Man I shouldn’t have done that.. From Sylvania Waters to Jersey Shore

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Sylvania Waters was the first reality show to ever be produced in Australia. Premiering in 1992 in conjunction with the BBC, the ABC traced 6 months in the life of Noeline Baker and Laurie Donaher of 42 Macintyre Crescent, Sydney.

Considering what we now know about reality TV – highlighting on traits as a way of creating characters that are easy to understand and pigeon hole, characters that perform for the camera, tireless arguments etc. – it’s a wonder Noeline and Laurie ever put their hand up for the gig.

Lo and behold in hindsight they regret this decision. In an article from The Times newspaper in London entitled ‘Australia’s televised truth is soapier than fiction’ that dates back to 1993, Noeline is quoted as publicly complaining that the show “‘defames’ Australia, when she had the idea it would ‘promote’ it” (Times, 2013). Bit of a tall ask considering it’s her life she is referring to as something that could be deemed a promotion of Australia but I’ll let that one slide given the 20 year hiatus.

The same article points out the audience reaction that one can only assume prompted the above statement from Noeline. To quote, ‘the audience saw it as an assault on Australian culture, and the hapless real-life Baker-Donahers were thrown on the defensive’. In another article from the same year and same newspaper, “Noeline hits back at Sylvania film makers; BBC’s Sylvania Waters”, a recollection of Noeline and Laurie flying to England to set the record straight suggests the pair felt ‘their lives were destroyed by a false portrait that depicted them as vulgar, racist, drunken materialists’, so much so that Noeline was ‘driven to the verge of suicide.’ (Fowler, 1993)

Now considering the aim of the Family and TV project, would it not be necessary to ask the following: if we are presented with content that doesn’t mirror our vision of ourselves, our family and our culture, is this content wrong? Does content need to be a proper representation of how we as a culture see ourselves in order for it to be succesful?

Well, if we take a look at representations of family and culture in other more contemporary examples of reality television it appears that this isn’t exactly the case. Take Jersey Shore for example.

So how effective is TV as a cultural influencer? And does a negative representation of our culture result in cringes and outcries from the public, or does it more reassure us that unlike those people up on the screen we aren’t that crazy?

After all, you can’t cater to everyone.

In another article from The Times from 1997 dealing with the same two subjects of Slyvania Waters, the author goes on to point out that ‘Not everyone is left with only bad memories.’ The example given that of Marc and Karen Adams-Jones in Desmond Wilcox’s 1986 documentary film ‘The Marriage’ (Midgley, 1997).

And as an A Current Affair report from July 23rd 2012 notes, this ‘warts and all look at an Australian family’ was watched by millions.

So where do we find ourselves today? What better place to look than The Voice, and Jersey Shore.

Truss, Lynn “Australia’s televised truth is soapier than fiction.” Times [London, England] 23 Apr. 1993: 3. Academic OneFile. Web. 17 Apr. 2013.
Fowler, Rebecca “Noeline hits back at Sylvania film makers; BBC’s Sylvania Waters.” Sunday Times [London, England] 29 Aug. 1993: 3.Academic OneFile. Web. 17 Apr. 2013.
Midgley, Carol “Regrets linger long after documentary makers have cried ‘Cut’.” The Times (London, England) March 14, 1997: 3. Academic OneFile. Gale. RMIT University Library. 17 Apr. 2013

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Vive La France: TV and Culture in France

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Does France manipulate TV to great effect?

I’ve got France on the brain. My brother is over there at the moment, as is a good friend, and having learnt French all through high school I’ve got this deep memory of just how ardently La Republique Française fights to maintain its image and culture.

So does this translate to TV?

In the past, the gouvernement Français has historically chosen to ban the burqa (Allen, 2010), could potentially be the 14th country to legalise gay marriage and oh, that bizarre thing called the foie gras controversy where ducks are fed more than they should be because ‘foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France’ (French rural code L654-27-1)

Unfortunately, it seems this sense of patriotism doesn’t translate to the screen. One of the most popular on French screens is “Des Chifres et Des Lettres’, basically ‘Numbers and Letters’ an analytical half hour game show that tests numeracy and literacy of its competitors. Instead, the French love US shows. A poll conducted by ‘Promise Consulting reveals that French tastes for regular television are overwhelmingly American.’ (Toot La France, 2012), with the most popular being Criminal Minds followed by The Mentalist and NCIS (CBS must love the French).

