Ask the Professor: Were the five sequels to “400 Blows” a new kind of episodic storytelling?

ScreenPrism: Were the five sequels to 400 Blows (1959) a new kind of episodic storytelling?

Professor Julian Cornell: I’m sure when Truffaut made 400 Blows (1959), he wasn’t thinking the way a contemporary director thinks: “Well, if it’s a hit, we’ll make a sequel.” I’m sure the filmmakers were just thinking of this as a one-off, and they found their relationship as artists to be very complementary. Sequels are something audiences clearly like. Sequels were around for a long time before this, but even if it had been done, Truffaut did it differently.

It was the notion of sequels being dictated by interest in the character, not so much the scenarios or the type of movie. There were Westerns that had sequels with the same characters again, certainly; there were plenty of examples before in other cinemas. But the idea of following somebody’s character just to see how they develop as a person, I think that is something innovative. This is about the trajectory of somebody’s life, and that’s what’s original about it. Maybe it’s a precursor of the sort of TV dramas we have today.

All of Truffaut’s movies are really good. The only thing I would ever say to people is: see all of his movies, you won’t regret it.

Read more from Ask the Professor: How did Truffaut transition from harsh film critic to filmmaker?

Julian Cornell is a Lecturer in Media Studies at Queens College – CUNY, where he teaches Film Genres, National Cinemas and Film Analysis. He also teaches Film at New York University in the Kanbar Institute of Film and Television in the Tisch School of the Arts, and Media at the Gallatin School For Individualized Study. He has also taught Film Studies at Wesleyan University. He received his B.A. in Film Studies from Wesleyan University, an M.A. in Film and Television from the University of California, Los Angeles and his PhD in Cinema Studies from New York University. Prior to teaching, he worked in Scheduling and Network Programming at HBO and Cinemax, and in independent film production. His primary research and teaching areas are American, Scandinavian and Japanese cinema and genre cinema, including disaster movies, science fiction, children’s films, animation and documentary.