To act or to perform: distinguishing filmic autobiography

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Date: Winter 2006
From: Biography(Vol. 29, Issue 1)
Publisher: University of Hawaii Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 5,362 words
Lexile Measure: 1770L

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In the May 9, 1957, issue of Arts, three years after the publication of "Une certaine tendance du cinema francais," his manifesto on cinema d'auteurs, Francois Truffaut prophetically declared: "Le film de demain m'apparait donc plus personnel encore qu'un roman, individuel et autobiographique comme une confession ou comme un journal intime" ("Le Cinema" 4). The statement describes the film of the future as personal, individual, autobiographical, and like a confession or an intimate diary. It also holds that a novel is personal, but to a lesser degree than the film of tomorrow, while the qualities individual, autobiographical, confessional, or diaristic are attributed only to film. The concept of fictionality is not explicitly addressed, yet there are certain implications regarding it. We can say that since the novel is generally considered a fictional genre, Truffaut's sentence implies that the distinction between the personal novel and the film of the future is one between fiction and autobiography, or, as in James Olney's distinction, "between the noun 'autobiography' and the adjective 'autobiographical.' ... [I]t is possible to have a work that is 'autobiographical' without its being 'an autobiography'" (250). In his next sentence, Truffaut identifies the future film with truth--"Les jeunes cineastes s'exprimeront a la premiere personne et nous raconteront ce qui leur est arrive: cela pourra etre l'histoire de leur permier amour ou du plus recent, leur prise de conscience devant la politique, un recit de voyage, une maladie, leur service militaire, leur mariage, leurs dernieres vacances et cela plaira presque forcement parce que ce sera vrai et neuf "1--aligning autobiography with truth as opposed to novelistic fiction, and claiming the firstperson narrator as well as the narration of personal, private, and everyday experience as characteristic of the future film. The future autobiographical film is therefore described as a narrative film, yet at the same time as a nonfiction or documentary film.

The issue Truffaut leaves untreated is whether the filmmakers of tomorrow are going to perform as themselves and under their names in their films, or if they are going to employ actors to impersonate their autobiographical stories. To pose the question of actors or no actors is to decide between autobiographical fiction film and filmic autobiography. Since autobiography by definition involves the telling of a life retrospectively even from as far back in the past as childhood, the filmmakers Truffaut imagines would have to find a way to tell their past and to show their younger selves. In filmic autobiography the autobiographical filmmaker solves this problem by including old family photographs, old home movies, or footage from earlier years to document his past, in addition to the voice-over narration. As a result, he does not need to resort to actors. A captivating example of such a film is Jerome Hill's Film Portrait (1971), his filmic autobiography composed at the age of sixty-six. Georg Stefan Troller's Selbstbeschreibung (2001), on the other hand, mixes autobiographical fiction film and filmic autobiography, since the author/ narrator performs in it as an elderly person while...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A146346909