From the director of The Searchers, this 1954 western stars James Stewart as a young man who leaves home and joins a group of horse thieves, but finds himself in over his head when he falls in love with the leader’s sister.
This is a review of Arrow Academy’s Blu-ray of ‘America As Seen By A Frenchman’ (1960).
The film is basic, largely harmless, and yet it nearly completely misses the point, but that’s Francois’s style. It lacks substance, yet it’s still a film that had me laugh out loud. It’s as if I’m peering into the memories of my father, who grew up during this time period.
A film without a plot; in the late 1950s, a French filmmaker spends 18 months traveling throughout the United States, studying local traditions.
Francois Reichenbach, a French documentary filmmaker, traveled to the United States for the first time with his camera and filmed what can only be described as an innocent period in our country’s history between WWII and Vietnam, where optimism was high but he also manages to capture despair, lust, and the dregs. In San Francisco, he comes and films himself crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. What a lovely sight. He travels along the California coast until he arrives in Orange County, where he works at Disneyland. He rushes through suburbia, getting a good look at kids enjoying ice cream and competing in hula-hoop contests, before heading to Venice Beach, where rockabilly kids are blowing bubble gum and getting into mischief. A pit stop is made at a jail in Texas, where prisoners are let out four Sundays in October to participate in a rodeo in exchange for a one-year sentence reduction. Francois goes to Middle America, where he discovers a twin conference that draws fraternal twins from all across the nation. He also discusses the advertising business and how sex appeal contributes to the shaping of America. Later, he visits a stripper school before following the military on training exercises that include planes flying on and off an aircraft ship. He has time to participate in many carnivals, including one organized by blacks in the South and another organized by whites in the South, before arriving in New York and marveling at the skyscrapers.
America As Seen By a Frenchman is a lovely little time capsule gathered by a stranger from another country, with no storyline and just amusing observations on the unusual habits of the Americans he meets. When he meets such a broad range of people, he seems confused, and he appears to misunderstand certain key aspects of the nation that should be quite obvious. He visits churches and is perplexed by people’s faith (he considers Christianity a cult), and he spends a lot of time reflecting about childhood innocence. He managed to capture a remarkable degree of sensuality in his shooting for a film produced in the late 1950s; he cameras in on model sessions where gorgeous models nonchalantly throw away their clothes while bystanders watch, and then the striptease school section gets in on the action, as it were. This was not typical in films produced at the time, although I suppose “as viewed by a Frenchman” has its advantages. The film is basic, largely harmless, and yet it nearly completely misses the point, but that’s Francois’s style. It lacks substance, yet it’s still a film that had me laugh out loud. It’s as if I’m peering into the memories of my father, who grew up during this time period.
The Arrow Academy Blu-ray edition of America As Seen By a Frenchman is a wonderful discovery, and it looks fantastic in 2:35:1 aspect ratio. If it hadn’t been for this release, I would never have considered viewing it. A video appreciation, a picture gallery, and an inset booklet are included.
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