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PostPosted: Mon Apr 21, 2008 3:36 pm 

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François Truffaut is often quoted for the some of the harsher statements he made about the state of French cinema in the mid to late 1950s. I have often wondered what actually was the reaction of Truffaut and other French critics both at Cahiers and in the larger Paris press corps to English films.

Cahiers du Cinema through two of its monthly features makes it somewhat easy to begin a study of this question. First, Cahiers would publish at the back of the magazine the "Films released in Paris" feature which listed the 25 to 40 films which had been released in Paris in the previous month broken down by country.

Second, Cahiers would publish almost every month the "conseil des dix" (council of ten) where French critics both from Cahiers and critics - such as Jean de Baroncelli (Le Monde), Claude Mauriac (Figaro littéraire ), Georges Sadoul (Les Lettres francaises), Michel Aubriant (Paris-Presse) and even Robert Benayoun (Positif) as well as some figures from the French film world would rate about 15 to 25 of these films.

I have made a study of how the "conseil des dix" treated English films n this period and published it in a five part series in my blog.

Should anyone be interested, this series starts with this post.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 21, 2008 4:03 pm 
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I love your blog, it's like the only film blog I religiously read.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 07, 2014 6:08 pm 
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The Truffaut coments cited in this linked note sure make his sound like a major douche:
Quote:
“the pseudo-poetic career of Joris Ivens, sponger off of festivals, who ambles around from progressive palace to progressive palace, filming water puddles with municipal funds and much aestheticism. Next, upon these decorative images—thus rightwing images—his pal also devoted to the genre, Chris Marker, will try to veneer on it a leftwing commentary.”


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 Post subject: Re: Icarus Films
PostPosted: Fri Mar 07, 2014 6:13 pm 
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Was there any doubt?


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 Post subject: Re: Icarus Films
PostPosted: Sun Mar 09, 2014 1:19 pm 
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Same guy who said of Pather Panchali, "I don't want to see a movie of peasants eating with their hands."


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 Post subject: Re: Icarus Films
PostPosted: Sun Mar 09, 2014 2:43 pm 
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That seems likely to be a false rumor that spread along with some others about Truffaut's response to Pather Panchali, for example that he walked out of the theatre saying, "Pad, pad, pad through the paddy fields," [???] which Truffaut denied.


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 Post subject: Re: Icarus Films
PostPosted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 12:36 pm 
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Gregory wrote:
That seems likely to be a false rumor that spread along with some others about Truffaut's response to Pather Panchali, for example that he walked out of the theatre saying, "Pad, pad, pad through the paddy fields," [???] which Truffaut denied.

Truffaut denied the "paddy fields" remark -- or he denied both?


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 Post subject: Re: Icarus Films
PostPosted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 12:55 pm 
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It's true that I've heard different versions of the Pather Panchali comment. Perhaps it's apocryphal. But if so I wonder where the rumor started and why?


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 Post subject: Re: Icarus Films
PostPosted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 1:14 pm 
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Michael Kerpan wrote:
Gregory wrote:
That seems likely to be a false rumor that spread along with some others about Truffaut's response to Pather Panchali, for example that he walked out of the theatre saying, "Pad, pad, pad through the paddy fields," [???] which Truffaut denied.

Truffaut denied the "paddy fields" remark -- or he denied both?
I read about the "paddy fields" comment and that he'd denied it in a book on Ray, but I've never seen the "peasants eating with their hands" thing mentioned in any books so I don't know if Truffaut was ever aware of it. Another account I've read was that he walked out saying the film was "insipid and Europeanized" so it seems like there's a definite rumor/gossip phenomenon with this.
I wonder what his real thoughts on the film were, if he ever watched it in its entirety. It seems strange that he wouldn't like Pather Panchali but would praise Rossellini's very problematic India film as highly as he did.


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 Post subject: Re: Icarus Films
PostPosted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 1:20 pm 
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Part of Truffaut's problem as a critic, to me, is that he's so highly auteurist that if he decides to like someone's films he'll like it unless there's a major change up like the history films (and even then...) and if he decides to dislike that negativity will pervade everything beyond reason. He seems to have a very black and white view of art.


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 Post subject: Re: Francois Truffaut
PostPosted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 4:26 pm 
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There are definitely exceptions, but I can see what you mean. In the Truffaut-Hitchcock book, he seemed to be able to find good things to say about even the most minor Hitchcock films, though that struck me as generous and engaging, not sycophantic. In a review in The Films in My Life, he called To Catch a Thief "minor" and "one of the most cynical films Hitchcock has ever made" but still praised it. He also, like others at Cahiers, spoke of Renoir as being "infallible." I love Renoir's work too, but he worked in a medium in which things don't always work out. I like the enthusiasm in Truffaut's writing, but he went too far sometimes.


