In this episode, Jim welcomes Robert Hornak to kick off a series about director François Truffaut.
Robert mentioned two articles, and they’re worth looking over in light of this group of films. They’re pretty short, though Truffaut’s could use some context. His name dropping is likely to bring a bit of opacity to the cultural outsider, but it’s easier to see what he’s writing about generally when you better know the situation to which he is referring. So many brief histories of French cinema should really be called histories of French art cinema, because they make little reference to the conditions Truffaut assumes as known in his article. I did find one piece which does a nice job of setting up Truffaut’s. Between them, it sounds like French Cinema of the post-war era, that referred to as the “tradition of quality,” operated like a single studio system, with a small stable of directors and a very small cadre of screenwriters. The writers’ names were as known as the directors’, and Truffaut cites a few them as if they are well known cultural entities. Imagine if Hollywood was only MGM in the 50’s, and maybe we’ll be close to seeing how French films could feel so homogeneous.
Here’s the page that covers that period well:
Here’s Truffaut’s A CERTAIN TENDENCY OF THE FRENCH CINEMA
This is the other piece Robert mentioned, written earlier. Truffaut wrote in 1954, and this one was published in 1948. It is arguably the genesis for the concept of the film auteur:
LA CAMERA STYLO
Again, they’re all quick reads, if you want to appreciate his inventiveness as you watch. If you just want to enjoy The 400 Blows as a film, well you probably will. It’s as close to objectively good as movies get.
The French New Wave covers so much that you’re right, Jim, it’s not fair to let Godard ruin it all. It includes the work of Eric Rohmer, who mastered the pleasant, smart, endlessly watchable talky movie by the end of the 60’s, and maintained that level of quality for over 30 years. He may be the most stylistically and quality consistent director ever, possibly only bested by Ozu. It includes Chabrol, known as the Hitchcock pastiche-ist of the group, but who was also great with Characters. Give Les Cousins a shot and you’ll see that in spades. It includes Rivette, the consummate actors’ director, who gives Altman a run for the title of most collaborative. You’re right. Just drop Godard. He’s earned that. Except for Contempt, most of his films have a few good scenes and then a bunch of dull or bad ones. It can be like watching Plan 9. Godard often just sucks.
On that note, Jim, if you ever return to Tarkovsky, I have two recommendations. One is to watch Soderbergh’s Solaris, which is a fine film in its own right, as well as functioning as an effective Cliff’s Notes for Tarkovsky’s. I saw Tarkovsky’s first, and got little from it. The viewing experience was far from optimal, I should add. After seeing Soderbergh’s, I caught Tarkovsky’s again at a movie night, and it was immediately interesting. It remained so throughout too. It may be fair to fault Tarkovsky’s film for needing a companion piece as a guide, but it is still a rewarding experience, that guide having been had.
My second is to watch Andrei Rublev at least until you see the horse scratch its back. At that point, if you’re re-living your last month, then skip ahead to what I think of as its third section, called “VIII. The Bell” and just watch away. It’s magnificent in a straightforward movies way, not in a specifically Tarkovsky way. Sometimes it’s hard to give an artful film maker credit for really understanding cinema when everything they do seems to have the same problem for you, but when you see them succeed at what we might think of as ‘real movies’, you know, with stories and characters and stuff, it can restore their credibility for you, and maybe bolster you to allow future exploration. Contempt did this for me with Godard.
Also, while I haven’t seen it, I’m primed to pre-forgive Marienbad’s eccentricities, mainly because of its trailer, which actually advertises the film as a great big puzzle. The fact that the movie was not designed to pull the rug out from under its audience, but instead gave away the game by properly labeling the tin, takes away the sense of it’s coming from a place of artistic smugness. I wonder what you two think about that? It sounds like you represent the two poles on this film. Here it is, by the way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yc6n2McMAnY
I appreciate the picks for Truffaut. It’s probably easy to fall into the trap of introducing someone to a new director by suggesting the outliers. “New to Hitchcock? Okay, you need to see Adventure Malgache, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Topaz!” Sometimes it’s avoiding the obvious that is the Philistine move. Good selections, these. I think I’ll be watching along with two of them.
* Cahiers du cinema. It’s ki-yay, as in “Yippee ki-yay, Melonfarmer” That’s the only way I can remember it. (and I think one of you said it that way at some point too)
Mr. Lichty –
I will apologize ahead of time for the relative brevity of this message (at least, in comparison to yours) and say thank you for illuminating me to material to help me better understand the context of the movement I am exploring. Robert and I have had a little back and forth since our episode (don’t indulge his self-deprecation – he did wonderfully) about how exactly it’s possible (if at all) to separate Truffaut from the context of the French New Wave. Perhaps we’ll air that discussion publicly when/if I revisit past filmmakers and guests this summer as I did last year.
As for your comments on Tarkovsky, I’ve had a few people suggest that Andrei Rubelev would have been more appropriate than one title or another. Perhaps I’ll take a look one day.
And re: Marienbad – yes, part of the reason that I love it is that it doesn’t aspire to be a complexity to be solved. Resnais seems content to just use his art form to convey certain scenes and images in a way that only film could do.
I think I pronounced the name of the magazine about 3.5 different ways. Thanks for gettin’ our back, David. There’s about a hundred people I can think of that would’ve done better at unpacking the subject than me, and you’re one of em! Still, fun to talk about and defend, and also properly cathartic to bash Godard in public. Funny, I think I mentioned the horse scene from Andrei Rublev to Jim in pre-show chatter – or was it on the show…? That movie is a smidge higher in my estimation than Solaris, but both are monumental works of art that feel, on first blush, out of reach, but actually have many ways in for the first timer. My takeaway from your comment above: I need to see more Rohmer… if not more Rohner.
No one needs more Rohner
Robert, because you like Woody Allen, I can’t imagine you not enjoying everything Rohmer did from LA COLLECTIONNEUSE onward. Unless there’s a turkey in there I haven’t heard about. The most recent of his I’ve seen is The Lady and the Duke (2001) and I couldn’t believe how well it met my Rohmerian expectations.
There’s a 22 blu-ray Region-B set I frequently drool over. I wish these were easier to find, but watch whatever you can get. They’re breezy in the best ways.
You two did a nice show.
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