Release Date(s)1973 (August 18, 2015)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures/Warner Bros. (Criterion – Spine #769)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A+
Incredibly well-regarded since its initial release in 1973, François Truffaut’s Day for Night (aka La Nuit americaine) is a thoughtful snapshot of the making of a film, with Truffaut himself taking the lead as the director. The film’s experimental narrative, exploring the lives of the people involved and the connections they make on a film set, quickly launched it into the upper echelon of all-time cinematic greats. It’s also thought to be Truffaut’s second masterpiece after The 400 Blows.
Truffaut’s look at the behind the scenes goings on of moviemaking feels largely self-indulgent, but in an honest way while only skirting pretense. With an air of truth holding everything together, it’s less of a biopic and more of a free-form documentary. Even the performances seem to be slightly winking at the camera without actually doing so. The frankness of the people involved and the lengths to which they go in order to complete a film is scathingly attacked only once, only to quickly recover in the next scene as if nothing happened at all. This lunacy of scrambling after both minor and major setbacks is where some of the film’s more stimulating moments occur, drawing us into the proceedings while also allowing us to stay outside of it.
It’s abundantly clear that with Day for Night, Truffaut wanted to share his own personal experience behind the camera with his audience, regardless of how unpleasant it might have been at times. While many mark it as one of the finest “fictitious” documents on the subject, others were initially less enthused. This included Jean-Luc Godard, whom Truffaut was close friends with. The two sadly parted ways with each other soon after the film’s opening after an exchange of angry letters – heatedly disagreeing over the worth of the project.
Criterion’s release of Day for Night is presented via a 2K digital transfer from a 35mm interpositive, which was supervised by the film’s cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn. Nothing about this transfer is worthy of any major complaint. Depth and detail are astonishing, as is the film’s color palette, which is quite lush. Grain levels are handled quite well with a potent encode, and black levels are deep with excellent shadow detail. Overall brightness and contrast is virtually perfect, and there appears to be no signs of any digital enhancements. It’s also a clean and stable presentation with no apparent film damage leftover. The sole audio option is the original French soundtrack, presented as a 1.0 LPCM track. For a mono soundtrack of this vintage, it’s extraordinarily clean and clear with no major issues, including hiss or dropouts. Dialogue is perfectly rendered with a strong score and clean, often biting sound effects. For the format that it’s presented on, it’s stunning. Optional subtitles are provided in English, although they are automatically selected when viewing the film.
The supplemental features are numerous and quite involving. They include Dreams of Cinema, a video essay by filmmaker Kogonada; an interview with film professor Dudley Andrew about the aforementioned angry correspondence between Truffaut and Godard; Day for Night: An Appreciation documentary, hosted by film scholar Annette Insdorf; Truffaut: A View from the Inside, a behind the scenes documentary from 1973; various recent and archival interviews with members of the cast and crew, including François Truffaut, Pierre-William Glenn, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Nathalie Baye, Bernard Menez, Dani, Yann Dedet, and Martin Barraque; three pieces of Archival Footage: Truffaut Shoots Day for Night from 1972, On Day for Night from the 1973 TV show Pour le cinema, and Truffaut at the National Society of Film Critics from the 1974 TV show JT nuit; the film’s trailer; and a fold-out paper insert with an article on Truffaut entitled “Are Movies Magic?” by David Cairns, as well as restoration details. Although several items from previous DVD releases haven’t been included, they are not missed at all.
I just might go on record here as saying that this is one of Criterion’s finest and most satisfying Blu-ray releases, particularly if you’re a film fan. Day for Night is the definition of cinematic geekdom, and with a top notch presentation and entertaining and educational extras, this disc should be an essential part of your home video library. Highly recommended!
- Tim Salmons