Hitchcock/Truffaut
Rating: 3/4 Stars
Director: Kent Jones
Writing Credit:
Cast: Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut, Martin Scorcese, David Fincher
Rated: 14A;black-and-white thrills
Genre: Documentary
Duration: 79 minutes

If the two names that make up the title don’t get your film nerd heart fluttering like the loose end of a film reel, the names of the directors who drop in to opine on the top two should: Scorcese, Fincher, Linklater, Assayas, Gray — it’s a miniature master class wrapped into little more than an hour.

Actually, Kent Jones’s documentary is equal parts history lesson, as much a tribute to Truffaut’s legendary book Cinema According to Hitchcock as it is a chance to re-argue it with some of today’s sharpest eyes. The book, for anyone who has never used the phrase “The limits of auteur theory…” in casual conversation, is a long discussion between Hitchcock, closing in on the end of his career, and Truffaut, just getting started, though already one of the heads of the French New Wave.

One of Hitchcock’s real gifts was ability to play to the audience

In dissecting the old master’s work, it’s as much about making a case for the still-contested auteur theory as it is legitimizing Hitchcock, who Truffaut and his contemporaries thought of as a genius, but who was still regarded as a genre jobber by most of the rest of the world.

Both of those were accomplished by Truffaut’s careful consideration of Hitchcock’s themes and tendencies, which Jones recreates both through recordings of the sessions that became the original book and through the reflections of contemporary directors, most of whom admit to owing some spark of their own career to the book.

The result in both cases is sort of a condensed introduction to film, a parade of people who have spent their lives composing shots getting into the particular genius of Hitchcock, who is essentially portrayed here as a master dreamweaver with a dark and twisty subconscious to draw from. Actually, besides dreams, it’s a sense of religious omniscience that’s most frequently brought up, which gives you some indication of the regard Hitchcock now enjoys.

The in-depth readings are buffeted further by the presence of Hitchcock himself, humble but eloquent, and certainly not above a well-placed bon mot to undercut some of the tension (this is where his famous “actors are cattle” line comes from, and it’s hard not to agree with him when given the full context). And that’s sort of the real key here: one of the most refreshing things about both book and movie is that they avoid almost all pretension, couching a series of smart thoughts in a kind of baseline emotional reverence, a sense of awe more than anything academic.

It’s pointed out towards the end that one of Hitchcock’s real gifts was ability to play to the audience, to explore dark and difficult ideas in a way that never forgot they had to be gripping, too; in that sense, then, Hitchcock/Truffaut lives up to the master, giving us a serious study with all the casual aplomb of a great conversation.

Hitchcock/Truffaut begins an exclusive engagement at the Bell Lightbox in Toronto on Dec. 4, then moves to Vancouver at the Vancity Theatre on Dec. 18.

 

Read the article here.