Culled from six days of interviews that the French director François Truffaut conducted with his idol Alfred Hitchcock,
the book “Hitchcock” immediately stood out from other books about
movies when it was published in an English translation in 1967.
is not another instance of one practicing director paying homage to
another in the entire history of books on cinema,” the critic Andrew Sarris, one of America’s earliest Hitchcock champions, wrote in a review in The Chicago Tribune in January 1968.
In The New York Times, Eliot Fremont-Smith called it
“one of the most revealing and engrossing books on film art, technique
and history ever put together.” And the critic Charles Champlin of The
Los Angeles Times offered a suggestion: “It’s one book that would
absolutely make a heck of a movie.”
Now it has. The documentary “Hitchcock/Truffaut,”
which opens Wednesday, Dec. 2, and takes its name from the informal
title of Truffaut’s book, is both a companion piece to the text and an
extension of it. Directed by Kent Jones,
the movie draws heavily on Hitchcock clips, the original interview
audiotapes, stills taken of the encounter by the photographer Philippe
Halsman and interviews with current filmmakers.
Truffaut and Hitchcock sat down for their dayslong conversation in
August 1962 at Universal Studios, along with a translator, Helen G.
Scott, discussions about film were changing. In the French magazine
Cahiers du Cinema in the 1950s, Truffaut had been one of the original
proponents of the auteur theory, the notion that the director is the
artist of a film. Just months after Truffaut’s Hitchcock interviews,
Sarris published a vigorous defense of the theory in the United States,
setting off a debate in American film culture that had begun to spill
over into the popular discussion by the time the Hitchcock book appeared here.
saw Hitchcock as “the most complete filmmaker of all” — a master of all
aspects of production, including shooting, cutting and publicity — and
not just a maker of successful suspense pictures, as his reputation
“Truffaut wanted to correct the bias against Hitchcock in the United States,” said Mr. Jones, the director of the New York Film Festival.
“But then on the other hand, he was also trying to amend what he
thought was the tendency toward abstraction in Cahiers criticism.”
was interested in larger issues like how artists managed to work within
the studio system, and in specifics like film craft. In both the book
and the documentary, the two directors amply discuss technique — how
Hitchcock illuminated the glass of milk Cary Grant carries in
“Suspicion” (1941) or how the shower scene in “Psycho” (1960) was constructed.
for a book so rich with shoptalk, “Hitchcock/Truffaut” has, for nearly
half a century, also retained its reputation as a witty, breezy read, a
canonical text for anyone interested in movies. The extensive use of
photographic stills was unusual for film books at the time. “My sense is
that when you visit somebody that is into film, and you look at their
bookshelf, this is one of the books that’s there,” said Sidney Gottlieb,
who edited the book “Hitchcock on Hitchcock,” a compilation of the
director’s writings and interviews.
book proved an influence on subsequent generations of filmmakers. The
German director Christian Petzold, whose recent “Phoenix” is a homage to
Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” encountered the book at 16 and regards it as a
“father/son conversation,” he said by email.
Fincher, director of “Gone Girl” and “Zodiac,” who appears in Mr.
Jones’s documentary, discovered it when he was about 7. “I remember
picking it up and looking through it and seeing all of those still
images from movies that I had never seen,” he said in a phone interview.
“When they were laid across double-fold, and you saw how certain shots
worked with other shots, it was kind of revelatory.” It reminded him at
the time of a comic book and became “an on-ramp in thinking about cinema
Scorsese was also struck by the layouts. “You could tell that they were
put together by Truffaut and no one else,” Mr. Scorsese, who is in the
documentary, said by email. “They represent an attempt to show how a
sequence is actually constructed. And they’re enlargements of actual
frames of film. They attest to all the time and work that Truffaut put
into the book.”
Whit Stillman, director of “Metropolitan,” the book was so readable in
part because of the familiarity of the films but also because of the
tome’s graphic design: “the high-water mark of sans serif lettering,” he
said by Skype of the cover.
was forthright in discussing the films that he felt fell short. “What
he often does is he says, ‘I didn’t get the right actor,’” Mr. Jones
said. In one example in the documentary, Hitchcock complains that
Montgomery Clift’s insistence on doing only what his character would do
nearly prevented him from making a crucial upward glance in “I Confess”
forth was nothing new to an outsize personality like Hitchcock. “Right
from the very beginning, he was open to being interviewed,” Mr. Gottlieb
said, citing a profile that ran in March 1926, at the time of “The
Lodger,” Hitchcock’s third feature. “I think he invited it not only for
the P.R. value — and Hitchcock was a master self-promoter and publicist
and things like that — but also because I think he from the very
beginning had a kind of dual audience,” the public and the critics.
“Hitchcock/Truffaut” is also a film about the friendship between the
two men. “I don’t know that he would have had that conversation with
anyone,” Mr. Fincher said. “I think it took somebody who had artistic
understanding, artistic leanings, maybe even artistic pretensions” to
suggest that Hitchcock had raised his moviemaking to an elevated place.
Mr. Fincher sit down with one of his contemporaries for a similar book?
He dismissed the suggestion. “I would be so incoherent,” he said. “It
would just be a lot of grunting and mumbling.”