JCM312/French Modernism: Jean-Luc Godard & Bertolt Brecht (Discussion)

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The Modern Theatre is the Epic Theatre

  1. All Groups: What does Brecht mean by the term "culinary opera"?
    • He suggests that "dramatic theater" is culinary. Some film critics suggest that Hollywood classicism is also culinary. Do you agree? Explain.
  2. All Groups: Consider the key aspects of "epic theater" that are boldfaced below. Do you think Breathless fits any of these aspects? Why or why not?

Brechtian alienation

  • "Alienation effect"--Verfremdungseffekt
plot narrative
implicates the spectator in a stage situation turns the spectator into an observer, but
wears down his capacity for action arouses his capacity for action
provides him with sensations forces him to take decisions
experience picture of the world
the spectator is involved in something he is made to face something
suggestion argument
instinctive feelings are preserved [instinctive feelings are] brought to the point of recognition
the spectator is in the thick of it, shares the experience the spectator stands outside, studies
the human being is taken for granted the human being is the object of the inquiry
he is unalterable he is alterable and able to alter
eyes on the finish eyes on the course
one scene makes another each scene for itself
growth montage
linear development [of plot] in curves
evolutionary determinism jumps
man as fixed point man as a process
thought determines being social being determines thought
feeling reason

Counter Cinema

  1. All Groups: What is Wollen's "counter cinema"? What is it counter to?
  2. Apply the following aspects of counter cinema to Breathless. Do they fit?
    • Cite specific scenes, shots, dialog, etc. that support your answer.
      1. Groups 2 and 5: In your own words, explain the "narrative intransitivity" aspect of counter cinema.
      2. Group 3: In your own words, explain the "estrangement" aspect of counter cinema.
      3. Group 4: In your own words, explain the "foregrounding" aspect of counter cinema.
      4. Group 1: In your own words, explain the "aperture" aspect of countercinema.
    • Groups 1, 2, & 4: Make the case for Breathless as a classical film.
    • Groups 3 & 5: Make the case for Breathless as a counter-cinema and/or Brechtian film.
  3. What aspects of Wollen's list match Brecht's list?
Narrative transitivity Narrative intransitivity
Identification Estrangement
Transparency Foregrounding
Single diegesis Multiple diegesis
Closure Aperture
Pleasure Un-pleasure
Fiction Reality


  • Brecht, Bertolt. "The Modern Theatre is the Epic Theatre." In Brecht on Theatre, pp. 33-42. Edited and translated by John Willett. New York: Hill and Wang, 1964.
  • MacCabe, Colin. Godard: Images, Sounds, Politics. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University, 1980.
  • Wollen, Peter. "Godard and Counter Cinema: VENT D'EST." In Readings and Writings: Semiotic Counter-Strategies. London: Verso, 1982.

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