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Hitchcock/Truffaut

9/10

Stars: Featuring:

Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Paul Schrader, Arnaud Desplechin, David Fincher, James Gray, Richard Linklater, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese

Director: Kent Jones

Once filmmakers have been hailed as auteurs they surely become a critics’ choice since all their movies can be acclaimed as masterpieces and reviewing them thus becomes all the easier.

And, given Hitchcock is probably the auteur (“a film director who influences their films so much that they rank as their author”) of auteurs, it is probably inevitable than any film about him and his work is likely to be more than just a tad hagiographic.

So it is with Kent Jones’ beguiling documentary centred on Francois Truffaut’s seminal 1962 book Hitchcock/Truffaut (“One of the few indispensable books about movies”), the result of the then 30-year-old French filmmaker’s weeklong 1962-filmed interview with Hitchcock in Hollywood.

Footage from the interview (with translator Helen Scott on hand) makes fascinating viewing on its own and confirms the comment “Both men live for and through the screen”. And more pleasure derives from the interpolated comments of a gallery of contemporary filmmakers, fortuitously armed with hindsight and the fact that both interviewees are sadly no longer with us.

There’s Wes Anderson, who says his copy of Hitchcock/Truffaut is so well used that it is “not even a book anymore, it's a stack of papers with a rubber band around it". Paul Schrader, Richard Linklater, David Fincher (the most impressive of all the witnesses) and Peter Bogdanovich add their comments, while a seemingly rather over-excited Martin Scorsese gushes away as welcome comic relief.

Apart from the interview footage, we have plenty of entertaining Hitch aperçus: discussing The Lodger (“First time I exercised any style”), asserting his favourite saying is “Logic is dull”, claiming cinema is the “greatest mass medium there is in the world” (probably now overtaken in this particular role by television?), “Films make dialogue with the public” and, perhaps the most illuminating comment of the many on offer, “The more you restrain, the better it is on the way to the explosion”.

Vertigo, inevitably, gets the full Cahiers du Cinema-style dissection. For me, Kim Novak’s unfortunately inexpressive portrayal sadly dilutes James Stewart’s classic performance and an otherwise fascinating film.

Vera Miles, who would have been ideal, had been originally cast as Stewart’s co-star. During the making of Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle director Harold Schuster had encouraged the romance between Miles and loin-clothed costar Gordon Scott. Result: “She went pregnant”, says Hitchcock of Miles, adding “Silly girl”.

Psycho, too, is intriguingly examined in concentrated postmortem style although, strangely, no mention is made of Robert Bloch or Josef Stefano. “It was a very interesting construction” is Hitch’s verdict here, adding, “It was pure film”.

Towards the end, Hitch asks, rhetorically I’m sure, “Did I become a prisoner of my own form?”

Savour this splendid tutorial and then you can make up your own mind.

(Interestingly, more than half a century later, the shower scene from Psycho now merits only a 12A certificate)

Alan Frank

France/USA 2015. UK Distributor: Dogwoof. Colour/black and white.
80 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 03 Mar 2016