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Discourse 24.1 (2002) 166-183

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The Remains of the Day for Night

Spencer Golub

We do not need or desire souvenirs of events that are repeatable. Rather we need and desire souvenirs of events that are reportable, events whose materiality has escaped us, events that thereby exist only through the invention of narrative.

—Susan Stewart, On Longing

Memory-making, like movie-making, offers a Barthesian proairetic sequence of events, which is defined by the montaged discontinuities of editing and framing the actor in the scene, the sight-and-sound avatars of an ambiguous real/reel. ROLE! FILM!

I. Dis/Continuity

The prediction of death is as narrow as meaning.

—Jacques Roubaud, "Narrow Possibilities"

( . . . But can the end be in the middle? Yes, yes, it always is . . . )

—Robert Coover, "The Magic Poker" 1 [End Page 166]

In François Truffaut's Day forNight (1973), an actor, who has finished shooting the film-within-the-film Meet Pamela, but who is still in character in the film proper, says that he is always being killed off in the movies in which he plays. (Roubaud: "There are beings of whom it is inevitably said that it is true they do not exist.") Shortly thereafter, he dies off-camera, his death bringing to the emulsified surface the day-for-night trickery of Truffaut's real shoot and superimposing a new faux-chronological sequencing on the event of the film's making (the filmmaking), which is (only) as proairetic as before. Of course, this is allowing for the fact that the concept of the "proairetic" troubles the notion of "before" and the latter's built-in (or so we think) causal-chronological assumption. After all, there are also events of which it is said that nothing inevitable exists, or equally nothing but their inevitability exists. The co-existence of the actual and the inevitable is, as a rule and at best, uneasy.

(a bad accident is to happen quite soon)

—Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita2

"I suppose I expected the accident in a way," says the producer of the film-within-the-film of the actor last seen and now re-viewed (reviews attaching themselves to actors, more so than to characters) being shot through the window in that interior film's scenic mock-up of a room interior opening out. (Barthes: "The window frame creates the scene.") "Alexandre," as the dead man is called (or as the actor with the dead man's calling is known), is, says the producer (perhaps self-reflecting), "the original man in a hurry." "Ferrand," Truffaut himself in the thinly disguised role of the interior film's director (the interior film that opens out upon and into the "real" film), disagrees. "Alexandre hated to leave anyplace," or "Anyplace," as the film set, as the series of film sets he has left might serially be (re)called. He appeared to think, reflected the real and fictional director self-consciously, that if he were forever in a hurry, he would always be someplace (or anyplace). "Someplaces" that are really "Anyplaces" come into being just as fast as technicians can build them and become "Noplaces" just as fast as they can be "struck" by stagehands.

The idea for Day for Night came to Truffaut when he became "intrigued by the remains of a huge exterior set that had been erected several years earlier for an American production of Jean Giraudoux's stage play The Madwoman of Chaillot, which deals with self-delusion and self-aggrandizement. There are places whose existence, it may be said, produces (the illusion of) inevitability. He [End Page 167] (Truffaut or Ferrand?) extrapolated from these scenic remains particular sites as scenic semes or signifiers ("several building façades, a subway entrance, and a Paris sidewalk café"). From these "remains" of an unreal day, he constructed a day-for-night (Day for Night) opening, a signature proairesis of a film sequence being de-realized or exposed as a fiction in the act of being rendered mock-(up-)authentic by the filmmaking process—a Derridean "bygone totality or one still to come." 3



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