Francois Truffaut, “A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema,” in Movies and Methods, Vol. I, ed. Bill Nichols (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), 224-237.
Considering how often it’s cited and how seminal it was, Truffaut’s essay is not very coherent or linear, to say nothing of being reasoned and dispassionate. He acknowledges, near the end of it, that he’s being quite emotional, but he appeals to the problems of the Tradition of Quality as warrant for his strong feelings. The metteur-en-scene stages, or gives pictures to, the script as dictated by the screenwriter(s). There is no auteur, properly speaking, in French cinema at this point in time because of how collaborative and industrial and artificial the films are. They are not concerned with reality, with the vision of a particular filmmaker, with film as art, and so forth. Somewhat ironically, Truffaut criticizes French cinema for its literariness. However, Truffaut himself is riffing off of Astruc’s earlier essay on the camera-stylo, the camera as a pen, as an instrument of a writer. This is to say nothing of Truffaut’s use of the term auteur and all it’s literary implications. Truffaut also seems to hold some contempt for the “bourgeois” in society, also ironic due to his own bourgeois history, according to Philippe Mary’s aforementioned article in which he identifies the middle-upper-class background of both Truffaut and Godard. Truffaut’s clear delineation between good and bad cinema (this is, after all, what it comes down to), does leave a certain middle ground omitted. For example, after listing the usual suspects of the Tradition of Quality (interestingly, omitting most of the famous examples we’re used to associating with the movement, such as Marcel Carné), then the exceptions that define truly great French cinema (Bresson, Renoir, Tati, Ophüls, etc.), he mentions in passing the way that certain characters in the former group “are only caricatures of [Henri-Georges] Clouzot…” (234). Clouzot stands as an important filmmaker in French cinema, and although Truffaut doesn’t hesitate to criticize him (in an awfully unclear way) for something related to homosexuality in The Wages of Fear, he fails to give proper account or location of Clouzot in this essay focused on the good and the bad.