My Gleanings

Monday, August 11, 2008

Truffaut's first beef

François Truffaut review of the film Sudden Fear in the March 1953 issue of Cahiers du Cinema marked his first appearance in that revue. For the June 1953 of Cahiers, Truffaut wrote a short piece on errors in books dealing with film. Specifically, he dealt with an error in Jean Queval's monograph Marcel Carné. The quarrel that Truffaut proceeded to become embroiled in with Quéval would be the first brouhaha of his career as a critic. It is interesting that in his original piece Truffaut never names Quéval as the culprit. Also, much as A Certain Tendency would use an idea of Andre Bazin's as its springboard ("After Robert Bresson, Aurenche and Bost are the Viollet-le-Duc of French cinema."), here Truffaut also uses a Bazin quote ("Do we need to burn books on film?") as a springboard. The difference being that in this case, Bazin was writing under the pseudonym, Florent Kirsch.
The following is Truffaut's short piece and Quéval's letter to Cahiers along with Truffaut's answer to that letter.

Truffaut's short piece which was printed in Books on Cinema in June 1953 issue of Cahiers du Cinema (page 61, my translation)

The complaints are daily, concerning the difficulty of making good use of books specializing in cinema.
Rarely is the question addressed from the point of view -- essential it seems to me -- of the value of these works and of their critical or historical authority.
I open a book dedicated to Marcel Carné. I note that the author has been guided alone by the consideration of undermining the prestige of this director; now, as it happens, I bought this book to move forward in the knowledge of a filmmaker I admire. Let's admit that the intent of this book was to make me become aware of the immoderacy of my admiration for Marcel Carné. But, why is it written in this same book, "The negative of Nogent, Eldorado of dimanche has burned and there no longer exist any copies of this film." It happens that I frequent the Cinémathéque française and that every year, I see Nogent, Eldorado of dimanche there.(1) How then, if I thinking also of a rather thick and quite recent book where I read, "After Faust, Murnau filmed Tartuffe". Although Faust is from 1925 and Tartuffe from 1925, how not to respond in the affirmative to the question raised in the past by Florent Kirsch, "Do we need to burn books on film?"

(1) A copy of Nogent, Eldorado of dimanche is the property of the Club des Cinéastes Amateurs. Meanwhile, this film has been shown many times at the Ciné-Club du Quartier Latin, at Cinéum and at the Cinémathéque. It is true that the critics rarely attend these places.

Quéval's letter (Cahiers du Cinema, August September 1953, page 64 my translation)

Dear Bazin, Dear Doniol
François Truffaut takes issue with a lot of people in your latest issue with the friendly arrogance of callow youth. My advice for him is a peaceful holiday in the fresh country air. But I am responding to him only in order that a fiction will be not become accredited. A great man, in my stead, will be the victim of a venomous iconoclast.
1) It is naive to think that I would dedicate a book to an important director so as to depreciate him. In reality, my first move was to request several interviews with him. It was not I who took to initiative to discontinue them. What followed from this rupture, others, in my position, would have made public, as a matter of self-defense. I have done nothing like this because I did not wish that the failings of the man tarnish the just and high repute of the artist. But, when François Truffaut attributes me with the intention of doing harm, the roles become reversed. 50 articles bear witness that, to the contrary, I endeavor to be unbiased, without letting myself win the wager through bad temper. Later on, a few months ago, Marcel Carné announced his intention to withdraw from film. I was, at that time, the only one in the press, make no mistake about it, to beg him not to do it.
2) François Truffaut bestows on himself an award for diligence in cinema. I will concede it to him. As for me, I generally believe what I am told. I was told, "There are no existing copies of Nogent, Eldorado du dimanche and the negative has been destroyed". I wrote, "There are no existing copies of Nogent, Eldorado du dimanche and the negative has been destroyed". My source was Marcel Carné.
Yours, Jean Quéval

Truffaut's reply (Cahiers du Cinema, August September 1953, page 64 my translation)

Dear Bazin, Dear Doniol
Jean Quéval, Normand critic, bestows on himself a prize for being unbiased which I would never dream of contesting, but, instead, it is true of criticizing him for. In the accusation which I leveled -- with coarseness of "callow youth" -- the notion that it is useless to write a book about a director -- and without doubt, more in general, one about an auteur --whom one does not admire enough to be deliberately biased. That Marcel Carné does not know that copies of Nogent, Eldorado du dimanche are extant is of scarce importance, his metier not being to view his films for those who have to explain them to others. Still historians know criticism of witnesses distinguishes the intrinsic from the extrinsic. I will hold though that the error would be, in itself, of little importance had Jean Quéval avoided it by looking to find the first film of his auteur. It is true that having seen (I think) Le Jour se lève did not prevent him from having Jules Berry go out into the street to die (page 39). The fault is harmless, but one like that of a lover so "unbiased" as to brag about his mistress's beauty spot while being mistaken on her breasts.
Must I add that if Jean Quéval has been the only one in the press a few weeks before the filming of Thérèse Raquin began to beg Marcel Carné not to abandon film, maybe, proves, above all, in the end, that he is also the only one to believe what they tell him?
Yours, François Truffaut

Labels: , ,