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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 30, 2003

5-disc set traces life of Truffaut alter ego

By Terry Lawson
Knight Ridder News Service

It could be the most devastating freeze-frame in movies. The final shot of Francois Truffaut's "The 400 Blows," the director's semi-autobiographical 1959 drama about troubled teenager Antoine Doinel, follows Antoine as he escapes from reform school, where he has just been visited by his sadistic mother, ending up at a deserted beach.

As he walks toward the camera, Truffaut freezes on his confused face, asking: What will become of him now?

Fortunately for those of us to whom "The 400 Blows" was a touchstone movie, Truffaut wasn't done with Doinel. He would follow his life for more than two decades, in a short and three features, all of which have been collected in the Criterion Collection's five-disc set "The Adventures of Antoine Doinel" (4 stars, $99.95).

Played in all five films by Jean-Pierre Leaud, Antoine would become Truffaut's alter ego, from the 16-year-old obsessed with a 20-year-old stranger in "Antoine and Colette" (the best section of a 1962 omnibus film titled "Love at Twenty") to the dishonorably discharged soldier in 1968's "Stolen Kisses" to the married philanderer of 1970's "Bed and Board" to the divorced novelist of 1979's "Love on the Run."

The last film contains flashbacks from the previous four and allows us a sentimental but critical look back on the life of a man who was never able to outrun his need for a love denied him as a child.

The set is rich with extras — commentary by Truffaut historians and critics, interviews, trailers — while Disc 5, "Les salades de l'amour," contains a 1957 Truffaut short called "Les Mistons" ("The Mischief Makers") that prefigures the themes of "The 400 Blows."

There are excerpts from a 1961 documentary about the director and a 1981 TV interview. A 72-page book collects Truffaut's original treatments for the early films and his writings about the others, along with interviews and essays.

Among Truffaut's greatest gifts to film lovers was "Hitchcock/Truffaut," a collection of his interviews-dialogues with Alfred Hitchcock that discussed the making of Hitch's films in chronological order.

Someday the various copyright holders and owners of prints may come together to collect all the surviving Hitchcock films in a set, but for now you have to do it yourself. Criterion has made that job easier with "Wrong Men & Notorious Women" (4 stars, $124.95), which collects all five of the restored Hitchcock titles in its catalog.

From some of the best movies ever made we go to one of the best TV shows ever produced. "Homicide: Life on the Street," filmed on location and based on the real-life stories of Baltimore cops, was easily the most authentic-feeling cop show ever aired. The four-DVD box set, "The Complete Seasons 1 & 2" (4 stars, A&E/NBC, $69.95), contains the first nine episodes aired in 1993, along with four from 1994, when NBC gave the innovative show what amounted to a second tryout.

As hard as it might be to imagine, when "The Monkees" made its prime-time debut in 1966, it seemed impossibly fresh and innovative — at least to anyone who hadn't seen "A Hard Day's Night," which it shamelessly emulated.

The sitcom about four rock musicians — the sprite Davy Jones, the laconic Mike Nesmith, the Ringo-like Peter Tork and the mostly insufferable Mickey Dolenz — was full of stop-motion, slow-motion, speeded-up sequences, in-jokes and non sequiturs that took a second or two to get.

"The Monkees: Season 1" (* * * stars, Rhino, $89.95) collects all 36 episodes from 1966-67, all remixed into 5.1 and it's beautifully packaged in a box that looks like one of those portable 45 players from the early '60s.

"The Pianist" (* * * * stars, Universal, $26.98) heads the list of the week's recent theatrical releases, which will allow those who scrupulously avoid art theaters to see why star Adrien Brody, director Roman Polanski and writer Ronald Harwood deserved the Academy Awards they won for this superior Holocaust drama.

"The Recruit" (* * stars, Touchstone, $29.99) is a well-directed and -acted thriller about a CIA recruiter (Al Pacino) who pulls a computer hacker (Colin Farrell) into the house of mirrors.