Tuesday, April 25, 2017

1973 Winner, Day For Night

Day for Night

Director: Francois Truffaut

Distributed by:  Columbia Pictures/Warner Bros.

Released:  May 1973

Country:  France

Twain advised writers to “write what you know,” so it would follow that film directors should make films about what they know, and presumably, film making is what they know best.  Anyway, French director Francois Truffaut apparently thought so.  Day for Night is a fictional chronicling of the making of a movie, mostly focused on the things the director does.  The movie in the movie is called “Meet Pamela” and is directed by a man named Ferrand, played by Truffaut himself, and “Meet Pamela” stars a British actress named Julie Baker, who is played by British actress Jacqueline Bisset.

Truffaut as Ferrand directing Julie Baker, played by Jacqueline Bisset
There have been a lot of movies made about movie making, some good and some not so good.  King Kong (1933), Boogie Nights (1997), and The Artist (2011) all come to mind.  The thing to remember is movies aren’t real.  Well, duh, but people often forget this point. Actors who come off as heroic or likable in all their films may very well be major league jerks in real life.  Voices are dubbed, bodies are doubled, and make-up allows everyone to look more attractive than they really are.  Day for Night seems to peel the veneer away and show what goes on during the making of a film.

The term “day for night” is the light-filtering camera method used whereby a scene is shot in daylight but looks like nighttime on the film.  In another movie about making movies, Be Kind Rewind (2008), the film makers simply use the negative of the videotape to make it look like nighttime (and they also have to work around the fact that Mos Def, who is black, looks like a ghost in negative).  Ferrand’s technique is a bit more sophisticated than that, but the idea is the same. 
Day shot

But “day for night” is just symbolic of the way Ferrand has to fool his audience in a variety of ways, like when in Singin' in the Rain (1952) the director dubs in Debbie Reynolds’ voice to hide the star's squeaky one.  In Day for Night, a popular actress that is a big name is an aging drunk and cannot remember her lines.  The suave ladies’ man who is the romantic lead is gay.  And the film’s star, in the title role of Pamela, has just gotten done with her latest bout of treatment for severe depression.

Day for Night is a collection of an amusing enough set of subplots all going on at the same time but somehow not fully connected, like an episode of “The Love Boat.”  Truffaut as Ferrand is the Captain Stubing here, having to interject himself personally from time to time in order to get his movie-making “family” of actors and crew to do their jobs professionally.

Same shot to look like night
This was a fun movie to watch.  But like “day for night,” Day for Night is a fake, as all movies, narrative or documentary, are fake to some extent.  Truffaut isn’t presenting the audience with an insider’s view of what film making is like; he’s presenting us with what he wants us to see film making is like.  Truffaut’s French New Wave cinema rival and friend Jean-Luc Godard walked out of Day for Night, calling it "a lie."  Apparently, Godard didn’t understand that that is exactly what a film is supposed to be.

The title:  In French it was called, “La Nuit américaine,” the French term for the film technique in the English title, literally, “American night.”  The method was originated in American film, but we couldn’t call it “American night” any more than a Frenchman would order French fries.

It's all a trick
The Culture:  This is about film culture more than French culture, though we are exposed to some very 1970’s ethos, with drugs and free sex and psychoanalysis. 

Agenda danger:  In that movies do not contain full truth, this movie questions the film making process’s truths.  Is film an art form or just entertainment?  Truffaut, I think, would say both, and that’s what this film is about.

Best Picture that year:  The Sting

Rating:  I’ve not seen Truffaut’s more critically acclaimed works like The 400 Blows (1959) or Jules and Jim (1961), which I understand to be greater works of art.  But the entertainment side of film may be the more important one, and this film entertains for sure.  Another movie about film making, Fellini’s (1963’s Best Foreign Film), while more “other-worldly” and “arty” like Fellini films are, I found to be the more real film.

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