Hitchcock/Truffaut: The Men Who Knew So Much, Part 2

The spin-offs

  • Famous veteran filmmaker was first interviewed in 1962 by young French critic cum-director
  • Truffaut worshipped the Master and believed the world was not giving his genius due credit
  • Over the next 15 years, a series of career-spanning interviews led to their classic film textbook
  • Perhaps the most renowned such work ever, it’s brilliant but not without technical limitations
  • Nonetheless, its ongoing popularity’s inspired numerous offshoots and tributes in other media
  • It was a groundbreaking work but more balanced, accurate insights have since been published

Note: this is part of an ongoing series of 150-odd Hitchcock articles; any dead links are to those not yet published. Subscribe to the email list to be notified when new ones appear.

Part 1: When Alfred met François


Contents


The doc

The first documentary to examine the relationship of these two outwardly very different men was “Monsieur Truffaut Meets Mr. Hitchcock” (1999). Although English-friendly, it was written and directed for German broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk by Truffaut’s friend Robert Fischer. It features interviews with Pat Hitchcock O’Connell, Madeleine Morgenstern (Mme Truffaut) and her daughter Laura Truffaut, fellow Hitch-rehabilitator Claude Chabrol and actor-screenwriter-director Jean-Louis Richard, who was Truffaut’s close friend and frequent collaborator. Between them, we get a very strong sense of Truffaut’s devotion to his friend and mentor, and his dedication to the great man’s artistic cause.

Fischer went on to make a further English-friendly featurette concerning the pair, “Ein ‘Mord!’ in zwei Sprachen: Alfred Hitchcock im Gespräch mit François Truffaut” (“Multilingual Murder: A Conversation Between AH and FT”, 2006, 13min). Unfortunately, it hasn’t seen official release so far.

“Monsieur Truffaut Meets Mr. Hitchcock” was first released in its original 29-minute cut on Criterion’s discs of Truffaut’s Hitch-influenced film, La peau douce (The Soft Skin, 1964). Three years later, a newly revised and expanded 39-minute version saw the light of day on the fifth extras DVD of Carlotta’s superb box set covering the four films Hitch made for David O. Selznick: Rebecca, Spellbound, Notorious and The Paradine Case.

  • US: Criterion The Soft Skin BD and DVD (2015)
  • France: Carlotta Films AH: Les Années Selznick 5-BD and 5-DVD (2018)

Clip | bande-annonce | montage | “The Complexity of Influence” featurette


The film

In 2015, US critic and filmmaker Kent Jones helmed an eponymous documentary based on the book, though it’s fittingly a US-French co-production. It draws on judicious audio extracts, interleaved with film clips and interviews with such latterday directorial luminaries as Wes Anderson, Peter Bogdanovich, David Fincher and Martin Scorsese. Like the parent book, it too was widely acclaimed, with the only recurring criticism being that at only 80 minutes it was much too short.

Serge Toubiana on Hitchcock/Truffaut

More trailers: Italian and Spanish #1 | #2

However, though it’s very well done overall, it’s guilty of some egregious sins that are impossible to overlook. Firstly, as can’t be reiterated enough, a roll call of ardent professional Hitchcock devotees quote endlessly from the book, uncritically treating it as though it’s a primary source and ultimately further cementing its somewhat misconceived reputation.

Another fault is that female voices are almost entirely absent from the narrative. Even when they are present, it’s only via archive snippets. Eleven current top male directors were interviewed for their thoughts on the Master’s techniques and four more (Brialy, Chabrol, Godard and Rohmer) appear in archive interviews, all in addition to our titular leads. That they couldn’t find a single noteworthy female director – I seriously doubt any were even asked – is shocking and ultimately provides a meta commentary on the entire project: that in Hollywood, the more things change, the more they stay the same. This is, after all, a documentary about a still-controversial filmmaker whose treatment of women both onscreen and off has been the subject of endless discussion and criticism, perhaps more so than any other aspect of his career. Yet it was barely discussed. Remember, Hitch’s two longest-running collaborators and perhaps most important collaborators were female: his wife Alma Reville and groundbreaking screenwriter-producer Joan Harrison. It’s easy to imagine that a female voice (or two, or three…) would have helped bring a more nuanced and balanced perspective in the face of all the unequivocally gushing cinematic testosterone on display. Sadly, this is far from unique; it seems par for the course for modern Hitch documentaries to still take an androcentric approach when there’s really no excuse. So much for progress.

