It can be a tricky proposition: making a film about films. Even trickier is the idea of making a film based on a book about films, in this case the 1967 book Hitchcock/Truffaut. But film critic/director Kent Jones turns the task into a buoyant, delightful ramble that will inspire viewers to revisit the film catalog of Alfred Hitchcock. Co-written with Serge Toubiana, the director of the famed Cinémathèque française, the documentary is an examination of cinema so in love with its subject, the viewer will find themselves seduced by it. It sucks you into the delights of some of the most brilliantly formed films, from editing to music to performances to tricks of mise-en-scène like a light hidden in a milk glass to subtly draw the viewer’s eye. It’s an absolutely captivating bit of filmmaking in and of itself.
The source material stems from the famous book by French film critic turned director François Truffaut written after a week-long conversation with Hitchcock, in 1962. Jones has assembled some of contemporary cinema’s most famous filmmakers to talk about the book’s essential quality and the lessons they have learned from it. Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Martin Scorsese are among some of the talking heads whose voices mostly supplement images of Hitchcock’s films, interwoven with samples of Hitchcock and Truffaut’s original conversations. There are also storyboards, photos from the meeting of the two filmmakers in Los Angeles and perpetual string music by Jeremiah Bornfield, which could forgivably be confused for original music by Hitchcock regular Bernard Herrmann. The montage of it all is structured but still breezy.
The film begins with Anderson and David Fincher recalling early memories of the book as children and how it seemed to seep into their identity as aspiring filmmakers. There’s a bit of history of Hitchcock and Truffaut before their meeting, which is explained as a symbiotic event. Truffaut sought to free Hitchcock of a perception that his films were shallow, and Hitchcock freed Truffaut as an artist. Then the film goes into the minutiae of how Hitch played with the form of cinema. The layers of information can be overwhelming, but you will want to revisit the documentary to get familiar with it and enjoy it deeper, just like the value of the book to all these filmmakers. It’s a terrific lesson in filmmaking that benefits aspiring directors and fans of cinema alike.
Jones dedicates a big chunk of time to Vertigo and Psycho, but the insight is interesting, especially for Vertigo, a film that was seen as a bit of a popular failure when it saw release, though now it’s considered one of the greatest films in the history of cinema. It’s Fincher (whose work often endures similar perception) who points out Hitchcock’s embracing of his perverted interests, which Fincher also admits is key to his own work. Scorsese chimes in to note how Vertigo is more than a story but a life. The examination of the film becomes a look not only at plot but how it reflects the director and his beliefs. Bringing up the scene in the museum where James Stewart’s character spies Kim Novak from the back of her head, director James Gray brings it back to the power of the image in the cinema of Hitchcock and how amazed he is about Hitchcock’s vision. Gray assumes Hitch must have been so confident in the choice of his images that he probably skipped coverage from other angles.
Though some may argue, where’s the book in this? I posit this kind of passion is informed by Truffaut’s passionate respect for Hitchcock, the filmmaker. A sort of transcendent energy and affection comes from the meticulous examination of Hitchcock’s oeuvre. This excitement of the art by current directors becomes indelible with the book that dared to celebrate the form of an art with a genuine curiosity and affection for its subject. It’s no wonder Truffaut and Hitchcock fell in love with one another as fellow travelers in their craft. It’s a love that has outlived them and is beautifully transmitted by Jones and Toubiana.
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A retrospective of films by Hitchcock/Truffaut starts today, Jan. 7, and continues every Thursday for the month of January at the Miami Beach Cinematheque featuring local film critics (including us at Independent Ethos) and friends of ours. The schedule is as follows:
- Jan. 7: Marnie with intro by Miami International Film Festival Director Jaie Laplante
- Jan. 14: The Bride Wore Black with intro film critic Rubén Rosario
- Jan. 21: The Wrong Man with intro by film critic David N Meyer
- Jan. 28: Confidentially Yours with intro by film critics Hans Morgenstern and Ana Morgenstern (that’s us!)
For tickets to each of these events, visit the theater’s calendar and look for each of these dates: miamibeachfilmsociety.memberlodge.org/calendar.
Hitchcock/Truffaut runs 80 minutes and is rated PG-13. It opens Friday, Jan. 8, in our Miami area at the following theaters: The Miami Beach Cinematheque and in Broward, at the Cinema Paradiso Fort Lauderdale, which will host a Skype Q&A with the film’s director, Kent Jones, on Saturday, Jan. 9, at the 7 p.m. screening of the film. The film expands to The Bill Cosford Cinema on Jan. 22. It opened in other parts of the U.S. already and continues to roll out. For dates in other cities, visit this page. Cohen Media provided all images in this post and a preview screener for the purpose of this review.