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Posts Tagged ‘François Truffaut’

Memories of Raoul Coutard by Lee Kline

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

Here are some memories of Raoul Coutard, one of the greatest cinematographers of all time.

Raoul Coutard, who photographed some of the most brilliant films of the New Wave, died recently at the age of 92. I don’t like to do obits in this blog, preferring to celebrate the work of the living, yet Coutard’s contribution is simply too significant to ignore. Happily, the colorist Lee Kline has recently published some thoughts about working with Coutard on digital restorations of some of his greatest films on the Criterion website, and here is part of what Kline had to say.

The first time I met Raoul Coutard was in June of 2002. I was in Paris to remaster a few films for Criterion, and one of them was [Jean-Luc] Godard’s Contempt. We had gotten in touch with Coutard and asked him to come in and help us with the color, which he did. He showed up and got right to work. I was awestruck that one of the world’s greatest cinematographers was working with us on what I considered to be one of his masterpieces.

It was not the easiest session for me because I spoke virtually no French and had to rely on people interpreting for me. Coutard worked with the colorist on the color grading: desaturating here, adding a little more contrast there, and bringing Contempt into the digital age with grace and ease.

He was fast, assured, and to the point. Because of the language barrier (or so I thought—more on that later!) we didn’t converse very much, but I got to hear translations of many great stories from the set. I could pretty much understand what he had done from the changes happening on the screen.

A few years later, we asked Coutard to come back in for a few more films. One was Band of Outsiders, and the other one was Costa-Gavras’s Z. We met at Eclair Laboratory, which was in a terrible neighborhood outside of Paris. He didn’t want to go there, and we didn’t want to go there. But Costa-Gavras wanted to go there. We met, and for some reason that I can’t remember, Costa-Gavras couldn’t make it and we had to work on Z without him.

I was with my colleague, who spoke French, and I was telling her that I thought there was something wrong with the color blue that was on the screen, trying to make my case so she could translate to Coutard. He then slowly turned to me and said, ‘What don’t you like about it?’ I was in shock that he never told me he could speak English! Everything then changed, and although his English was limited, I could finally speak directly to him.”

Coutard, famously practical and with a misanthropic streak a mile wide, could be difficult to work with. As recounted in his obituary in The New York Times by William Grimes, Coutard’s “collaboration with Godard ended when France was engulfed by the political events of 1968. ‘Jean-Luc is a fascist of the left, and I am a fascist of the right,’  Coutard told The Guardian. But the two reunited in the early 1980s to make Passion and First Name: Carmen.

He also had a falling-out with [director François] Truffaut, with whom he had collaborated on Shoot the Piano Player and The Soft Skin. The Bride Wore Black (1967) was their last film together. ‘I had the ridiculous idea to quit smoking at the same time we were filming the movie,’ Mr. Coutard told The Houston Chronicle. ‘I was very unbearable and very unpleasant, so we parted ways after that.’”

But here, readying is work for release in DVD and Blu-ray format, Coutard seems to have struck up a real accord with Kline, and it’s a pleasure to have this glimpse of the gifted artist in his last years, just as cantankerous as ever, yet assiduously making sure that his films made the jump to digital with all their pictorial values intact.

You can read the entire article by clicking here or on the image above.

New Frame by Frame Video: François Truffaut

Friday, September 9th, 2016

I have a new video on the late French filmmaker François Truffaut, one of the great romantics of the cinema.

It’s been a while since I dropped a new video in the Frame by Frame series, directed by Curt Bright, so here’s a new one on François Truffaut, the great French filmmaker who, along with Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Varda, Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol and just a few others personified the energy and vitality of the Nouvelle Vague – the New Wave of French cinema that took hold in the early 1960s.

Truffaut most famous film is undoubtedly the semi-autobiographical The 400 Blows (1959), but more than a little ironically, he’s most known to American audiences for his work as an actor – a task he performed in several of his own films – in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), during which he wrote the scripts for his next three films during production breaks.

Starting as a critic, as I recount in my book The Early Film Criticism of François Truffaut, Truffaut was something of a firebrand – which he later regretted to a degree when he became a director himself – but soon found his true calling behind the camera, creating a series of luminous masterpieces that helped to define the French cinema during this vital and prolific era.

His early death in 1984 robbed us of one of the great talents of the cinema, but fortunately, Truffaut was extremely prolific, and left behind a body of work that is at once deeply felt and also somewhat caustic in its view of live, love, and the travails of the human condition. Truffaut’s work is absolutely essential to any understanding of the cinema, and so if you haven’t seen one of his films, please stream one tonight – and be dazzled.

