Wednesday, August 06, 2008

If you like François Truffaut

If you speak French (or want some serious practice) and like François Truffaut, French public radio has just completed a weeklong tribute to the director that adds up to a whopping 16 hours of programming. And for a while at least, you can listen to it all spread out on several podcasts. Just go to the France Culture site and scroll down to F to download the shows to iTunes. "Archives" consists of Truffaut himself talking about his work; "Documentaire" has a documentary approach with film excerpts, archival audio clips of people talking about Truffaut, etc.; "Débat" is made up of roundtables with some of the director's collaborators and film scholars discussing his career.

I've only listened to about four hours so far and I'm completely addicted, especially since the series is about a lot more than just one director—it covers the birth of both modern cinephilia and film criticism, French cinema in the postwar years, the relationship between French and American cinemas, etc.

A memorable moment among many, many others. On April 29, 1974, the Film Society of Lincoln Center is presenting a tribute to Hitchcock at Avery Fisher Hall; Ingrid Bergman introduces Truffaut, who delivers a short speech in his strongly accented English, familiar to viewers of Close Encounters of the Third Kind:

"Bonsoir mesdames et messieurs. I beg your pardon in advance because my English is terrible. You just saw the dubbing version—the dubbed version, not the French version. In America, you call this man 'Hitch'; In France, we call him 'Monsieur Hitchcock.' [audience laughs] You respect him because he shoots scenes of love as if they were scenes of murder; we respect him because he shoots scenes of murder like scenes of love [laughter, applause]. Anyway, it is the same man we are talking about, the same man and the same artist. When I began to direct films, I thought Monsieur Hitchcock was fantastique, maybe because he weighed more than 200 pounds. Therefore I tried to eat more and more. I gained 20 pounds but it obviously didn't work. I knew I had to find another way to understand the proportions of his genius. So I asked Monsieur Hitchcock to give me an interview of 50 hours and to reveal all his secrets. The result was a book. Actually it was like a cookbook, full of recipes for making films. But the great secret of Monsieur Hitchcock is a secret of cinema itself. People used to say, 'A film is good when it gives fear or pleasure to the audience watching it.' But I don't believe that. A film is really good when you can read between the images the director's fears when he made this film, or his pleasure making this film [chuckles]. I see it must be pleasure that Monsieur Hitchcock felt when he put his camera on the summit of Mount Rushmore."

The doc podcasts conclude with excerpts from Truffaut's aforementioned interviews with Hitchcock, which were recorded and saved. There was simultaneous translation by Helen Scott since Truffaut's English wasn't good and Hitchcock didn't speak French, so it's very easy to follow. And if you want to focus exclusively on the Truffaut/Hitchcock tapes, the blog If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger… has posted huge chunks of them. Craziness!

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