directors ever became a popular celebrity like Alfred Hitchcock. His imprimatur
and famous profile were used to brand books, magazines, and even a television
show. Yet, as bizarre as it seems to us today (with Vertigo recently eclipsing Citizen
Kane on the Sight & Sound critics
poll), in the early 1960s, Hitchcock was not widely hailed as an artist. The
exception was in France, particularly among Cahiers
du Cinema’s grubby circle of critics and filmmakers. That most definitely
included François Truffaut. He convinced the Master of Suspense to sit for an
epic eight day interview that would eventually be edited into of the most
treasured film books of all time. Kent Jones uses the fiftieth anniversary of
its publication as a springboard to celebrate the films it analyzes in Hitchcock/Truffaut (trailer here), which opens this
Wednesday in New York.
1962, Hitchcock only had a handful of films ahead of him, but that would
include iconic films like The Birds and
Marnie, as well as Frenzy, the late career masterwork the
public really missed the boat on in 1972. By this time, Hitchcock had completed
signature films like Vertigo that would
largely out of public circulation for decades. In the pre-video era, reading Hitchcock/Truffaut became the only way
to get a shot-by-shot sense of the master’s work.
case we doubt that fact, Jones enlists a relatively small but eminent cast of
filmmakers to explain how much the book has meant to them. Not surprisingly, many
are alumni of the New York Film Festival, including Martin Scorsese, who often
appears in filmmaking documentaries and David Fincher, who is considerably less
ubiquitous. There are no slouches in H/T,
but it seems a strange how little screen time Kiyoshi Kurosawa gets,
considering he is probably the closest to Hitchcock stylistically.
Jones’ wandering focus makes it tricky to nail down his precise intentions.
Although he incorporates considerable excerpts from the surviving audio tapes,
he is not solely concerned with the book and interview. There is some
background context provided for both titular filmmakers, but he clearly privileges
Hitchcock well above Truffaut. In fact, Jones does not even explore Truffaut’s
Hitchcockian films, like Mississippi Mermaid and The Bride Wore Black.
Rather, it often seems like Jones is content to follow the points raised by his
cast of filmmakers and the commentary of Hitchcock himself, in an almost freely associative manner. While that makes it hard to elevator-pitch H/T, its Hitchcock-centrism still makes
for fascinating viewing. Let’s be honest, most of us could happily listen to
the old master discuss the catering on Topaz.
Jones simply can’t go wrong with Hitchcock. Even
if we can’t precisely spell out the film’s thesis, it further buttresses our
general cineaste convictions that Hitch was one of the craftiest, wittiest
auteurs to ever look at the world through the lens of a camera. Abundantly watchable,
Hitchcock/Truffaut is highly
recommended for Hitchcock fans (and somewhat so for Truffaut and Nouvelle Vague
admirers as well) when it opens this Wednesday (12/2) in New York, at Film Forum.
Labels: Alfred Hitchcock, Documentary, Francois Truffaut