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Hitchcock/Truffaut’ Documentary Will Make You Fall In Love With Cinema

Famous 1962 interview between the Master of Suspense and French filmmaker is now a film

One of the famous photos from the interview between Francois Truffaut and Alf...

Credit: Chen Media Group

Above: One of the famous photos from the interview between Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock. Here Hitch "directs" the French filmmaker to look up at him. The interview is now the basis of the documentary "Hitchcock/Truffaut."

Episode 51: Director Kent Jones on the Challenges of Making 'Hitchcock/Truffaut'

Kent Jones talks about his passion for cinema and making a documentary about the famous 1962 interview between ALfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut.

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Transcript

Audio

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews the new documentary "Hitchcock/Truffaut."

Transcript

Companion viewing

"My Voyage to Italy" (2001)

"Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows" (2007)

"Letter to Elia" (2010)

The new documentary “Hitchcock/Truffaut” (opening Dec. 11 at Landmark’s Ken Cinema) brings to vivid life the famous week-long interview between the Master of Suspense and the young French New Wave director.

As a film critic I see a lot films and while most are not bad, a great number are mediocre and bland, and that can wear you down and make you forget why you fell in love with movies in the first place. But there are a few surefire ways to reignite that passion: see a great movie, attend the TCM Film Festival and watch any of Tony Zhou’s Every Frame a Painting YouTube videos. Kent Jones’ “Hitchcock/Truffaut” can also be added to the list.

In 1962, Alfred Hitchcock agreed to be interviewed by French filmmaker and Cahiers Du Cinema critic Francois Truffaut. The result was a master class in filmmaking.

A book was published featuring the entire interview and any serious film buff held that book dear. It served up a discussion between two very different but extremely talented men, and both were fueled by a passion for cinema.

Truffaut had an obvious respect and affection for Hitchcock, a director almost twice his age at the time.

But what comes through in the interview (especially when you actually hear their voices and are not just reading it) is that Hitchcock takes delight in their conversation and appreciates Truffaut’s serious and thoughtful questions.

Director Kent Jones poured over the photos from the meeting, unearthed archive footage of the two men, and listened to all 27 hours of audiotape to construct his documentary “Hitchcock/Truffaut.”

Jones said he “built it according to where the energy was.”

This means he focuses on moments where the interaction between the two filmmakers was particularly engaging rather than on sections where they went deep into technique. The result is a film that is as entertaining as it is enlightening.

Jones also turns to contemporary directors such as David Fincher, Wes Anderson, Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese and Kiyoshi Kurosawa for wonderful comments —not just about Hitchcock’s work but also on the impact of the “Hitchcock/Truffaut” book on them as filmmakers.

Not surprisingly, Scorsese sees a Catholic sense of guilt running through many of Hitchcock’s films. When Truffaut asks Hitchcock about being perceived as a Catholic artist, Hitchcock asks to go off the record and the tape recorder is shut off.

Jones highlights another moment like this when the two men get into an analysis of “Vertigo” and the psychosexual components of the film. Hitch tells Truffaut to turn off the recorder, he has a story to tell.

These moments – while being tantalizing teases – reveal a playfulness on Hitchcock’s part that is not as evident in the text of the book. Hearing the interview over images of the two men talking brings the discussion to vivid life. It also reminds us that it took a Hollywood outsider to look at Hitchcock’s mainstream career and broad popularity to discover the meticulous artist underneath.

The Cahiers du Cinema critics were responsible for making American critics and audiences much more appreciative of our own artists.

Trailer: 'Hitchcock/Truffaut'

The documentary highlights moments that provide insights into Hitchcock. At one point Hitchcock explains about his move from England to Hollywood, “I wasn’t attracted to Hollywood as a place…. I had no interest. What had interest to me was getting inside that studio.” And getting access to those resources and the ability to make different kinds of films.

Hitchcock also responds to complaints of his films stretching credibility by simply saying “logic is dull.”

Japanese filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa comments on how Hitchcock presented himself as mainstream but was “really on the edge.” Kiyoshi adds that the book resonated for him and he looked to it like a Bible but that he also “forbid myself from imitating him.”

The filmmakers interviewed all convey how important Hitchcock and the “Hitchcock/Truffaut” book were in teaching them a language of cinema. Jones’ film does the same for a new audience of filmgoers who are growing up with the legacy of Hitchcock rather than with seeing his films as they were opening in theaters. It’s different coming to “Psycho” already knowing about the shower scene and Mother as opposed to walking into a theater in 1960 and suddenly having all your expectations about the structure of a Hollywood movie brutally shattered.

French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin points out that one of the reasons Hitchcock’s films work so well is that Hitch is “fascinated by what terrifies him. Trembling with fear until there is no difference between what makes him tremble with fear or quiver with love.”

Jones, who came to filmmaking after dropping out of film school but falling in with Martin Scorsese, has worked on a number of films looking to our cinematic past. He co-wrote Scorsese’s documentary on Italian cinema “My Voyage to Italy,” and directed “Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows” and “Letter to Elia” (about Elia Kazan) in order to share his own passion about film with new generations of filmgoers. That’s a wonderful gift. His films is carefully structured and resists any flashy manipulation of the archive material (no animating of photos, no fast cut montages). Jones understands that his content is so strong that it needs to gilding.

Jones' interviews with directors are also well done. He makes the directors feel comfortable (most seem to be sitting on couches in their homes or offices) and the interviews feel less like a Q&A session and more like friends talking about a shared passion. He's also chosen smart filmmakers who are articulate about their chosen craft. David Fincher ("Seven," "Fight Club") is especially well-spoken and engaging. But based on his films, that should come as no surprise.

“Hitchcock/Truffaut” makes you fall in love with movies all over again because it conveys not just the artistry of a popular director but also captures a passion for cinema as a way of life.

Check out my KPBS Cinema Junkie podcast featuring an interview with Kent Jones.

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