as to what makes people think this film is really "important/great art". Perhaps historically ala "the new wave"? But it seems to me Goddard shot this film as ordinary life he and his friends might experience with a filmic twist of "on the run from the cops" to create story for what is most of the time, just the typical "dangerous charmer" making everyday life interesting for his love interest? A film of everyday life, conversation and company and that's the sort of experiment he intended? It sounds similar to Breathless, but watching some decades later, it was tiresome drivel to sit through; even though the similarities in description to the remake Breathless make it sound sound like the same film. It did not succeed at making the individual scenes into a movie, but it succeeded in demonstrating the idea. So for me it was very boring watching these two people mumbling on screen; tediously so.

    The irony is, I am very critical of remakes, especially foreign films via Hollywood , the money-machine! "Let Me In", makes me gnash my teeth at night.

    The diversity of views in the blog so far is perhaps better than any individual review or critique. I'm a big fan of world/art/independent cinema but am cautious of films that are "too arty for school" or "so slow that your heart rate almost stops" or "becomes overly (self)-referential it disappears up it's ... ." Whereas sometimes you get a Hollwood film that succeeds at many levels at just being so entertaining: Breathless.

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    Comment number 89.

    First saw Breathless at the long since gone ABC Maidenhead in 1983. I really didn't like it then but 29 years later I've upgraded it to moderately interesting. On the plus side there's marvellous use of location, an excellent soundtrack, and some top-notch camerawork. On the downside there are the two leads, Richard Gere's Jesse is just too irritating and obnoxious, and Valerie Kaprisky is quite sexy but in the acting department as wooden as a post.

    Looking forward to the next Film Club nomination, oh by the way Mark, do I get a bonus point for spotting The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy seen on the toilet floor after Jess mugs the fella in the bar loo?

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    Comment number 90.

    I've had this on the shelf for years and never bothered to watch it, until prompted to do so by your introduction (cue memories of my Moviedrome-educated earlier years); I was surprised how much I liked this film, and Gere's fantastic in it, making the character at once both believable and larger than life, with a redeeming streak of exuberant innocence that offsets his car-and-lavatory-themed crime wave. The recommendation was much appreciated.

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    Comment number 91.

    The main criticism of the film would be Gere's completely over the top and generally unconvincing persona. But then again if you tried to explain the life story of Jerry Lee Lewis to an alien it probably wouldn't believe a word you say.

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    Comment number 92.

    In reply to 76:

    Trueman wrote - "Maybe so, but with the increased lobbying by the music and film industry on ISPs to reveal identities of customers listening/watching/downloading pirated material the legal implications could become all the more serious for the individual."

    You do realise movies are typically buffered to RAM (volatile memory) which will dump its contents as soon as it's needed by another application or when you switch off the computer. Generally speaking, no evidence remains very soon after you finish watching?

    It is significantly harder to prove someone watches illegally streamed movies than it is to prove someone watches illegally downloaded movies. Not that it's something I generally do. If there is a new movie out which I want to see then I pay to see it. You talk about being morally "settled" by paying money to an online streaming service to watch movies which have been on tv hundreded of times - I can assure you I feel very morally "settled" in electing not to do this although I did send Herman Melville a fiver after listening to a free audio book of "Mody Dick" the other night when I couldn't get to sleep......yes...I know it looks very fickle!

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    Comment number 93.

    Mr postie delivered today,just watched it. I thought it was brilliant. Jesse is a man child, a person who acts totally on impulse and lives entirely in the moment,this moment, right now.Everything else for him is meaningless, the future?consequences do not exist. How many times have i nearly had a real fight with someone like that, doing something stupid? He constantly creates his own little piece of happiness, even right at the end, rather than think of the future. I think hes a great cinematic character. There has been a lot of criticism of Kaprisky. I think shes his perfect muse , beautiful ;her passion and common sense at war with one another. Ok, so she isnt Katherine or Audrey Hepburn, but they would run a mile from Jesse and think him an idiot. The end was brilliant, great freeze frame, just perfect.

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    Comment number 94.

