Adventures in Editing I

By Paul Duncan

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Another time, during a holiday in France, I travelled with my wife (as my interpreter) to a town north of Paris, where we met Truffaut's childhood friend Robert Lachenay. During our visit my wife was touched by Robert's reserved display of emotion. Living alone in a simple house, he showed us his vast library of books, including Truffaut's collection of Série Noirs (the dark mystery fiction that Truffaut sometimes translated into film). One room was the hub, consisting of shelves, a comfortable chair, a stand for his cigarettes, and a lamp. Whenever I think of Robert, I think of him in this chair reading and contemplating the thoughts of others from around the world and throughout recorded history.

After I explained the purpose of my visit, Robert Lachenay began talking about his time with Truffaut. They had met at school and Robert was the older, more experienced boy, wise to the ways of the world and how to bend the rules. He saw Truffaut as a kindred spirit and they palled around together, with Robert as the leader. They shared mutual passions for books and cinema, and they started film clubs together, with Robert old enough to legally handle the financial side of things. At each point in Truffaut's early troubled history, Robert stuck beside his friend and supported him in whatever way he could. Whilst talking, I looked through his photo album, which documented their friendship: the friends at a fun fair; walking the streets of Paris; clowning around. At one stage during military service Truffaut was put in jail and Robert took photos during his visit. (Truffaut had become friendly with Jean Genet, who sent him copies of Gallimard's Série Noir books to read in jail, thus beginning Truffaut's lifelong interest in noir fiction.) Robert was always there for Truffaut and he recorded the filming of the short Les Mistons and the first film Les Quatre Cents Coups. Les Quatre Cents Coups was based on Truffaut and Robert's early life and, as originally written, it remained true to Robert's role as leader. However, it soon became apparent that Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel (the 'Truffaut' character) was the magnetic personality and so the relationship, and the film, changed focus. Robert understood this, and was happy about it. Jean-Pierre Léaud went on to star in four more Doinel films for Truffaut, with each film shifting away from Truffaut and towards Léaud's personality.

As Robert told us his stories, we could see that he was becoming emotional and he would try to change the subject to something less subjective, more objective. But each time he would drift back to still-potent memories that revealed his deep affection for Truffaut. They were more than friends, they were brothers.

We left Robert's house holding his precious photo album in our hands. These photos were alive with stories and emotions, stories and emotions that we try to put into our books.

Next: The lost films of John Ford, and on the set of Michael Mann's new film Collateral.

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On the set of 'La Sirène du Mississippi' (1969). Catherine Deneuve's 'ice blonde' look would have been perfect for an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. (c) Jean Marqui