BR: Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015)

December 22, 2016 | By

HitchcockTruffaut_BRFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  Universal

Region: A

Released:  December 20, 2016

Genre:  Documentary / Film History

Synopsis: Affectionate chronicle on the momentous meeting between Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut that resulted in a book which continues to inspire filmmakers.

Special Features: 4 Deleted Scenes: “Richard Linkletter on Truffaut (3:51) + “Peter Bogdanovich Remembers Hitchcock” (6:36) + “An Appreciation of Notorious” (6:14) + “Rope: Pro and Con” (4:59) / “Hitch Conversation: Kent Jones in Conversation with Noah Baumbach” (23:49) / DVD version.




By 1962, Francois Truffaut, then a hot director on the international film scene, had directed three film – The 400 Blows (1959), Shoot the Piano Player (1960), and Jules and Jim (1962) – and decided to draw from his work as a film critics and journalist at Cahiers du cinéma, and devote a significant chunk of time to setting up a series of discussions with idol Alfred Hitchcock over 8 days. The goal: record a filmmaker-to-filmmaker chat on craft, focusing on the work of a director often branded as an entertainer than filmic craftsman.

Although not addressed in the doc by director Kent Jones, Hitchcock was in many ways the victim of his own success, which he propagated through licensing deals in print and TV. He was the envy of many directors, including Fritz Lang: in the 1950s, Hitchcock was recognized around the world as the self-branded Master of Suspense, produced a TV series, had his own iconic silhouette as a logo, lent his name to a mystery magazine, spawned a record (Music to be Murdered By), enjoyed fortuitous relationships with all the major studios, and still managed to make artfully crafted thrillers that were by and large financially successful.

Yet box office success isn’t synonymous with peer respect and critical accolades, so while he was loved for Rear Window, North by Northwest, and Psycho, more personal projects (Vertigo) and experiments in docu-dramas (The Wrong Man) were regarded as duds. Truffaut’s tome on Hitch, published in 1966 from the translated exchanges between the respective French and British directors, became a cult book, and proof the making of a good film involved a combination of craftsmanship and artistry.

Hitchcock was no commercial hack and studio lackey. He produced his own work – learning a valuable lesson from micro-managing producer David O. Selznick – and had a specific story to which he gravitated, and built up using big stars, fine character actors, and often crafted more than one memorable sequence that became a standout moment in montage.

Truffaut’s conversation with Hitch influenced many future filmmakers – the interviewed geeks include Wes Anderson, animated Olivier Assayas, languid Peter Bogdanovich, Arnaud Desplechin, acerbic David Fincher, James Gray, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Richard Linkletter, reflective Paul Schrader, and the inimitable Martin Scorsese – multi-generational directors who discovered the inner workings of filmmaking through a book tat featured prose, stills, and a montage of images representing an approximation of consecutive shots that comprised some of the most famous moments in film.

Jones’ film balances impact with history, and although ostensibly a chronicle of how two directors met and forged a lasting friendship after the publication of a seminal career examination, it’s also spotlights the kind of shop talk we take for granted, with filmmakers today self-reflecting in taped interviews and audio commentaries online and on disc, and the cyclical print essays and critical career retrospectives published every few generations by a new wave of inquisitive film historians and journalists.

To those possessing a passing familiarity with Hitchcock’s main works, much of what’s chronicled using archival newsreel and audio clips, stills, and movie extracts will be fresh, and the comments from the interviewed directors should prompt more than a few to discover both the book and the various phases that make up Hitchcock’s epic directorial career.

Jones’ doc will also delight the director’s fans by simply reinforcing their own admiration for Hitchcock’s craftsmanship, but for uber-fans of the Master of Suspense who’ve read biographies, monographs, and Truffaut’s book cover-to-cover many times, much of what unfurls isn’t new, making the doc more of a primer and intro for younger film fans, especially those with an aversion to anything older than 1970.

The other problem with the doc’s scope resides in its central topic: two directors met, they talked, some stills were taken, and each went back his own respective career, so there’s little drama at the centre of what was a historic meeting between two distinct generations of filmmakers. Jones does an excellent job contextualizing the event, but the build-up in the first third takes a bit longer than necessary, perhaps from a need to firmly establish to newcomers the origins of each figure, and the main events that preceded Hitchcock’s acceptance of Truffaut’s request.

Extracts from the conversations are fascinating, but they are strategic, so those expecting lengthy samples are better served in revisiting some of the Criterion editions that featured meatier chunks, albeit on specific films. Additionally, back in the late 1990s, radio station France Culture broadcast 25 weekly half-hour chunks of more complete conversations, and as of this writing, those 12 hours (presumably edited down from the reported 37 hours of raw recordings) have yet to materialize in any commercial form. It’s a nagging issue with Hitchcock fans, but the France Culture broadcasts are available as MP3 files featuring the conversations minus the French intros-outros that bookended the original shows which were streamed in heavily compressed Real Audio format.

Jones does acknowledge, though, the peculiar nature of the prose within the book. Hitchcock’s English replies were translated live into French by interpreter Helen Scott, so the English book represents a translation from the French book that itself was translated from English-French discussions. That bounce-back perhaps over-refined the pair’s exchanges, but the prose does represent their thoughts; it’s just amusing to follow Hitch’s replies and compare them to the printed text which is more formal, and drifts into a bit of theory.

