written by: Kent Jones and Serge Toubiana
produced by: Charles S. Cohen and Olivier Mille
directed by: Kent Jones
rated: PG-13 (for suggestive material and violent images)
runtime: 76 min.
U.S. release date: December 4, 2015 and December 25, 2015 (limited)
Imagine getting the chance to sit down with an artist you’ve long admired for a career-coverage interview. It would be recorded and take place over the course of a week and the transcriptions would be compiled in a book that will be used by millions of readers as a study guide for the subject you admire. That’s what happened to rising French filmmaker Francois Truffaut in 1962, when he was awarded the opportunity to talk with director Alfred Hitchcock about his creative process and filmmaking in general. Truffaut did indeed publish a book called Hitchcock/Truffaut in 1966 and it would be used as a bible for film students and cinephiles. That book and the landmark interviews are the focus of a rewarding documentary of the same name by director Kent Jones that pays tribute to the careers of both acclaimed directors.But what makes two directors sitting down to talk about their craft so interesting? To understand that, we need a little context. We must acknowledge where both of these directors were at in 1962.
Francois Truffaut is known as one of the great directors of the French New Wave, but back then he had three films under his belt. Among them were two that many consider his best, “The 400 Blows” (1959) and “Jules and Jim” (1962) but the ambitious Truffaut (who starting out as a film critic) was just getting started, whereas Hitchcock, who started his career in 1923, was riding the success of 1962’s “Psycho”. Hitchcock would go on to make seven films after his interview with Truffaut before he would die in 1980.
So, here we have a burgeoning filmmaker sitting down with a veteran director he admired. How did that happen? A letter. Truffaut wrote a letter to Hitchcock that included an invitation to discuss his work. Hitchcock agreed and Truffaut flew out to Hollywood with his translator and the three of them made their residence in a room at Universal Studios. Jones isn’t just documenting that this What makes “Hitchcock/Truffaut” a fascinating watch isn’t just the fact that we visit this landmark moment, it makes a difference how it’s presented.
Jones spoke with working directors who offer their perspective on the event, but what stands out are the invaluable audio clips he includes in the movie, which brings a certain energy to the production. Jones scoured through hours of audio tape to determine which clips should be included. Hearing the voices of these directors is akin to being a fly on the wall and really brings out the personalities of the two directors – especially Hitchcock, since the focus is on him. While Hitchcock was known to be somewhat of a cagey interview, here he almost seems uncomfortable when the spotlight is on him.
Truffaut’s goal was to plow through Hitchcock’s filmography with the director and “Hitchcock/Truffaut” follows along with that plan. This is why for viewers who have only a general knowledge of Hitchcock (and Truffaut, for that matter) will benefit from what Jones presents here. From Hitchcock’s silent films up to “Psycho”, we’re given the visual and audio evidence of how the filmmaker would go on to become the Master of Suspense, but we also are treated to some gratifying snippets of his behind-the-scenes persona.
Since there was no video footage of the actual interviews, Jones accompanies the audio clips with numerous photos and talking head moments with the likes of directors such as: David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Peter Bogdanovich, Richard Linklater, Arnauld Desplauchin, James Gray, Paul Shrader and Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Of these guests, Scorsese (who has a friendship with Jones) is probably the most engaging, if not the most knowledgable. His passion is always infectious and it certainly helps this viewing experience. However, hearing each of these directors share their insight on these directors (primarily Hitchcock) and the value of the interviews conducted offers a greater appreciation of the subject matter and enhances the viewing experience greatly.
There are certain aspects of this time period that Jones highlights, which also serves to offer a greater context of where Hitchcock was at in the 60s. It’s hard to believe now, but Hitchcock was not lauded as the auteur he is today back then. Many thought he was a one-note director, all style and no substance. Obviously, that’s nonsense and the talking heads spend a great deal defending the director’s work, especially “Vertigo” and “Psycho”. Jones also includes as much time on the knife scene from “Saboteur” as Truffaut did in his book. All of this will either serve as a reminder of Hitchcock’s talent and impact or drive home such sentiments for newcomers to the filmmaker. The film also briefly touches on the contentious reputation Hitchcock has with actors, specifically Montgomery Clift, from “I Confess,” which elicits a somewhat entertainingly blunt reaction Hitchcock.
After viewing “Hitchcock/Truffaut” I actually found myself quite curious about Francois Truffaut. It’s unfortunate that he died at such a young age (52), since his recollections of this event would have been fascinating. This film definitely found me wanting to know more about the French director, whom I first became aware of from his acting role in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. His friendship with Hitchcock was intriguing to me, like he was spending time with a father figure, gleaning valuable information that would impact his own career. I wonder just how much this interview informed Truffaut’s filmmaking decisions.
Like Truffaut, Jones is also a renowned film critic and certainly has an appreciation for cinema as art. His directing hand is engaging and elegant and his respect and curiosity for these two directors is apparent. “Hitchcock/Truffaut” definitely found me wanting to seek out other documentaries Jones has helmed. For me, his film was an education in many ways, since I only had a vague knowledge of Truffaut’s book and although it may be geared toward a certain audience – cinephiles – I think it’d be interesting for any moviegoer.