In 1962 François Truffaut, the newly world-renowned director and film critic, sat down with Alfred Hitchcock for an extended interview. This interview, in which the two discussed Hitchcock’s films—and cinema in general—was immortalized in Hitchcock: The Definitive Study of Alfred Hitchcock, a book Truffaut translated into English and published in 1967. Truffaut’s interview and book played a significant role for the legitimization of Hitchcock whose work was not always respected amongst film critics and theorists. Now, with his documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015), Kent Jones presents a loving tribute to the memory and legacy of both filmmakers, with a focus on this monumentally important interview.
Hitchcock/Truffaut delivers across the board. It is slickly composed and features many insightful interviews with well-known filmmakers who come across as being passionate about the subject matter. More than just a series of interviews, however, Hitchcock/Truffaut offers a story about that prodigious conversation and about the relationship that was established as it unfolded. The documentary makes it clear that the friendship between Hitchcock and Truffaut would extend far beyond this meeting. Indeed, an emotionally striking moment in the documentary displays many examples of the letters the two would exchange in subsequent years.
The documentary sticks close to the heart of Truffaut’s book, focusing on important themes and through-lines that can be found in Hitchcock’s films. Topics include Hitchcock’s desire to subvert his viewer’s expectations—perhaps most notably in Psycho (1960)—as well as his tendency to stray from plausibility, which critics would discuss in terms of a certain dream logic in his films. Concurrent with the discussions of Hitchcock’s films, interviews with contemporary filmmakers allow for a discussion of the legacy that these films left in their wake. The fact that tremendously successful directors such as Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, and Olivier Assays discuss Hitchcock’s films so reverently speaks for itself. Hitchcock/Truffaut drives the viewer to consider the ease with which he guided and maintained the viewer’s attention so consistently, the way he worked with his collaborators to elicit emotion, and what it is about his films that makes them hold up so well as pillars of cinematic excellence. From Hitchcock’s ability to shock audiences to his knack for self-promotion, very little is left on the table here.One might speculate that Hitchcock/Truffaut has less to offer a casual fan of cinema or viewers who are not already familiar with Hitchcock’s work, or the impact he had on the French new wave. While it is true that fans of Hitchcock and Truffaut will find the film somewhat more emotionally charged due to their already strong connection with these figures, it does present the relationship and its implications in an accessible and engaging way. This is a compact introduction to the man and his legacy, and it makes a strong argument for why contemporary viewers should care.
The fact that many of the interviews within are focused on Hitchcock’s major films such as Psycho, Vertigo (1958), and The Birds (1963) means that less time is spent on perhaps unfamiliar fare. This could be somewhat of a downside for fans of the less canonical entries in Hitchcock’s filmography—there is little discussion on less treaded waters from The Pleasure Garden (1925) and The Lodger (1927) to Family Plot (1976)—but this was a practical choice and there is plenty here to be content with.
Hitchcock/Truffaut is a must-see for fans and skeptics alike. It is an informative and interesting documentary that tells the story of one of the great relationships in filmmaking history, as well as a pivotal moment in film criticism and appreciation. By including so many well-known contemporary filmmakers, the film makes a clear point of the lasting effect this interview and the films discussed therein had on the generations of filmmakers that followed.
Hitchcock/Truffaut is in theaters starting December 2nd. Stay tuned for more coverage as Diabolique recently sat down for a conversation with director Kent Jones.