Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015) / Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for suggestive material and violent images
Running Time: 79 min.
Cast: Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, James Gray, Peter Bogdanovich, Olivier Assayas, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Paul Schrader, Bob Balaban (narrator), Matthieu Amalric (narrator), Arnaud Desplechin
Director: Kent Jones
Screenplay: Kent Jones, Serge Toubiana
Review published January 14, 2016
"Hitchcock/Truffaut" (aka, "Cinema According to Hitchcock") is a book I'm very familiar with, having originally been mandatory ready for a Film Studies class on Alfred Hitchcock I took when I was in college. Hitchcock had been my favorite director at that time, and I was so fascinated by getting a "director's commentary" from the man himself about the making of many of my all-time favorite movies that I read the most of it before we even began to discuss it for the first time in class. I still have the book somewhere in a place I've forgotten several moves ago, but was so influenced by it that when I stumbled across it again at a used bookstore, I bought another copy, figuring I'd rather have it to read whenever I'd like rather than wait however many years in order to stumble across it again when looking through old boxes in the garage.
The book itself was originally published, in French, in 1966, with an English translation issued in 1967 (the version I own), and then a revised edition many years later in 1985 to cover Hitchcock's later films, shortly before Truffaut's own untimely death at the age of 52. It quickly became an essential book to own for filmmakers, film critics, and cineastes, and still continues to be highly sought after or anyone who considers himself or herself as more than a passing fan of Alfred Hitchcock's films. The book is primarily a chronological discussion of all of Hitchcock's films and the filmmaking process he employed in making them, with questions by my favorite 'nouvelle vague' filmmaker Francois Truffaut, a film critic of renown himself and a major fan (and student, to some extent) of Alfred Hitchcock. The interview took place over the course of an entire week in Los Angeles in 1962, as he was making The Birds for Universal Studios.
The film that bears the same name, Hitchcock/Truffaut, is part documentary on the genesis and influence on the book, and also part interview with other famous modern filmmakers who are also fans of Hitchcock. It is directed by Kent Jones, a historian of cinema who has been building a career on documentaries about classic films, starting with an interview with Martin Scorsese and his favorite Italian films in My Voyage to Italy, as well as documentaries on esteemed filmmakers of the 1940s and 1950s like Elia Kazan and Val Lewton. In his third film with Kent Jones, Scorsese joins the talking heads to provide context to Hitchcock's work, but also pulls in such heavyweights as David Fincher, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, and a host of other great filmmakers to give their take on just what makes Alfred Hitchcock one of the most brilliant and influential filmmakers of all time.
This is especially important because, like Truffaut himself would do in his book, this isn't just a listing of Hitchcock's films and how great they are. These are craftsmen in the industry analyzing the films for the stylistic touches Hitchcock brought to them, deconstructing scenes and montages from within several of the movies and telling us how what Hitchcock did with the camera angles, inserts and reactions shots either built suspense, highlighted guilt, or engaged the audience on a subconscious level through a precision that is often called mathematical in its meticulous attention to specific, pre-planned detail.
However, as astute as many of the penetrating observations on Hitchcock and cinema itself are from these leading filmmakers, what distinguishes Hitchcock/Truffaut as a documentary is the use of the audio snippets of the actual interview between Truffaut and Hitchcock, completely transfixing in not only the context of their history, but also the insiders' look at a discussion of two great masters of film discussing what cinema means to them, as well as how thoughtful Hitchcock himself would be in his own filmmaking. Once you hear Hitchcock's voice and how much philosophical thought he would give to each segment of film he put together to make a unified whole, you will yourself come to appreciate him as an artist of deep and resonant comprehension of his craft. He's far more than just the mere entertainer that so many American critics of his era dismissed him as before "Hitchcock/Truffaut" was published as a book.
Hitchcock/Truffaut is an insightful documentary that works better as a look back at an impressive body of work from one of the giants of cinema, with input from some of the best minds in the movie business today, than as a documentary about the book, or about Francois Truffaut. It would have been logical for a film called Hitchcock/Truffaut to only concentrate on the book itself and its historical and cultural impact, or to only discuss the interactions between Truffaut and Hitchcock over the years, but as Hitchcock himself would quip, "Logic is dull." It wouldn't make for scintillating cinema to merely regurgitate snippets from the book for 90 minutes, and Francois Truffaut's own ouevre is certainly worthy of its own documentary -- perhaps one done by Kent Jones himself, if he so chooses, down the road.
There are many other books and films that place far more emphasis on historical facts and figures of Hitch's filmography, and which would be far more comprehensive in trying to give a complete overview of him as a man, but not Hitchcock/Truffaut, which seems to be more about Hitchcock as a creative force, using examples when necessary to show what the those New Wave students-turned-masters of cinema tried to do with articles and books such as this: to show that the director is often the auteur of the film, and Hitchcock is the real creator of his work, despite the fact that so many actors, screenwriters, producers and studio heads are involved in every production. It's also what it means to 'make films', which gives it a uniquely introspective quality that a straightforward biography lacks, as those who are interviewed not only look at how Hitchcock put himself into his own movies, but also how that process translates into other filmmakers finding their own voices within the courses of their own work, even work that is radically more free and improvisational in execution to Hitchcock's micro-managerial approach.
If you're a cinephile, the book, "Hitchcock/Truffaut" should be an essential addition to your current or future library after you've delved into such spellbinding Hitchcock classics as Vertigo and Psycho (this film spoils those two films in particular, so you absolutely must see them beforehand). Once you've read that from cover to cover, Kent Jones' tribute-minded film is the next logical extension, revising the continued influence of Hitchcock's body of work to today, and further joining in on that respectful celebration of an artist that Francois Truffaut kick-started nearly 50 years ago when he undertook his unprecedented work.
©2016 Vince Leo