April Highlights on TCM
DAY FOR NIGHT (April 2, 4am)--It's difficult to make a good movie about moviemaking. Not that there haven't been good ones--The Bad and the Beautiful, Two Weeks in Another Town, Contempt, Singin' in the Rain and 8 1/2 come immediately to mind--but those movies don't get very far into the actual work of movie making itself. The one film that does is François Truffaut's Day for Night (the title is named after the old process of creating the effect of night by filming during the day and either underexposing or shooting with a red filter), known in French as La nuit amèricaine. Just before Truffaut died in 1984 at the age of 52, he gave a radio interview in which he compared the act of making a movie to a fugue state. He was right. At a certain point, the machine starts humming, the wheels are in motion and there's no stopping. Everyone--the actors, the script supervisor, the grip, the extras--works in a kind of collective single-mindedness around the enterprise of getting the film made, and the director is at the center of it; thinking, re-thinking, responding to everything that comes up and answering questions from morning to night. That's what Truffaut captured in this picture, about the making of a romantic melodrama called Meet Pamela. Truffaut himself, who was a remarkable actor, plays the director, and I find it interesting that his character is supposed to be deaf: he exists in his own private universe around which the movie hums (at night he dreams of himself as a boy taking stills from Citizen Kane down from a board behind the locked gate of a movie theatre). There is a star of Meet Pamela (Jacqueline Bisset), but there really is no star of Day for Night: everyone from the script girl (Nathalie Baye) to the male star (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is equally important. The "fugue state" that Truffaut described is really alive in this picture: everyone is falling furiously in and out of love, stray objects from the local hotel are "appropriated" as props, slabs of industrially packaged butter are kneaded into a ball that resembles country butter to satisfy the whim of the star. In one of the best scenes, a fragile, aging, alcoholic actress (Valentina Cortese) flubs an endless series of takes of a very simple scene before the director has something workable. Really, there's no other movie quite like it.
by Martin Scorsese