…not the pastry.
Before I started the sojourn at NET, a miracle happened. The French developed a sound camera that revolutionized cinema, the 16mm Éclair NPR. NPR stood for Noiseless, Portable, Reflex, and was more sophisticated than anything else.
Matt had discovered and purchased one for the project. It was enchanting after having worked with other cameras, especially the Auricon. The Auricon was a clunk, heavy, unwieldy boat anchor. The Eclair was user friendly, properly balanced, easily changed magazines, a brilliant well executed concept, and better than anything else out there, 16mm, 35mm, whatever.
The timing of this camera to what I was about to do was perfect. The outdated technology of what was previously available was daunting. The fluidity of the Éclair allowed the camera to get where other cameras couldn’t/ wouldn’t go before. The easy changing of the magazines was an asset as well as there was just about no down time.
I’ve heard that the camera’s development was inspired by the French New Wave that was antithetical to traditional Hollywood forms. Jeanne Moreau, the great actress said that the new cinema freed her to act without worrying about hitting marks and other distracting things. I also remember an interview with a New Wave French director working in Hollywood for the first time and marveling at the professionalism of the Hollywood crews but also being stifled by that professionalism. Since I knew absolutely nothing about how to do anything, I found this out later, but I continued my bluff, thanks in part to the Eclair.
The camera spoiled me when I began to film in 35mm. The 35mm sound camera at the time, was the Mitchell BNC that needed several men to lift onto a dolly or tripod and a geared head to pan and tilt. That camera was developed in the thirties (1932) and there didn’t seem to be a lot of improvement since then. Ironically, one of the Mitchell’s strengths was a registration pin to hold film steady and the Éclair had one.
Enough of this tech stuff. Years later, Godard helped make a 35mm version of the Éclair, the Aaton. I spent a half a decade happily in 16mm until I was forced into shooting 35mm with the archaic equipment that then existed, but much of my technique was formed by this extraordinary piece of craftsmanship. I’ve often thought that had I started just a year earlier, things would have been different, probably far worse.