Philppe Mary, “Cinematic Microcosm and Cultural Cosmologies: Elements of a Sociology of the New Wave,” Cinema Journal 49, No. 4 (Summer 2010), 159-166.
Despite what its abstract said, it felt like Mary’s article was going to take issue with the traditional claim that 1960 (or thereabouts) marks a major shift in cinema (and not just French cinema). The majority of Mary’s argument is taken up with case examples of Godard and Truffaut, showing the sociology behind their involvement in the nouvelle vague to the end that their infamous auteur approach was quite connected to other factors. In short, auteur theory was a historically produced moment. Mary’s strongest contribution is in a sociological analysis rather than a Freudian one. It would be quite easy to slip into this mode, especially since Godard and Truffaut are presented in their youth as rebelling (in different ways) against their own families and the cinema scene in general. But instead of going Oedipal, Mary goes economic. He points out that Truffaut came from a middle-class background and Godard from an upper-middle-class one, both in some sense having something to prove and needing a new medium in which to do it. Violence is an important piece of the argument, with Mary arguing that Truffaut first does violence to status quo French cinema (the tradition of quality) by means of his pen in his famous “A Certain Tendency in French Cinema” in 1954, and then Godard does violence to cinema itself (and/or its conventions) through Breathless in 1959. For being such a short article, the examples are thorough and helpful. But Mary’s argument takes a leap at the end and insists that, based on these examples, surely a shift does take place around 1960. There is a “double field of artistic production” in which artists are obliged to abide by extant constraints and break through those constraints and achieve innovation. Because Truffaut and Godard did that, Mary seems to argue, the 1960 shift is real.