Truffaut and Hitchcock as Auteurs

In filmmaking, the Auteur Theory contends that the director is the foremost creative force in motion picture development.  The director is viewed as an author responsible for the audiovisual elements of the motion picture conveying the screenplay’s core message. These essentials include lighting, length of scene and camera placement as opposed to focusing on the film’s plot line. According to Honthaner (2013), films that have enjoyed major cinematic success usually bear the director’s distinctive personal stamp (23). Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock are both auteurs for they are the embodiment of the “camera-pen” style, evident in their screenplays.

Francois Truffaut (1932-1984) was a renowned French screenwriter popular for his role as a film critic. He was among the founders of the French New Wave and contributed greatly to the French film industry. The 400 Blows (1959) is his best-known feature films which explored many features of his childhood. The story revolves around Antoine Doinel, a young misconstrued boy who is regarded as a troublemaker by those who encounter him. Truffaut’s stylistic innovation in The 400 Blows (1959) won him the 1959 Cannes Film Festival award for best director. Similarly, Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) was an influential English filmmaker famous for his ground-breaking techniques dubbed the “Hitchcockian” style. He was particularly fond of transforming his viewers into voyeurs and one of the primary reasons why he eventually had six Oscar wins. Veritogo (1958) is Hitchcock’s most successful noir psychological thriller film. His progression from one shot to the next was a major contributor to the film’s intensity and delivery.

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 The application of the narrative idea was an implication of the French New Wave. Directors such as Truffaut used psychological realism to avoid the ambiguity that he had witnessed in Hollywood productions (Andrew & Gillain, 2013, p. 45).  He applies this technique best in The 400 Blows (1959) where scenes are strategically placed in the film to reveal the character’s true nature. For instance, Truffaut introduces a scene where Antoine is seen heading to his apartment. Although this scene does not, in any way, contribute to the plot, it reveals Antoine’s life at home. Additionally, Truffaut makes use of an overhead shot from a high elevation to record the movement of schoolchildren through Paris. Again, this scene does not promote the development of the plot, but is thematic in capturing the children’s defiance against adult regulation.

Truffaut was well-versed in the panning shot cinematic technique which sensationalized screen plays. It drew attention to the camera during filing and does not endeavor to conceal any of its actions. In The 400 Blows (1959), Truffaut downgrades the dialogues to a secondary role while communicating with the audience through a voyeurs’ perspective. The camera functions as a tool designed to attract the audience to the artifice, distracting them from a constructed reality. By documenting Antoine’s movement’s and reactions at close range, the viewer is directly involved in the story at am intense level. Antoine’s escape from the reform school features a long uninterrupted scene effective for its dramatic effect. Through this technique, the viewer is sucked into the action and enthralled by the protagonist’s performance.

In Vertigo (1958), Hitchcock was particularly keen on lighting and its influence on the movie. His expertise is apparent when Scottie takes Judy up a mansion’s tower to confront her fear of heights.  Here, Hitckcock chooses low-key lighting as a cinematographic technique throughout the entire scene. It is a strategy that has typically been used in horror films and in various dramatic scenes (Morrison, 2018). In Vertigo (1958), Scottie’s scene with Judy on the mansion ledge features a low-lighting which elucidates the shadows while ensuring that the background gradually fades away. Furthermore, Hitchcock also used natural lighting to afford a realistic look and as a way of ensuring that the audience was connected to the protagonist. It is also worth noting that the three point lighting technique brought the characters to focus and elongated the anticipation. Scottie’s fireplace scene with Madeleine appeared warm and natural owing to his use of the three point lighting technique.

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Hitchcock was also an exceptional director who acknowledged the critical nature of mise-en scene and subsequent editing. In Vertigo (1958), he begins by introducing greenery that pervades the entire film. Hitchcock uses this technique to introduce the existential battle that exists between individual’s curiosity about the afterlife and their dread of an ever approaching death. Greenery is placed in each scene for cinematic effect to signify eternal life for they are among the oldest living organisms (Leitch & Poague, 2011). The opening close-ups that focus on a woman’s mouth and eye signify the aspect of reality vs. fantasy setting the tone for Scottie’s expression of vertigo. The dolly zoom shot also bolster’s the film’s cinematic deliverance by zooming in individual subjects before zooming out again.  The color values inside Gavin’s office are introduced by the director to foreshadow and portend death. Moreover, Hitchcock’s editing skills are evident in the use of picturesque medium shots in the final production. The use of a wide –angle lens influences the final production greatly since it introduces a larger depth of field ensuring that the camera focuses on the actor as opposed to the background.

In conclusion, the Auteur theory focuses on the director as the main creative force in the development of motion pictures.   Truffaut and Hitchcock qualify as authentic auteur owing to their unique filming techniques. In Vertigo (1958 and The 400 Blows (1959), the narrative idea, panning shot, lighting and editing were applied and are the hallmarks of the expert auteurs in the film industry.

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