A Celebration of Pure Cinema in ‘Hitchcock/Truffaut’

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CHICAGO – In 1966, a breakthrough book about the movies was released, entitled “Hitchcock/Truffaut.” A new documentary explores the actual interviews that were conducted between French new wave director Francois Truffaut and the legendary Alfred Hitchcock, that would become that book.

Kent Jones is the director of doc, also titled “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” and he pieces together the feast of film talk between the two filmmakers – from the original 1962 audio tapes – and puts the book in historical context through additional interviews with contemporary filmmakers. Alfred Hitchcock, in his times, was regarded as the “Master of Suspense,” but not so much as the wholly original auteur that is his reputation now. Francois Truffaut, a fanboy from France, put the master’s films in context as pure cinema when the book was published, and at the same time cemented Hitchcock’s influence for generations of filmmakers to come. If you love either filmmaker, or both, the documentary is sweet indulgence, comprehensive and surprising.

In 1962, a fiery Frenchman infiltrated the offices of Universal Studios, to meet his idol Alfred Hitchcock. Francois Truffaut was a film-writer-turned-director, with his classics “The 400 Blows,” “Shoot the Piano Player” and “Jules et Jim” already in the cinema firmament. Hitchcock reluctantly agreed to the sit down, and was intrigued once Truffaut wanted to delve deeply into his career and films.

Filmmakers: Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut in ‘Hitchcock/Truffaut’
Photo credit: Cohen Media Group

Alfred Hitchcock, at time of the interview, was just coming off the huge success of “Psycho” (1960), arguably his most famous film. But he had been a presence and innovator of the movies since the 1920s, and lived to affect the attitude of the 1960s, as both “Psycho” and “The Birds” (1963) were immensely popular and influential films. Truffaut caught the master at the peak of his powers, and was able to catalog the psyche of Hitchcock’s cinematic mind.

For this cinema freak, who grew up at the movies under the auspice of Hitchcock’s vast influence, this documentary was like dinner and dessert. There are other filmmakers who add their opinions to the film (including Richard Linklater, David Fincher, Wes Anderson and Martin Scorsese), and director Kent Jones used a less structured pastiche to present the various themes, but for some reason the method worked, as it was less strict and more celebratory.

One of the highlights was dipping into the structure of Hitchcock’s scene work, which was so subtle it was easy to not even notice when watching one of his films. Hitch was a venerate storyboard artist – he used to say the actual filmmaking bored him – and had his story and scene plans meticulously drawn before he turned on any camera. That is why he was able to make “Psycho’ like an independent film. He used his TV crew to pull it off, for less than a million dollars – pennies versus what the film actually grossed in the marketplace.

Truffaut (even his name evokes the pleasure of the movies), as I said, was a fanboy who was getting an opportunity to sit down with one of his greatest mentors. His preparation for the talks were iconic, before any of the advantages of today’s home video or digital access. His parsing of Hitchcock’s genius had to bring pleasure to the master, and he was able to get out of him a perspective that was at the perfect time of both their histories. The documentary really brings that part of the meeting to the forefront.

The Master Makes a Point in ‘Hitchcock/Truffaut’
Photo credit: Cohen Media Group

It’s difficult to end such an documentary, and director Jones does seem to have a problem with it – but really who cares? There are cinema buffs who would probably sit through the entire run of audio tapes with a single picture of the two filmmakers on screen, so through Kent Jones we’re seeing true passion and love of the subject, with the results bound to be a little messy. Yet in the end, there is a smile on the face of all who have experienced it, if only to bring both of the filmmakers back in such a lively and glorious way.

“If it is a good movie,” Hitchcock once said, “the sound would go off and the audience would still have a perfectly clear idea of what was going on.” This is a documentary that has the volume turned up, and the hope of what is art in film superciliously evident. The master also said, “For me, the cinema is not a slice of life, but a piece of cake.”

CLICK HERE for the 10 Best Films of 2015 by Patrick McDonald of HollywoodChicago.com, which includes “Hitchcock/Truffaut” as an honorable mention.

“Hitchcock/Truffaut” has a limited run at the Music Box Theatre – 3733 North Southport Avenue, Chicago – through December 31st. See local listings for show times. Written by Kent Jones and Serge Toubiana. Directed by Kent Jones. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2015 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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