Revolution! The explosion of world cinema in the 60s, by Peter Cowie

When Godard and Bergman were gods
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The Independent Culture

Stung by the fashion for lauding the rock'n'roll years of 1970s movie-making, the former international publishing director of Variety has written a corrective from an earlier and more European perspective. There was a point to cinema then, Peter Cowie protests, rather like a late-1970s teacher barracking pupils for enjoying punk and not caring about society.

Stung by the fashion for lauding the rock'n'roll years of 1970s movie-making, the former international publishing director of Variety has written a corrective from an earlier and more European perspective. There was a point to cinema then, Peter Cowie protests, rather like a late-1970s teacher barracking pupils for enjoying punk and not caring about society.

Cowie is a friend of many people mentioned in Revolution!. He has had access to the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci, Agnes Varda and Gillo Pontecorvo. His book is littered with big dinners, big names and reminiscences of Cannes festivals.

Many of his conclusions are tiresomely familiar. Godard and Bergman are gods and Antonioni, now fading back to Hades, a demi-god. Pasolini and Visconti are problematic creatures and should be mocked as footling homosexuals. The late Lindsay Anderson remains scandalously underappreciated. In other words, it's all pretty routine class-of-'68 stuff: the kind of pompous proclamations Nanni Moretti has satirised in films like Ecce Bombo and Caro Diaro.

To be fair, there are useful things here, such as the interesting detail on how technological advances made the Nouvelle Vague possible. In 1958, the Nagra III tape-recorder revolutionised the sound-recording profession. Faster film stock from Kodak helped directors escape the studio. The first generation of hand-held cameras changed the role of the lighting-cameraman forever. Festival-goers at Cannes in 1958 were astonished by a film from Sergei Urusevsky, The Cranes are Flying. The former Soviet army cameraman used a hand-held camera for the first time in a major feature and the jury, bewitched by the swooping motion, fell over themselves to award the Palme d'Or.

Yet I'm not convinced that critics who gorged on the 1960s are the right people to assess the period. Writers like Gilbert Adair and David Thomson routinely over-praise movies from the era of the kinky boot, and haughtily dismiss new masters from Iran and Taiwan. This book may be a riposte to the likes of Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, and its swaggering Americanism, but Cowie's west-European bias is equally self-serving. Andrei Tarkovsky is unmentioned and the glorious Sergei Paradjanov not considered. Where are the films of West Africa, and the martial-arts movies of 1960s Hong Kong?

Bernardo Bertolucci - that doyen of all things 1968 - saw fit to end his new film, The Dreamers, with a clip from Mouchette, a 1967 Robert Bresson film. Bresson made four tremendously important films in the 1960s and, unlike Jean-Luc Godard, continued to make outstanding films into the 1980s. By Cowie's own admission, the influence of Mao-hugging Godard remains almost entirely technical; whereas Bresson continues to influence the work of Edward Yang, for example.

There's no true world-view to Revolution! as Cowie is too busy remembering fun in the 1960s, when French culture was still viable and he was still important. At least he doesn't get to discuss Bob Dylan.



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