Kent Jones – Director of Programming for the New York Film Festival – along with French critic and historian Serge Toubiana, have extrapolated segments of the now gospel book Hitchcock/Truffaut and combined its insights with talking head interviews of their own, exploring the influence its pages have had on countless filmmakers since publication in 1966. Jones’ documentary treads familiar ground but it will certainly offer newcomers to the director an interesting introduction to his body of work. Brainchild of the Nouvelle Vague director, the film reference book features a series of interviews with the ‘Master of Suspense’ on the methods to his madness, accompanied by extensive stills of key sequences.
In August 1962, in the wake of the Psycho (1960) furore and prior to the release of The Birds (1963), Truffaut hopped on a plane from Paris to LA where he spent a week in conversation with the English director at Universal Studios. Despite being from different generations and cultures, the men shared a voracious appetite and unparallelled knowledge of film history, theory and method. Forever haunted by the notion he was an entertainer rather than an artist, Truffaut’s probing questions and adulation made it clear that Hitchcock was very much considered an auteur by the Cahiers du Cinéma critics whose high standards have become the stuff of legend.
There is, predictably, not a bad word to be had amongst any of those contemporary cinéastes featured, all speaking effusively about Hitchcock’s genius: Anderson (the Wes variety), Bogdanovich, Linklater, Scorsese, Gray and Schrader, with Assayas and Desplechin filling the necessary French contingent. It’s perhaps David Fincher who comes across as the most eloquent and enthused, one of the more interesting points raised by the director being his admiration of Hitchcock’s ability to control time, both by expansion and contraction, and the importance of his evolution from silent cinema to talking cinema in terms of being able to think and tell a story visually. Admittedly, you could watch Rear Window (1954) with the sound off and make perfect sense of it but not hearing the dulcet tones of James Stewart and Grace Kelly would be a real shame. A minor quibble of the interview recordings would be Jones’ insistence throughout of hearing Truffaut’s questions, Hitchcock’s responses in English and the extraordinary translation work done by interpreter Helen Scott. The behind the scenes authenticity it lends proceedings is superb but the continual overlay becomes a little heavy going after a point.
It’s also a shame that the doc becomes so Hitch-heavy. Fleeting moments of free-wheeling through Paris with Jean-Pierre Léaud in The 400 Blows (1959) and sitting in the countryside with Jules and Jim (1962) don’t offer much for the Truffaut aficionados among us. As might be expected, we also move away from the written source material to an open discussion of just how great The Birds, Psycho and Vertigo (1958) are for the lion’s share of the film which, although unquestionably correct, does a disservice to some of the hidden gems in the Hitchcock crown. Whatever you take from Hitchcock/Truffaut one thing is for sure: you’ll be reaching for a copy of the book and a box set of thrillers at your earliest convenience. Truffaut conducted the interviews to express his admiration of his senior director, Jones has made a documentary to express his admiration of the book Truffaut wrote. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t get in on the act too.
The London Film Festival takes place from 7-18 October. For more coverage, follow this link.