Over the course of eight days in 1962, Francois Truffaut, 3 years after winning best director at Cannes for his classic debut The 400 Blows, interviewed Alfred Hitchcock, two years after he gave the world Psycho.
The interview was to form the basis of one of the most influential books on cinema ever written, Cinema According To Hitchcock in which Truffaut dissected Hitchcock’s work meticulously, detailing the process and thought behind some of cinema’s most enduring and fantastic films. Film critic Kent Jones who takes the directors seat here treats fans not only to a gloriously realised account of the interviews themselves, but also insight from some of the best directors working today.
It is cinephiles whom the film is aimed towards and Hitchcock/Truffaut is unlikely to find an audience outside of anyone not familiar to the two men. Jones treats the viewer as if they have seen all of the classic Hitchcock pictures and share the same level of adulation towards the master of suspense as he does, which is no knock against the film- if anything it is refreshing to see the films of a genuine master broken down on screen by those who know cinema best.
Truffaut is presented here as something of a disciple to Hitch, and it unfolds brilliantly. The contrast between the styles and upbringing of the men premises the film and runs throughout; Truffaut’s liberal approach to filmmaking provides a nice counterpoint to the microscopic direction of Hitchcock, and the audience is invited to feed off Truffaut’s appetite for understanding the creative process behind an artist whose work at the time was close to being taken for granted.
Certain films are put under the spotlight, most notably Vertigo, which receives an analysis that is every bit fascinating as it educational. An opportunity to hear the likes of Scorcese, Kurosawa, Fincher, Bogdanovich, Assayas and others express their affection for such films is very rare indeed, and Jones takes the this in full stride- giving each interviewee the room to keep the documentary full of original insight, especially revealing when considered with regard to their respective outputs.
The film centres around on of the biggest questions Hitchcock himself grappled with during his storied career- should he have experimented more with the form, given more room to his actors and productions? Truffaut, whose films express a more relaxed, imprecise direction with lucidity and improvisation key tenants of his films couldn’t be further from Hitchcock’s penchant for precision. When Truffaut tells Hitchcock of how he will often not write sections of his films until the night before shooting, the concept appears alien to him. Of course, the true reflections from the interviews come in the films, which Jones exhibits great skill in tying the central discussion between Hitchcock and Truffaut (using original recordings from the interviews) with the input of the other interviewees as they wax lyrical whilst remaining generally unpretentious. The result is 87 minutes that will surely reignite the thirst of its viewers wanting to discover or rediscover such classics that are brought to life in a documentary the leaves plenty to chew on, a joy that reciprocates the fandom of its viewer in an immensely satisfying fashion.