The 400 Blows (1959)
d. François Truffaut
Criterion Collection #5
The story I heard about the origin of The 400 Blows by François Truffaut is that Truffaut was a critic writing for the Parisian film criticism journal Cahiers du Cinema in the 1950s, when a film maker essentially challenged him in print by saying, "If you are so smart, why don't you make a movie." And Truffaut made The 400 Blows in response, which many argue is the greatest movie of all time.
That's enough to make you the top Artist/Critic cross-over of all time, especially if you include the fact that as a critic, Truffaut was part of the highly influential avant garde French New Wave, and then he became a leading film maker in the movement which followed the criticism... that he wrote. Godard and Truffaut play an out-size role in the minds of 21st century avant gardes of all nations because they worked in the international medium of film. The 400 Blows may require sub-titles for a non French teacher, but the cutting edge grammar/composition requires no translation, and The 400 Blows remains as fresh and dynamic today as it must have been in 1959.
The 400 Blows is the first in a series of films Truffaut made about Antoine Doniel, played here by Jean Pierre Leaud. Doniel would serve as Truffaut's filmic alter ego, and he figured prominently in a whole series of films which reportedly were inspired by Truffaut's actual life story. In The 400 Blows it is Doniel as a child, going to school, embarking on a life of petty crime and eventually getting sent away to juvie and having his Mom tell him that she does't love him anymore.
Although the subject matter is heavy, the film itself is anything but; Truffaut dazzles with a variety of techniques that give eternal life to his story of a hard knock youth. It is no wonder that The 400 Blows has such a low spine number within the Criterion Collection. Indeed, one could say that The 400 Blows is a central reason why the Criterion Collection exists in the first place.