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The Aspects of the New Wave Film Movement in Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player and Hitchcock’s Psycho

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In June of 1962, François Truffaut wrote to Alfred Hitchcock proposing a lengthy interview. Hitchcock agreed, and Truffaut materialized in Los Angeles in August, with his translator and collaborator Helen Scott. After six days of discussion, Truffaut had accumulated, he claimed, fifty hours of tape

Over the next four years the tapes were transcribed, the book was edited, and extra sessions were recorded to cover the films Hitchcock made in the meantime. The result was published in France in late 1966 and a year later in an English translation.

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Francois Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player is one of Truffaut's most entertaining and affectionate tributes to the low-budget pulp crime genre, and of the comic films of Chaplin Chaplin and The Marx Brothers that he grew up adoring

It tells the simple story about a classical pianist, who tries to run away from his past after his wife's tragic suicide, and eventually ends up playing piano in a small Parisian dive. When his brother suddenly gets in trouble with bumbling gangsters, he inadvertently gets dragged back into the chaos and is forced to rejoin the life that he once fled. François Truffaut was one of the pioneers of The French New Wave movement which was considered a certain European art form during the late 50s and 60s. The French New Wave was a movement led by a group of young filmmakers that included Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Alain Resnais, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette who were connected to the magazine 'Cahiers du cinema'. The French New Wave was a style that seemed to be personal and freewheeling, where the directors often chose to shoot on location, using natural lighting and often using hand-held cameras which added to the experimental feel of the films. That style can be greatly seen in Shoot the Piano Player, whether it's the plot's use of flashbacks, the creative use of the camera iris, and Truffaut's sudden change of tone in the narrative, from comedy and then back to drama.

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Bellour’s Henry James analogy is also fortuitous in another way, for Maisie might as well be a Truffaut character. In the book, Maisie is the troubled but perspicacious child of divorce, shuttled between the new couples that her parents have formed with other people. As Bellour observes, Maisie is constantly seeking the “form of her life and the reality of her desire” in the eyes of the adults who surround her. Her parents and her parents’ lovers dodge Maisie’s visits out of guilt. When in her presence, they implicitly beseech from her an outward sign of forgiveness or accusation. Maisie can neither forgive nor accuse, because her knowledge of the total situation is confined to her own need to have her emerging identity ratified by a sympathetic adult. By the end of James’s novel, Maisie has completely lost her “moral sense.” She has, at first uncomprehendingly, and then with full self-consciousness, manipulated every grown-up in her orbit

But, with her newfound awareness of her existential solitude, she has also put herself on the path to “all knowledge.” Bellour concludes his review with an allusion to Hitchcock’s childhood memory (Truffaut, François, 1978). Early in Truffaut’s book, Hitchcock recounts an incident when his parents, aided by the neighborhood constabulary, put him in jail to teach him an inexplicable lesson. Bellour imagines little Hitchcock as Maisie, seeking an explanation for his senseless punishment in the empty stares of the police.

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All in all, the inclusion of contemporary views does allow the documentary to include clips from movies made after the interviews took place, but that's a mixed bag

In Hitchcock's case, aside from "The Birds," his post-1962 films were not successes; and while Truffaut created some certifiable classics -- "Day for Night," "Small Change," "The Story of Adele H." -- his work rarely reflected the camerawork or narrative obsessions that Hitchcock employed. But these are minor quibbles in an otherwise entertaining and engrossing look at how two of the most talented men behind the camera helped shape contemporary film language.

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Wright, Alan, “Elizabeth Taylor at Auschwitz: JLG and the Real Object of Montage,” in The Cinema Alone: Essays on the Work of Jean-Luc Godard, 1985-2000, ed. Michael Temple and James S. Williams, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2000.

Truffaut, François, Les films de ma vie, Paris: Flammarion, 1975, trans. Leonard Mayhew as The Films in My Life, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978.
Zorn, John, liner notes to Godard-Spillane, Tzadik CD, 1999.

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