HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (2015) – Cohen Media Group – ★★★★

Color – 80 mins. – 1.78:1

Directed by Kent Jones

Featuring:  Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut (archival audio footage), and interviews with Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, David Fincher, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Paul Schrader, and more.

Hitchcock/Truffaut is the most indispensable book ever published about director Alfred Hitchcock. The book is essentially a transcription of a week’s worth of in-depth conversations between the two titular directors, in which they discuss every film in Hitchcock’s catalog, many in great detail. From its first publication fifty years ago, through revisions and reissues, to the current day, it is the vade mecum for the hardcore Hitchcock fan or scholar.   Now, thanks to director Kent Jones, we have a documentary film which discusses the book, its origins and its influences.

The movie has some voice-over narration, but primarily consists of contemporary interview clips of prominent directors,  several scenes from Hitchcock movies, and some audio archival footage of Hitchcock and Truffaut in conversation.   The movie sets up the backstory:  Truffaut began his professional life as a movie critic, writing for the influential French magazine Cahiers du Cinema.  He devised the auteur theory of filmmakers, the idea that a truly talented director is like the “author” of his or her movies, leaving a distinct and recognizable imprint.  He was also one of the first critics to recognize and write about the recurring themes in Hitchcock’s movies, thereby elevating them above the level of mere entertainment.

When I watch a documentary film I want to be informed, and I want to be engaged.  In other words, teach me something I didn’t know, and do it in an entertaining way.  This film succeeds on both counts.  I had always assumed that the conversations between Truffaut and Hitchcock were impromptu in nature.  But Truffaut spent a great deal of time watching films and preparing his questions.  He basically approached the book the same way he would have approached making a new movie.  And this was done in the pre-internet age, when one could not just google some obscure Hitchcock silent film, and be watching a clip ten seconds later.    It is pointed out in the documentary that Truffaut probably sacrificed at least one movie  with the amount of time he dedicated to the Hitchcock project.

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The real treat for me in this documentary is watching so many great directors talk about the work of Hitchcock, and the influence of the book on their lives and work.  Martin Scorsese becomes almost like a child when he discusses movies;  he is so undeniably a fan, it is absolutely infectious.  And when he discusses specific scenes, you know he is citing from memory;  he didn’t need to re-watch it to refresh his recollection.  I’m glad that David Fincher was included as well, because I believe he is the most Hitchcockian director working today, at least in visual style, and ability to emotionally manipulate an audience.

I wish the film would have spent a little more time on Truffaut’s life and career, but that is a minor quibble.  Any fan of Alfred Hitchcock will be enthralled watching this fine documentary.   In addition to the feature, the blu ray does include some additional interview footage.