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HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (review)

Review by Dean Galanis
Written by Emmanuel Leconte, Daniel Leconte
Based on Hitchcock/Truffaut by François Truffaut
Directed by Kent Jones
Starring Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut

When I was working at a Barnes and Noble in Philadelphia in the early nineties, I would often get into trouble for reading whenever it got slow.

I was in charge of the mezzanine which is where the film books were located (bad idea); if it was slow, I would clean up the area, shelve books, alphabetize, generally do my job.

But once that was done, it was time to, ya know, make sure the books’ pages were in order, or something.

My manager, Rick, had a habit of catching me while I was deeply immersed in a particular book. I’d glance up, see him glaring at me, and he would say, “Get. To. Work.”

Once he was gone for at least ten minutes, I’d pick that book up again.

Certainly not the ideal manner in which to read a book (or hold down a job), but this is how I first read the wonderful – and seminal – Hitchcock/Truffaut. I’ve read it twice since, and have picked it up countless times to check a quote or reread a section after watching (or, more likely, watching for the umpteenth time) a Hitchcock film.

The book, which is a collection of interviews by French filmmaker François Truffaut with English-born filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, came about after Mssr. Truffaut decided Hitchcock’s widely-held reputation as a competent maker of B-movies simply had to be remedied. It seems almost ludicrous now, but even as late as the early sixties, this was how the critical community at large felt about the Master of Suspense.

When released in 1966, the book did a marvelous job of proving that, whatever you think of his films, Hitchcock was a deeply intelligent, incredibly talented and visionary artist in utter command of his medium. The method was simple: Truffaut, who approached the project with the rigor and seriousness with which he approached a new film, would sit down with Hitchcock every day (with a translator) and discuss each of his films, in chronological order, in great detail.

The result had – and has had over the years – a huge impact on both film scholars and filmmakers alike. The film Hitchcock/Truffaut chronicles the genesis of the book, as well as its content – wonderfully represented with the actual interview recordings as well as film clips – and its legacy.

This legacy is brought to the fore by interviews with current filmmakers such as Scorsese, Paul Schrader, David Fincher, Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, etc. They discuss not only the influence of Hitchcock’s films but the enlightenment the book provided, with Sir Alfred describing and explaining his reasons for everything from casting to editing to the exact framing of certain shots, to childhood influences, his Catholic upbringing, etc, etc.

It’s fascinating to read, and in this film, it’s fascinating to see and hear. The film, like the book, makes a strong case for Hitchcock’s true genius. Hopefully, the film will inspire newcomers to read the classic tome, and those who have read the book to read it again.

And, of course, one hopes it will inspire viewers to watch and rewatch the films discussed. It’s probably best to have seen the major classics before watching Hitchcock/Truffaut, as there are spoilers (though not nearly as many as in the book, which discusses the endings of most of the films covered). However, the filmmakers don’t reveal too many climaxes here: the Psycho shower scene is discussed (duh), but the ending of that film is not, for example.

Overall, the doc is a more-than-solid reaffirmation of how great a filmmaker the man was, and how important and fascinating the book is. Truly a must for film lovers.

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