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TitleClosely Watched Films: An Introduction to the Art of Narrative Film Technique
PublisherUniversity of California Press
ISBN 139780520238626
CategoryArts - Film
Author
LanguageEnglish
File Size6.4 MB
Total Pages299
Document Text Contents
Page 2

CLOSELY WATCHED FILMS

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Page 149

this scene exemplifies another feature of New Wave cinema, the appear-
ance of tributes or homages to the cinema of the past which played such
a large part in inspiring the New Wave theorists to become directors. In
this instance, Truffaut’s study of the children echoes a scene in the pio-
neering Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera
(1928), in which the camera dwells with the same kind of fascination on
the uninhibited expressive faces of children watching a magic show.

SEQUENCE ANALYSIS: BAZIN’S INFLUENCE ON TRUFFAUT

Since many of the New Wave directors (Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Roh-
mer, and Rivette) wrote for Cahiers du Cinéma, a journal founded and
edited by André Bazin, the style of their films was influenced by Bazin’s
realist aesthetic, though each of the above-mentioned directors adapted
the style in distinctly individual ways. Two sequences from near the end
of The 400 Blows demonstrate Truffaut’s adaptation of Bazin’s realist
aesthetic for his own artistic ends. The first is a forty-five-second-long
take near the end of The 400 Blows depicting the scene in which An-
toine escapes from the soccer game, and the second is the even longer
take that follows, which lasts seventy-five seconds as Antoine makes his
run for the sea.

In the first shot, Antoine is playing soccer with the other inmates of
the center for delinquent boys. When a ball goes out of bounds, the cam-
era follows Antoine who, after rushing to retrieve it and tossing it back
into the game, suddenly goes out of bounds himself. The camera pans
with him as he runs toward frame left and slips through a hole at the
bottom of a wire fence. At this point the camera swish pans14 right, tak-
ing us back to the playing field, revealing that a guard has seen Antoine’s
escape. The camera follows the guard as he too slips through the hole in
the fence in pursuit of Antoine. At this point the camera swish pans again,
this time to the left, until it captures the image of Antoine in extreme
long shot running along the edge of a pond. The guard then enters the
frame from the bottom corner of frame right and begins running after
Antoine, rapidly gaining ground.

In a classically edited film, the action of this shot would be broken
down into a number of shots and there would be cross-cuts between shots
of the escaping Antoine and the pursuing guard. Truffaut, by shooting
the action in one long take, precisely defines the exact spatial relation
between Antoine and the guard, and thus makes the action more com-
pelling. Because in this shot the temporal and spatial dimensions of the

130 AUTEUR THEORY AND THE FRENCH NEW WAVE

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Page 150

action remain intact, we realize that the guard has seen Antoine’s escape
as it was happening and that he pursues the runaway without missing a
beat. By preserving the actual spatial relationship between pursuer and
pursued, we receive a heightened awareness of Antoine’s danger of be-
ing captured.

The seventy-five-second tracking shot in which we focus on Antoine
as he runs through the country landscape toward the sea also demon-
strates Bazin’s idea that some actions need to be represented in real time
in order to be dramatically effective. Because we are permitted to see an
unedited shot of Antoine running for a relatively long time without show-
ing the least indication of fatigue, we are better able to experience along
with him the pure adrenaline-fueled exhilaration of his bid for freedom.

THE FAMOUS FREEZE-FRAME

Antoine’s exuberant run from the repressive reformatory to the bound-
less realm of the sea culminates in the famous freeze-frame and zoom
shot which bring the film (and Antoine’s hope of escape) to an abrupt
halt. This film-ending technique, which subsequently became something
of a cinematic cliché, came as a shock to audiences in 1959 and main-
tains its power to unsettle audiences. The use of the freeze-frame and
zoom shot here epitomizes another aspect of New Wave style that dis-
tinguishes it from classical cinema. In films made in the classical Holly-
wood style, filmmakers conceal the traces of the cinematic apparatus so
as not to interfere with the spectator’s immersion in the fiction. Here,
the sudden freezing of the frame foregrounds the film medium, remind-
ing us that films are made up of segments of still frames which present
an illusion of animated life only when projected at 24 frames per sec-
ond. Truffaut, it seems, was willing to take the risk of exposing the artifice
of his medium because by doing so he was able to take the medium to
new expressive heights. Just as Eisenstein’s animated stone lion violated
realism to achieve a poetic effect in the Odessa Steps sequence, the freeze-
frame at the end of The 400 Blows abandons Bazinian realism to func-
tion as a powerful metaphor for Antoine’s final and definitive entrap-
ment in a system from which there is no escape. Even the word of the
title (fin) functions not just as a word but as an image. Superimposed
over Antoine’s frozen face the letters F-I-N resemble the bars that ob-
scured our view of him in the prison scenes, signaling not just that the
film has ended but that Antoine’s hopes for escape and freedom are
finished too. (See figure 38.)

FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT’S THE 400 BLOWS 131

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A Trip to the Moon, 243n5
Truffaut, François, 120–22, 124–34;

biographical sketch of, 125–27;
“A Certain Tendency of the French
Cinema,” 122; friendship with
André Bazin, 126–27; Hitchcock,
135; “Les politiques des auteurs,”
121

Truffaut, Roland, 125
Turturro, John, 200
Twentieth Century, 72

Umberto D, 99, 103

Vadim, Roger, 124
Van Zandt, Philip, 82
Vertov, Dziga, 130, 227
Virgin Spring, 12
Visconti, Luchino, 100
von Sternberg, Joseph, 257n7
von Trotta, Margarethe, 216
voyeurism, 16

Walthal, Henry B., 8
The War of the Worlds, 79
Warm, Hermann, 39
Warrick, Ruth, 96
Weine, Robert, 38
Welles, Orson, 78–98, 122, 135; Hearst’s

vendetta against, 80; Mercury Theater,
78; RKO contract, 78; The War of the
Worlds, 79

Wells, H. G., 79
Wenders, Wim, 216
When Night Is Falling, 256n1
The White Room, 256n1
Wilder, Gene, 176–77
Wilson, Woodrow, 17
Wollen, Peter, 72
Wood, Robin, 135
The Wrong Man, 140, 252n6
Wyler, William, 176

Zavattini, Caesare, 119
Zelig, 178, 183

INDEX 279

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Text: 10/13 Sabon
Display: Akzidenz

Compositor: Integrated Composition Systems
Printer and binder: Thomson-Shore, Inc.

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