François Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock (Philippe Halsman/Cohen Media Group)
To know the importance of Hitchcock/Truffaut, it is critical to know that Alfred Hitchcock was not always the legend that cinephiles now consider him to be. During much of his career, Hitchcock was certainly more famous than contemporaries like John Ford and William Wyler, and was the first director whose name was as marketable as stars like Cary Grant and James Stewart who headlined his films. It was only with the rise of Cahiers du Cinéma in the 1960s that critics began to reevaluate Hitchcock, elevating him from the master of suspense to the master of cinema.
François Truffaut, the New Wave director of The 400 Blows and Day for Night, was an instrumental figure in this move to demonstrate Hitchcock’s mastery. He was a writer for Cahiers during the 1950s and helped promote the auteur theory of cinema that made the director the essential artist behind a film. It is a theory that still maintains a certain currency today, despite some glaring exceptions, whether historical (David O. Selznick) or today (Pixar).
After his success as a director, Truffaut arranged with Hitchcock to hold a series of interviews in which Hitchcock would discuss and analyze his work thus far. Conveniently, these interviews took place in the mid-1960s when Hitchcock released his last major works; he may have directed Frenzy and Family Plot after these interviews, but few would miss analysis of these minor films.
Hitchcock/Truffaut, directed by Kent Jones, may be little more than a filmed version of Truffaut’s book of the same name, but it hardly needs to be more than that to be entertaining. It has Hitchcock speaking about his most famous films, from Psycho to Rear Window and Vertigo. The famous shower scene with Janet Leigh may be the most analyzed sequence in film history, but it is a pleasure to hear it from the man who directed it himself.
Jones may be the director, but considering the impressive use of Hitchcock’s own work, half the credit for the film should go to Hitchcock himself. The audience for Hitchcock/Truffaut will surely be familiar with all of the films Hitchcock discusses, but few will complain about another opportunity to see clips from these films again and hearing Hitchcock describe his methods. The best moments may come from those lesser-known Hitchcock works, such as Notorious, and the film might have devoted more time to works such as this and his early triumphs like Strangers on a Train and Rebecca.
The documentary may be a Hitchcock hagiography, but if it must show the director as a deity, it at the very least has a wonderful set of acolytes. Hitchcock/Truffaut features interviews with some of the best directors in the business, from expected devotees like Martin Scorsese and David Fincher to more surprising ones such as Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater. Peter Bogdanovich, who has spent much of his career obsessing over Orson Welles with devotion comparable to Stewart in Vertigo, even takes a break from idolizing Welles to praise Hitchcock.
Hitchcock/Truffaut often seems like an advertisement for Truffaut’s book, and it seems no coincidence that the book will be reissued the same day that the documentary premieres. If the documentary serves no other purpose than inspiring people to watch Rebecca or North by Northwest again and perhaps read Truffaut’s interviews with Hitchcock, it still will have done a great service.
Cohen Media Group
In theaters Dec. 4
Films are rated on a scale of 5 stars (must-see), 4 stars (exceptional), 3 stars (solid), 2 stars (average) and 1 star (unworthy).