In 1962 French filmmaker François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, an arresting coming-of-age film and one of the key breakthrough works of the nouvelle vague, had only been in circulation a few years. Truffaut’s more radically playful Jules and Jim had just started to tour the festival circuit. Truffaut, like his fellow new-wavers Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol, et al, had established himself as an iconoclastic critic at Cahiers du cinema before making movies. Truffaut was poised at the frontlines of the international avant-garde, so it’s that much more delightfully counterintuitive that the young Turk would invest his renown in heralding the mastery of Alfred Hitchcock, the British-American filmmaker considered by many at the time a deft entertainer at best.
Hitchcock/Truffaut, the book that resulted from Truffaut’s week of conversations with Hitchcock in a wood-panelled office at Universal Studios, has over the years become one of the few essential cinema-studies texts. Its film-by-film consideration solidified the idea of auteurist analysis for a broad readership by taking for granted that Hitchcock’s entire filmography—including early lost films—merited scrutiny as a single body of work with a consistent and coherent point-of-view. And it’s a pretty breezy read, all things considered. Very smart but not pretentious, it unfolds as a genuine, engaged conversation between two artists who are passionate about their art yet hesitant to freight the art with undue context.
Hitchcock and Truffaut both died in the 1980s, and their legacies have only burgeoned in the ensuing years, Hitch most of all: his once-maligned Vertigo now holds the number-one spot in the British Film Institute’s best-of-all-time critics’ poll. The tapes of these conversations still exist, as well as some archival photos of the sessions, providing a savvy documentarian with some vital raw materials to revisit the event. Essayist and New York Film Festival director Kent Jones, one of my favourite contemporary writers on film, has done just this, making a satisfying feature film about this now-legendary cinematic summit meeting, fattening up the looking back with new commentary from several other filmmakers, such as David Fincher, Olivier Assayas, Wes Anderson, James Gray, Martin Scorsese, Richard Linklater and Arnaud Desplechin. Jones’ Hitchcock/Truffaut is a hugely enjoyable double-portrait. It might seem something of a cinephiles-only affair, but the truth is that Hitchcock fans won’t find any especially startling new insights here; rather, the film will probably work most effectively as a primer for those curious about the titular directors and ready to delve deeper.
Fri, Apr 1 – Wed, Apr 6
Directed by Kent Jones
Metro Cinema at the Garneau