Jeremiah Bornfield’s score is a perfect fit, propelling the doc and acting as transitional material between film extracts and their respective music cues by evoking a bit of Bernard Herrmann’s instrumentation & orchestrations without mimicry, and the interviews are neatly photographed by Jones’ team of cinematographers.

Both the DVD and much costlier Universal Blu-ray/DVD combo feature some deleted scenes that offer looser replies from the directors. Rope (1948) is perhaps the most amusing because it receives the most divisive reactions, being praised by Scorsese and Assayas, and kicked down as uncinematic by Fincher because cinema inherently mandates the use of the edit to suspense disbelief and create drama through selective shots and their expanded / compressed times. (Fincher’s take on Notorious is also hilarious, with the perverse story being summed up as ‘a party girl is asked to fuck the guy she’s fucked before for secrets, and share them with her handler who really wants to fuck her but can’t.’)

A 23 min. Q&A with Noah Baumbach and Jones at the New York premiere  in 2015 is quite loose, and Baumbach’s often struggling to formulate a question on the go, but the overall discussion – which includes audience queries – covers a fair amount of ground, including Jones’ research, ‘revelations’ within the original tapes, and some important differences between the audio recordings of Hitchcock’s reactions versus the bounced-back translations which he says misrepresent the tone and importance of the elder director’s silence when a question was to sharp or awkward or presumptive.

Lastly, the issue of inaccurate translations is inferred but not addressed, and is worth a discussion on its own, if not the question of whether the entire conversation should be revised, but undoubtedly Truffaut’s supporters would regard any revision / overhaul as sacrilegious and should be killed it in its tracks. (Hitchcock’s ardent supporters may also feel an overhaul could dilute the formalism of the translations, thereby reducing his stature by a notch or two.)


‘Mr. Truffaut meets Mr. Hitchcock’

In 1999, Robert Fischer directed Monsieur Truffaut Meets Mr. Hitchcock, a half-hour German TV documentary on the directors’ meetings and the iconic book. Criterion’s decision to include the short in their DVD and Blu-ray editions of The Soft Skin (1964) likely stems from a moment in the film in which Truffaut referenced a scene from Notorious that’s almost shot-for-shot – an overt homage to Hitchcock’s technique done 2 years after recording the famous Q&A sessions on the Universal lot.

Fischer’s short still bears weight today because it’s a precise selection of events covering Truffaut’s emergence from critic and fan boy to filmmaker and colleague, and the story begins with a series of telegrams Truffaut sent to Hitchcock which are quoted, and cover his move to a more passionate calling in film.

Claude Chabrol (Le Boucher) features prominently in the doc, and describes Truffaut’s psychological maturation from a timid fan and writer to filmmaker who wanted to record ‘the secrets’ of a master who’d been branded (in my eyes) an artless commercial pro by Hollywood, a ringleader who produced quality product and gave creative technicians, actors, composers, and cinematographers opportunities to earn and win Oscars, but was denied the gold stature by peers.

Truffaut’s determination to pin Hitchcock down for interviews reportedly began around 1957, and the concept – always a book project – was pitched down from 50+ hours to 30+, and after the meeting in 1962, Truffaut spent two years editing, refining, and then obsessing on the right stills and drawings to accompany the text. Publishing delays that pushed the release to 1966 also stemmed from Hitchcock’s ongoing projects – their main Q&A occurred after The Birds, after which came Marnie and Torn Curtain – but Truffaut’s perseverance and Hitchcock’s joy from the manuscript resulted in a work that moved the examination of a director from critics (Rohmer and Claude Chabrol published their own work in 1957, Hitchcock: The First Forty-four Films, after interviews with the director during the filming of To Catch a Thief) to direct responses from the filmmaker, and a Hollywood producer-director to boot.

Fischer also puts the film’s narrative on pause to showcase translator Scott, who’s characterized as a sharp, witty soul, and whose translations balanced facts and emotions during the Q&A. Chabrol also recounts an amusing meeting with Bride composer Herrmann after his break-up with Hitchcock, and their deliberate avoidance of mentioning anything tied to the director, and especially Torn Curtain.

The short doc closes with a quick postscript on Truffaut’s final TV appearance in which he appeared in a panel discussion with Roman Polanski (and what appears to be Marcello Mastroianni). As actor-writer Jean-Louis Richard (The Soft Skin, Fahrenheit 451, The Bride Wore Black) notes, on camera Truffaut looked solemn, having gone through an arduous cancer operation and treatment, but once he began to comment on Hitchcock, he was on his game. Also interviewed are daughter Laura Truffaut, Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia on meeting Truffaut and her father’s final years (with Fischer including lengthy footage from the AFI tribute), and associate Madeleine Morgenstern, although there are fewer extracts from the 1962 recordings than in Jones’ 2015 doc.

Fischer also directed the 13 min. German doc Ein ‘Mord!’ in zwei Sprachen: Alfred Hitchcock im Gespräch mit François Truffaut, commissioned by Kinowelt and which likely appeared on the label’s long out of print 2006 DVD of Murder, that contained both English and German language versions that were shot in tandem.

And if memory serves correct, a later audio recording of Truffaut reflecting on Hitchcock was included on a bonus CD that accompanied Milan’s 1999 5-disc set featuring music from Truffaut’s French films. Titled Les entretiens Francois Truffaut, the disc was comprised of narrative by Philippe Labro that intercut music with Truffaut’s voice.



© 2016 Mark R. Hasan



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