Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Movie Review: Hitchcock/Truffaut

Directed by: Kent Jones.
Written by:  Kent Jones & Serge Toubiana.
Featuring: Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Peter Bogdanovich, Arnaud Desplechin, David Fincher, James Gray, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Richard Linklater, Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese, Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut.

Alfred Hitchcock was one of the greatest filmmakers in history – and remains so to this day – but he wasn’t always thought of in that way. He was thought to be little more than a popular entertainer by many people for most of his career, not a real artist. That all started to change in the 1960s – when French writers and directors started to expose the virtue of Alfred Hitchcock. No one did this more than Francois Truffaut, himself one of the great filmmakers in history, who said when he told American journalists that Hitchcock was one of his favorite directors, they asked why. So, over the course of a week, Truffaut, interviewed Hitchcock – going through his films one at a time. The resulting book is legendary in film circles – and remains as vital as ever. Kent Jones’ documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut both looks back at the interview, the book, and just basically Hitchcock in general. Of course, both Hitchcock and Truffaut are dead now, but Jones does get quite a list of modern directors to talk about Hitchcock (and a little Truffaut), and what he means to them, and what he means to cinema history. For Hitchcock fan like me, there is little new information in the film, even if it remains fascinating and entertaining throughout (it’s also great to have any excuse to see even excerpts of Hitchcock’s film on the big screen). I do, however, think the film may be more suited for Hitchcock amateurs – those looking for a way into Hitchcock, especially as the film moves along, and in the back half basically settles for discussions on Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960).

The film is well made by Jones – which shouldn’t be too surprising, since he’s worked with Martin Scorsese on a few documentaries like this in the past. Much like the Hitchcock/Truffaut book, which laid out in page after page, Hitchcock’s editing style, so you can see it laid out in front of you, Jones does the same thing here – and has the distinct advantage of having the movies themselves to do that with. The directors that Jones has chosen to interview are well chosen – the obvious ones, like Scorsese, Paul Schrader and Peter Bogdanovich (all of whom are film historians in a way, as well as being directors), and some of the more off the way choices like Wes Anderson (who doesn’t make films like Hitchcock at all – until you think about it for a minute). All of them are good filmmakers, who are able to describe what Hitchcock is doing, and what it all means. This is insightful, because it’s a different view than the critical writing we normally get on Hitchcock – a view inside the mind of someone who is processing things. And the filmmakers do not just focus on the technical level either – they dive into the meanings of the movies as well, and their symbolism.

But while the interviews are among the strengths of the movie, they are also the biggest example of the film’s biggest, glaring omission – there are no female directors who can talk about Hitchcock? Claire Denis, Sofia Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow, Lynne Ramsey, Jane Campion, Ava DeVernay et al have nothing to say about the master? This is perhaps even a little more troubling, giving the subject matter in Hitchcock’s films – he has often been accused of being a misogynist, so a female perspective seems like a necessity in a film like this, no?

That’s a problem with the film, but not a fatal one. The film still offers real insight into Hitchcock, and his place in cinema history – and I really do hope it inspires some people to watch (or re-watch) his work. The lack of women though knocks down what could have been a great doc, into merely a good one – one that offers very little new in Hitchcock (and nothing new on Truffaut, who eventually gets lost in the film), but is a good primer (or reminder) of just how good he really was.

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