Given this evidence, should we be placing such a huge importance on content as is suggests in ‘Reality TV, you’ve been a bad boy‘ and ‘Contentious displays of family‘? Or rather should we be looking to the law makers and their influence as a direct impact on the content society chooses for its entertainment?

Food for thought.

Allen, Peter 2010 “France’s Senate backs National Assembly and bans women from wearing the burka in public”. Daily Mail (Associated Newspapers Ltd) Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1312016/Frances-Senate-bans-women-wearing-burka-public.html. [Accessed 16 April 2013]

2013 ‘New Zealand 13th country to adopt gay marriage, France could be 14th’ euronews, world news. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.euronews.com/2013/04/17/new-zealand-13th-country-to-adopt-gay-marriage-france-could-be-14th/. [Accessed 17 April 2013].

2012 ‘French Prefer US TV Series’’ Toot La France [Online] Available at: http://www.tootlafrance.ie/?p=1436 [Accessed 15 April 2013]

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Contentious displays of family

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Has TV influenced our understanding of family through its representation of family and hence altered the way in which we identify accepted or normal practice with regard to family TV consumption?

This quote is taken from the post ‘Media consumption and its affect on the good old days of TV viewing’ and is an ideal way to begin this post on representations of family in popular TV shows and the affect this may or may not have on its audience.

The first and most pertinent example to mind is that of Home and Away. Firass Dirani recently tackled this point in an interview and article for the Sydney Morning Herald, noting ‘When you walk down Sydney streets you see so many different cultures and so many different people. Our TVs haven’t reflected that yet.’ (Wilkinson, 2012)

And he’s not alone, in that same article, Jay Laga’aia is quoted in support, ‘hats off to you Firass Dirani, for a call to stop commercial network producers casting only white actors. Only on Australian screens. Shame!’ (Wilkinson, 2012)

Considering Francis L. F. Lee’s hypothesis that commercial television is more likely to positively engage a family type dynamic, is this not irresponsible content production?

Dirani suggests in another article from She Knows Australia ‘those people on Winners & Losers in their floral colours and their pastels. I don’t even know people like this. We need to watch ourselves, warts and all; flaws and all,’ (Blais, 2012) and it would seem necessary to add Packed to the Rafters and Neighbours to the mix, both also buying into a sense of racial tokenism.

In response we have Geoff Field from 2dayfm, who dips in with ‘maybe both men have a point, but I hope the industry TV isn’t racist, and compared to the top shows in the 70’s and 80’s like Number 96 and Prisoner it’s certainly moved on to reflect the changing face of Australia.’ (Field, 2013)

So are we getting a bit ahead of ourselves? Realistically, how influential are shows such as Neighbours or Home and Away on our sense of national identity?

It is apparent that these shows should be at the forefront of our minds. ‘Neighbours was first broadcast in Australia 18 years ago, has been running on BBC1 since 1988 and is currently on air in around 60 countries,’ (Deans, 2004) that’s Jason Deans writing for the Guardian in London back in 2004. The main reason of the article however, ‘after more than 4,000 episodes and 18 years on screen, Australian soap Neighbours has finally cracked America’ (Deans, 2004.

With such widespread reach as this surely we must consider how our shows are representing our culture. When we saw something we didn’t like in Sylvania Waters we revolted against it. So what is there to like about these shows? And why aren’t we doing anything about it?

Deans, Jason 2004 ‘Neighbours knocks on America’s Door’. The Guardian [Online] Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2004/mar/24/broadcasting. [Accessed 15 April 2013].

Field, Geoff 2013 ‘Is There A ‘White Australia’ Policy On TV?’. 2dayfm [Online] Available at: http://www.2dayfm.com.au/shows/geoff-field/blog/is-there-a-white-australia-policy-on-tv/. [Accessed 15 April 2013].

