Hitchcock/Truffaut (Cohen Media Group, NR)

Truffaut/Hitchcock does not supplant Truffaut’s book but supplements it.

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One of the great events in film history took place in 1962. I refer not to the release of The Manchurian Candidate, one of the first Hollywood films to feature martial arts, the debut on British screens of Sean Connery as James Bond in Dr. No, nor the production of Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita. No, this great event took place behind closed doors, in Alfred Hitchcock’s offices at Universal Studios. Another hint: one of the great Nouvelle Vague directors, François Truffaut, was also involved, and the result of their collaboration appeared not at movie theatres but on the shelves of bookstores.

I refer, of course, to the interviews Truffaut conducted with Hitchcock, with the assistance of the translator Helen Scott, which were recorded, transcribed, and released a few years later in book format as Hitchcock (often called “Hitchcock by Truffaut”). Many editions and updates have appeared since then, and this title remains indispensable reading for anyone with a serious interest in Hitchcock, Truffaut, or film in general.

Hitchcock was lavishly illustrated with photographs illustrating the specific sequences and shots discussed by Hitchcock and Truffaut, and these are at least as useful as the text in understanding how the master produced his magic. Of course, a book can only contain still pictures, so now Kent Jones has gone Truffaut one better with his well-crafted documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut, which includes excerpts from the book illustrated with clips from Hitchcock’s films as well as relevant archival footage. This rich body of material is placed in historical context with voice-of-God narration by Bob Balaban and provided with more personal context through interviews with cinematic luminaries like David Fincher, Wes Anderson and Martin Scorsese, who testify to the importance of Hitchcock in their careers.

Truffaut/Hitchcock does not supplant Truffaut’s book but supplements it, and if you don’t already own a copy of the book, you’ll probably want to run out and buy one after seeing this film. As Truffaut/Hitchcock makes clear, Truffaut’s book was not just a useful book if you liked Hitchcock’s films, it was also a statement of belief in the value of of popular, well-crafted films at a time when film criticism was beset by snobbery about what constitutes a “serious” film. More relevant to the present day, Hitchcock discusses films in concrete, plain language, without the needless complications of Big Theory that make so much contemporary writing about film pretty well unreadable.

I have not given up the hope that one day when it will once again be the norm for film criticism to pay close attention to the film under discussion, illustrating theoretical points with concrete examples drawn from that film, and that such careful and specific analysis will replace grand generalities and “theoretical” pieces that seem to be about everything but the films themselves. Truffaut/Hitchcock may play a role in encouraging such a shift, as it demonstrates to viewers just how useful and insightful film criticism can be when it is grounded in the specifics of individual films. | Sarah Boslaugh

Hitchcock/Truffaut will be screened at 7:30 pm on Feb. 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, and 14, at the Winifred Moore Auditorium at Webster University (470 E. Lockwood Ave., St. Louis, MO, 63119). Tickets are $6 for the general public, $5 for seniors, Webster alumni, and students from other schools, $4 for Webster University staff and faculty, and are free for Webster University students with proper ID. Further information about tickets is available here and the film series calendar is available here.

 

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