Posts filed under '’60 France'

Citroën DS

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Viva la France week continues with a shout-out to carmaker Citroën and their awesome DS sedan. The DS was an innovative ride that set the standard for modern automotive design with many high-tech features such as power steering and power disc brakes. One of the most interesting aspects of the DS was its hydraulic system providing power to the suspension and transmission, delivering an extremely pleasant ride. And even though it had an inline four cylinder engine (due to government restrictions), the DS still managed to have pretty good get up and go.

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The DS was an immediate success after its introduction in 1955. During the DS’ decade’s long production run, over 1.5 million were produced. My father had a modern turbo diesel Citroën sedan when he was living in the UK and it was totally rad…very comfortable and fast. The hydraulic suspension was kind of a trip though. It would raise and lower the car when you would come to a stop at a traffic signal, making it feel like you were driving in some South Central low-rider.

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Hey boys, you’re not going to get a girl like this driving a Hummer H2

3 comments February 22nd, 2007

Jean-Luc Godard

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Our next installment of Viva la France week is a tribute to Jean-Luc Godard. Considered one of the best filmmakers of the 20th Century, Godard was the most radical of his ‘60s French cinema peers. Godard was born into wealth, but college radicalism lead to his parents cutting-off his generous allowance in the ‘50s. Poor, young, and brilliant, he began writing film criticism for the publication Cahiers du Cinema. Wanting to get his hands wet in real filmmaking, he quickly jumped at the opportunity to take on a documentary project detailing the construction of a French dam in 1955.

French filmmakers of the ‘60s are best known for their embracement of realism and disregard for the trappings of conventional cinema and Godard’s first feature film, A bout de souffle (Breathless) in 1959, was certainly both. Godard took a conventional b-movie crime plot and turned it on its head, transforming the story into a jigsaw puzzle and filming it all with hand held cameras and natural lighting. His cinematic style was so revolutionary; its influences can still be seen in the works of Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, and Wong Kar-Wai.

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My favorite Godard film is also his most accessible, the gorgeous Contempt (1963). The film featured a beautiful (and naked!) Brigitte Bardot, a sleazy Jack Palance, and a tired Fritz Lang. One of the great things about this movie is how it illustrates Godard’s penchant for contradictions. Yes, some shots are hand held with natural lighting, but most scenes are filmed in a conventional Hollywood style. Like Lars von Trier and his silly Dogma 95, Godard gleefully broke his own self imposed “rules” on many films. I first saw this masterpiece at the Musicbox theater in Chicago with Brian C. It counts as one of my favorite cinema experiences of all time – right up there with seeing a new 70mm print of 2001 at Chicago’s Navy Pier.

Also worth mentioning is France’s long tradition of manufacturing quality moviemaking equipment, including Éclair, Aaton, Pathe, and Beaulieu cameras (I own a lovely Beaulieu 2008). France also made some great motion picture optics, including Angenieux, Kinoptik, and Som Berthiot lens.

2 comments February 21st, 2007

Viva la France Week

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So I finally got around to working on my summer theme party. For recent readers of this blog, I host a party every summer celebrating some random cultural cast-off from our collective past. Last year’s party was dedicated to the great American truck driver – focusing on trucker culture’s high water mark in the ‘70s. I’ve also had parties around the theme of Brazilian Bossa Nova and Polynesian Pop. Every party also has a companion compilation CD sent to guests prior to the event. This year’s disc is going to be a collection of ’60s French pop songs including tracks from France Gall, Serge Gainsbourg, and Brigitte Bardot. As you might imagine, the party will revolve around the theme of France in the ‘60s. It was in interesting time in French cultural, political, and economic history. Coming out of the Second World War, France had managed to rapidly transform itself into a modern industrial society. The essay included inside the CD booklet will talk about this in more detail, but what basically happened was economic prosperity and political liberalism lead to an explosion of French culture, from the movies of Goddard to music of Gainsbourg. Today also kicks-off Viva la France week here at Wildfreshness. Each day we’ll be profiling something uniquely French and totally awesome from the ‘60s.

Oh, one other thing, if you think you’re not on my current mailing list for these compilation CDs and would like to receive one, please send an email to the following address: ned.howard(at)excite.com. Please put “Viva la France” in the subject line and make sure to include your full mailing address. I anticipate sending out CDs toward the end of March, so it will be a couple of weeks before you can expect to see something in the mail.

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OK, now on to our first entry in the Viva la France week: an appreciation of explorer, mariner, and filmmaker Jacques-Yves Cousteau. My grandfather was a member of the Cousteau Society, so I was exposed to the world of Cousteau at a pretty early age. In fact, I remember having a cut-away poster of Cousteau’s ship Calypso on my bedroom wall for years.

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Cousteau started his aquatic career in the French navy during the Second World War. It was during this time he invented, along with Emile Gagnan, the first personal underwater breathing system, or the aqua-lung. In 1950, Cousteau began leasing the ex-Royal Navy minesweeper Calypso leading to a string of adventures that would birth a series of films winning him three Oscars. But Cousteau is probably best known here in the States for his long running TV series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau which hit the airwaves in 1966. In 1973, the Cousteau Society was founded – an organization that now includes around 300,000 members worldwide.

One of the most interesting and overlooked aspects of Cousteau’s career was his political activism. Cousteau spoke against the dumping of nuclear waste at sea and later received the UN international environment price. He was also awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan, showing his charismatic appeal crossed political boundaries. Quite simply, Cousteau was an all-around pimp extraordinaire of the undersea world.

6 comments February 20th, 2007


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