Archive for Truffaut


Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on October 25, 2012 by dcairns

When a carnival showman named Mr. Electrico told Ray Bradbury to “Live Forever!” perhaps he didn’t say it loud enough, because as of this year, no more Ray Bradbury. On the other hand, maybe he said it just right but meant it not quite literally. Something Wicked This Way Comes, a novel which came directly out of that youthful experience (and which was originally suggested as a movie for Gene Kelly, of all people, to direct) maybe WILL live forever, and the author’s name with it.

Jack Clayton’s film, like Truffaut’s film of FAHRENHEIT 451, is sometimes not good enough. Sometimes, however, both are beyond perfection, (ie 451’s final scenes) and a few moments like that in a film count for an awful lot.

This week’s autumnal edition of The Forgotten.


Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on May 7, 2011 by dcairns

The opening scenes of Francois Truffaut’s FAHRENHEIT 451, from Ray Bradbury’s novel.

Our subject once more is editing — what’s strange about this sequence? There are many possible answers to such a diffuse question, I know, but does something strike you between four minutes and five minutes into the clip?

I show this to my students and they often don’t notice it. Some of you will be wondering how they could miss it. Others will have missed it themselves.

Here it is: when Montag (Oskar Werner) puts on his flame-retardant hat and gloves, he’s moving in reverse. It’s actually a shot of him having the hat and gloves removed.

Did you spot it? Let me know.

I always found that strange, but liked it — it has a Cocteauesque quality that’s complimented beautifully by Bernard Herrmann’s oneiric score. The use of the technique wasn’t quite transparent — I could read exactly what Truffaut had in mind in using it. My best guess would be that the act of book-burning is so WRONG — we know that Truffaut, a book-lover, found these scenes traumatic — that he wanted to signal that with an unsettling effect that showed time out of joint, nature unbalanced, moral order subverted.

Then I read an interview with Oscar-winning editor Thom Noble (WITNESS), and he said that he reversed the shot because Truffaut had neglected to get a shot of Oscar Werner putting his fireproof kit on. Certainly makes Truffaut’s imitation of Hitchcock here seem slightly less skilled than the Master.

The thing is, my interpretation of the reverse-motion as an artistic device is still valid: a piece of technique deployed to cover a blunder is still making some kind of statement, even if it wasn’t intended. Watching films is an active process, and we’re always interrogating what we see.

Also on F451 — cinematographer Nicolas Roeg reports shooting an insert of what were meant to be Oscar Werner’s hands. Truffaut had fought with Werner throughout filming (something to do with whether Montag’s book-burning made him a fascist) and wanted to make him look bad, so he deliberately found the ugliest pair of hands he could get: all nicotine stains and chewed fingernails. Roeg was fascinated by this — the power of editing. It helped inform his interest in montage when he became a director himself.

The Sunday Intertitle: Now in 3D?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 26, 2010 by dcairns

Haven’t managed to find any 3D intertitles!

But the opening super from REVENGE OF THE CREATURE is the modern equivalent of the intertitle, I guess.

One could also argue that establishing shots, particularly those including signs, pick up where the old intertitle left off, informing us via text of the location of the next scene. Here’s a 3D example from THE FRENCH LINE ~

Obviously, we pull out from a close-up on the single world “Paris”, the better to get the gag.

All of this kind of film-making can be seen as old-fashioned. I don’t normally agree 100% with Brian DePalma, but when he said “Establishing shots are a waste of time,” he was kind of right. Place can be established as easily in close-up or mid-shot in the course of the action, leaving the long-shot for a moment when it has dramatic impact — a principle first noted by Hitchcock, in conversation with Truffaut, and illustrated by the example of THE PARADINE CASE (not otherwise a hyper-modern piece of cinema).

But on the other hand, and one should always try to have another hand, as the famously ambidextrous Lars Von Trier* argues, ostensibly clunky devices like titles to tell us the time and place have “an atmospheric value” — partly because they evoke other movies we’ve seen. There’s something hilarious about the redundancy of a shot of the Paris skyline, Eiffel Tower prominent in the distance, with the superimposed title “Paris.” Nothing says Hollywood quite like it.

*Camera in one hand, penis in the other, both vibrating violently.


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