Truffaut’s film … is a poem in praise of making movies … We learn in an offhand way some of the trade secrets of moviemaking, such as … how scenes are shot “day for night” (a filter is used to give the effect of night while shooting in daylight) … Truffaut was a founder of the New Wave generation – French film critics who celebrated Hollywood’s veterans in the 1950s and then made their own films. He was there at the start, with THE 400 BLOWS (1959), SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER (1960) and JULES AND JIM (1961) … In 25 years he directed 23 films. Why did he make so many? I think because he loved to be on the set. The young actor in DAY FOR NIGHT is heartbroken after his girl runs off with the stuntman. Truffaut’s character consoles him: “People like us are only happy in our work.” (Roger Ebert, 1997)
Set in Nice’s Victorine Studios, where it was filmed, DAY FOR NIGHT is a touching, funny and accurate account of the travails (accidents, disputes, affairs, imbroglios, death) involved in the making of an all-star international picture called JE VOUS PRESENTE PAMELA. It is a Pirandellian affair, an elegiac celebration of a dying kind of cinema, a meditation on the connection between film and life by Truffaut, who plays Ferrand, the film’s constantly troubled yet dedicated director, a man much like himself. Ferrand compares the process of film-making to “a stagecoach journey into the far west. At the start you hope for a beautiful trip. But shortly you wonder if you will make it at all. (Phillip French, The Guardian, 2011)
Truffaut shared some of his thoughts on why he created DAY FOR NIGHT (from “Pourquoi La Nuit Américaine?” in first press book) …
“I am always returning to the question that has tormented me for thirty years now: is cinema more important than life?”
“One day, during the shooting of Jules and Jim, I was getting a scene together, whispering with the actors Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, and Henri Serre; Time came to go into what we call a “serious rehearsal” and I asked the two men to install themselves in front of a backgammon board while Jeanne Moreau, standing and with a little stick in her hand, spoke the lines agreed on: “Would someone here be willing to scratch my back?” At that moment, we saw entering the field and going toward Jeanne the problem of the film who, misled by the actress’ natural delivery, stepped forward to volunteer to scratch her back. Obviously the whole crew broke up with laughter, and work began again with more harmony because, if it’s always good to laugh in life, it’s absolutely indispensable in the shooting of a film.
In every shooting there occur similar incidents, not necessarily funny, some merely strange or even cruel, and sometimes they contrast in their force or crudeness with the banality of the scene you’re shooting. At such moments—for example, when it takes no less than two assistants concealed at each side of the bed to hold down the sheets that fly around when a couple of actors are miming physical love—the director can’t help but say to himself that the “film of the film” would be a lot more amusing and lively than the film itself.
Everyone who has visited a movie lot for a few hours has felt a kind of unease, the feeling of being in the way and of not understanding what is going on. Having come there with the hope of getting an answer to the question “How do they make a film?” they go away disappointed; and it was of them we were thinking when we—Jean-Louis Richard, Suzanne Schiffman, and I—wrote the screenplay for Day for Night, which has as its subject nothing less than the shooting of a film (titled Introducing Pamela) from the first day of filming to the last, when the entire crew go their separate ways.
I’ve been asked a hundred times this year: “Are you afraid of ruining the mystery of a craft you’re so fond of?” and each time I’ve replied that an aviator can explain everything he knows about piloting a plane, but he will never succeed in demystifying the intoxication of flight. Filmmaking is a marvelous craft, and the proof is in the fact that, of all those who have a chance to work at it, no one wants to do anything else. Everybody knows the story of that great director of a circus who goes bankrupt and ends up grooming an acrobat elephant which slaps him with its trunk and pisses every day in his face. When one of his old friends, dismayed to see him thus fallen and humble, says to him: “You, with your university degrees, your knowledge of bookkeeping and administration, you could get a job anywhere!” he replies: “And give up show business? Never!”
Selected scenes from DAY FOR NIGHT …
– KW & RP