Thursday, October 21, 2004

Truffaut & Fuller

Francois Truffaut died twenty years ago today. He was 53.

Truffaut was my introduction to the idea of a movie as art, shaped primarily by one person--the film director.

As a teenager in India, the film personalities I was most interested in weren't directors but stars. Like Raj Kapoor, Gregory Peck, Amitabh Bachhan and Audrey Hepburn.

And then I saw Shoot The Piano Player, which struck me with the force of a typhoon. After that, every film I saw was somehow marked by the traces of that experience, by the lessons I learned from it.

Truffaut was a movie-lover extraordinaire, who reputedly saw over ten thousand films in his (short) lifetime. He wrote passionately about movies, in particular American directors unappreciated in their own homeland.

I've always had this belief that the great American directors were often intuitive geniuses who tended, unlike their European counterparts, to not be very analytical or explicative about "the art of cinema", leaving that task to others.

I am reminded today of a few words from Truffaut on one of my favorite American filmmakers:

"Samuel Fuller is not a beginner, he is a primitive; his mind is not rudimentary, it is rude; his films are not simplistic, they are simple, and it is this simplicity that I most admire. We can't learn anything from an Eisenstein or an Orson Welles, because their genius makes them inimitable, and we can only make ourselves ridiculous when we try to imitate them by placing the camera on the floor or on the ceiling.

On the other hand, we have everything to learn from those American directors like Samuel Fuller who place their cameras "at the height of the human eye" (Howard Hawks), "who don't look, they find" (Picasso). It's impossible to say to yourself, faced with a Samuel Fuller film, "It should have been done differently, faster, this way or that." Things are what they are, they are filmed as they must be; this is direct, irreproachable, "given" cinema, rather than assimilated, digested or reflected upon."

Fuller films often beggar any attempt to describe them in (mere) words, but if the above Truffaut passage makes you curious about seeing more Fuller movies, it has done its job.