truffaut cover

Hitchcock by François Truffaut (Revised Edition)
Paperback: Simon & Schuster, 1985 – no eBook Available

Earlier this week when I posted about REAR WINDOW, I mentioned that it was spurred by my time spent with my latest round of film-lit reading. When I finished the text that night, it occurred to me that I should document the hours I spent with it, since it left me with feelings of time-well-spent. I felt doubly compelled when I realized that it had been over one year since I did a post about my reading that wasn’t part of my American Movie Critics series with Jandy.

I was first pointed towards this book by Guillermo del Toro of all people. You see, a few summers back, there was a series of screenings at Lightbox hosted by del Toro, all Hitchcock films. Each evening began with a fifteen minute introduction, followed by the film playing, and then a full one-hour lecture going over what we’d just seen.

It was during these lectures that del Toro referred to this volume more than once.

 

Hitchcock & Truffaut

 

The book is a complete recount of Hitchcock’s work from his beginnings up until FRENZY (so his complete canon, minus one). However, the bulk of this edition is compiled from interviews done sometime after 1964. What’s key about the timing is that it has both directors working near the top of their game. While there is still a very reflective tone in Hitchcock’s words about his work, it doesn’t feel as though his best work is that far behind him – a stark contrast to the Crowe/Wilder book I read last year.

For almost every film discussed, Hitchcock recounts the plot. From there the pair go into varying degrees of depth regarding the film’s conception, production, and reception. Minor entries like MR & MRS SMITH are given a cursory mention; major landmarks like VERTIGO are given the better part of a whole chapter. One can almost hear a bit of giddiness in Truffaut’s questions when he gets to his favorites like REAR WINDOW…and truth be told, the giddiness is a bit refreshing.

When volumes like this are compiled, they are often done with a very neutral and studious tone. The idea is usually to document, observe, and report. Our observers are usually clinical in their approach, wanting the work to speak for itself.

But getting those flashes of excitement from Truffaut make it feel less like this book being written by a scholar, or a critic (though Truffaut was both) and more like it being written be a well-spoken fan. You can almost sense Truffaut twitching in his seat thinking “just three more films and then I get to ask him about PSYCHO!”).

 

joseph cotton in shadow of a doubt

 

Two of Hitchcock’s major talking points are brought up within the course of these pages: A complete explanations of “The MacGuffin” gets its due, as does the suspense brought upon with the knowledge of the bomb under the table. Reading about both of these points within the context of a conversation actually reminded me of seeing an influential sequence for the first time.

You know the feeling?

Perhaps it was the first time you saw a Chaplin gag, or the first time you saw Bonnie & Clyde get gunned down. It’s a piece of film lore that is endlessly quoted and referenced, but for one reason or another, you’ve never seen its original version before in-context.

So reading these points of discussion come up within their original discussion felt like a light bulb going on. What’s more, it’s amazing to think of a filmmaker of Truffaut’s talents hearing these points for the first time. There’s few indicators on whether he knew them before these moments (he seems especially flummoxed by the mention of “The MacGuffin”), so in a way, this book also serves as a document of a master’s inspiration at the feet of his own idol.

Through it all though, the conversation remains accessible…fluid…casual. Likely this is a fortuitous side effect of Truffaut speaking and writing in his second language, since it’s entirely possible that the interview could have become more “inside baseball” if Hitch spoke french, or Truffaut spoke better english.

 

grant & Bergman in Notorious

 

As I return the book to the shelf, I think about how this is the second time I’ve read a volume that someone close to me used as a textbook in their film studies. It makes me think about the shudders I get at the mere mention of former textbooks of my own, and how these volumes send chills down the spine of those who had to discuss them ad nauseam. It’s one of the rare times that I’m thankful that I didn’t study film all that much in school…since this fascinating read might well have been ruined for me if I did.

Then again, I also think about how there might be no better textbook than this document of two top-tier directors discussing film. We forget sometimes that the artists we study and adore likewise study and adore other artists. It’s rare that we get to listen in on such studious and complimentary conversations…let alone have a record of them.

Such records do indeed make great textbooks, since there is much to learn from them.