Comments Off on Breathless

À bout de souffle (1960) is the pinnacle of modernist minimalism. Jean-Luc Godard’s formally adventurous debut feature reduced and deconstructed the forms of its genre, via temporal ellipsis motivated by rapid fire jump cuts, distilling À bout de souffle to the essentials and in the process discovered a culture of “cool” that defined a decade of cinema. The influence of À bout de souffle on film art is immeasurable. But it is more than certain that Godard’s provocative À bout de souffle was one of the major defining influences on Jim McBride’s David Holzman’s Diary (1967).

Breathless (1983), McBride’s imaginative remake of À bout de souffle, pays tribute to Godard and acknowledges the auteur’s tremendous contributions to the art of cinema. Breathless was written by McBride and frequent collaborator and star of David Holzman’s Diary L. M. Kit Carson. Breathless follows the basic narrative beats of À bout de souffle and quotes the film directly numerous times, but it is equally beholden to Godard’s color films made with Raoul Coutard, particularly Pierrot le Fou (1965). Together McBride and Carson reimagine Godard’s modernist provocations and formal minimalism as post-modernist maximalism.

Breathless inverts the casting of in À bout de souffle and shifts the location from Paris to Los Angeles. The hub of the French film industry is exchanged for that of Hollywood and the history of larger than life spectacles. The larger than life modus operandi of Hollywood make it an ideal locale for McBride’s boisterous and exuberant take on the maxim, often attributed to Godard, that “all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun”. Central to McBride’s maximalist style and post-modern stratagems is the central metaphor of the Silver Surfer comic books.

McBride’s stylistic dialect of the cinematographic langue in Breathless matches the prose of the Silver Surfer comics; over-the-top and flowery while the artwork is broad, graphic, and radiantly colorful. The Jack Kirby creation is an intensely melodramatic iteration of the superhero genre steeped in the angsty philosophical musings of teenaged boys. The Surfer himself, ultimately, is another iteration of Richard Gere’s rockabilly rebel Jesse Lujack. The plot too, at least from the perspective of Lujack, overlaps between the comic book and the remake of À bout de souffle.

What Jim McBride ultimately accomplishes with Breathless is to recreate À bout de souffle for the eighties. A new cultural zeitgeist rules the day and the definition of “cool” has metamorphosed in the wake of Vietnam, MTV, the sexual revolution and the summer blockbuster. Breathless, as the aesthetic antithesis of À bout de souffle, is able to acknowledge and gesture towards these momentous cultural currents that have reshaped the world and the cinema since 1960. À bout de souffle defined the sixties and Breathless defines the eighties.

Yet, Breathless never became the hit that À bout de souffle proved to be. Breathless only found its footing in the cultural landscape long after its initial theatrical run when it came out on VHS. Over the years the cult around McBride’s film has grown and a popular reappraisal has begun to take shape. The failure of Breathless to catch the public imagination in the same way that À bout de souffle did (and often still does) is really its only fault in emulating Godard’s film. But that is likely to change.