We had the honor of speaking with legendary cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn, AFC at Band Pro’s recent One World Open House. Glenn covered a fascinating array of topics with us, from his time on set in the early days of the French New Wave to his dislike of the term “cinema verite”.
Possessing a storied career of over 70 films, Glenn provided a number of other fascinating stories from his time on set, such as a motorcycle accident he had during filming one movie that gives him pain when he watches it to this very day.
The New Wave (French: La Nouvelle Vague) is a blanket term coined by critics for a group of French filmmakers of the late 1950s and 1960s.Although never a formally organized movement, the New Wave filmmakers were linked by: their self-conscious rejection of the literary period pieces being made in France and written by novelists; their spirit of youthful iconoclasm; the desire to shoot more current social issues on location; and their intention of experimenting with the film form. “New Wave” is an example of European art cinema. Many also engaged in their work with the social and political upheavals of the era, making their radical experiments with editing, visual style and narrative part of a general break with the conservative paradigm.
Using portable equipment and requiring little or no set up time, the New Wave way of filmmaking presented a documentary style. The films exhibited direct sounds on film stock that required less light. Filming techniques included fragmented, discontinuous editing, and long takes. The combination of objective realism, subjective realism, and authorial commentary created a narrative ambiguity in the sense that questions that arise in a film are not answered in the end. In a 1961 interview, Truffaut said that “the ‘New Wave’ is neither a movement, nor a school, nor a group, it’s a quality” and in December 1962 published a list of 162 film directors who had made their feature film debut since 1959. Many of these directors, such as Edmond Agabra and Henri Zaphiratos, were not as successful or enduring at the well-known members of the New Wave and today would not be considered part of it. Shortly after Truffaut’s published list appeared, Godard publicly declared that the New Wave was more exclusive and included only Truffaut, Chabrol, Rivette, Rohmer and himself, stating that “Cahiers was the nucleus” of the movement. Godard also acknowledged filmmakers such as Resnais, Astruc, Varda and Demy as esteemed contemporaries, but said that they represented “their own fund of culture” and were separate from the New Wave.
Glenn expressed an interesting viewpoint that may be shocking to some: the term “cinema verite” is wrong, preferring the term “cinema direct”. As Glenn explains, “I don’t like the word cinema verite, I like cinema direct, because [filmmaking] is never the truth. Doing a feature, it’s not verite. It’s true of the director, but it’s never verite”. Perhaps a controversial opinion, but one that makes a lot of sense, as the director’s vision, their story, tends to be the one that becomes the screened version of the truth. Even documentaries follow the story laid out by the director and crew, and can be far from the truth as I’m sure many have seen. Regardless, it’s a fascinating opinion and one that definitely warrants some deep thought.
Band Pro Film and Digital also hosted a screening of Glenn’s breakout hit, “Day for Night” directed by François Truffaut, and HDSLR Shooter was fortunate enough to have access to Glenn’s Post-Screening Q&A. Catch excerpts from the Q&A below.
For more on Pierre-William Glenn and his work, you can visit his IMDB page at www.IMDB.com