French New Wave + Colab = NYC Punk

Last spring I took a took an art history class titled Post-Modern, Post-Hong Kong, Post-Narrative Film (PoMoPoHoKo for 'short'). One of the first movements we studied in this course was French New Wave. I learned that this style of filmmaking grew mainly by untrained young men attempting to fill the void caused from previous filmmakers who had stopped working because of World War II.

These men worked to capture the feelings of shakiness, uncertainty, and instability their societies felt during, and in the aftershock of, the war. From a desire to achieve this 'shaky' aesthetic, and the general lack of training by new wannabe auteurs, French New Wave films were built from quick-cuts, vibrating camera work, blurred images, and confusing layers of sounds and sights. The genre grew to dominate the film discourse in much of Europe during the 1960s.

A parallel style occurring in our parallel English-speaking universe seems to have been punk. Punk began in Great Britain and eventually crossed over to the United States in the 1970s. In the US the Punk aesthetic mutated into something uniquely grotesque and disgruntled. It incorporated the violent subjects like torture and bondage into the thematic and aesthetic template of New Wave.

I was shocked when I read about Colab's supposed role in integrating New Wave to the US and assimilating into/to become "New York punk." Sure, now that I have thought about it, I can see the similarities between French New Wave and British/US Punk; the suspense, the instability, a general feeling of always being disjointed and uncomfortable (either with the story being told or with society and politics).

I do not think this article gave French New Wave enough credit. David E. Little seems suspiciously attached to the idea that Colab coined the New Wave/New York punk hybrid aesthetic. If I read Little's description of Colabian (the imaginary adjective form of "Colab") punk outside of the context of the article I would assume the author was describing a French New Wave film. Descriptions of X Motion Picture Magazine and the NYC punk aesthetic as a whole include: "crude, unfinished, amateurish," "self-consciously pasted," "homemade," "authentic," "assembled... by hand," "thin, [and] inexpensive" with "cut-and-pasted construction with unregistered lines, blurred ink, tilted photos, and overwriting." Every single one of those descriptive terms could have been similarly "cut-and-pasted" from reviews of French New Wave films.

Little does mention that (French) New Wave styles are from the 1960s. While he indirectly admits that New Wave precedes New York punk, I believe he does not pay enough respect to its apparent influence on Colab's "new" punk style. The author claims Colab "quickly integrated" the style with punk to exhibit "a more gritty and violent punk aesthetic." While the phrase isn't inherently malicious, I wish it was reworked to give more credit to the great tour de force that invented that beloved yet "crude, unfinished, amateurish" genre of French New Wave.

In short, if you a) love NYC punk and want to round out you knowledge of it or b) like its general aesthetics but don't have an interest in S&M, check out French New Wave films. I recommend L' Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year in Marienbad).

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