DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Hitchcock/Truffaut

(Image courtesy of the Chicago International Film Festival)

51st Chicago International Film Festival special presentation


The engrossing new documentary "Hitchcock/Truffaut" from director Kent Jones shows the long-lasting ripple created by a historic meeting of the minds and the influential shift that followed.  In 1962, French New Wave auteur Francois Truffaut met with Alfred Hitchcock in a closed-door, week-long summit.  Their time together peaked an artistic collaboration of advising each other's work that continued until Hitchcock's death in 1980.  Their 1962 interview was put into print by Truffaut in 1966 with the goal of re-labeling the misunderstood Hitchcock as an artist and not merely an entertainer.  That book became a Bible of sorts in the back pocket of filmmakers ever since.

To describe and personify the impact of Truffaut's book for this documentary, Kent Jones collected interviews from ten current filmmakers: Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Peter Bogdanovich, Arnaud Desplechin, David Fincher, James Gray, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Richard Linklater, Paul Schrader, and the aforementioned Martin Scorsese.  Their intellectual words echo the reverence of Truffaut in recognizing Hitchcock's artful panache.  One or two generations removed from Hitchock, each of them share their interpretation and influence of Hitchcock's signature "mise-en-scene" visual storytelling style and the foil Truffaut represents to Hitchcock.  They speak with a passion of unbridled cinephilia.  You can tell, in seconds, that any one of them would have killed to be in Truffaut's place talking to a legend 50+ years ago.

Like a quilt being passed down within a family, "Hitchcock/Truffaut" connects generational inspiration built upon the Hitchcock legend.  The filmmakers' statements run parallel to portions of the original archival audio recordings of Truffaut and Hitchcock's 1962 interview meetings culled together by Jones and his team.  Bob Balaban's narration covers the introductions and transitions and provides the background to Truffaut's ongoing history with Hitchcock.  Those conversation points are combined by editor Rachel Reichman with richly restored and sharply composed reference visuals collected from Hitchcock's films.  

Just as they did when shown as features for the first time, the symphonic visual high notes of Hitchcock's many classic films still resonate.  The scant 80 minutes of "Hitchcock/Truffaut" polish the surface of what could go on for hours with no complaints.  The documentary's three ingredients of shared personal impact, the power of the historical figures' own original sentiments, and the visuals of the dynamic films and techniques being lauded concoct a reverent learning experience.  

Without question, "Hitchcock/Truffaut" is a must-see for any Hitchcock lover, Truffaut nut, burgeoning cinephile, or all three.  The examinations and rhetoric of homage and revelry are fascinating to absorb.   Keep an eye on Kent Jones's documentary as we approach the Oscar season for Best Documentary Feature.

LESSON #1: THE COLLABORATION THAT COMES IN THE MEETING OF TWO MINDS-- This documented shared meeting furthered an ongoing collaboration of peers and confidantes rather than competitors within a cutthroat business of dueling critical and financial successes and failures.  Imagine if all of us (hell, even just politicians) sat down with others, both mentors and contemporaries, in our career fields and "talked shop" and compared notes.  Imagine the ground gained that would improve both sides.

LESSON #2: CHANGING THE OPINION OF SOMEONE THROUGH SHARED RESPECT-- Alfred Hitchcock had financial and creative successes that were the envy of a great deal of Hollywood, but never garnered the equal artistic respect afforded to his peers because of the provocative content of his films.  Francois Truffaut looked past the content and saw the mastery Hitchcock had for his craft and the signature style that no one could equal.  Truffaut, with his book, stood up to recognize, dissect, showcase, and embolden what the square folks of the 1950's and 60's refused to see. 

LESSON #3: THE UNPARALLELED GREATNESS OF ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S "MISE-EN-SCENE"-- Truffaut's collaboration and Hitchcock's openness to share his craft worked to shed light on Hitchcock's unique sagacity and time-tested brilliance.  His "mise-en-scene" has become often imitated and never duplicated.   In his own words, "logic is dull" and the element of time can be expanded or contracted by the right director and storytelling.  Hitchcock's visuals were backed by strong themes dealing with the transfer of guilt and the ploy of empathy underneath exotic conflicts.