Ruminations on Carola and The Last MetroWritten by Joe D on September 7th, 2010
I got to thinking about The Last Metro, Truffaut and the creative process. Let’s face it all artists borrow from each other, nobody lives in a vacuum so we’re all influenced by everything we contact. Now it is a tried and true technique of film writing to base your screenplay on a film that you think powerful, effective, successful. This is what Francoise did, using Carola as his model. But like any true artist he had to inject the form with his personal virus, his obsession. Let me digress a moment, I think every writer, maybe every creative artist, is obsessed with something, it could be an illness, a phobia, a person, a traumatic event, something that causes an itch they can’t scratch except by writing or creating something about it. Think grain of sand, oyster, pearl. Now the object of the creator’s obsession may be disguised or hidden or it may be right out there in front of your face. Let me give some examples, Ed Wood, The World’s Worst Director wrote a lot of pulp and porn novels to supplement his income. They almost all had to do with transvestitism. That ,as anyone who’s seen Glen or Glenda knows was Wood’s obsession. It’s what fired his creative furnace. My friend’s father was a famous writer. Through overindulgence in drug use and other forms of self abuse he had a breakdown, from then on all his writings were infused with the idea that his deceased wife was a whore. This was not true but somehow in his delusional state he became obsessed with the idea and had to include it in every piece he wrote no matter what the subject matter. His kids became upset and told their father to cut it out so he became crafty and would only hint at in obscure ways. My friend gave me a piece of his father’s to read and after I finished it he told me about his father’s obsession. I had not noticed the reference to his ex- wife as a prostitute but my friend pointed out some cryptic passages that made reference to “plying her trade” and “world’s oldest profession”. I didn’t get it when I read it, I chalked it up to poetic license but when my friend ( who had been down this road many times before) pointed it out to me I got it. His father HAD to put that reference in everything he wrote. I think for a lot of creative people the amount of the personal obsession they put into a project can determine it’s success or failure both as an objet d’art and a commercial enterprise. Too much obscure reference can turn an audience off, it’s a delicate balance.
If you show me your obsession I’ll show you mine.
But back to The Last Metro. As I said Truffaut took Carola and injected his obsession into it. Truffaut’s discovery late in life who his father really was and the fact that his father was Jewish. This is where the character Steiner comes from. The director hidden in the basement of the theater ( in Carola it was a Resistance fighter they hid). Steiner even has a speech about being Jewish, what it means in French society, the pluses and minuses, how they get the hottest chicks, etc. This is Truffaut talking, he is Steiner, his Jewish roots, hidden like the director in the basement for years then brought up to an adoring public at the end of the film. This is the obsession Truffaut was dealing with and being a great artist, made into a film of universal appeal. As I said before the character of Steiner never quite rang true to me, I think that reflects Truffaut’s own confusion about his past,his identity, who he was, what it all meant.