Blais, Nic 2012 ‘Claims Australian TV is racist’. She Knows Australia. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.sheknows.com.au/entertainment/articles/949925/claims-australian-tv-is-racist. [Accessed 13 April 2013].

Wilkinson, Georgia 2012 ‘Star hits out at Home and Away racism’ The Sydney Morning Herald Entertainment. [Online] Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/star-hits-out-at-home-and-away-racism-20120216-1ta23.html. [Accessed 12 April 2013].

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Media Consumption and its affect on the good old days of Family Viewing

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We all remember sitting down as a family to watch a movie. Sitting in front of the Carols by Candlelight. Watching a Rerun of God knows what Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.

But do families still do this?

In order to explore this idea this post will look at an article authored by Francis L. F. Lee entitled ‘The influence of family viewing preferences on television consumption in the era of multichannel services’, published in 2010 via the Asian Journal of Communication.

Lee approaches questions of family, perceptions of family, television viewing and the effect this has on content via the lense of a telephone survey. She initiially acknowledges the general perception that a ‘more individualized TV culture within the household’ now exists, and forefronts Multi Channel services as a key influencer in this change. However, by treating family as a variable to compare preferences and consumption, Lee differentiates pay TV and free to air TV in order to reposition family as a central aspect of TV viewing, rather than a subsection of it – arriving at the following two hypotheses and two research questions:

Free to Air TV

Hypothesis 1: Preference for family viewing relates positively to consumption and evaluation of conventional mass television broadcasting.

Hypothesis 2: Perceived family television preference heterogeneity relates negatively to consumption and evaluation of conventional mass television broadcasting.

Pay TV

Research Question 1: How does preference for family viewing relate to consumption and evaluation of multichannel television services?

Research Question 2: How does perceived family television preference heterogeneity relate to consumption and evaluation of multichannel television services?

Here Lee is referring to the contrast in viewing preferences of individuals within a family when using the term ‘television preference heterogeneity’ (Lee, 2010).

In so doing, Lee arrives at a very important notion. Whereby, ‘if it is simply a habit for a family to watch television together and the ‘togetherness’ itself is all the family members are concerned about, they may continue to watch television together regardless of whether the television contents are designed for family viewing’ (Lee, 2010).

Which prompts me to consider this analysis by a case by case approach. But then how can we gain a proper insight into how the viewing culture of families have changed? After all, Lee notes that it is not necessarily possible to differentiate the key motivating factor being that of Pay Tv or Free to Air considering ‘it remains possible for multichannel television to be consumed as a form of family entertainment’ given the above is also true.

Alas, we find ourselves at a cross roads. Undoubtedly, the options a family has to access TV have diversified. But as Lee shows, this does not necessarily signify a complete change of viewing habits. Hence I would like to put forth a couple research questions of my own:

Research Question 1: Has TV influenced our understanding of family through its representation of family and hence altered the way in which we identify accepted or normal practice with regard to family TV consumption?

Research Question 2: Are certain genres more likely to prompt a collective family viewing over others? And hence is the opposite true, with some genres pushing towards a more heterogeneous approach?

Lee, FF 2010, ‘The influence of family viewing preferences on television consumption in the era of multichannel services’, Asian Journal Of Communication, 20, 3, pp. 281-298, Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 16 April 2013.

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The Influencer Box

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Game of Thrones is back. Back in a huge way. Dragons, Khaleesi, new characters and new problems. But what did HBO do over the break to keep us entertained? Well, in America at least they posted out a thing being called the Influencer Box.

Anna Kendrick's Influence Box

That one just there got sent to Anna Kendrick. Lucky gal. But why? As Myles McNutt notes in his post “A Box of Influence: Game of Thrones and Cultural Capital” on March 22nd, 8 days before the return of the series, “HBO is effectively spending thousands of dollars to send rich celebrities personalized gifts to promote a show that is already wildly successful and likely to run for many seasons”. Thus it seems silly as McNutt also notes, fans are beginning to question why a “celebrity’s” fandom is valued more highly than their own.

