For me, the most valuable single piece of film criticism by François Truffaut — the one that has taught me the most — is a fairly early one, “Un Trousseau de fausses clés,” about Alfred Hitchcock, that appeared in Cahiers du Cinéma no. 39, octobre 1954. I first encountered this article in an English translation (”Skeleton Keys”) that appeared in Film Culture (Spring 1964), then in Cahiers du Cinéma in English No. 2, 1966. I find it far more ingenious as well as useful as criticism than Truffaut’s over- fetishized “Une Certaine Tendance of Cinema Française,” and the part I remember best (I don’t have a copy handy, but trust my memory on this) is a detailed analysis of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt in terms of “rhyming” shots and scenes, such as the two reproduced above. Many of these visual/ thematic rhymes involve the film’s two Charlies, a serial murderer of women (Joseph Cotten) and his young and beloved niece (Teresa Wright).
This is an essay that clearly helped to spawn Godard’s own best (and most detailed) work of film criticism — “Le cinéma et son double,” about Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man – as well as the structure of doubling shots and scenes in Rivette’s Céline et Julie vont en bateau. Yet to the best of my knowledge, it hasn’t been included in any of the Truffaut collections published in either French or English, and for some time now, I’ve been trying to figure out why this woeful exclusion happened. I think I’ve finally come up with a plausible explanation.
As I recall, another part of Truffaut’s article addresses discrepancies between what Hitchcock told Bazin and what he told Truffaut and Chabrol, which leads Truffaut to conclude that Hitchcock was a liar. I strongly suspect that it was this statement that dissuaded Truffaut from reprinting the piece. I’m not even sure whether Hitchcock would have cared so much about Truffaut calling him a liar, but clearly Truffaut cared about the possibility of Hitchcock caring. So he effectively suppressed, or at least marginalized. his own best piece of film criticism. [9/30/10]
Having deliberately gone cold turkey with television since I shifted operations to Richmond, Virginia almost six weeks ago, I find it a strange experience to watch Erik Gandini’s 2009 documentary Videocracy on a small, multiregional DVD player — a hate letter of rage and disgust about Silvio Berlusconi, TV, and celebrity culture that premiered in Venice a little over a year ago and will be released on DVD in the U.S. by Lorber on September 27. (In the U.K., the DVD is being released by Second Sight.)
The reason why I’ve sworn off television, at least for the time being, is my own rage and disgust about the way that American television now caters to and encourages everybody’s rage and disgust about the state of the nation, whether this happens to be the Fox News version or the MSNBC version (the Fox News of the left), so that back in Chicago, even my respect for Rachel Maddow was getting tested nightly whenever she wound up with many of the same talking points as Keith Olbermann (or as Bill O’Reilly, for that matter). The aberration of Italian TV that’s being shown by Gandini is made to seem both better and worse: better because it seems more infatuated with euphoric and unabashedly childish fantasies, and worse because so many of these fantasies seem to consist of vulgar and sexist wet dreams of male empowerment.
Of course, there’s bound to be more to American television than such Al Capp characters as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, just as there’s bound to be more to Italian television than Berlusconi, Lele Mora (a greasy talent agent who seems to love Mussolini and his current dictator about equally) and Fabrizio Corona (an equally greasy paparazzi tycoon and blackmailer who surreptitiously tapes his own divorce proceedings in exchange for TV coin). What depresses me the most is the seeming impossibility of knowing whether the TV viewing public in either country is really as crass and as dumb as politics and media insist or whether we’re all stuck in some vicious circle of continuous feedback in which we’re forced to become whatever politics and media assume we are because that’s the only way we can be heard at all. Ergo, still more rage and disgust, even when we choose to laugh about it. [9/25/10]