Jones, Serge Toubiana
Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut, Martin Scorcese, David Fincher
Rated: 14A;black-and-white thrills
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.