The 400 Blows

Les Quatre Cent Coups

François Truffaut, France, 1958


The playing space in this clip is the giant spinning drum / wall of death at a fair ground, where Antoine Doinel takes his place. In this giant, enclosed cylinder the ‘players’ experience a world where the rules of gravity are not as they are in world outside. In this curious world you can turn head over heels by shuffling around in a circle. This world refuses to conform to the established rules of perception. When the players look up at the spectators, who stare down into the drum, all the players can see are strobing shapes, where the viewers features become blurred and unclear. Due to the speed of the drum the world has fallen out of focus and become unstable.

This roundabout, this spinning drum, like many other attractions in the fair is first and foremost a game based around dizziness, a game where all reference points disappear, which allows the everyday stability of the world to be turned on its head. 

Such is the nature of dizziness that it doesn’t stop when the spinning drum itself stops. Jean-Pierre Léaud physically took part in the wall of death and staggers and wobbles when he gets back up on to the ledge of the drum. In reality it’s not the character, the imaginary being, who experiences the ride, but the actor himself, who physically endures the sensations of dizziness, without having to play at it. 
To film this scene François Truffaut chose to film static shots from the point of view of the spectators, and from the subjective, spinning point of view of the ‘guinea pigs’ themselves, pinned to the wall of the drum.  The sequence is painstakingly edited to allow us, the audience, to experience the smooth transition between these two different points of view.