Directed by Kent Jones.
Starring Mathieu Amalric, Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Peter Bogdanovich, Arnaud Desplechin, David Fincher, James Gray, Alfred Hitchcock, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Richard Linklater, Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese, Francois Truffaut.
Filmmakers look at the impact Francois Truffaut’s 1966 book ‘Cinema According to Hitchcock’ had on Hitchcock’s reputation, and their own films.
As our contemporary understanding dictates, Alfred Hitchcock is revered as one of the great filmmakers of cinema history; many filmmakers, critics, and scholars define him as more than ‘the master of suspense.’ But he wasn’t always regarded with such prestige; in fact, this film highlights that Hitchcock was primarily seen as an entertainer. Hitchcock/Truffaut almost explores the transitory period in Hitchcock’s reputation from a good director to one of the greats. One of Hitchcock’s great admirers was Francois Truffaut, who saw something in his oeuvre that many hadn’t prior: the construction of his framing, his manipulative narrative devices, and his economic usage of colour. As the film’s narrator Mathieu Amalric says, “Hitchcock saw Truffaut as an artist, and Truffaut wanted to reciprocate to free Hitchcock as a light entertainer. And so began their conversation.” Truffaut sat down with Hitchcock to record a series of interviews discussing his work, and of cinema more broadly. This is where the nuggets are hidden, and it is a shame the film keeps them largely out of sight.
The metamorphosis of Hitchcock’s reputation is sidelined and the film instead opts for a simple, yet charming celebration of his work. This is something aficionados will know intimately, and the casual film goer will already be aware of. Either way, by treading on familiar territory and leaving the real story in the background, the film offers no new or original insight into the figure it’s interrogating: how drastic had this re-reading of Hitchcock’s work affected the filmmaking medium? Did it affect Hitchcock? What was filmmaking like for Hitchcock before? Yes, it is obvious now, and notable Hollywood directors like David Fincher do provide the occasional technical marvel in Hitchcock’s films, but with no counter examples to support this claim (how were other films shot?), the audience must accept this as fact. With such inquiries glossed over, the film becomes a series of other notable filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Martin Scorsese analysing and appreciating films like Vertigo and Psycho.
Truffaut, who had risen from the French New Wave and the early years of auteur theory, is also given the basic treatment. While this is understandable as the film wishes to focus on Hitchcock rather than him, one has to wonder the purpose of including him and his seminal book ‘Cinema According to Hitchcock’ in the film at all. The film uses this mainly as window dressing to have acclaimed filmmakers talk about their views on the icon’s work.
However, it is when the filmmakers offer their analyses of some of Hitchcock’s most infamous sequences that the film factors in this difference between interpretation and intention. In other words, Kent Jones first shows the critical reception, then a revaluation from the aforementioned filmmakers, and finally how, and why, Hitchcock shot a sequence in a particular fashion. In one sequence, the bird’s eye shot of the gas explosion from The Birds is the case study; the filmmakers interpreted it as a transcendental, apocalyptic or a religious experience, whereas Hitchcock’s po-faced explanation is humorous and comforting (it was economical –not financial – so everything could be seen in one shot). In short, a filmmaker sometimes just shoots because it looks and feels right.
Hitchcock/Truffaut skims over the important details – Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville is reduced to a footnote – and keeps the impact of this book to the background. It shows the book did change Hitchcock’s reputation, but seldom how. Hitchcock aficionados may extract some new or greater insight from this documentary, and newcomers probably will. This is a warm, serviceable celebration of the legend that was Alfred Hitchcock.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★