It’s almost hard to imagine a time when Alfred Hitchcock could be considered a populist entertainer instead of a master craftsman. It’s hard to imagine a time when François Truffaut – an eventual master in his own right – could be considered a student of the craft. Hell, it’s hard to imagine a time where finding a copy of VERTIGO would take some doing. But once upon a time, none of that was all that hard to imagine.
In the mid 1960’s, director François Truffaut – then still up-and-coming, but with some seminal work already under his belt – sat down with master Alfred Hitchcock to discuss his life, his career, and filmmaking on the whole. What became of those conversations has gone on to become something of a sacred text for filmmakers and film lovers. Now, some fifty years after-the-fact, the documentary HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT has been made about those legendary conversations, the book they produced, and the legacy of Hitchcock.
Considering I finally read the book this documentary is highlighting earlier this year, the arrival of this documentary is well-timed. There was little presented that I didn’t already know, but the memory of pouring over those pages and basking in the ideas presented is quite fresh in my brain. The audio added inflections and reactions in places that I hadn’t caught on the printed page, and underscored the growing fondness these two men had for one-another after this discussion took place.
If there’s a curiosity to HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT, it’s that the former seems like something of an afterthought in this film. Don’t get me wrong; to this day, if you put Hitchcock and Truffaut at the same table, the former would still garner the most attention, even by admission of the latter. However, it was Truffaut’s approach, respect, and curiosity that added a great deal of illumination to that book, and his place in film history is beyond reproach. To sideline him so drastically in this retrospective feels out-of-balance at best.
The main failing of HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT is that it doesn’t offer a whole lot in the way of new information. Two of the most titilating parts of the archival audio are moments where Hitchcock alludes to something juicy, and then calls out “stop the tape”. While it’s wonderful to listen to some of the best directors today wax poetic about Hitchcock and his works, it’s a little late in the day for another round of “Wow, Hitch was great!”
Still, this film is a joy to soak up, and if nothing else, it may spark a renewed interest in copies of this wonderful artifact of film literacy…and at the end of the day, that’s a good thing.