Lastly, as with almost anything concerning Hitch emanating from an American source, the documentary is extremely US-centric. I won’t belabour the point I’ve made repeatedly elsewhere throughout this series of Hitch articles but suffice it to say, Hitch made many of his best films during the first half of his career in which he swiftly rose to becomes Britain’s top director. All this was long before he ever set foot in the States, yet here we have yet another treatise that would happily leave the uninitiated with the mistaken impression that Rebecca, his first US movie, was pretty much ground zero for the Master.

Kent Jones on Hitchcock/Truffaut | H/T and Opening Up Cinephilia

This iteration of Hitchcock/Truffaut has been released on BD in the US (region 0; English, French and Spanish subtitles), Mexico (region 0, Spanish subs) and Spain (region B, Spanish and Catalan subs), as well as various other countries on DVD. The latter BD adds a photo gallery, while the US and Spanish discs include an extra 46 and 86 minutes’ worth of additional featurettes and interviews – but still no women directors.

  • Italy: Rai Cinema DVD
  • France: ARTE DVD
  • Spain: A Contracorriente BD and DVD – Spanish subtitles may be forced on English language track
  • Mexico: Zima BD

The play

5 minute extract

A successful 2012 French play, Hitch: Quand Truffaut affronte Hitchcock (Hitch: When Truffaut Confronted Hitchcock) by Alain Riou and Stéphane Boulan, was also based on the interviews. It’s a highly effective, minimalistic three-hander also featuring the character of Hitchcock’s wife and lifelong professional collaborator, Alma Reville. Appropriately enough, it weaves a fictionalised, ahem, meatier narrative around the 1962 sessions. It was later filmed as one of the final projects of director Sébastien Grall (1954–2013) and is essential viewing for serious fans of all three directors. Most of the dialogue is French, with a little English, and it’s been released on home video with optional English subtitles. There are two configurations: BD/DVD and 2-DVD sets. Both discs are region 0 and the DVDs are in the PAL standard.


The rest

Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Volume 1 (1995) book edited by Sidney Gottlieb

 

While Truffaut’s is by far the best known collection of the Master’s own words, some others are well worthy of consideration, especially given its caveats. Chief among them are three books edited by Sidney Gottlieb (info), co-editor of the Hitchcock Annual (info). Another must-have is a double CD compilation of 1955–1980 interviews culled from the BBC archives. We’re incredibly spoilt for choice with the vast number of Hitchcock audio and video interviews available nowadays. Many of them are previously unreleased, while others appear as extras with the official home video editions of his films. All in all, there’s more than enough to keep even the most ardent fan or aspiring filmmaker sated for years.


The fun

Perhaps the most famous and recognisable director in history, Hitchcock and his works continue to inspire fans and filmmakers everywhere. Parodies, homages and adaptations abound in every media imaginable, very often executed in the style of the Master himself. Hitchcock-related animated shorts are particularly popular; here are a few of my favourites.

First off, a brief but effective trailer for the British Film Institute’s 2012 The Genius of Hitchcock season celebrating, among other things, the restoration of the “Hitchcock 9”:

BFI: 39 Steps to Hitchcock | Tie-in book, details

Next, an oldie but a bloody goodie: an episode of Liquid Television’s Stick Figure Theatre, Mister Alfred Hitchcock (1991). It reverse-storyboards parts of Psycho’s original trailer, using edited extracts of Hitch’s own narration:

Truffaut again: “I asked Monsieur Hitchcock to give me an interview of 50 hours and to reveal all his secrets. The result was a book… actually, it was like a cookbook [he always referred to it as the ‘Hitchbook’], full of recipes for making films.” Here’s The Ultimate Hitch Cookbook (2011) by We Think Things aka Pascal Monaco and Felix Meyer:

From the real life Hitch cookbook, film curator Nathalie Morris rustles up one of the Master’s favourite recipes, which he featured in a memorable scene in To Catch a Thief.

Both funny and macabre, I think the Master would wholeheartedly approve of the Hitchcock Animated Medley (2013) by Tim Luecke:

Blockbuster director slamdown as Steven Spielberg, Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick and Michael Bay face-off in Epic Rap Battles of History (2014) – yes, really!

We’ll leave the last words to the Master himself. Firstly, Hitchcock explains A Macguffin (2009) by Isaac Niemand and JealousGUY animation:

Alfred Hitchcock on Dead Bodies (2017) is a creepily animated 1957 interview from Blank on Blank:

For more animations, see these Collectors’ Guide entries: Dial M for Murder | Rear Window | VertigoPsycho | The Birds

Part 1: When Alfred met François


The posts

Want more Hitchcock? Here you go:

For more detailed specifications of official releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This article is regularly updated, so please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

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