A Zoom Salon of The 400 Blows (1959) 99 min | Mechanics' Institute

You are here

A Zoom Salon of The 400 Blows (1959) 99 min
July 2020 - French Classics

Friday, July 24, 2020 - 6:00pm

CinemaLit Curator Matthew Kennedy

CinemaLit Popcorn Pop-Up Salon: July -- French Classics

Hello Film Lovers,

Welcome back to CinemaLit! We have missed our Friday night gatherings. Laura, Pam, and I are excited to launch this new format for CinemaLit as we Shelter at Home. We will be viewing films on Kanopy and gathering online for a Popcorn Pop-Up Salon!

All you will need is either a Mechanics' Institute library card, or a San Francisco Public Library card, which will give you access to Kanopy and its treasure trove of movies. Make a reservation as usual via Eventbrite and watch the film on Kanopy at your leisure. You will receive a link to the Friday night CinemaLit salon on Zoom two days in advance. On the night of the salon click the Zoom link and join us.

If you do not receive a Zoom Link by the day of the event, contact Pam Troy at rsvp@milibrary.org.


Mechanics’ Institute members can now sign up for FREE access to Kanopy, a wonderful film streaming service. To sign up:

1. Click on  THIS LINK.

2. Click on the large orange login button that reads, “Log in to milibrary.”

3. Enter the 14-digit bar code from your MI Library card

4. Set up your account following Kanopy’s instructions, including your email and a password.

5. Kanopy will send verification to your email address.

You’ll be able to choose from a wonderful selection of films, including classics, pre-code, foreign films, and documentaries, including the films we’ve scheduled this month for CinemaLit.

If you are not a Mechanics’ Institute member, consider membership and click  HERE  to join online:

Or, you can check with your public library to see if they are Kanopy members. If so, you may use your public library card to set up a Kanopy account.


 Grab your popcorn and hankies and join us on Friday nights in June! 

 Matthew Kennedy, curator and host

CinemaLit Film Series

July 2020: French Classics

Bastille Day is July 14, and we're using that as a reason to celebrate classic French cinema this month. We've scheduled four films (in bold type below), one from each decade from the 1930s to the 1960s. This is hardly a complete survey of French film classics, but it's a beginning.

The contributions of France to world cinema are incalculable, beginning with the Lumière Brothers first screening of "moving" pictures projected through light at a theater in Paris in 1895. In the early twentieth century, French film production grew and thrived until World War I effectively destroyed the industry. Visionary directors such as Abel Gance (Napoleon), Jacques Feyder (Faces of Children), Germaine Dulac (The Seashell and the Clergyman) and Marcel Pagnol (the Marseilles Trilogy) brought French cinema back to glory in the 1920s and 1930s. Arguably the most influential and acclaimed director of the period is Jean Renoir, whose Grand Illusion (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1939) stun with their astute observations of the human psyche.

The industry again suffered during World War II, but amidst post-war austerity came The Children of Paradise and Jean Cocteau's enduring avant-garde fantasy The Beauty and the Beast (1946). By the 1950s, French filmmaking had grown a bit staid. Jacques Tati, Robert Bresson, Jacques Becker, and a handful of others were making outstanding films, but the industry needed fresh air. In the late 1950s, a group of renegade directors sought to upend conventions by enlivening their films with a bracing realism, outdoor locations, and personal stories. The French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague) shook the movie world to its roots, influencing filmmakers and audience tastes ever since. Its leading directors include François Truffaut (The 400 Blows, 1959) and Agnès Varda (Cléo from 5 to 7, 1962).

Hope you'll join us for great cinéma française in July!

Friday, July 24 - The 400 Blows (1959)

"I lie now and then, I suppose. Sometimes I'd tell them the truth adn they still wouldn't believe me, so I prefer to lie."

The 400 Blows, François Truffaut's brilliant debut film, takes its title from the French idiom, "faire les quatre cents coups," or "to raise hell." Truffaut recalled his own troubled childhood in this story of Antoine Doinel, an adolescent clumsily sorting out life as his parents and teachers offer only punishment and neglect. Told almost as a confessional, Truffaut charts Antoine's path to petty thief and runaway minus a whisper of sentimentality or nostalgia.

The twenty-six year old Truffaut, already an established film critic, was eager to smash the conventions of French cinema. For The 400 Blows, he took to the streets and employed a breezy style valuing improvisation, spontaneity, and the rhythms of daily life over the calculated pace of more formal movie-making. Aided by Henri Decae's graceful camerawork and Jean Constantin's lilting score, Truffaut pulled it off with a budget of $50,000 and a two-month shooting schedule.

The success of The 400 Blows is largely due to the remarkable director-actor relationship forged between Truffaut and young Jean-Pierre Leaud as Antoine. Leaud was a beginner to filmmaking as well, and he possessed a rare and radiant naturalism. His was one of those faces the camera loves. Truffaut and Leaud would continue telling the story of Antoine in four subsequent films, their partnership ending with Truffaut's untimely death at 52 in 1984.


Curated by Matthew Kennedy

Matthew Kennedy, CinemaLit’s curator, has written biographies of Marie Dressler, Joan Blondell, and Edmund Goulding. His book Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s, was the basis of a film series on Turner Classic Movies. 

I don't have a favorite film,” Matthew says. "I find that my relationships to films, actors, genres, and directors change as I change over the years. Some don't hold up. Some look more profound, as though I've caught up with their artistry. I feel that way about Garbo, Cary Grant, director John Cassavetes, and others."

Classic films have historical context, something only time can provide,” Matt observes. “They become these great cultural artifacts, so revealing of tastes, attitudes, and assumptions.”

Register with Eventbrite below.

If the green TICKET button is not immediately visible, scroll down on the right in the Eventbrite window until it appears


CinemaLit Films

Members Free
Public Free
Register now ›
Pam Troy - 415-393-0116
Register now by using the form below or calling .

Future CinemaLit Films

Jul 10 - 6:00pm

A Zoom Salon of The Rules of the Game (1939) 110 min
July 2020 - French Classics

Jul 17 - 6:00pm

A Zoom Salon of The Beauty and the Beast (1946) 96 min
July 2020 - French Classics

Jul 31 - 6:00pm

A Zoom Salon of Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962) 90 min
July 2020 - French Classics