In 1962, two cinematic dynamos sat down to discuss their craft: a seasoned veteran working to complete his 50th picture, and the other a budding newcomer taking the film world by storm. “Adopted” by André Bazin and his legendary film magazine, Cahiers du cinéma, François Truffaut was a pivotal figure in the Nouvelle Vague movement, and one who viewed Alfred Hitchcock as the greatest director of all time. Perhaps overcome by ego, or simply bowing to the next generation of directors, Hitchcock graciously accepted Truffaut’s invitation to discuss his legendary body of work from start to finish. The weeklong discussion, held inside of a room at Universal Studios, was recorded and transcribed by Truffaut and became one of the single most invaluable pieces of film writing ever produced, with detailed editing and frame breakdowns. Kent Jones, a celebrated critic in his own right, has broken down and updated this mythical conversation, creating his own 21st century testament to the Master of Suspense and doubling down on Truffaut’s critical accolades.
As a documentary about a book about film, Jones’ Hitchcock/Truffaut works to set itself apart, while creating a sense of interest, by animating the frames immortalized within Truffaut’s tome. Though demonstrative on paper, Hitchcock’s calculated frame and scene constructions were no doubt meant for the big screen, and they truly come alive next to recordings of the hallowed conversation. Jones has a sharp eye for pivotal moments in Hitchcock’s oeuvre, and his inclusions are as varied as they are informative. Stretching from the early work in silent film (The Lodger, Champagne) to Hitch’s foray into color (Rope, Rear Window), and into his pivotal work as a poet of suspense (Vertigo, Psycho), Jones’ complete knowledge of the director provides a compelling backdrop onto which he casts the legend’s unmistakable shadow. Even stripped of its many entertaining interviews, Hitchcock/Truffaut would still be one of the greatest Hitchcock video essays ever composed.
Bringing in heavy-hitting modern-day auteurs, Jones strives to reopen the conversations coinciding with the book’s 1966 release, making the material more easily digestible for contemporary, visually-driven audiences. Spending equal time in praise of the book and Hitchcock himself, the likes of Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Peter Bogdanavich explore the importance of poetic imagery and the microscopic scrutiny under which those images were dissected. For many of these cinematic elites, Hitchcock/Truffaut (the book) was an early foray into the world of film, and the invaluable words held within unlocked the secrets of the enigmatic art form (Wes Anderson claims his paperback copy of the book is little more than a pile of well-thumbed papers rubber-banded together).
Although it contains very little new material, Hitchcock/Truffaut will undoubtedly find a home within the film education community and could become an important tool in introducing Hitchcock’s immense body of work to hoards of “uninitiated” cinema devotees. A sharp and thought-provoking second look at a fundamental building block of film history, Jones’ documentary — much like its focal director — uses equal parts flash and subtlety to engage with the audience while imparting the foundations of his own obsession. If nothing else, perhaps the buzz surrounding the film will be great enough to provoke a new “remastered” edition of the 60s masterpiece.
Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of London, England. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.