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Entries in Hitchcock/Truffaut [2015] (1)

Wednesday
Dec302015

Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015)

Intro to Book-Learnin'

In 1962, film-critic and up-and-coming Important French Director François Truffaut wrote a series of fan letters to Alfred Hitchcock. Flattered, The Master of Suspense agreed to a week-long interview on the Universal lot, which Truffaut later transcribed into the seminal movie-junky text, Hitchcock/Truffaut. Decades later, film critic-turned-filmmaker Kent Jones completed the circle with a documentary (named after the book) that takes us into a sparse room occupied by two legends and a translator (Helen Scott). The auteurs' conversation dives deep into Hitchcock's filmography and bursts with passionate insight into both creators' beloved (and, at the time, nascent) medium. Jones' slim documentary, however, boils down to a well-intentioned tease, a barely-feature-length trailer for what some industrious professor might one day turn into a life-changing college course.

I began Hitchcock/Truffaut in a state of panic. Full disclosure: I've only seen three films by Hitchcock (Psycho, of course, Vertigo, and Rear Window), and one by Truffaut (The 400 Blows). Fortunately, the part of me that felt unqualified to even watch the documentary lost out to the part that was just eager to see a new movie. Jones presents clips from several films, archival footage of his respective subjects, and the requisite talking-head directors paying homage to their visionary heroes--all woven together by Bob Balaban's cozy narration, which, frankly, calmed my nerves.

As a newcomer to both filmmakers, I'm not sure much new information and analysis Jones presents, and how much of Hitchcock/Truffaut is a summation of material that a) devotees would have already uncovered by now or b) would have been tackled in the source material. We get an overview of Hitchcock's entire career, but the meat of the documentary centers on relatively lengthy dissections of Psycho and Vertigo--solid dissections, to be sure, but I recall having learned much of the tidbits twenty years ago in a Film Studies class.*

Indeed, the material would have been better served as a multi-part PBS documentary exploring each creators' methods and filmography, one that used the titular book as a springboard to construct the narrative of how these individuals came together, what they meant to each other creatively, and why their meeting was such a noteworthy event. As it stands, the significance of Hitchcock's interviewer having been Truffaut is given short shrift, creating a frustrating imbalance in the presentation.

I'm reminded of Jodorowsky's Dune, another documentary about a film book (in this instance, a near-mythical art object/production bible for a doomed movie). Because Alejandro Jodorowsky is a relatively obscure filmmaker, director Frank Pavich had to grab his audience and sustain their attention. He accomplished this by mixing visual splendor with a tragicomic journey that resonates not only with people familiar with his subject, but for those whose only entry point is the uniquely human trait of unquenchable obsession.

Hitchcock/Truffaut is gray and academic, by comparison. Jones has made an effective advertisement for a book of film-buff-catnip interviews. But to my mind, a movie about movie titans should, itself, be moving.

*This is not a knock on Kent Jones, his collaborators, or the ideas themselves. Rather, it is a testament to the rich education I received from one Richard C. Jones, former instructor at Naperville North High School.