Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hitchcock/Truffaut, an illuminating duo

A documentary that takes us inside the mind of a master.

Most serious film lovers are familiar with Hitchcock/Truffaut, a book first published in France in 1967. The book offered a meticulously edited version of a week-long conversation between two very different directors, Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut.

In this essential volume, Hitchcock not only reveals his ideas about cinema, but engages in detailed discussions of how he achieved some of his most notable effects.

Unlike many books, Hitchcock/Truffaut can be opened almost anywhere and still yield abundant rewards. Credit Truffaut -- who began his career as a critic for the vaunted French publication Cahiers du Cinema. Truffaut venerated and understood Hitchcock, and was intimately familiar with his work.

Now comes director Kent Jones's documentary of the same name, another essential work that either will serve as a welcome amplification for devotees of the book or an introduction to it for cinema newbies.

Using segments of the recorded conversation between Hitchcock and Truffaut, well-selected clips from Hitchcock's films and commentary by a variety of current directors, Jones has assembled a film that deserves to become part of every film lovers collection.

Happily, those commenting on the films are not the usual suspects, aside from director Martin Scorsese, who always adds something valuable to any film about film in which he appears.

Jones also includes insights from other directors, notably James Gray, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Arnaud Desplechin, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Peter Bogdanovich and Paul Schrader.

Of course, few can do a better job of describing Hitchcock's work than Hitchcock himself, and he does so with the kind of candor and generosity that he might only have been able to achieve with another filmmaker.

At the time of the book's initial publication, Truffaut hoped that a comprehensive look at Hitchcock's work would help change the view that some held of the "master of suspense." Truffaut believed that in the U.S., Hitchcock was regarded as a talented entertainer who made commercially successful thrillers. No more.

That view seems remarkably dated now: Few knowledgeable filmgoers would dispute the inseparability of Hitchcock's visual and narrative mastery, and most of us are willing to acknowledge that art and commerce needn't be irreconcilable enemies.

It's encouraging to hear a new generation of filmmakers talk about what they learned from watching Hitchcock's movies. Gray marvels at the perverse genius of Vertigo, for example.

But perhaps the best thing about Hitchcock/Truffaut is that it reaffirms what it means to take a serious approach to film -- not pompous, overly academic or self-impressed, but one that delights in rich analysis and deep appreciation.

As a result, Hitchcock/Truffaut provides us with abundant and durable pleasures.

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