He goes on to suggests the reason lies in a lack of understanding. That is, a lack in comprehension of the real effect social media can have and thus and emphasis on brand building and immersion. To quote, “The Influencer Box was not simply designed to promote the process of watching Game of Thrones, but rather to promote the idea of engaging with Game of Thrones as though it were a part of your life.” (McNutt, 2013)

And here we begin to see a trend emerging quite rapidly in the media sphere. That of complete infiltration into our very being and interactivity.

Take Zeebox, Fango, The Walking Dead Story Sync or the True Blood Beverage, companies are attempting to capitalise on our ability to become engaged in drastic ways, and our tendency to interact with life across a multitude of screens and experiences.

So where does this leave the viewer? Will we begin to see parts of the TV show dispersed onto other mediums in order for a Transmedial presentation to be engaged? Will we cease to be able to simply watch a TV show or movie without feeling obliged to tweet about it with our House Sigil display picture only to proceed to rage multiple keyboard wars with other fanatics?

An initiative such as this one is a perfect example of the ‘more individualized TV culture within the household’ (Lee, 2010) that Lee acknowledges now exists.

McNutt, Myles 2013, ‘A Box of Influence: Game of Thrones and Cultural Capital’, Cultural Learnings, Blog. viewed 23rd March 2013.

Lee, L.F Francie 2010, ‘The influence of family viewing preferences on television consumption in the era of multichannel services’, Asian Journal Of Communication, 20, 3, pp. 281-298, Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 16 April 2013.

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The Voice

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What I wish to discuss here is relatively contentious. It’s contentious because it’s a taboo topic, and it’s contentious because we all react emotionally towards it.

I’m speaking of course, of the tendency for The Voice to choose entrants who have been through hardship as their poster boys and girls for the show.

Now it is necessary for me to preface this with a disclaimer as I obviously realise the positive effects that a show such as this could have on the lives of a Rachael Leahcar or a Harrison Craig. So too, I admire them for their ability to front up to a national audience, and the hardship they have been through. But I wish to bring into the question the way the in which we as an audience react to these ‘feel good’ stories, and the way in which The Voice feeds them to us.

After all, are we not amazed and all warm and fuzzy inside because of our low expectations for these people who are deemed disabled? And hence, when they exceed our expectations we are delightfully surprised?

In this case, I am not sure whether we can hold the creators accountable for these actions. As producers and writers, they have deeply considered the desires and expectations of their audience, thus, the best way for this show to have an effect on the audience and hence be successful. After all, all shows create characters regardless of whether they are pitched as fact or fiction.

However, should we not question the motives of the producers to cast these entrants as remarkable and extraordinary by virtue of their disability?

Take the marketing for The Voice through Harrison Craig. Backed by emotive music and dramatic inter-titles the young man stutters through his explanation of how he has come to be there. It truly tears at your compassion and empathy. But how can we possibly sit there and remain passive to the blatant exploitation of Harrison’s speech impediment as a means of evoking an emotional reaction from us, the audience?

I do not dispute that his story is one of great strength, and indeed an inspiring one, but for The Voice to monetise his disability strikes me as morally unsound. The emphasis should be on ‘The Voice’ rather than the back story, and through the voice we should learn learn more of these people their story. Not the other way round.

Further from this, perhaps we need to consider our own reactions to Harrison and Rachael Leahcar.

Are we not submitting to an able-bodied hubris that makes us vulnerable to the poorly informed constructs of The Voice?

And how does a show such as this affect the family dynamic discussed in my post Media Consumption and its affect on the good old days of TV viewing?

I would think a show like this covers all bases. Going with Lee’s Hypothesis 1, that of ‘preference for family viewing relates positively to consumption and evaluation of conventional mass television broadcasting’ (Lee, 2010), one could extrapolate that a variety talent show like this would appeal to all heterogeneity existing in a family, to include Hypothesis 2. However this, of course, would not always be the case. So who exactly is the audience that desires for the emotional hooks The Voice wishes to drive in? And what kinds of families might actually sit down to watch such a program?

