Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Don't Be Nervous About the Stare-Down

For a long time I've been thinking about two films I watched close together, Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows and Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist. What's interesting about watching these movies one after the other, among a plethora of reasons, is that they both end, and I hope I'm not spoiling this for you, with the main character looking back at the camera. I may be wrong, but I think it was Derrida who said something about cameras and interviews and how it's a mistake to pretend the camera isn't there. For whatever reason we all watch movies--film is a form of reading for me, people talking is like porn, porn is like porn--we viewers aren't really implicated. We learn, we change, we cry, but none of what's happening is our fault, is our dandruff in the fiction, because that perfectly imperfect world where the cat isn't jumping on the bed at inappropriate times or women walk around totally decked out in high heels and everyone smokes--that's just something that will be over, something we'll soon discuss.

But when a character looks at the camera, you're suddenly you and you're suddenly accountable for all of the ideas you've been viewing. At the end of The 400 Blows, Antione runs from juvie school, runs to the water, runs to where he can go no further, then he turns to look at the camera. The movie ends right at that moment, in that still, and we are confounded by the whole system of it all, how we treat children and teenagers, what it means to work and raise children, and what happens to mischief makers. The same questions recur--who is the conformist now, what do I do now, what is my part of the system, why does the system exist when I hate it--when Marcello looks back at the end of The Conformist. His look is long and becomes a Renior painting saturated with color. Everything has changed for Marcello, but he looks back anyway, at you, at the viewer, and says: You weren't judging me, were you?  

1 comment:

steven karl said...

My netflix of 400 Blows is still sitting in its wrapper & I own The Conformist so now I HAVE to watch them back to back!