Overview: In 1962, French New Wave auteur François Truffaut, aided by translator Helen Scott, spent a week in Hollywood with his idol, Alfred Hitchcock, discussing the director’s rich and extensive body of work, including Psycho and Vertigo. The resulting 1966 book of interviews, Hitchcock, became a celebrated bible of cinema for generations of filmmakers.
Fifty years after its publication, Hitchcock/Truffaut brings this historic summit to life by combining rare original audio recordings and behind-the-scenes photos from the historic exchange. The film offers an eye-opening study of Hitchcock’s enduring genius and legacy, as the two men explore the technical, narrative and aesthetic questions at the heart of his work. The documentary also includes new observations from such acclaimed filmmakers as Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Peter Bogdanovich, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader. Bob Balaban narrates.
Expectations: I love Alfred Hitchcock and his body of work! I’m not as familiar with François Truffaut, but I do recognize him as a film auteur as well. I hope I am going to eat this documentary up. I always like to get into the head of my favorite directors and Hitchcock is certainly one of those. Those into cinematic history might get into this one, as some of the modern filmmakers do apparently for this film. Here is the trailer and then let’s get to it.
Gut Reaction: It is no surprise that Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Peter Bogdanovich, Paul Schrader and Richard Linklater share my appreciation for Hitchcock, but it seems I am out of the loop as far as appreciating the book that they all seems to have their hands on. Though this documentary does tout the richness of Truffaut’s tome I’m glad it was merely a tool to get us to explore the filmography of the ‘master of suspense’ itself.
We spend time here going over themes, and style that might lose some people, but again any lover of film should find interest of going over many of the filmmaker’s work title by title saving the most famous scene until last. Watching the clips and the interviews and the testimonies did not just provide insight into the impact of the book to its readers or an appreciation of the artists of this film’s title, but also gave an in- depth look at cinematic history and a unique cinematic style. All that technique would be a bit dry if I went over it here as I couldn’t do it justice. The master director was indeed a master.
You may not look at a Hitchcock film in quite the same way after watching this. He is now a highly revered filmmaker, but in his day some challenged his work. Truffaut via the interviews, that later became “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” he assured that everyone would know the master auteur for what he was.
Bonus: Another member of the appreciation society is the documentary’s director Kent Johns (pictured below). Here in a Q & A with HBO is some of his thoughts.
HBO: The film offers a rare glimpse into Alfred Hitchcock the artist—one that clashes with his public image as an entertainer. Was that a conscious misdirection on Hitchcock’s part?
Kent Jones: The public persona was a way of protecting himself. John Ford had a public persona. So did Howard Hawks. They didn’t go around waving the flag of artistry in front of the studio heads. If they had, their careers would have been over in milliseconds. And in Hitchcock’s case it was a brilliant idea to turn himself into a personality.
HBO: Why do you think Hitchcock doubted himself as an artist?
Kent Jones: An artist that great is going to be examining themselves and their work closely; they’re always going to be calling things into question. Couple that with the fact that he was working in a genre—actually created a genre—that was “disreputable,” and had gone unloved by critics and people who give awards. All those factors come into play.
HBO: Coming from the silent era, Hitchcock had an almost purely visual approach to storytelling. Is it even possible for a filmmaker like that to exist today?
Kent Jones: James Gray brings that up in the film; he’s very hard on himself and says, “We’re not that good.” But really, what you’re talking about is a different orientation. Arnaud Desplechin talks about it as the “lost secret.” Truffaut said the same thing. And it’s true, to a certain extent. Hitchcock thought that cinema didn’t have to evolve the way that it did. But the fact is, it did. So now we have people who are masters of a completely different kind, like Martin Scorsese, or Paul Thomas Anderson.
In Conclusion: I understand that the Truffaut interviews and book were a great film making bible. For me, I just need his 70+ movies and even hos television work to get me to study and appreciate his cinematic contributions.
Having said that, I can also say out of the cinematically themed documentaries HBO has offered over the year this one sticks out as my favorite to date. I got lost in some of the other ones, but not this one. In fact, it has inspired me to take in a Hitchcock film or two in my free time over the coming autumn. This documentary is a good primer on Alfred Hitchcock if you like his work like I do.