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 Post subject: Re: Icarus Films
PostPosted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 6:10 pm 
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knives wrote:
Part of Truffaut's problem as a critic, to me, is that he's so highly auteurist that if he decides to like someone's films he'll like it unless there's a major change up like the history films (and even then...) and if he decides to dislike that negativity will pervade everything beyond reason. He seems to have a very black and white view of art.

This is the main reason why I find him to be an absolutely terrible critic. I think he even wrote something to the effect of "the worst Nicholas Ray film is better than the best film by x (John Huston? Some designated 'non-auteur' anyway)" - which is the reductio ad absurdum of mindless auteurism. That's not criticism, that's fanboy brand loyalty.


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 Post subject: Re: Francois Truffaut
PostPosted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 6:18 pm 
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It's the film criticism equivalent of people now who only buy movies that come in slipcovers.


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 Post subject: Re: Francois Truffaut
PostPosted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 6:23 pm 
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The worst film released as a steelbook is better than the best film in a digipack.


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 Post subject: Re: Icarus Films
PostPosted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 6:28 pm 
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zedz wrote:
I think he even wrote something to the effect of "the worst Nicholas Ray film is better than the best film by x (John Huston? Some designated 'non-auteur' anyway)" - which is the reductio ad absurdum of mindless auteurism. That's not criticism, that's fanboy brand loyalty.
Not better necessarily but more interesting for Truffaut as an auteurist critic. The quote, according to The Films in My Life was "The worst Hawks film is more interesting than Huston's best." For the record. I don't agree, and I don't think some of the worst films credited to Hawks show much of his imprint as a filmmaker (and even if they did, would they still be very interesting? "Interesting" only in the way that bad films are?).


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 Post subject: Re: Francois Truffaut
PostPosted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 7:53 pm 
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Gregory wrote:
Not better necessarily but more interesting for Truffaut as an auteurist critic. The quote, according to The Films in My Life was "The worst Hawks film is more interesting than Huston's best." For the record. I don't agree, and I don't think some of the worst Hawks films show much of his imprint as a filmmaker (and even if they did, would they still be very interesting? "Interesting" only in the way that bad films are?).

Of course, he also wrote,
Quote:
I am in favor of judging, when it is necessary to judge, not the films, but the directors. I will never like a film by Delannoy; I will always like a film by Renoir.

By the way, is this going to be a triennial March tradition here?


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 Post subject: Re: Francois Truffaut
PostPosted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 9:29 pm 
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Kirkinson wrote:
By the way, is this going to be a triennial March tradition here?

Maybe I'll remember the actual directors involved in the asinine comparison come 2017!


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 Post subject: Re: Francois Truffaut
PostPosted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 10:35 pm 
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Kirkinson wrote:
Of course, he also wrote,
Quote:
I am in favor of judging, when it is necessary to judge, not the films, but the directors. I will never like a film by Delannoy; I will always like a film by Renoir.
Okay, I hadn't read that. There's no defending that. To actually believe that is really some closed-minded, lazy film criticism, which would preemptively say that films are good or bad that haven't even been made yet. But though it reveals a bad bias, it doesn't seem to completely match the Truffaut I know from The Films in My Life, writings which probably apply that premise in a more complex way than stating it as an aphorism could capture. He doesn't solely credit directors for their films but also considers the strengths of screenplays, etc. And he wrote with enthusiasm about works of a number of filmmakers who were not really auteurs, and though it seems he thought of Tati as a great auteur, he was quite harsh on Mon Oncle.


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 Post subject: Re: Francois Truffaut
PostPosted: Tue Mar 11, 2014 8:14 pm 

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Quote:
The Truffaut coments cited in this linked note http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc53.2011/WaughVietnam/notes.html#1n sure make his sound like a major douche:
Quote:
“the pseudo-poetic career of Joris Ivens, sponger off of festivals, who ambles around from progressive palace to progressive palace, filming water puddles with municipal funds and much aestheticism. Next, upon these decorative images—thus rightwing images—his pal also devoted to the genre, Chris Marker, will try to veneer on it a leftwing commentary.”

