Archive for Truffaut

Like Night and Day

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , on July 21, 2015 by dcairns


Lest complaining at length about Fangoria’s editing of an article I had a hand in makes me seem the obstreperous type (it certainly gave F-bomb conniptions to one staff member on Twitter), I should mention that most of the experiences I’ve had with editors has been extremely productive. Shadowplay itself would be a lot better if it had a full-time editor. The pieces with the typos are the ones Fiona hasn’t had a chance to read before I hit the PUBLISH button. The pieces that trail off into nonsense are the ones even I couldn’t be bothered to re-read. Editors don’t just perform a necessary function, like garlic presses or elbows, they are inspirational creative midwives.

In particular, the folks at Criterion are a constant pleasure to work for. So I take further pleasure in announcing the imminent publication of a new Blu-ray of DAY FOR NIGHT, for which I have contributed an essay. This was a fascinating job as I hadn’t seen the film in some time, and I wanted to see if there was a path between youthful enchantment — Truffaut was one of my earliest love affairs with subtitled films — and later cynicism — there are plenty of examples of Truffaut behaving badly or saying dickish things or making substandard movies. Hopefully I found a way to slide between starry-eyed and smart-ass.


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.