The show itself attempts to show supportive families and friends that accompany their progeny to the blind audition. They attempt to cover the back story of the contestant. But do these feigned attempts at content really constitute adequate representations of Australians? Is the appeal in the feel good euphoria we feel about our nation when we watch those who achieve having been through hardship? And lastly, what sort of message is this pumping into our homes?

After all, taking the example of Jersey Shore and James Poniewozik’s reading of how it has affected the characters of that show, will The Voice and its audience take a similar turn?

Lee, FF 2010, ‘The influence of family viewing preferences on television consumption in the era of multichannel services’, Asian Journal Of Communication, 20, 3, pp. 281-298, Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 16 April 2013.

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Big Day Out Evolution Grant

Ask and you shall receive. After writing on transmedia as a gimmick last night, low and behold a potential candidate for an evolutionary approach to transmedia hits my inbox.

David Tiley writes:

The Screen Producers’ Association of Australia is partnering with music stalwarts Big Day Out and Sounds Australia to offer the $20,000 Big Day Out Evolution Grant. For SPAA, this is a sideways step into new territory just as its new leadership takes control. For everyone else, it is a party in Texas.

Have a read, worthwhile few minutes I’d say

While I’m still not too sure what such a grant is going to foster, I am fairly sure this kind of movement towards collaboration can only be a good thing. I’m also unsure how the submission/selection process is going to take, or is taking, place.

However, Tiley seems similarly unsure. Having asked Millie Millgate and BDO themselves what the desired outcome is, the general consensus is some kind of new, unique interaction between performers, filmmakers, musicians, new media and anyone else who has the head to be able to piece this all together.

As BDO puts it, ‘it is time to create storified content, to produce interactive film, video, holograph and light shows that go beyond displaying a twitter feed on a screen..”

It sounds exciting. They’re talking about bring performances and interaction to new levels through the backing of an already established industry/event in Big Day Out.

But what are people going to submit? I’ve already got a few ideas myself.

Am I susceptible to Transmedia?

I figure we’re all suckers for some kind of fandom. Geek worship. Subscribing to the hype monster. But I find myself returning to the same question, is Transmedia for me?

Reading Jon Vidar’s article The Transmedia Secret of Secret Cinema in the Huffington Post, I couldn’t really appreciate his enthusiasm for Secret cinema. Sitting in a cell for hours prior to watching The Shawshank Redemption would sure enough get you a little toey to watch the film, but enhancing the experience? Expanding the story world in a useful way? I couldn’t think of anything worse.

So too, the idea of having to enter codes, or follow clues to find out everything I need to know about Lost or The Matrix similarly leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

I’ve tried to reconcile these thoughts by reassuring myself that said apprehension is the result of my relationship to entertainment. In that, I appreciate the traditional approach to watching a film, or TV. Sitting down and bloody watching the thing. While Vidar suggests the ‘lean back experience’ prevents potential ‘true’ engagement with the subject matter, I would argue that some Transmedia alienates a large part of its viewership – that is, if a piece of entertainment is to rely on transmedia being an integral aspect of the experience as The Matrix did.

What would, however, lead me to mindfully invest in Transmedia is some concrete or even just substantiated evidence that Transmedia increases the value, and hence money making ability, of the entertainment product.

Industrial as this may seem, surely the investment into online and real world structures, take for example a fully fitted prison for Vidar, has to be justified by dollars.

Perhaps, this relationship isn’t direct. Perhaps the real investment is in the ‘brand’, and by building the brand of a show or movie you gain a following that have a true connection with the content providing – love marks.

Surely I’m not the only one. Surely, films can be done with such affluence that the simple act of watching it in a cinema is so much more enticing than trawling through a whole bunch of ‘expansion packs’ to increase the attractiveness of this world.

After all, if Transmedia isn’t making the brand money, and torrenting, Netflix and others continue along the same trajectory, we’ll find ourselves relying on the ‘lean back experience’ to bring in the cash.

Can Transmedia transcend beyond a gimmick? I hesitate to respond with a yes.

‘Photogénie’ A vision from Jean Epstein.

By using a metaphor involving saimese twins, Jean Epstein brilliantly opens his speech ‘On Certain Characteristics of Photogénie’. To quote, Epstein believes cinema is ‘sundered at the heart, or by the higher necessities of emotion’, and hence needs a surgeon to separate the business from the art of it all.

