In 1962, director Francois Truffaut spent an entire week interviewing fellow director Alfred Hitchcock – one of Truffaut's idols. The result was Hitchcock/Truffaut, a deeply intelligent book which surveyed Hitchcock's entire career in an accessible, conversational manner. The book became essential reading for movie buffs and professional filmmakers alike, and played a significant role in forming Hitchcock's image as one of the great artists of his era (most people had already accepted that he was one of the great entertainers of his era). Now we have film critic Kent Jones' documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut, which simultaneously serves as a history of the book's creation, an examination of its impact and a visual adaptation of some of its most compelling passages.
Like the book, the film is thoroughly accessible but will only be appreciated by those who have seen all or most of Hitchcock's movies. So yes, it's a for-cinephiles-only affair, but I suspect that most of those cinephiles will have a good time with it. I certainly did. The movie isn't quite as essential as the book – at a mere 80 minutes, there simply isn't enough time to offer the same level of depth – but it's a smartly-crafted companion piece that effectively highlights some of the most striking imagery from Hitchcock's vast filmography.
Truffaut's name may be in the title, but he's very much a secondary figure here. Well, sort of. The book's existence is a result of the vast amount of effort Truffaut put into crafting the book (he did an enormous amount of research and planning before the week-long interview began), but his goal was always to place the spotlight on Hitchcock. As such, it's no surprise that the film does the same, zooming in on Hitchcock's techniques and obsessions while only mentioning Truffaut every now and then.
Jones has assembled a fairly impressive collection of high-profile directors (Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Paul Schrader, Richard Linklater, etc.) as his interview subjects, and they have thoughts of varying value to offer on the book (almost all of them read it in their early days as a filmmaker) and on Hitchcock's work in general. The most consistently compelling interviewee is David Fincher, who seems to have a good deal of empathy for Hitchcock's desire to have total control over every single aspect of his films (“I'd love to see Al Pacino or Robert De Niro or Dustin Hoffman or someone from that school of acting try to practice their craft under Hitchcock's steel umbrella,” he chuckles). There's also a good deal of reliably insightful commentary from Martin Scorsese, continuing to cement his status as the Patron Saint of Old Movies.
The book touched on every single one of the movies Hitchcock had made up to that point, but the film doesn't have that kind of time. We only see fleeting glimpses of most of Hitchcock's films, though the montages Jones assembles are always striking and well-crafted. The movie spends the lengthiest amount of time on the great Vertigo, largely because of the way the book played a role in inspiring people to reconsider the movie (for quite a few years, it was regarded as a flop and was rarely seen after its initial theatrical run – “unthinkable in today's world of unlimited access,” Schrader muses). At times, Jones turns audio footage from the interview session into an audio commentary of sorts, syncing up choice thoughts from Hitchcock with images from the film (including one particularly memorable scene in which Hitch describes the exact moment in Vertigo when Jimmy Stewart's character gets an unseen erection).
More often than not, Hitchcock/Truffaut feels like a well-produced bonus feature, but if you're the sort of person who will enjoy this movie, you're probably the sort of person who really likes well-produced bonus features. It certainly makes you want to go watch a bunch of Hitchcock movies, which is what Truffaut would have wanted... and what Hitchcock would have wanted, for that matter. Good stuff.
Rating: ★★★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 80 minutes
Release Year: 2015