400 Blows — Boyhood — To Kill a Mockingbird — Shitty First Draft

It didn’t occur to me at the time I watched the movie, but about a month later I was reading a blog post about Francois Truffaut and was reminded of his films, specifically, Les Quatre Cents Coups.

BFI Trailer for ‘The 400 Blows’

Most people may not know that The 400 Blows is actually the first in a series of five films (four feature, one short) by Truffaut chronicling the life of the protagonist, Antoine Doinel, who is, remarkably, played by Jean-Pierre Leaud in all five films. I have only seen the first of these five films, but plan to watch the rest… someday. It is generally understood that the life of Antoine Doinel is largely based on Truffaut’s own personal experiences growing up, with a tough of fictionalization for dramatic effect, I am sure. This is quite interesting to me, as I am sure that Richard Linklater ideas for ‘Boyhood’ were largely influenced by Truffaut and his movies, but in a much more condensed form. This is probably the main reason that ‘The 400 Blows’ works and Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ does not. People have hailed ‘Boyhood’ as a triumph of film, an innovative movie. I, myself, even commended Linklater on his 12 year effort. However, in hindsight, I realize that this this Modus Operandum has been done before. Truffaut made his films one by one, each telling a story in the long life of a man. Linklater crammed all those moments in to a long 2 hour movie that ended up lacking cohesion or a central theme.

I prefer the Truffaut approach to this showing the story of a person’s life, one story at a time. It creates a clear narrative with each story and the audience is drawn closer and closer to the character with each story. I am reminded of Harper Lee’s largely autobiographical novel ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ in that the story seems unfocused and haphazard until about half way through where the focus shifts from a collection of small stories, which provide atmosphere and background, to a more centralized theme, that of a court case and local racism. After the court case, we get one last story where the central character’s childhood symbolically ends.

Both Boyhood and The 400 Blows both draw striking resemblance to the novel, however, boyhood lacks that definitive point where the character sheds his boyhood and becomes an adult. Instead, he is gently eased off the dock of adolescence into the ocean of adulthood very slowly, almost imperceptibly. When he reaches college, the final scene of the film, the audience has no idea that his ‘boyhood’ is over until the credits roll. Perhaps we are supposed to feel like his parents in this way. Or something…

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