“I can’t imagine where my life would be without Hitchcock,” Kent Jones said, talking on a cellphone while sitting by his bicycle in New York’s Riverside Park. “I’ve been watching and absorbing his films for most of my life. I’m 55 years old and I’ve been watching and rewatching his movies since I was 12.”

The New York Film Festival director and sometimes filmmaker has made the ultimate homage not just to the master of suspense, but to the definitive discussion of his work with the new documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut, screening at Cinéma du Parc.

Based on nouvelle vague director François Truffaut’s 1967 book of the same name, Jones’s film revisits the epic and now infamous eight days of interviews that took place between the two cinematic giants in 1962. But he doesn’t stop there. He continues the conversation, bringing in contemporary heavyweights Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Olivier Assayas, among others.

“I wanted to make a movie just about filmmaking,” Jones said. “I didn’t want experts, historians or critics. I didn’t want filmmakers who would just appear on camera saying, ‘Hitchcock is great. I remember the first time I saw North by Northwest.’ I wasn’t interested in that at all.

“What I wanted was to continue the dialogue between the two filmmakers by bringing in 10 more filmmakers — people who could think as they spoke, and speak extemporaneously, who were into sharing their craft and discussing the issues in the book, discussing Hitchcock and bringing him into the present.”

As a former Cahiers du cinéma film critic and one of the leaders of the throw-out-the-rulebook adventurousness that defined the nouvelle vague, Truffaut’s initial impetus was to give Hitchcock his due. Despite his commercial success, Hitchcock still received short shrift in the early ’60s, and was generally regarded as a populist entertainer with little in the way of artistic merit.

Truffaut’s biggest achievement with the book, according to Jones, may have been not just reframing the work of Hitchcock, but repositioning auteur cinema in general and paving the way for a new generation of directors to blaze their own distinct creative paths.

It wasn’t about proving the deeper meaning of Hitchcock’s work, Jones opined, but celebrating the profound merit of what was right there on the screen.

“I don’t think there is more to (Hitchcock’s) movies than meets the eye,” said Jones, himself a former film critic. “It’s all there. What Truffaut did, in fact, was redescribe the terrain of cinema around him. Truffaut, among other people, did something very lasting with that book by positioning the history of cinema as something other than what had been officially accepted.

“At that point, people were still saying the only real artists were Charlie Chaplin and Sergei Eisenstein, and that cinema was not really an art form — all that s–t. What Truffaut did is coalesce what had been going on in general with the (Cahiers du cinéma’s) Politique des auteurs, but redescribe it around a filmmaker — not by making proclamations about him, but by saying: ‘I’m going to prove he’s the greatest by talking about his films, the nuts and bolts.’ ”

Jones follows suit, allowing ample room for discussion of Hitchcock classics Notorious, Rope, The Wrong Man, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho and The Birds, but also of the director’s process and philosophy of cinema — his approach to time, space, objects, actors and guiding our attention.

Jones also gives a platform to Truffaut’s background, concerns and use of film language, showing where the two directors intersect but also where they diverge. One of the documentary’s standout scenes is a rare moment in which Hitchcock questions his whole way of making cinema, wondering if he “shouldn’t experiment more with a looser form of narrative” — an observation inspired, surely, by the freewheeling films of the man sitting across from him.

“The story of the two of them, in the tapes, is very moving,” Jones said. “I had already heard 11 1/2 hours of the tapes, which was broadcast over a series of days in the 1990s and which I found very touching. Then I heard the whole 27 hours; I went through it, and when I found those letters and telegrams (of the correspondence between Hitchcock and Truffaut), it actually strengthened the things in the tapes. Witnessing Hitchcock revisit the question ‘Was I good enough?’ is extremely affecting. It’s very, very human to doubt.”

Jones wanted to bring these and other hidden sides of Hitchcock to light, but also to turn back the clock by offering a portal through which viewers can appreciate the artistry and far-reaching influence — the enduring magic — of Hitchcock’s oeuvre anew.

“I want people to have an experience,” he said. “My mission isn’t only pedagogical; my mission is to allow people to learn or gain insight through the excitement I’m trying to create in the experience of watching a movie.”

AT A GLANCE

Hitchcock/Truffaut opens Friday, Dec. 18 at Cinéma du Parc.

Interested in continuing this conversation? Understanding Movies: The Basics of Film Language, an eight-part course led by Montreal Gazette film critic T’Cha Dunlevy and offered by McGill’s Personal and Cultural Enrichment program, covers topics ranging from Hitchcock and Truffaut to Tarantino, female directors and Quebec cinema. Thursdays, 6 to 8 p.m., from Jan. 21 to March 10. Understanding Movies: Cinema’s Expanding Scope, also led by T’Cha Dunlevy, follows from March 17 to May 5. Enrolment is open to the public at a cost of $215, or drop in for one session at $49. For more information or to register, call 514-398-5212 or visit bit.ly/1QU3bm5

tdunlevy@montrealgazette.com

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