C’etait un Rendezvous: Duped by the Soundtrack

By Deane Barker on February 22, 2008

Two years ago, we posted about C’etait un Rendezvous, a short movie shot in 1976 showing a supposedly breath-taking drive through Paris in the early morning. We said this:

The entire film is shot from the bumper of the Ferrari (a 275 GTB) as it jams through the streets of Paris in real time. The film is nine minutes long, and was shot early one morning, without any permits, on streets open to the public. While it’s great fun to watch, it was irresponsible as hell to film — the driver runs red lights, drives the wrong way up one-way streets, etc.

I was looking through the post again today, and followed up with some other resources, and it’s suddenly looking like the “drive like hell” aspects of the movie were misleading.

It’s come to light in the last few years, apparently, that the movie was not shot from the bumper of a Ferrari, but instead from the bumper of a relatively sedate Mercedes-Benz 450SEL (here’s a picture of the director and the camera rig, in fact).

Consequently, this means the soundtrack is entirely fake — the sounds of the car in the movie ain’t no Mercedes. Additionally, the sound of the car in the movie is a manual transmission with at least five gears, while the Mercedes has only three gears (and it’s an automatic).

With this in mind, I watched the movie again, and I determined that the car in the film really wasn’t going that fast. The sound of the engine just makes it seem like it’s going fast. If you watch the movie with the sound off, the visual is of a car making a fairly sedate drive, not the breakneck drive we were led to believe.

The movie is on YouTube: listen for yourself.

There are scenes where the sound of the film makes you think the guy is well over 100 m.p.h., but he takes a normal amount of time to pass other cars. So either everyone was going over 100 m.p.h., or he was going much slower.

So this brings us back to the entire reason I posted about the film in the first place — the physics analysis:

[…] the bottom line is that the guy was absolutely flying at some points in the trip. For example —

At second #171, the driver passed a landmark that was 5,190 meters into his trip. Eighteen seconds later (second #189), the driver passed a landmark that was 6,290 meters into his trip. This means he traveled 1,100 meters in 18 seconds, or 61 meters per second. That’s almost 140 m.p.h.

The math in there is correct (I just re-checked it), but I’m wondering if the analysis — the positioning of the landmarks — is wrong. These two notes appear on the IMDb trivia page:

According to recent claims by Claude Lelouch, he was driving his own Mercedes in the film, and later dubbed over the sound of a Ferrari 275GTB to give the impression of much higher speeds. Calculations made by several independent groups using the film show that the car never exceeds 140 km/h (85 mph), which seems to lend credence to his recent comments.

[…] Until recently, there was no confirmation of who was driving or what car he was driving. Over the years, various sources claimed an F1 driver was at the wheel of a Le Mans Matra 675, Ferrari 275 GTB, or an Alpine A110. However, Claude Lelouch confirmed on his official website in March 2006 that he was driving, and it was a 6.9 litre Mercedes.

Sadly, Claude’s site is largely in French. I found a “Making Of” documentary on YouTube as well, but it too is in French (my kingdom for subtitles!!).

I feel a little silly about this — I was totally duped by nothing but a soundtrack, and perhaps the perspective of the camera (anything skimming the ground like that just naturally seems faster). Regardless, it’s a fascinating look at how one sense can fool another. What my eyes were seeing was completely over-ridden by what my ears were hearing.

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  1. That’s the work of foley artists who engineer the sounds we see on screen. :-)

    My observation is that it is highly unlikely to have a Ferrari maxed-out in its top gear in the city, the sound effect of which can easily be engineered by looping the audio. The fast action scenes could possibly be created with varying degrees of fast motion video. Also, the impression of high speed is further enhanced by the shorter strips of lane markings in France.

    Consider this, if you have watched videos of 747s landings, the runway centerline segments are much longer than a standard roadway. Watching the cockpit view (from the upper deck, btw) of that jumbo landing hardly gives the impression that the plane was travelling 160 knots (161 mph) on touchdown. Of course, on board the aircraft you also feel the changes in acceleration and know otherwise.

    I’m a car geek, if you will.. :-)

  2. in the making of at one point he says he was running up to 200 km/h (but then it says that at 160 he flet the limit of the car…). he also says he decided to make the movie the night before, in one take ‘whether it works or not’. they were 3 in the car. near the louvre he had no visibility so he put another man with a handheld transceiver to confirm he could go forward but he never received the info. he went on anyway. later his friend told him the transceiver was broken.

    that’s all for today (lots of other informations there, learn french!)

  3. As I understand it, 160km/h is the top speed he could reach in the curve. But both ways, he was actually flying, indeed – especially considering that the speed limit in French cities at the time was 60km/h.

    Anyway, another interesting point is the reason why he chose a Mercedes; first, that was his own car, and arguably he new it better than any other, and then it had a hydropneumatic suspension, which was greatly helping stabilizing the camera and getting a smoother picture. Had he done it with a sports car, the end result would have been shaky at best, if exploitable.

    Eventually, the soundtrack was recorded later on in a real Ferrari, by driving the same path. Don’t ask me how he got such a perfect picture/sound mapping, that’s magic to me.


  4. I agree with you guys. I you watch the car passing other traffic on the Champs-Elysees, it doesn’t look like it’s going that much faster. Don’t get me wrong – it’s fast. Just not as fast as the soundtrack suggests.


  5. you guys still have not explained the closeness of the headlights that would explain the Alpine A110 theory, looking at the picture you have supplied to get the headlights so close together then there would have to be either foglighst in the mercedes grille or it is another car.

    I do however agree that it is most probably the mercedeas as neither an Alpine A110, Lemans Mantra 675 or Ferrari 275 GTB would have been able to travel at such speeds through some of the dips that the car goes through without taking out most of the cars undercarage. I have driven a GTB and there is no way the front end would be still on the car going through some of those dips at any speed but slowly.

    There my 5c.

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