Epstein puts forth that ‘only mobile and personal aspects of the world, of things and souls, may see their moral value increased by filmic reproduction’.

To this end, I feel Epstein seeks to usher in a cinema of personal visions of time, place, morality and happenstance. Having delivered this speech in November of 1923 to the Salon d’Automne, one can only assume that Epstein must’ve felt the arrival of Francois Truffaut some 36 years was a long time overdue (think Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, 1959).

I suppose when Epstein makes mention of a move away from the documentary, he is referencing films such as Nanook of the North (1922), so too this could be considered a history based film. However, on many accounts The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) is similarly historic, yet considered in a similar artistic ilk as D.W. Griffith’s masterpiece Birth of a Nation (1915). Which begs the question, what exactly led Epstein to attribute this time as one in need of change towards artistic merit?

Perhaps he had grown tired of successful films that lacked personality, although considering his love for Griffith, Way Down East (1920) was considered one the best films of the year, and how could he have a problem with Charles Chaplin’s The Kid (1921)? However, I can understand why Epstein may have thought cinema was headed downhill having to sit through the episodic first half of Robin Hood (1922), featuring Douglas Fairbanks in all his gaiety.

Alas, I am not suggesting Epstein was perhaps a little quick to jump. What he calls for in this speech are things we take for granted now in modern cinema – a sense of time, place, morality (of course this is debatable and not all encompassing) – and as such I find these words to be supremely important for the way in which they adequately chart the change that was to come in the coming years. James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931), John Cromwell’s Tom Sawyer (1930), King Kong (1933) kept at their heart this sense of exploring morality and capturing time and space.

And for that Epstein, I tip my hat. But are these true photogénie?

Truffaut’s New Wave

Watching Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, I couldn’t help but feel at ease with subject matter that is undoubtedly disturbing.

For what is a film about a child pushed to delinquency by virtue of frivolous parenting, I always felt Antoine Doinel was safe. Safe despite being misunderstood and battling with what the world expects from him, for he is wise beyond his years with a street sense to rival most adults.

Much has been written about Truffaut’s motivations, or perhaps more pressingly his influences in creating this striking debut. As the ‘Grave Digger of French Cinema’, one can only presume this debut was met with much anticipation, piqued by his banning from Cannes a year prior in ’58.

Truffaut was a prolific writer, a critic, his ‘epistolary talents’ (John Conomos, 2000) not lost in the ether thanks to a mentoring Andre Bazin. Conomos goes on to suggest this base in writing is what leads Truffaut to Camera Stylo, a term coined by Alexander Astruc to describe the way a ‘filmmaker writes with his camera as a writer writes with his pen’.

What is interesting to me is the angle in which Truffaut approaches his delinquent protagonist. I would hesitate to suggest that Truffaut really envisioned Doinel as such, for the humanity and subtleties he allows to take to the screen belie a child whose delinquency is only justified in the eyes of his contemporaries and elders, least of all in the audience.

As a viewer of The 400 Blows, I feel we are asked to reconsider the actions of youths. Perhaps, as it were, as a way for Truffaut to seek understanding from the audience for his own youth.

While we find ourselves in darkness, it is up to those around us to led us from this darkness.

Just as Bazin guarded Truffaut from enrolment, Doinel looks to us in the infamous freeze frame ending, eyes intensely searching, arms by his side, as if to say ‘what do I do now?’

After all, regardless of Antoine’s apparent maturity he is just a child. A child attempting to be a man (surely only a deep thinking, caring person would be capable of writing a letter of intent and farewell to their uncaring parents), but confused as to what is expected of him in order for this transition to take place.

It is clear then, that Truffaut uses Doinel as a vehicle to express his own beliefs of childhood, society, acceptance and fate. A trait that seems evident in what is soon to be termed the French New Wave.

We have Truffaut to thank for such a letter of intent and farewell to the studio based French cinema that followed the war. A true gift to behold if The 400 Blows is anything to go by.

Reference – http://sensesofcinema.com/2000/6/francois-truffaut/blows/