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Godard
The famous dancing scene from Bande à Part (1964)

Legendary director Jean-Luc Godard has died

One of the defining figures of the French New Wave, Godard’s influence on popular culture is incalculable

Film director Jean-Luc Godard, a leading figure of the French New Wave which revolutionised cinema in the 1960s, has died at the age of 91.

Godard’s first feature, Breathless (1960), has become one of the most seminal films of all time. Even if you haven’t seen it, you’ll almost certainly have seen another director ripping it off. It has been celebrated for its distinctive visual style, incorporating quick camera work, jump cuts (an abrupt transition that makes the subject seem to jump from one spot to the other without continuity) and rapid editing, all of which create a frenetic, amphetamine-like quality.

According to Godard, his use of jump cuts was simply a matter of necessity – the film he had made was an hour over the contracted running time – but he can still be credited with introducing them as a stylistic technique in popular cinema. Godard later said of Breathless, “It was a film that took everything that cinema had done – girls, gangsters, cars – exploded all this and put an end, once and for all, to the old style.”

Godard’s work in the 1960s – which also included Le Mépris (Contempt), Bande à Part (Band of Outsiders), Vivre Sa Vivre (To Live Her Life), and Alphaville – went on to have a profound influence on the directors who defined 1970s American (the so-called “second golden age of Hollywood). Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola both drew inspiration from his work, as did Arthur Penn, the director of Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – which was widely considered the first American film to incorporate the style of the French New Wave (even if Godard himself once described it as a “dead film” in front of a horrified American audience).

Quentin Tarantino, perhaps the most famous Godard fan, would emerge a couple of decades later. Both Pulp Fiction (1994) and Reservoir Dogs (1992) pay self-conscious homage to Godard (as Tarantino himself would tell anyone who listened) and went on to become enormously influential in their own right. In a roundabout way, Godard’s distinctive techniques – most notably the jump cut – also came to shape the world of advertising and music videos.

Godard’s films remain among the most definitive symbols of a particular kind of aloof, understated French glamour, and have influenced the world of fashion, inspiring collections by Anna Sui, Rodarte and Band of Outsiders. His female protagonists – with their Breton-stripe sweaters, oversized button-up white shirts and pixie cuts – are still being used as stylistic references today. And so while Godard may be gone, it is certain that his impact will be felt for many generations to come.