Welcome back to BCB After Dark: The late-night hot spot for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Pull up a seat and make yourself at home. Bring your own beverage. Be sure to follow our social media accounts for discounts.
BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.
The Cubs had a tough loss tonight. It certainly looked like they would take the lead in the top of the eighth, but the Northsiders failed to push across a run. Then Ryan Tepera had a rare bad outing and a newly-activated Trevor Megill tossed gasoline on the fire for a ten-run bottom of the eighth. If you want to continue to discuss tonight’s failures, you’re free to do so here. But I’m not sure why you’d want to.
The Arizona rookie league started tonight and the Cubs beat the Diamondbacks, 7-4. I’m still not sure how I’m going to handle the Arizona Complex League (which is what they’re calling it now) in the Minor League Wrap. But if you’re looking for good news, check out that boxscore.
Last week, on Wednesday night/Thursday morning, I asked you what you thought of the new crackdown on foreign substances. Since then, we’ve had the first pitcher kicked out, the Mariners’ Hector Santiago. In any case, 54% of you thought that the crackdown on pitchers and the regular checks is a necessary evil.
Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. Although lately, I’m running out of my knowledge of jazz (I’ve made no secret that I’m just a listener and not an expert) so I’m more just giving you a tune and then going on to the movies. In any case, as always, you can skip this part if you want. You won’t hurt my feelings. Honestly, I won’t even know.
Today’s jazz track is by pianist Bill Evans, a longtime collaborator with Miles Davis. In fact, the song I’ve picked out, “On Green Dolphin Street,” [VIDEO] is one that Evans first played as a sideman with Davis. But here Evans is with his own trio and giving his own take on this lovely song.
The song itself is from the 1947 film Green Dolphin Street, which I haven’t seen so don’t ask me about it. I know from Wikipedia it stars Lana Turner and Van Heflin, so it’s probably not crap. The song itself was written by Bronislaw Kaper and Ned Washington.
So whether or not you liked Breathless, the last film I wrote about in this space, can I interest you in The 400 Blows? François Truffaut’s first feature film, along with Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour, are the holy trinity of the early French New Wave that shook up world cinema in the late-fifties and early-sixties.
What can I say about The 400 Blows that hasn’t already been said? The film is Truffaut’s fictionalized autobiographical take on his own early adolescence. It’s the story about how a child tries to navigate an adult world that is uncaring and regimented. It’s a story about the joy and freedom that comes from breaking society’s rules and how society punishes those who seek liberation. It’s also about the power of true friendship and how a good friend can make life bearable. But in the end, it’s Truffaut’s first statement about how cinema saved his life.
The best place to start explaining The 400 Blows is the title. The phrase is a literal translation of the French title Le Quatre Cent Coups, which is an idiom that is better translated as “Raising Hell.” This is one of the most touching stories of growing up that you’ll ever watch. It’s not sentimental about childhood, like so many of these films are. But while it can get a like Dickensian at times, it does not wallow in misery either.
Almost the entire picture is shown through the heroes point of view. While I don’t think this is what Truffaut had in mind, I see it as a response to the many “juvenile delinquent” movies of the 1950s. Rather than seeing kids causing trouble as a problem that society needs to stop, The 400 Blows argues that juvenile delinquency is the product of a world that treats children as the problem.
Twelve-year-old Antoine Donal (played by newcomer Jean-Pierre Léaud, who fittingly fled from a boarding school two hours away to audition for the part) lives with his mother and stepfather in a small apartment in Paris. His parents marriage is a loveless one. They ignore their son and deny him the affection that he so clearly craves. They aren’t especially cruel (although his stepfather does slap Antoine in the face once) but neither one is particularly interested in the welfare of Antoine. Mostly, they see him as an annoyance. They can be nice to him at times, but it is mostly to try to control his behavior.
The school that Antoine attends is more interested in control than learning. The students are seen studying literature not by trying to understand it, but by simply memorizing it. This form of pedagogy would have been common when Truffaut was growing up and he no doubt borrowed some of it from his experiences. (Although his co-script writer, Marcel Moussy, was a former teacher and he was also mocking some of his former colleagues with this.)
In the first scene in the movie, the students naturally get bored in class and one student starts passing around a picture of a scantily-clad pinup girl, ripped from a calendar. The photo passes through several hands before ending up in Antoine’s, which is naturally when the teacher notices it. Antoine is punished for this by being ordered to stand in the corner of the room throughout recess. Antoine protests this by writing about the unfairness of it all on the classroom wall, which naturally leads to even more punishment.
Antoine is Truffaut’s stand-in for himself, although Truffaut’s own adolescence was even worse than Antoine’s. For one, when Truffaut was twelve, he was living in a reform school in Nazi-occupied France. Truffaut went hungry many nights as food was not always available. But Truffaut set the film in the modern day (1959) because setting it in the occupation would have been a different story. Truffaut finally did tell a story about the occupation in 1980 with The Last Metro, and that film is worth seeking out too. But it’s a completely different movie.
