In 1962, renowned French filmmaker and icon of the French New Wave François Truffaut sat down for an interview with the massively popular American director Alfred Hitchcock. At the time, although most of Hitchcock’s films were blockbuster hits, they were generally regarded by critics as gimmicky and thin, their innovative suspense techniques superficial rather than masterful. When asked who his favorite filmmaker was, Truffaut responded Alfred Hitchcock, shocking his fans and shedding a new light on the masterful composition of Hitchcock’s dramatic thrillers. The subsequent conversation between the two directors is recorded as one of the most influential dialogues in filmmaking history, inspiring another wave of directors across the world.
First published as a book, the documentary “Hitchcock/Truffaut” delves into this conversation through the eyes of some of the most popular directors of today. Big names like Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”), David Fincher (“Gone Girl”), Akira Kurosawa (“Seven Samurai”) and Martin Scorsese (“Goodfellas”) claim that it was this book that allowed them to access filmmaking in a way that pushed past entertainment, and revealed the construction behind the magic they witnessed on screen. For these directors, the published transcript of this conversation became a cinematic bible, with shot by shot breakdowns of Hitchcock’s most compelling scenes and straightforward dialogue regarding the most powerful ways to engage an audience through film. While any conversation with Hitchock or Truffaut would be valuable, it’s the candid rapport between the two that makes their conversation so influential. As the two try to learn from each other, those listening are given a direct line to learn from them as well.
It seems almost obvious to say that film is a visual medium, and the careful construction of the image is what pulls an audience in. Looking at this construction, the documentary works to dismantle the notion that to be regarded highly, cinema must be “serious,” and must have a fully logical framework. In many ways, this is exactly what Hitchcock’s films are not — the logic is shaky and the actions overdramatized to the point of disbelief. However, as Scorsese notes at one point in the documentary, instead of appealing to realism, Hitchcock appealed to the “spirit of realism,” an even more powerful device that kept audiences across the country at the edge of their seats.
While the documentary focuses on the work of Truffaut and Hitchcock through the eyes of today’s most famous directors, it also inadvertently gives us a window into the minds of these directors at work. When analyzing Hitchcock’s pervasive religious themes, Fincher notes that in watching films, it can be almost unsettling how much we learn about the filmmaker, their fears, their obsessions and their deepest desires. This is a sentiment echoed by all commentators in the film, and reveals a facet of their work that may have otherwise been overlooked. Hitchcock’s films communicate his darkest obsessions in a way that makes them acceptable for an audience, and in doing this, he gave permission to the next generation of filmmakers to do the same.
While somewhat slow at times, “Hitchcock/Truffaut” works as a largely informational documentary. To those interested in filmmaking, the in-depth discussion of cinematic technique, the construction of the image and the revelatory aspects of passion project movies is engrossing. But, the documentary’s continual references to the large archive of Hitchcock and Truffaut’s works could serve to alienate those less involved, although the pull of celebrity gives a splash of excitement to the otherwise informational film. In the same way as the original book, the documentary stands not as art within itself, but as inspiration for those just as fascinated by the image as these famous filmmakers.