Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Day For Night

(La nuit Américaine, France, 1973)

Day For Night (La nuit Américaine) (French, 1973) “Day for night” is the term for shooting through dark filters to make it appear that it’s nighttime. Unless you have a really good cinematographer, it looks really crappy. The French call it La nuit Américaine, a tribute to Hollywood, which invented the technique.

This movie is quite simply the best ever made about the process of moviemaking. It shows all the minutiae, from trimming lots of cigarettes to one inch lengths for retakes, to foaming an entire outdoor city set when it’s decided the scene would shoot better in snow. It even tackles the greatest truth about filmmaking that is never addressed: That it is the most boring activity imaginable 90% of the time. Most of the time, everybody is sitting around waiting for someone else to do his job. That’s a tall order, portraying the great stretches of inaction without being boring yourself, and Truffaut manages it wonderfully.

So why do people do it? Ah, Truffaut knows the reason for that, too, and shows it brilliantly. When it is operating, a film set is the most exciting place on Earth, short of the front lines of a war. You live for that rush, for wrapping a scene, for the frantic running around to get something someone has forgotten. For the insanity of trying to get a kitten to lap at a bowl of milk in just the right way. Truffaut understands actors, but more important to me, he understands crew, all those hundreds of people behind the camera who work like peons to put the magic on the screen – the grips, the focus pullers, the prop men, the script girls. The assistant directors, without whom no “auteur” director would last three hours on any movie set in the world. All of them are problem solvers at heart, quick and adaptable, ready to turn any reverse into a challenge.

And it’s funny! These are volatile people. Egos clash, romances abound, betrayal is always only a moment away. It is clear that the movie the director (played by Truffaut himself) is making is a piece of shit … but he works just as hard as if he was making Citizen Kane. The process of making a great film and making a stinker is exactly the same, as I learned to my dismay. You would not work in this business unless you truly, truly loved it, which is another thing I learned. From top to bottom, movie people love their trade and their craft. If they don’t, they don’t last long. As one girl says to a newcomer who is running away with a stuntman, “I’d dump a man for a film, but I’d never dump a film for a man.” She’s got it right. When you’re a part of that tight, temporary little family that gathers to make movie magic, the film is everything, more important than love, much more important than sex and food and shelter.
God, I love the movies.