Scoping Out Good Cinema ACAD Student Chris Fern Speaks with Cine's Richard Neupert
As a member of the board of advisors of Cine, an exciting art house movie theater in an age of multiplex blockbusters. He is also the Wheatley Professor of the Arts and instructor at the University of Georgia and an author of numerous books on film. Dr. Neupert took time out from his busy schedule to offer us some special insight on the workings of the theater, the French New Wave (his specialty), and to discuss what propels a movie into the realm of art.
CF: Do you feel that Cine represents your interests in movies? RN: It actually represents some of my interests in movies, but it also represents my interest in community as well. Which is to say, yes, but it’s for a larger audience than just me.
CF: What is the vision of Cine? RN: In terms of movie projection/exhibition, Cine’s mission is to deliver independent, foreign films, documentary films that might not otherwise play in Athens -- and mostly to support film culture in the local area.
CF: Do you consider this beneficial for high schoolers? RN: Yes, I consider this as beneficial for the entire community, but also for younger people who otherwise would only have the opportunity to see mainstream movies. It’s also a cultural place; we do more than movies, there are a couple of other things that go on.
CF: In Cine’s current future lineup, which movies would you most encourage our students to go see? RN: For students, we are soon to have the movie “Room,”which is a big Oscar contender. It’s a really stunning movie and it just got a bunch of prizes at the Toronto and Telluride film festivals. We have had “Meet the Patels.” BROOKLYN is running right now and it is a quiet, stunning movie about a young Irish woman in the 1950s who has to leave her family to find a job in America. The actress Saoirse Ronan is already on many best actress for 2015 lists. ROOM also opens in Athens this weekend.
CF: Have there been any films that you wish you could have shown? RN: Yes, there have been some foreign films that I was hoping we might show and part of the problem is that we have to balance the potential at the box office with our responsibility and interest in showing different kinds of movies. There are always going to be things that I wish we had shown, but in general I’m very happy. Many people on the board of directors and the the programming committee, we try to be advocates for certain kinds of movies, so I’m real proud of the films we’ve shown recently – “99 Homes,” things like that.
CF: What do you think makes a good film great? RN: To me, it’s got to be a double thing. It’s got to be telling a story in a slightly new and compelling way as well as visually interesting, something that you can’t just predict what shot is coming next. So I like things that are told out of order, that have surprises in them. But especially something that is going to have an engaging visual style.
CF: You have tried to spread knowledge about the French New Wave. Could you explain to our readers what that is and why it’s so important? RN: To me, it’s something that should be of interest to a wide variety of people. What happened was, in the late 1950s, in the postwar era in the 50s and 60s, there was for the first time a real shift toward a new generation having media aimed at them. This was the era of AM radio, which starts to target a youth market. The term “teenager” doesn’t even come into use until the 1940s, after World War II. There was this whole new generation that started to identify with being teenagers and twenty year olds and they also started to discover that cinema, for them, was going to become “the new medium,” the new way to communicate.
So there was this whole generation that was sort of disgusted with their parents, having dragged them through World War II, so you’ve got a bunch of people turning 20 in the 1950s who were looking for new influences and they were getting tired of mainstream movies. And what they really got into were “cine clubs,” where they would show movies, watch movies, discuss and debate them and then pretty soon they started arguing that the best way to make movies wasn’t that you have to be 50 years old and have gone to film school and been an assistant director to somebody and things like that, but that people should just get out in the streets and make movies. And today in America with independent cinema, we’re not surprised if somebody who’s 23 years old makes a feature film, but in the 40s 50s and 60s, this was unheard of, especially in America.
What they ended up doing was saying “let’s make movies for our generation, let’s make movies about us.” One of the directors, Jean Luc Goddard, who made “Breathless,” one of the most famous movies of all time, before he made his movie he even said, “How do these old guys in their fifties, sixties and seventies make love stories about twenty year olds? They know what it was like, but they don’t know what it’s like today.” They really were kind of brash and made new movies. They were going to make movies that were contemporary.
They weren’t going to make science fiction films or tell stories about “The Three Muskateers,” they were going to tell contemporary stories aiming at their own generation. The only way to do that, without experience, was to make them cheap. They ended up writing their own stories, they would not use big-name stars – in fact, a couple of them said, “I don’t want somebody who’s been in a movie before” because then you’ve got these old farts who were telling them how to act. They wanted all new people, fresh faces on the screen, so they would get their friends to do movies, or find someone who had had bit parts in other movies and then make them their stars.
And they would shoot on location. Francois Truffaut famously said that sunshine doesn’t cost money the way studio lights do. They would shoot in their apartments, in the streets, in parks. So basically what they ended up doing was using cheap cameras that were used for tv news and documentaries, shoot in the streets, not use big-name stars, they would shoot in black and white because it was cheaper than color. They would make really fast, new movies and end up making movies that won the best prizes at the film festivals suddenly. So suddenly you had these 25 year olds making good, cheap movies that were kind of sexy and interesting. So it became an inspiring generation.
I think for filmmakers today who want to make movies, instead of saying, “Oh, how do I make a Superman movie,” they should look back to the New Wave and really a lot of American independent filmmakers learned from that, everyone from Jim Jarmusch to Tarantino has learned a lot from the French New Wave.
CF: Do you feel that American directors can emulate the French New Wave accurately? RN: Actually some that really try hard to not to just be nostalgic and remake the movies. There’s a movie called “Frances Ha” that came out two years ago by Noah Baumbach. It’s this filmmaker’s New Wave style tribute to his new girlfriend, Greta Gerwig. It’s about being young, not knowing what you’re going to do with your life, the excitement of that age, that was really good. He’s a good example. Jim Jarmusch, who did “Only Lovers Left Alive” last year, is a good example of that. And also “Mud,” by Jack Nichols, is just terrific. There are two new movies by young people that fit that New Wave spirit. One of them is “Dope” and also “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” They are both movies that are about what’s it like to be 18, what’s it like to be 17? And they might not be made by teenagers, but they were made by new young talent. They are both examples of movies that are slightly commercial but also personal movies. If I were your age, I’d be watching “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” or “Dope” instead of worrying about this Star Wars junk. That’s okay, but it’s for six year olds. Some people think it’s elitist, but I think looking for alternatives to what everybody else is watching at the mall theater is really where you find good cinema. And also foreign films, independent films, things that don’t necessarily have the biggest actors.
CF: Which films from the French New Wave would you recommend everybody watch? RN: The best place to start would be “The 400 Blows” by Truffaut, it’s a very autobiographical movie about him being a kid. It’s not real radical, so it’s a good place to start. But also “Breathless,” I just think “Breathless” is one of the great movies of all – by Jean Luc Goddard in 1960. Some of them are…not puzzling necessarily, but kind of serious, but some of them are just fun, fun, fun stuff to watch.
CF: What are the top ten movies young people should watch? RN: (Groans.) Certainly “Rear Window” and “Psycho” are ones they should know. I’m assuming everyone knows their Wes Anderson and stuff like that. They should all know “Annie Hall” by Woody Allen, it’s a terrific tribute to how to represent a person and it’s also from a certain era back them. (For more of Neupert’s top ten, see below.)
CF: Any last thoughts? RN: If you or any of your friends have any comments or suggestions about what kinds of things would bring you out to a movie theater, that would be nice for me to learn. I don’t know what it’s like to be 17 anymore. Any kind of suggestions, they can write to Cine with their ideas or contact me as well.