Monday, February 29, 2016

Hitchcock / Truffaut (2015)

Being literal-minded, I halfway expected this documentary to be reenactments of passages from the book first published in 1966, which was composed of a memorable and influential series of interviews conducted by Francois Truffaut in 1962 of Alfred Hitchcock. Well, this movie is about the book, but mostly only as an excuse for director, cowriter, and film maven Kent Jones to work up wonderful appreciations of their work as filmmakers (mostly Hitchcock). My favorite parts were the long sections on Vertigo and Psycho, carried by an army of usual-suspects talking heads: Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Olivier Assayas, Richard Linklater, David Fincher, Paul Schrader, etc., etc. I loved it, especially on Vertigo, where it affirms for me again how strange and powerful that particular movie is—how hard it is even to describe what it is. A woman's picture? This documentary sets up a wonderful clip of the Vertigo reveal shot, glowing in the green of the hotel's neon sign, and it's fun to feel like you're seeing it in the company of people at least as gobsmacked. There are clips from all eras of Hitchcock pictures, from the silent and early talkies into his late failures. It's essay filmmaking in my favorite form—about filmmaking. The clips are great, nicely picked and used. The interview subjects are great too, sympathetic and knowledgeable. The Truffaut book and connection is interesting as well. There are some nice clips from The 400 Blows and other Truffaut pictures. There's also audio from the week-long interview sessions, which were conducted via a translator. All-day sessions must mean there are hours of audio. What we hear is often through the muddled filter of both subtitles and the translator. Reviewing it all must have been a herculean task, though it's exciting to hear both of their recognizable voices. The audio clips tend to be overly set up with heartwarming tales of the connection and lasting bond between the two (which at least have the advantage of being apparently true). Sometimes it starts to feel like a celebration at one remove—a celebration of Truffaut's celebration of Hitchcock—and sometimes it tramples Truffaut a little getting to Hitchcock. That's probably the way it should be, and a straightforward appreciation of Hitchcock might not have had as much of a pitch intrigue for producers as something to do with the book: the friendship that came of the interview, the sad proximity of their deaths, only four years apart, though Truffaut was a much younger man, their shared preoccupations with movies and moviemaking. Well, why not? I'll take those good sections any way I can get them because they're just about perfect. It also does a nice job on some of the Hitchcock titles from the '30s, such as the original Man Who Knew Too Much, which this picture calls the first true Hitchcock movie. There's also a nice discussion of The Wrong Man, another strong outing from the '50s. This is a great show.

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