You can see the video by clicking here, or on the link above – enjoy!

How Francois Truffaut And Jean-Luc Godard Changed Cannes

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

Cannes, 1968: Claude Lelouch, Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Louis Malle, Roman Polanski

The Cannes Film Festival today- it’s going on right now – has turned into such total glitz and glamour that it’s become a shadow of what it used to be. It was always a marketplace, but it was also a place of ideas, where revolutionary ideas in the cinema were discussed, and sometimes put into practice.

In the industry journal Deadline, which is not really known for historical coverage, preferring to focus on the here and now of the movie business, there is nevertheless today a short but remarkable essay on Cannes 1968, when the festival was shut down by a group of directors who refused to buckle under to governmental interference in the arts.

As Ali Jaafar writes, “before there was Occupy Wall Street or Nuit Debout, there was Paris, 1968. In a revolutionary year—think the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, Bobby Kennedy’s assassination—May was a particularly revolutionary month. Student protests in the City of Lights against capitalism, consumerism and traditional values, some say emboldened by their victory in re-instating the much-cherished head of the iconic Cinematheque Francaise, Henri Langlois, after he had been briefly dismissed by the De Gaulle government, took over the city on May 3, Red Friday.

Within days, the trade unions had joined in, millions of people around the country were demonstrating and France was brought to the verge of standstill. In Cannes, meanwhile, life was—initially at least—proceeding as normal. The 21st edition of the world’s most prestigious film festival kicked off on May 10 with a restored version of Gone with the Wind. As the protests spread across the country, however, so too did the enfants terribles of French cinema, Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, who hit the Croisette with one goal: to shut down the festival.

On May 13, the French Critics Association issued a statement calling on those present to demonstrate in solidarity of the students, protest against the heavy-handed tactics of the police, and demand the festival be suspended. Festival founder and longtime president Robert Favre le Bret refused. As a concession, he offered to cancel parties and cocktails. That wasn’t enough, however, for the impassioned leaders of the French New Wave, one of whom—Claude Lelouch—actually reported for revolutionary duty in Cannes on-board his private yacht.

Fervor was spreading as the three musketeers of Godard, Truffaut and Lelouch set about disrupting the festival, enlisting members of the jury—including Roman Polanski—and filmmakers, some of whom like Carlos Saura even had their own films in the festival, to the cause. During one heated debate, Godard lost his cool, screaming at someone against cancelling the festival: ‘We’re talking about solidarity with the students and the workers and you’re speaking about travelling shots and close-ups’ . . .

When the festival tried to go through with the screening of Carlos Saura’s Peppermint Frappė against the wishes of the filmmakers, Saura and leading lady Geraldine Chaplin, along with Truffaut and Godard, tried to grab hold of the curtain in front of the screen to prevent it from opening; hanging on like leaves on a tree. There were fist fights. Godard lost his glasses while Truffaut took a tumble.

Eventually, Le Bret relented, reluctantly, and cancelled the festival on May 19, five days before its intended close. Cannes would never be the same again. The following year, a new section was introduced, Directors’ Fortnight, that would become a showcase for radical, daring and revolutionary voices . . . ‘We started Directors’ Fortnight because we wanted to have a festival inside the festival. Cannes did not agree to change some of the regulations,’ says Pierre-Henri Deleau, who ran it for three decades.

‘The first year, we didn’t even know we had to ask for permission from the French customs to allow 35mm prints into the country, so the first two films we had scheduled were delayed. We didn’t even have a catalogue. Just a poster with the names of the films. But, to our surprise, it was a big success. So we kept on doing it.’

Over the years, the selection of Directors’ Fortnight, or the Quinzaine, would continue to seek to push the envelope, whether in terms of showing creatively bold films or simply films from countries never selected for a major festival before. ‘We showed the first films from Cuba post-revolution, for example, or Asia and Latin America. Back then, the competition was quite conservative,’ says Deleau.

‘It was always France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the US and the UK. The selection was like diplomacy. You have to remember in those days there were only three unions: the producers, distributors and exhibitors. There was no voice for the creators and directors. We wanted Directors’ Fortnight to represent the fight against censorship.’

As for the long-term legacy of 1968, there is no doubt that the events in Paris, the country as a whole, and Cannes that year, changed the festival, even if not ultimately exactly the way the great agitators initially envisaged. Ironically, the political fight may have contributed to the eventual breakdown in the friendship between Truffaut and Godard. Godard’s strident declarations and behavior marked him out as a genuine political radical, in contrast to Truffaut, whose main concern was, and remained, cinema.

