Just as Hitchcock/Truffaut, a collection of interviews Francois Truffaut had conducted with Alfred Hitchcock in 1962 and published in 1967, persuaded many a cinephile to repudiate the classification of Hitchcock as a “light entertainer” and to fancy him, instead, a sophisticated and serious filmmaker, Kent Jones’s Hitchcock/Truffaut, the 2015 documentary based upon the book of interviews from 50 years ago, effectively rehabilitates Sir Alfred from the stilted and sensational representations of him in recent films, such as Hitchcock (2012), where Anthony Hopkins portrays an all-too-human A.H. (a coincidence?), whose colossal cockiness and unbridled monomania have him hitched, despite significant risks, to the making of Psycho, or HBO’s The Girl (2012), in which Hitchcock is depicted as a sadist who, during the making of The Birds, delights in pecking at and terrorizing Tippie Hedren, the film’s beautiful leading lady, after she spurns him by taking flight from his lurid advances. Jones rightly dispenses with the lust and restores much of the luster to the legendary Hitchcock.
Having premiered at Cannes in May and set to open in New York this December (after a late October screening at the Middleburg Film Festival), Hitchcock/Truffaut is less an explorative account of the relationship between two great filmmakers (though their fans are treated to handsome and humorous black-and-white stills and—even more enticing—rare audio clips from the interviews) and more a contemporary tribute to Hitchcock as an auteur. Kent Jones artfully hitches excerpts from interviews with contemporary filmmakers—Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Martin Scorsese, among others—to images and sequences from a wide range of Hitchcock films, including two rather lengthy appraisals of Vertigo and Psycho, to celebrate the enduring impact that Hitchcock’s “high art” has had on le cinema. As you might expect, the contemporary filmmakers eulogize Hitch to the hilt, establishing him as not only a master manipulator whose choice to elongate or telescope the passing of time controls the way an audience makes sense of and meaning from a motion picture sequence, but as a brilliant theoretician of space whose devotion to storyboarding results in films with a compelling and vigorous visual aspect, films that not only show and tell but tell by showing.
If Hitchcock/Truffaut has a petite faute, it is no more than the customary and conventional disappointment that audiences have after watching a film based upon a beloved book: too much material is excluded. Yes, Jones’s topical treatment of interview content treats the viewer to revelations about Hitch’s fear of the police and his brazen proclamation “All actors are cattle,” and, of course, there are the audio clips of Hitch explaining his use of the high angle shot or discussing his interest in the theme of guilt and its transference. And then there are the conversations about recurring images and symbols in the body of his work, the Freudian weight of which not even a psychoanalyst can sublimate. But if, in the end, if this buffet has whetted your appetite, and if it’s true that the book is always better than the movie, then you might as well pick up the revised version of the original Hitchcock/Truffaut (which is still in print!) and digest the main course before enjoying a cigar.