Throughout the bleakness of Antoine’s life, there are moments of freedom. (Some mild spoilers to follow.) His best friend René is similarly the product of a joyless home, but at least his family has some money. One day, the two of them steal some money from their parents, skip school and go on a wonderful adventure through the streets of Paris. They go to the movies, they see the sights of Paris and visit an amusement park where Antoine goes inside a spinning drum. [VIDEO]
For a moment, Antoine is free. Not only is he free from the worries of his life, but for a moment, he’s even free from gravity, which is as good a metaphor as any. (By the way, Truffaut is one of the other customers on the ride—the last one we see. Like his idol Alfred Hitchcock, Truffaut liked to stick himself into cameo appearances.)
Antoine and René’s “day off” comes crashing back to reality when Antoine sees his mother out with her lover. He really doesn’t know how to process that—he’s old enough to recognize what going on but he’s not old enough to understand the meaning. But he knows he’s not going to get into trouble, because his mother will never tell on him. Later in the film, after Antoine gets into trouble again, his mother takes the family to the movies rather than punishes him. Is it because she’s trying a different tactic or is it because she’s worried Antoine will tell his stepfather about what he saw if she punished him? It’s not clear and the answer is probably a bit of both. But going to the cinema with his family is another moment of true happiness in Antoine’s life.
In fact, most of Antoine’s happiness comes from going to the movies or reading literature. He sets up a shrine to the French novelist Honoré de Balzac, but almost burns the apartment down with the candle he left burning. The film continues with Antoine and René getting into trouble and then mostly Antoine getting punished. René always tries to help out his friend as much as he can, even finding places for him to sleep after Antoine runs away from home.
Eventually, the two of them decide to make some money by stealing a typewriter from Antoine’s stepfather’s place of business. Antoine gets caught after trying to return it (they couldn’t find a way to sell it) and this time, he gets the book thrown at him. Antoine, still a child, ends up in an adult jail. His parents have given up on him and send him to a reform school. The final scene of the film comes after he arrives in boarding school. I won’t ruin the details, but is a classic and has been much imitated since.
The film ends with a freeze frame and then the camera zooms in on Antoine’s face. While no words are spoken, Antoine’s expression is defiant. But his face also says “Now what?” We’ve seen many films that end in a freeze frame since then and many that end with the question of not knowing what comes next. But all that originally comes from The 400 Blows.
I haven’t even gotten to the look of the film and I’m not going to be able to do it justice here. Like most of the early French New Wave films, The 400 Blows is shot on the streets of Paris and with hand-held cameras, because that’s what they could afford. All of the sound is looped in later, which Truffaut actually preferred because he grew up watching American movies dubbed into French. It also meant that he didn’t have to worry about the noise of the city ruining a shot.
This scene, where Antoine is taken away from jail, is a particular favorite of mine. [VIDEO] The beauty and freedom of Paris is there for Antoine to see, but he’s behind bars as the van drives through it. We see Antoine’s vulnerability and he’s emotional state is also contrasted with the adults who ride with him. All of this re-emphasizes that this is just a child and makes the audience sympathize with him even more.
Anyway, there’s no way that I’ve done The 400 Blows justice here. It’s certainly a masterpiece of cinema and one of the best portraits of adolescence on the screen. It’s also a very personal film for Truffaut, as it’s a fictionalized version of his own life. It’s certainly a movie that every film lover should see.
Welcome back to everyone who skipped the jazz and movies. Although on a night like tonight, I’m not sure why anyone wants to talk baseball. On the other hand, you are reading Bleed Cubbie Blue and we are a baseball blog. So I’m grateful you’re here.
I’ve done this with the National League, so maybe it’s time to take a look at the American League. This week, unless something intervenes and a better question pops up, I’m going to ask you who your picks to win each of the American League divisions are. We’ll start with the American League East because it seems like every general discussion of baseball starts with the Yankees and Red Sox.
So is your choice one of those two titans of the game? Or maybe you think the Tampa Bay Rays can repeat. There’s the Buffalo Blue Jays, who are officially still called the Toronto Blue Jays and the hope is that they’ll return to Canada one day in our lifetimes. Finally, I’m going to ask if any of you pick the Orioles just to see how many trolls stop by.
I’d also like it if you would say in the comments which runners up, if any, you think will gain a wild card spot.
The four teams in the division that don’t play home games in Baltimore are all over .500, so they’re all threat to win the division. So who is your choice?
Who will win the American League East in 2021?
This poll is closed
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays
We’ll see you again tomorrow night with a shorter version of BCB After Dark.