‘Truffaut was never political,’ says Deleau. ‘He always refused to be associated with one specific party. Ultimately, 1968 was not a revolution. It was not even the beginning of a revolution. It was a happening. The festival did change over the years, in some ways for the better, especially under Gilles Jacob when it became the festival that was choosing the films in selection, and not the producer countries.

But what happened in 1968 could never happen again today. Now, it’s all a question of business and promotion. There are too many films. How can a critic see 70 or 80 films? The real power isn’t in the hands of the director or the producer anymore. The people selling the films are in charge.’”

Yes, today Cannes is a commercial market above all else. But then again, things that go around come around, so to speak, and every so often, the cinema – like all the other arts – reinvents itself. Perhaps something like this, at another festival, with other directors who refuse to accept the status quo of the comic book movie DC / Marvel Universe present may eventually assert itself.

In the meantime, this article, and the events of May 1968, serve to remind us that film has always been torn between two polar opposites; it’s a business, and it’s an art form. Right now, the business end is winning. But as history has shown us time and again, all overblown regimes eventually collapse under their own weight, and commercial cinema has always been – as Jean Cocteau once put it – “a little overripe.” What will happen next is anyone’s guess, but as long as the struggle between art and commerce continues, and the underlying tensions remains, change is always possible.

You can read the entire article by clicking here, or on the image above.

From Criterion Current: Agnès Varda Is Everywhere!

Friday, April 15th, 2016

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster alerted me to this – a new film by the great Agnès Varda! See it here on Vimeo!

As the blog Criterion Current noted on October 9, 2015, “Agnès Varda keeps popping up in the most unexpected places. The indefatigable eighty-seven-year-old filmmaker stopped by our offices this week, along with her daughter, Rosalie, to say hello and fill us in on what she’s been up to. We’re happy to report that this legend of the French New Wave—and beyond—shows no signs of slowing down.

Varda was especially delighted to talk about a short film she had recently made for Women’s Tales, an online series produced by the Prada brand Miu Miu (other directors in the series include Lucrecia Martel, Ava DuVernay, Miranda July, and So Yong Kim). Varda’s magical contribution, Les 3 boutons (The 3 Buttons), which also showed at the Venice Film Festival in September, was shot in the village of Bonnieux, in southeastern France, as well as on rue Daguerre in Paris, where Varda has lived for half a century.

A wry commentary on girlhood and fashion with a fairy-tale feel, the film traces the whimsical adventures of a country girl who receives a mysterious package. Varda excitedly told us about this lush production: ‘Given the budget, I was free to make whatever I wanted.’ And she was especially tickled by the resources she was given for one particular shot, in which a button floats down a stream before disappearing beneath a sewer grate: ‘Can you imagine having a grip for an afternoon to shoot a button traveling in the water? I felt so blessed to have the money to do that, most of the time I don’t have money to do a third take!’

Varda also discussed her next project, and it’s an exciting one. She is teaming up on a film with the French artist JR (pictured at top), who is well-known for his gigantic photographs of people, which he installs in public spaces—on the exterior walls of buildings and on outdoor stairways, for instance. (They are not unlike the murals Varda documented in Los Angeles for her 1981 film Mur murs.) After being invited to JR’s studio, where she came face-to-face with a large photograph of herself that was taken in 1960, Varda knew immediately that she wanted to work with him. This past summer, the pair crowd-sourced funding for a film, now in preproduction, to be shot in Provence.

We also had to share one last thing with you that Varda shared with us. Fashion designer Agnès B. has been commissioning posters from artists for years for a journal she publishes, called Le point d’ironie. For its fifty-seventh issue, Varda designed the cover, using an image of a mailman in Bonnieux, who is featured in Les 3 boutons, beside an enormous photo of him by JR. It’s Varda’s big world—we just dance in it.”

Varda has managed to outlast all of her contemporaries in the world of French cinema since the 1950s, and as far as I’m concerned, is clearly the first and foremost founding member of The Nouvelle Vague, or French New Wave, whose more celebrated members include Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Demy, François Truffaut, Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, and Jacques Rivette. During the heyday of The New Wave, many of Varda’s most beautiful films were shunted to the side, and didn’t really achieve the success they so clearly deserved – but now, through sheer tenacity and longevity, Varda is at last placing herself at the center of the movement she was instrumental in creating.

You can watch Varda’s magical film right now on Vimeo – click here, on the image above.

Truffaut and Godard in Defense of The Cinémathèque Française, 1968

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard speak in defense of the Cinémathèque Française.

