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Breathless Versus Breathless

Wednesday 7 July 2010, 12:43

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

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So who wins the battle of the Breathless? Jean-Luc Godard's groundbreaking 1960s all-time classic of the nouvelle vague or Jim McBride's feverish 1980s paean to kineticism and trousers.

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    Comment number 1.

    Are you baiting the Godard fans again? :D
    Having never seen 'A Bout de Souffle' and Breathless only once many years ago, (it hasn't stuck in my mind) I can't really say much. However I do get the feeling that you may be a tad biased as Breathless has more to satisfy the "Dr K tastes", with one of your favourite actors and a rocking soundtrack, you were always going to like it more!

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    Comment number 2.

    The music and architecture in 'A Bout de Souffle' is great as well. I haven't seen the remake so I can't comment in terms of comparison, but the jazz score in the original is one of my favourites, and it shows Paris to be such a vibrant and bustling city, and so it seems silly to talk about great music and great architecture in the remake as if the original didn't have any of that.

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    Comment number 3.

    Nouvelle va(r)gue? Who have you been talking to that pronounces it like that?

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    Comment number 4.

    Sorry Dr K, I normally agree with your opinions but you're way off the mark here. Jim McBride's version is perfectly fine, it's a fun, typically 80s ride with plenty of blinking and glorious Kaprisky nudity, but it's not A Bout De Souffle.
    First I have to shoot down your pet theory on how the film came about, amusing as it was, because Breathless was made six years before Great Balls Of Fire.
    Also seeing how A Bout De Souffle gave us jump cuts, voiceovers, handheld camerawork and Jean-Paul Belmondo (who, for your information, is far better than Richard Gere) I don't see how it's less revolutionary than a cheesy sex scene everyone has forgotten (I admit however, that it is a brilliant scene).
    Also the soundtrack and architecture of A Bout De Souffle is stunning, the black and white photography by Raoul Coutard is some of the best i've ever seen. The film is not only a landmark in cinema history, a showcase for innovative techniques and the beginning of an entire wave, it's also damn stylish and a hell of a lot of fun to watch. What does Gere do? Take his top off? Pfft.
    Your love of a man who has spent his whole career with his eyes shut has, in turn, blinded you good doctor. I may kill for a pair of those trousers, but there's very little else that McBride can do that Godard hasn't done better. And I'm even one of the people who thinks he's become a pompous twit.
    I admire you for fighting your corner but A Bout De Souffle is a masterpiece and nothing will change that. Ever.

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    Comment number 5.

    Maybe some people are remembering A Bout de Souffle with greater affection than it deserves. I saw the 50th Anniversary edition recently and it bored me to tears (particularly the over long bedroom scene). Think about the jazz music that was going on at the time which probably reached its peak the previous year with the release of three of the greatest jazz albums. I admire Martial Solal as a pianist but the score just doesn't do it for me.

    I don't know if Godard became a pompous twit or was one all along and we have just noticed but people don't change that much.

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    Comment number 6.

    Hi Dr K,

    I've never seen the McBride remake, but i must confess that I have always hated A Bout de Souffle. It's a tedious, self-indulgent film in which, for a good part of it at least, nothing happens. I seem to remember that most of it is just the unlikeable protagonist talking endlessly to his girlfriend about nothing in particular. Sure, there is the crime subplot, but that's effectively ignored and I cared so little about anyone in the film that the ending lacked any of the shock it was, I presume, meant to have.

    Even the 'revolutionary' use of jump cuts etc. was largely down to Godard needing to cut the length of the film, rather than any genuine artistic intent. I just found the whole thing a boring, pretentious experience, and that's the way I feel about most of Godard's work.

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    Comment number 7.

    Not to take your attention away from Dr K's excellent post, but the Guardian has a thread on the most spine-chilling clips of aural horror at the cinema. There's some interesting choices and clips from Hausu, Eraserhead, Psycho Requiem for a dream and The Shout.

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    Comment number 8.

    @ oxymandias87

    "Even the 'revolutionary' use of jump cuts etc. was largely down to Godard needing to cut the length of the film, rather than any genuine artistic intent."

    This may be true, but the effect is of greater importance than the cause, no?
    The classic scene in 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark' where Indy shoots the sword-wielding henchman was down to food poisoning. But we all love the way it is.

    On a side note, as long as we're promoting remakes of classics may I give a shout to Herzog's Nosferatu, which is brilliant.

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    Comment number 9.

    Is the one bad thing about The Exorcist the fact that Richard Gere isn't in it?

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    Comment number 10.

    One word to describe "A bout de souffle"

    Degueulasse (the normal everyday translation)


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    Comment number 11.

    I haven't seen Breathless with His Blinking Majesty, but A Bout de Souffle is a great big pile of mince.

    Therefore, Dr Kermode wins, by default.

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    Comment number 12.

    @ antimode

    The French!

    Dr K's prononunced it fine.

    To have my say on this debate I just have one question regarding remakes, why?

    There are good remakes, Maltese Falcon in 1941. But is was following films that were poor.

    If you are going to remake a film have something new to say.

    I have not seen the remake but if I'm just missing out on the blinking, checquered trousers, LA buildings, Dr K's fav songs and someone having sex after taking of checquered trousers while blinking and singing one of Dr K's fav songs in a LA building I will not be rushing to see it.

