Directed by Kent Jones
In 1962, young French filmmaker Francois Truffaut sat down with Alfred Hitchcock to talk in depth through Hitchcock’s filmography. Hitchcock/Truffaut discusses the impact of that 8 day conversation, both in terms of changing the public’s opinion of Hitchcock from an entertainer to an artist and though the effect it had on many of today’s successful directors.
It seems strange now, considering Hitchcock is arguably the most famous director of all time, but he was once considered just an entertainer, maybe something like what J.J. Abrams is today. Everyone knew he was good at what he did, but it was Truffaut and his French New Wave peers who looked at his work as true art. Part of the reason for Truffaut’s fascination with Hitchcock concerns his view of the auteur theory which states that a film, despite being a collaboration, can be traced back to a single individual, the director. Hitchcock, Truffaut seems to suggest, is the definitive auteur of his time. Hitchcock’s movies have their own language, and Truffaut sat down with him to help unearth this, as if his book became the Rosetta Stone not only for Hitchcock’s movies but for how to better understand film as an art form.
There have been two subsequent director/director interviews in the same vein as this Truffaut-led conversation. In 1999 a book was released detailing the conversation between Cameron Crowe and director Billy Wilder, and in 2016 Noah Baumbach sat down with director Brian De Palma for a discussion of his work. These interviews are engaging, particularly if you care about the director being discussed, but they aren’t quite as detailed as the Hitchcock interview.
I haven’t read the book of interviews on which this documentary is adapted, but based on the film, Truffaut gets Hitchcock to go over his movies and certain memorable sequences in incredible detail. Hitchcock was a very mathematical director, with every shot and shot duration carefully planned out, and the way he visually plans out his films is a great lesson for any aspiring director.
I don’t think I know of a director who so carefully values every shot of a movie. Every shot says something, and every cut comments on those shots. It’s all a formula, and by breaking it down Truffaut helped shine a light on how complicated and beautiful Hitchcock’s work was.
The two directors also discuss the differences in their own style. Francois Truffaut was a product of the French New Wave movement in which films were seen as auteur-driven art. In this movement, films were more personal and experimental. As Truffaut says, he sometimes writes dialogue the night before a scene or even improvises on the fly, something Hitchcock would never do. While Truffaut seems to have admired Hitchcock’s technical precision, the film presents Hitchcock as a man slightly torn, wondering if he should have been more experimental in his art.
In addition to clips from Hitchcock’s movies and audio from the famous interview, there are talking head segments with a number of well-known directors, including Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, David Fincher, Martin Scorsese and others. Each of these filmmakers discusses Truffaut’s book with a sense of awe, one of them even referring to it as a bible.
The film focuses on Hitchcock’s career, acting as a sort of documentary overview of his life, but it also touches on Truffaut’s own career and the filmmakers’ friendship following the series of interviews. It’s a touching love letter of sorts to cinema and the people who love cinema.
Up Next: The Disaster Artist (2017), The Third Man (1949), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)