Introducing that quote the author wrote:
Quote:
Truffaut’s response to Loin du Vietnam in Cahiers du cinéma (1967) was an ad hominem attack on Ivens who seemed to represent for him the vile combination of cinéma du papa and the Parti communiste, an attack which also baited Marker in the process:

What was actually said in an interview in the February 1967 issue of Cahiers du Cinema
Quote:
Rubric “Responsibility of the Auteur”

Cahiers: What do you think of the commercial fortunes of New Wave films?
Truffaut: There, things have been the most difficult because distribution is the hardest to modify. All the same, I believe that the Art House Cinemas are a little too lacking in their programming: the films exist, it is only to screen them, from “Adieu Philippine” to “La Cage de verre” and passing by “Le Signe du lion”, “L’Enclos”, “Le Coup de grâce”, “Le joli mai”, “La Longue marche”, “Muriel”, “Lola”, “Les Carabiniers”, the list is long...

For his part, the metteur-en-scene can no longer withdraw from the problems of production, he can not show himself to be unconcerned, or then he will be unconcerned and unemployed. Godard sets an example of someone who wants to work and who works unceasingly with difficult subjects, but he knows faultlessly how to keep things in proportion: he knows that up to 60 million francs he will not lose money for anyone. Claude Lelouch is like that, as also, is Claude Berri. If one does have a logical frame of mind, oh well, it becomes difficult to work.

Frankly, I feel that practical considerations do not lessen an artist and this seems to me sounder than to have, for example, the pseudo-poetic career of a Joris Ivens, becoming a leech at festivals, roaming from one progressive Palace to another progressive Palace while filming puddles with money from municipalities and with a lot of estheticism. Later, a committed friend of the genre Chris Marker will attempt to tack onto these decorative - and therefor right-wing - images, a left-wing commentary, while linking together shots which do not match even as the old poet sets off for places unknown in search of new subsidization. I am letting Ivens have it because he squandered all the profits of the young producer of René Allio’s “La vielle dame indigne” with a middle length film on the Wind (!) (40 minutes for 50 million francs) which will never be released.

Let's take care of one small point. The jumpcut author claims this is Truffaut's reaction to Loin du Vietnam. The problem: This interview was published in February 1967. It was probably conducted in January 1967, if not earlier. Ivens did not go to North Vietnam until February 1967, the film was not shown in France until October 1967.

The author claims that the attack on Ivens was ad hominem Truffaut makes plain why he is "letting Ivens have it". Ivens stiffed a producer (Claude Nedjar).

But the real disgrace of the jumpcut author is when he says, "an attack which also baited Marker in the process:" Truffaut and Marker had a long and close relationship going back to the 1940s. The notion of Truffaut baiting Marker is totally ridiculous. And to do this he misquotes Truffaut egregiously. He quotes Truffaut,

"Next, upon these decorative images—thus rightwing images—his pal also devoted to the genre, Chris Marker, will try to veneer on it a leftwing commentary."

He puts a period after the word "commentary", he doesn't put three periods to alert his reader that there is more said.

The whole sentence as I have translated it is:
"Later, a committed friend of the genre Chris Marker will attempt to tack onto these decorative - and therefor right-wing - images, a left-wing commentary, while linking together shots which do not match even as the old poet sets off for places unknown in search of new subsidization."

It's plain that Truffaut is commiserating with Marker who apparently on the film "Valparaiso" was left to make sense out of Ivens' hash.

Three years before when the French government was on the verge of censoring "Le joli mai". Truffaut wrote a letter to Alan Peyrefitte on Marker's behalf. In it, he said,

"With a degree of personal sympathy which find profoundly touching , our friend Chris Marker has allowed dozens of alienated, bewildered, anxious, impassioned and sometimes baffled men and women to speak their minds.
But we believe in a cinema of personal expression. And Chris Marker is, in our opinion, one of its most brilliant exponents."

pages 211-212 Correspondence 1945-1984 / François Truffaut ; edited by Gilles Jacob and Claude de Givray ; translated by Gilbert Adair ; foreword by Jean-Luc Godard. New York : Noonday Press, 1990


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 Post subject: Re: Francois Truffaut
PostPosted: Tue Mar 11, 2014 9:11 pm 
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I'd like to know how decorative images are the equivalent of right-wing images.


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 Post subject: Re: Francois Truffaut
PostPosted: Wed Mar 12, 2014 3:09 pm 
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jdcopp --

Thanks for the fuller context -- but pardon my feeling that this really does not make Truffaut sound significantly less dick-ish.


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 Post subject: Re: Francois Truffaut
PostPosted: Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:04 pm 
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Mr Sausage wrote:
I'd like to know how decorative images are the equivalent of right-wing images.