This 60 second spot ran in numerous French film theaters during the events of May, 1968, when the future of the Cinémathèque Française under the leadership of Henri Langlois was in jeopardy. French cultural minister André Malraux, at the direction of then-president Charles de Gaulle, tried to fire Langlois, who had founded the Cinémathèque Française, and was a hero to young cinéastes. The reaction was immediate – Truffaut, Godard, and the rest of the French Nouvelle Vague directors simply weren’t going to let this happen.

The protest against Langlois’ attempted dismissal quickly became an international affair, even in the pre-internet era, and filmmakers around the world threatened to pull their films from the Cinémathèque’s collection unless Langlois was reinstated. Eventually, Malraux backed down, and Langlois was restored to his post, though with reduced government funding. This advertisement played a small part in the affair, and it’s refreshing to see two world renowned filmmakers coming to the defense of cinema as an art form.

Here’s a rough translation:

Godard: “In general, films are shown commercially for seven years. After that, they’re shown in art theaters, like this one.”
Truffaut: “If their life can sometimes be extended, it’s thanks to Henri Langlois’ efforts in preserving them at the Cinémathèque Française.”
Godard: “If you’ve chosen to see the film you’re about to see tonight, or if you like to see a film you enjoy several times, you are already a friend of the Cinémathèque.”
Truffaut: “So become a member of the Committee for the Defense of The Cinémathèque Française now.”

This brief film was shot on March 14, 1968; you can see it by clicking here, or on the image above.

The 400 Blows (1959)

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Jean-Pierre Léaud in The 400 Blows

François Truffaut’s first feature is also one of his most personal, and most deeply felt, and agave young Jean-Pierre Léaud his signature role as perpetual adolescent Antoine Doinel. Loosely based on Truffaut’s own troubled childhood, the film now looks like a valentine to a lost era, both in terms of cultural values and social mores.

Antoine’s infractions are minor, but he is punished severely, and in the end of the film, as he escapes from a reform school, Truffaut offers a superb tracking shot, in which Antoine runs and runs, seemingly forever, only to arrive at the edge of the sea, unable to run any further. The film won the Best Director Award at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival; Truffaut promptly turned around and used the money that went with the prize to partially finance Jean Cocteau’s last film, The Testament of Orpheus.

This was only fitting, actually, since Cocteau had masterfully campaigned for the film to win, but as usual, his energy was put behind the right cause — The 400 Blows is one of the best films ever made about the joys and difficulties of childhood, especially a childhood in a broken home.

As Annette Insdorf writes,

“François Truffaut’s first feature, The 400 Blows (Les Quatre cents coups), was more than a semi-autobiographical film; it was also an elaboration of what the French New Wave directors would embrace as the caméra-stylo (camera-as-pen) whose écriture (writing style) could express the filmmaker as personally as a novelist’s pen. It is one of the supreme examples of “cinema in the first person singular.” In telling the story of the young outcast Antoine Doinel, Truffaut was moving both backward and forward in time—recalling his own experience while forging a filmic language that would grow more sophisticated throughout the ‘60s.

The 400 Blows (whose French title comes from the idiom, faire les quatre cents coups—“to raise hell”) is rooted in Truffaut’s childhood. Born in Paris in 1932, he spent his first years with a wet nurse and then his grandmother, as his parents had little to do with him. When his grandmother died, he returned home at the age of eight. An only child whose mother insisted that he make himself silent and invisible, he took refuge in reading and later in the cinema.”

Click here, or on the image above, to see the original trailer from the film.

Les Mistons

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

François Truffaut’s breakthrough short Les Mistons (The Brats, 1957) is an idyllic film of summer, romance, childhood – and tragedy. As I noted in my essay on the film in Senses of Cinema 38, “François Truffaut’s Les Mistons was the director’s first short film of any real consequence. Truffaut had completed one short narrative film before in 16mm, Une Visite (1955), which had the distinction of being shot by Jacques Rivette and edited by Alain Resnais, both then members of the critical circle at Cahiers du Cinéma.

Une Visite was shot very simply in Jacques Doniol-Valcroize’s apartment, and was considered an experiment by all concerned, but all the participants in the project were dissatisfied with the results. Truffaut was subsequently working on the script that would become Les Quatre cents coups (1959), but found financing difficult to come by, and decided to go ahead with Les Mistons instead.”

It was a smart move; this moving, seemingly evanescent short film is one of Truffaut’s most romantic, and most personal works; you can read my essay here.

About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

In The National News

Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at http://news.unl.edu/news-releases/1/ for more details.

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