Documentary Brings The Indispensable Book To Life
DIRECTOR: KENT JONES/2015
“It’s just a pile of paper.”
That’s what filmmaker Wes Anderson says about the book on which this documentary is based, and shares its title.
He’s not being flippant or disparaging. He means that his copy of the venerated book, “Hitchcock/Truffaut”, in which a young and fresh François Truffaut (The 400 Blows, Day for Night) interviews Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo, North by Northwest) at length and detail, one director to another, is so well read, so used up and absorbed, that at this point, it is literally just a pile of paper. And considering, as this terrific film reiterates, that the book (first published in 1966 and updated by Truffaut just before his death in 1984) is widely considered one of the few absolute indispecable volumes for any film book collection, it’s no surprise that a director as visually oriented as Anderson (who’s work screams of influence to both Hitchcock and Truffaut) would have read it to pieces.
He’s not the only one. Numerous directors turn up with compelling things to say about the impact the book has had on their lives and their art, and to recount the undisputed mastery of Hitchcock’s cinema. David Fincher particularly has a lot to say about it, as does Olivier Assayas, Peter Bogdanovich, James Gray, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Richard Linklater, Martin Scorsese, and (never one to turn down an interview request) Paul Schrader.
The book is, just as its revised title claims, the definitive study of Alfred Hitchcock. It is one of the few times, perhaps the only time, that the celebrity filmmaker dropped his “master of suspence” persona to speak in-depth, film by film, about his game-changing approach to visual storytelling. Over a week-long series of sessions, documented both on audio tape and photographically (both utilized here), the one-time film critic Truffaut, through the service of an interpreter, picked the brain of the British director turned Hollywood behemoth.
Secrets were revealed, philosophies were hashed out, and a legacy of moviemaking tookon a whole new cultural importance. There are pages of shot-by-shot breakdowns of key sequences of Psycho, The Birds, Notorious, and many more to illustrate the points of conversation. The way action detailed in one shot is given new meaning when butted up next to a seperate shot has never been more clear, or more elementary. This is the art of film editing, the very pulse of moviemaking itself. And Hitchcock, in his eye for framing, his utilization of technology, and evocation of atmosphere, crafted each of his movie moments in anticipation of it. If ever a film book lent itself to a film adaptation, this is it.
The new documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut is not, however, merely a translation of what’s in the book. (Although the ability to show the actual referenced film clips in their intended medium, as opposed to series’ of still photos is expertly utilized.) Nor is it a mere celebration of th book itself. The 80 minute project, directed by stalwart film writer and sometimes filmmaker Kent Jones, is both of those things, and plenty more. Perhaps surprisingly, Jones, who’s known for his dense, authoritative essays for Film Comment and other heady film publications, is refreshingly straight forward with all of the information presented. From its “film theory 101” information to the more psychologically probing underbelly of what drives Hitchcock’s work, all is presented in such a manner than a moviegoer of any level of expertise can digest it all.
For this reason, Jones’ Hitchcock/Truffaut ascends beyond the heap of other merely interesting documentaries about filmmakers, and takes its place as an essential piece of work. Well made, and comforatable but never cozy, it is at once a breezy entertainment, a fascinating memory worm, and a multi-layered study – not at all unlike the work of Alfred Hitchcock himself.
Once considered simply a racaunteur who churned out polished if lurid spectacle for the masses (which he of course was), the documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut lays clear what the young Frenchman saw fit to temprarily halt his skyrocketing directorial career to investigate in print all those years ago. Jones’ film is an apt companion piece to the book, very much pointing enthusiastically back to its source material (and its many filmic inspirations) rather than attempting to suplant it. Just as Wes Anderson lovingly recalls his “pile of paper”, future filmmakers will no doubt be laying claim and attributing inspiration to well-worn blu-rays and exhausted downloads of this Hitchcock/Truffaut.