    I'm no die hard of the original but it dared to be different. Self indulgent, perhaps, but what else was like it. Yes the jump cuts may have been to cut time but they had the guts to say lets leave them in. LETS BREAK THE RULES!!!

    Without A Bout de Souffle and the other Nouvelle Vague directors we wouldn't have had the Hollywood revolution in the late 60's, no Graduate, no Bonnie and Clyde, therefore no Godfather, Taxi Driver, Easy Rider or Raging Bull

    Yes Dr K you may enjoy it more, it may be more to your taste but given its influence and the fact it dared to be different do you honestly think the remake is more important.

    I love Mallrats far more than Citizen Kane. Does that mean I honestly think it is a better film. No.

    To end my rather longer than intended post I do have to agree with @ Spanking The Chiba and add another Spielberg example.

    When making Jaws he wanted to show more of the shark, but due to technical problems resorted to John Williams' score. The suspense he used as a last resort is what made that film, funny how a problem I suspect he feared would ruin him made him the biggest box office director of the last 40 years!

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    Comment number 13.

    Dear Dr.K,

    While I share a similar homoerotic fascination for Tom Cruise as you do Gere, I think you have to remember that the "Elvis Sex" you have referenced is one of those personal 'perks' i.e. one of those things YOU bring to the movie and the film acts as the catalyst to set your juices running.

    The original will always be better because it brought not just the 'New Wave' style but it also had a real 'cool' element to it.

    Just like: Breakfast at Tiffany's and The Italian Job.

    The whole Paris thing, the costumes and obviously that French language suits the material far better than Gere's tight trousers.

    Take the scene on the street when they casually flirt in Paris - that just beams 'movie-cool' - Gere's tight trousers are much more of a niche thing that only a few will get pleasure from.

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    Comment number 14.

    I can appreciate both of them breing aboutculture. AmBreathless is about comic book culture as the character Gere associates himself with is the sulver surfer, who is a man with great powers from another world. Where as In A bout de souffle we have the character associate with bogart and love america culture. I think that both work and both have something to tell us about the nature of mankind. I think you are right to me the best work goddard ever did was Weekend, weekend is a master piece and this is like weekend for the commerical american. I would love to know what you think of weekend as to me it is a great film about issues and about the civilised man being corrupted by nature.

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    Comment number 15.

    I can settle this dispute quite easily.
    Godard's film had Jean Seberg.
    Any argument to suggest the american remake is superiour is hereby declared invalid.

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    Comment number 16.

    Breathless (the remake) is also a bit of a cult favourite with comic fans due to Gere's character being obsessed with the Silver Surfer and riffling through the contents of a comic shop.

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    Comment number 17.

    Apologies @Gary I didn't notice that you had already mentioned the Silver Surfer!

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    Comment number 18.

    I remember back in secondary school there was the nerdy looking kid who no one paid too much attention to. But one day he started acting like a gangsta rapper from a hip hop video. We all got a good laugh out of it so he started doing it more and more often. He eventually developed into a amusing little skit. However, as the years went by he spent more and more time as his joking persona and less of his time as himself. But then end of school he was just this ridiculous wigger character that not many people found funny anymore.

    This is how I feel that Dr K is approaching this Gere/Breathless idolization. Saying that Gere is one of the best actors ever and his version of Breathless is better than Godard's was a pretty funny joke to begin with. But as time has gone on I think he's starting to believe his own charade. It's like Ricky Gervais becoming David Brent or Steve Coogan becoming Alan Partridge.

    When will this madness end? Will Dr K start announcing that Gere's part in I'm Not There was superior to Cate Blanchett's? Or than his version of Shall We Dance was better than Masayuki Suo's? (OK, the Japanese original was bad but the American version is awful). Please, Dr K. The jokes gone on long enough and it's just not funny anymore.

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    Comment number 19.

    I was going to give a serious, long-winded response to this, but let's face it; I'd be wasting my time. BillPaxtonsSecondBiggestFan has pretty much hit the nail on the head.

    Both the pro-Richard Gere stuff and the anti-Jean-Luc Godard stuff is really getting rather embarrassing now. How many more times can a supposedly serious film critic trot out these lazy stand-up comedy routines - full of the same unfunny jokes, the same infantile putdowns, the same trite observations, etc - before you stop taking them seriously?

    Is this the same Mark Kermode that used to turn up on documentaries for The Exorcist, The Devils and A Clockwork Orange? The same Mark Kermode who moderated the commentary track on The Wicker Man DVD? The same Mark Kermode who once steered me towards films like Possession, Tenebrae, Taxi Zum Klo and Spetters during his period at FilmFour? It's hard to believe, I know.

    C'mon Mark, this kind of babyish provocation/fan-boy worship is best left to the IMDb or something.

    Right now Claudia Winkleman isn't sounding like such a bad idea.

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    Comment number 20.

    OK Mark, you've had your fun, but this joke has gone too far now.

    The original is not meant to be enjoyable in the typical sense or even really about anything, but it was designed to showcase revolutionary techniques of film making. It's so much more important than the typical Hollywoodisation (while more fun with more thematic depth and heart) is a standard job with nothing special about it.

    I recently compared the 2 for a project at university and found them both to be rather dull, but one has to respect the influence of Goddard's work (by the way if we're talking Goddard, I'm more of a 'Weekend' fan) and when one of the key points in the counter-argument is a man's pants, it's not looking good.


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