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Listening to the French New Wave

The Film Music and Composers of Postwar French Art Cinema


Orlene Denice McMahon

As perhaps the most studied film movement in cinematic history, the French New Wave has been analysed and criticised, romanticised and mythologised, raising the question of whether it is possible to write anything new about this period. Yet there are still gaps in the scholarship, and the study of music in New Wave films is one of the most striking.
Listening to the French New Wave offers the first detailed study of the music and composers of French New Wave cinema, arguing for the need to re-hear and thus reassess this important period in film history. Combining an ethnographic approach with textual and score-based analysis, the author challenges the idea of the New Wave as revolutionary in all its facets by revealing traditional approaches to music in many canonical New Wave films. However, musical innovation does have its place in the New Wave, particularly in the films of the marginalised Left Bank group. The author ultimately brings to light those few collaborations that engaged with the ideology of adopting contemporary music practices for a contemporary medium.
Drawing on archival material and interviews with New Wave composers, this book re-tells the story of the French New Wave from the perspective of its music.
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Chapter 5: Musical ‘Madeleines’ in the Early Cinematic Essays of Chris Marker


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Musical ‘Madeleines’ in the Early Cinematic Essays of Chris Marker

I like radio more than literature, cinema more than radio, and music most of all.

— CHRIS MARKER, Le Coeur net, 19491

Having recently passed away at the age of 91, Chris Marker will be remembered for having intertwined cinematic, photographic, and literary techniques for over half a century to create some of the most evocative cinematic works in the essay film genre, most famously La jetée (1962), Le fond de l’air est rouge (1977), Sans soleil (1983) and, more recently, Chats perchés (2004).2 By means of his multimedial boundary crossing, Marker managed to redefine both the meaning and the medium of documentary filmmaking.3 In relation to mediums, the above quote from Marker’s 1949 novel makes evident his clear preference for music above other media. How then does music operate in the combinative architecture of Marker’s ← 175 | 176 → multimedial films? This chapter aims to explore this question by listening to and analysing the audiovisual relationships at play in a range of Marker’s early essay films. The works under discussion encompass: two short travelogue documentaries from the 1950s – Dimanche à Pékin (1956) and Lettre de Sibérie (1958); three politically engaged essay films from the early 1960s – Description d’un combat (1960), Cuba sí! (1961), and Le joli mai (1962); and finally, Marker’s sole fiction film La jetée (1962).

Marker first emerged in Paris...

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