    Ok, so I watched À Bout de Souffle last night and after great difficulty in finding a copy, watched Breathless this evening. I wouldn't consider either to be great films,. I enjoyed the vigour and energy Gere brought to Jesse. In the first 30 minutes he seems be channeling James Dead from 'Rebel Without A Cause' and Bruce Springsteen's stage act. It's just brilliantly hammy. He is excellent throughout.
    Kapisky is clearly no Seberg in terms of style or talent, but the remake is aided by having an magnificent soundtrack.
    Further, I like Jesse's admiration of the Silver Surfer. McBride and Gere make Jesse a more loveable character (if not by a great deal) than Belmondo's Michel.

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    Comment number 95.

    I havent seen the original but did enjoy this fil. It is amazing what an obvious influence it must have been for Quentin Tarantino...having lived in southern california I can also agree that it nails the feel of LA. Interesting film.

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    Comment number 96.

    I really enjoyed Breathless. The sheer verve of the thing just blows away any cynicism about whether McBride and co should be treading in Godard's footsteps. I loved the look of the film and agree with Mark that LA has rarely looked better in a film.
    Kaprisky did an excellent job, despite the problems in her accent, she successfully showed why Monica would find Jesse exciting to be with but also making it clear that in many ways, she was far more worldly wise than he was. She was all too aware of what she had and what she needed to do to get on in the world. The only false note was struck by her attitude at the end, I felt that she would have been only too able to disengage herself from Jesse and realise that the house of grass in Mexico would have blown away in the wind all too quickly.
    The big thing to come out of the film for me was sadness that Gere, who gave a stunning, livewire performance here, has seen that fire and energy diluted in innumerable roles in subsequent years which seem to call on him to stand around in a cardigan, looking stoical. Here he was both utterly mesmerising and totally believeable. One of the best portrayls of an immature idiot I've ever seen, but crucially never unlikeable.
    So, great performances, stunningly shot, absorbing story...yeah, I'd have to say that I'd pick Breathless over A Bout de Souffle ultimately too.

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    Comment number 97.

    It's not a terrible film, but watching it left me feeling mildly annoyed. A Bout de Souffle is a classic, and although I tried to watch this film with an open mind, I couldn't help but think that it paled in comparison to the original. Even though I disagree with Dr. K this time around I do look forward to seeing what film he chooses next...

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    Comment number 98.

    Hey Mark! I'm a teenager that became film addict within the past few years, so I'm not nearly as cine-literate as the rest of the people in the blog. After recently watching A Bout de Souffle and Breathless for the first time, I must agree with you on this. While A Bout de Souffle was an extremely important film and all of it's praise is completely justified, Breathless was simply beautiful. It was a clever look on the original's concept and was executed with dedicated acting. I can see why Tarantino loves the movie. It's art that people should give more attention toward.

    Anyway, thanks for telling us about this film. I'm excited for the next entry to your film club.

    Good luck!

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    Comment number 99.

    Me and a friend watched Breathless last night, I have to say we loved it. There are gaping plot wholes and many things left unexplained by the film but the narrative chaos suits the films theme. Jesse is a despicable person but funny, I loved the way his politically incorrectness seems to have hardened with time not softened, as is the case sometimes (Rebel without a cause), his stereotyping racial remarks were the best.

    We laughed a lot and enjoyed hating Jesse, Monica also seems to be a paradox, looking ever the naïve foreign girl, with a cute gap between her two front teeth giving her a baby like quality, but at the same time she seems extraordinarily aware of her sexual power over men and is not afraid to use it, she might even be more corrupted than Jesse.

    The pop culture was interesting thinking of the films that have come after Breathless, LA looked great and was a perfect foil for Jesse’s shallowness.

    I haven’t seen the original so no comparison is possible at this time.

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    Comment number 100.

    The first time I saw Breathless was around 1995 after Quentin Tarantino mentioned it was one of his favourite movies. At that time I was obsessed with anything the chin had to say so I immediately tracked it down. To be fair I had never seen (confession nor have I to this day) the clearly classic French original so I had nothing to compare it to, save for a few b/w stills from that film. Anyway I was immensely impressed with the movie, Gere was great, cool, deranged, suicidal, brilliant and Valerie Kaprisky was simply sex on a stick. The film's detached off kilter style makes it stand over so many movies of that decade and still looks great all these years later. And by the way Silver Surfer DOES NOT SUCK.


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