Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Day For Night

Truffaut's foray into the cinephilic self-reflexivity of making a movie about making a movie was in 1973 already a path well worn by Godard and sadly doesn't fare too well against a film like Contempt. This film lacks the verve and originality of his earlier films like 400 Blows and Shoot The Piano Player. The parallel that Truffaut draws between a film crew working together while a symphony plays in the non-diegetic soundtrack seems cheap and clichéd, especially considering what we know he is capable of from his past films. It isn't much of a stretch to have himself playing the director of the fictional Je Vous Présente Pamela. While I can appreciate the whole idea of blurring the lines between documentary and reality, the goings on behind the scenes of a film isn't the most exciting fodder for filmmaking without a compelling story to go with it. Having worked on a few sets over the years, I can honestly say it is one of the most boring jobs I have ever had, and I've even worked some pretty dull jobs like the toll booth of a parking structure for a few months. It is in an interminably boring process to set up lights and the camera and block the actors and hear the same lines spoken over and over again until the director decides he has the shot he needs, then tear it all down and set it back up from a different angle and repeat the same process. Most of the time is spent standing around smoking between the shots, talking about movies (in my experience at least). The problem with Day For Night is that the behind the scenes narrative is about as dull as the movie-making process, and is presented in a rather straight ahead manner with none of the deviations from the norm that characterized the work of the new wave directors. As I said earlier, Godard's Contempt was an excellent film about moviemaking, partly because it had a great story to go with it. Werner Herzog, member of the New German Cinema group who were highly influenced by the French new wave, made a film called Fitzcarraldo that was a metaphor for the film making process, but disguised in a story about obsession and colonialism, among other themes. It's also made more entertaining by having a raving lunatic as the star. The documentary American Movie is about the movie making process and is hilarious and infinitely more entertaining than Day For Night, and a "true" story to boot. Truffaut tries to inject some humor into the proceedings by portraying the leading lady as a drunkard on the edge of a breakdown who mistakenly opens the wrong door and ruins the end of the scene, but after seeing it about 5 times in a row it just made me cringe instead of laugh. Jean-Pierre Léaud's character seems to be what would've happened had the Cahiers du Cinéma bunch turned into actors instead of directors. He is essentially the embodiment of every cinephile/fanboy's (what's the difference when you really get down to it?) dream to act in films. In a bizarre twist on the tendencies of the cinephile to watch the same film over and over again and recite the lines their favorite characters are speaking, he sits in the screening room watching the dailies and mouths the words he sees himself speaking on screen. Then after working on a film set all day, he still wants to go out and see a movie. And like most fanboys he develops a crush on the leading lady, played by Jacqueline Bisset, but again unlike all the other fanboys he actually gets to sleep with her.

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