It is, of course, subjective, but there are two main arguments that can be made:

i) That the right often tries to de-politicise images, stripping them of their assumed political meaning and presenting things as benign. A good example could be Hollywood. The images are not necessarily 'inherently' right wing, but by denying their political import and making them 'decorative' in a broad sense, those on the right seek to hide the implicit political side to the image.

ii) Some writers, including Nina Cornyetz in her excellent book Polygraphic Desire - The Ethics of Aesthetics in Japanese Film and Literature and others argue that Fascism, or at least fascist, or right-leaning artists employ decorative images as way of espousing the view that true beauty is an essentialised idea that signifies the pure aesthetics of fascism and it's devotion to pure essentialised beauty.

Sorry, I probably haven't explained that very well, but her book, or some others, will put it much better, but I hope that at least partially answers your question.

RE: this thread more generally. I've always found it strange how Truffaut spent so long criticising 'traditional' filmmaking and then spent most of his career making relatively traditional films.


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 Post subject: Re: Francois Truffaut
PostPosted: Mon Mar 17, 2014 7:14 pm 
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No, you've explained it fine. It just doesn't make Truffaut's claim any less unconvincing. Truffaut makes a logical equivalence between decorative images and right wing images ("decorative images--thus rightwing images"), but even you seem uncomfortable with the equivalence and say, reasonably, that "The images are not necessarily 'inherently' right wing." Indeed. The easy way to confound your first argument is to ask if decorative (ornamental, baroque images I take it) cannot be used by the left to accomplish all the same things. And, as a corollary, if no one with left-wing politics has used decorative images for those ends. It is very unlikely that the answer to either of those is 'yes.'

There is a further argument over whether decorative images are uniquely depoliticizing or distractors from certain types of significance. But that argument is equally untrue and reflects a number modern assumptions and biases. Realism in, oh, let's say painting, was motivated by certain strong ideological positions that its style tried to present as simply inherent to the natural order rather than a framework of ideas used to interpret the world. Avoiding decorative images just as easily makes highly politicized images seem natural and inherent, things to be accepted by the senses rather than interrogated by the intellect, and therefore not really politicized at all. At least with decorative images you're made immediately aware that things are being constructed, that artifice is involved.

As for ii), I'm sure that's true, but it cannot prove Truffaut's equivalence since it doesn't disprove the opposite. And unless you disprove the opposite, all you've got is confirmation bias.

So while, say, Japanese writers used decorative images to essentialize some kind of pure form that they associated with fascism (I assume the authors of that book have Mishima in mind), left-wing British writers of the Romantic period, eg. revolutionaries like Shelley and Byron, used highly decorative imagery to oppose tyranny and promote intellectual, moral, and imaginative freedom.

Truffaut's comment reveals him to be something I don't like: a dogmatist. There is only one right politics, and therefore good movies--hell, good images!--can only be the ones that use those politics. That's a position as uninteresting as it is pernicious.


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 Post subject: Re: Francois Truffaut
PostPosted: Mon Mar 17, 2014 11:12 pm 
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And not even a fulfilling dogmatist as ex-cowboy rightly points out that Truffaut's own rallying almost never made its way into his films.


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 Post subject: Re: Francois Truffaut
PostPosted: Fri Mar 21, 2014 11:50 am 
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Mr. Sausage - RE: i) I'm not saying I agree with this agument, I merely put it forward as an example of what some may argue, I completely agree with you, that this argument could apply as much to left wing filmmakers as right wing ones, I was, I suppose, being devil's advocate to some degree.

Regarding decorative images as de-politicising, again, I completely agree with you. This could be levelled at the cinema of any political system, in that political images become the status quo, disguising the political motives in the use of particualr imagery. I for one, do not believe there is such thing as de-politicised or a-political cinema. Decorative images are only really depoliticsing if the viewer believes them to be (either 'inherently' or as a result of being swayed by the artist) and this reveals more about the viewer themselves that it does necessarily about the images per se.

In response to ii), yes, I accept that this was, in hindsight, a more culturally specific example than I had first intended. The argument relating to decorative images, in fact mainly relates to the writing of Kawabata Yasunari and in particular his novel Snow Country. It is also used to examine the sexual politics of Shinoda's Double Suicide. Mishima is discussed at great length more in relation to the ways in which his homosexuality was used politically in his writing and public persona.

Also, it's interesting how Truffaut seemed contemptuous of right wing images when he himself worte for the more right of the two major French film publications and was considered by some to have some right-wing allegiance; Louis Malle apparently included the short scene with the OAS members in Le Feu Follet as an attack on the Cahier critics.

knives - It's always struck me as odd how little this is highlighted in writing on Truffaut. His vitriol and passion seem to almost evaporate when he gets behind the camera. That's not to say he didn't make some good films, there are some I enjoy, but I can't help feeling some of the energy of his criticism could've been directed into making his films a but more energetic and cynical.


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