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

by Brent Reid

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 truly groundbreaking but more balanced, accurate insights have since been published
  • Some of the best of these feature his own words but unfiltered through multiple translations
  • Directors on director: other filmmakers have also written their own book-length homages

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, 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 latter-day 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

Trailers: Italian | Spanish#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 mentioned. Remember, Hitch’s two longest-running 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.

Sadly, sexism in narratives isn’t confined to Hitchcock: ‘It’s a more expansive, inclusive version’: how women reshaped the history of The Beatles

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 in various countries on DVD, as well as 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). The latter BD adds a photo gallery, while the US and Spanish discs respectively 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 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 scholar Sidney Gottlieb, also 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 others

While countless expert commentators have appraised Hitchcock’s oeuvre, some of the most perceptive observations are naturally made by those who are – or who would soon be – in the same line of work. Numerous examples appear everywhere, especially in documentaries and suchlike but in print they’re far fewer; here are the most noteworthy.

Hitchcock: The First Forty-four Films (1957) by Éric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol

Rear

While Truffaut certainly kicked the doors of Hitchcock appreciation wide open, they were actually prised apart several years earlier when he, along with other critics, advanced the notion of a director’s body of work bearing a discernible overarching style or signature. These leading lights of the French New Wave were popularising the auteur theory, as it came to be known, chiefly via the pages of hugely influential magazine Cahiers du Cinéma. The concept eventually took firm hold everywhere and today informs much of film studies and, indeed, filmmaking itself. In 1957, Truffaut’s friends and fellow critic-directors Éric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol published Hitchcock, which in the States was subtitled The First Forty-Four Films to helpfully denote it covered his career up to his latest offering, The Wrong Man, with a tacit expectation of many more. Though another nine were made following publication, unfortunately, unlike Truffaut’s book, the authors never managed to update it to include them. Though their pragmatic approach of analysing Hitchcock’s films chronologically is par for the course today, at the time it was quite revolutionary and this seminal treatise is still highly relevant today.

2011 event links | 2017 discussion (Spanish)


The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock (1963) by Peter Bogdanovich

Autographed copy

Writer-director Peter Bogdanovich (1939–2022) was a brilliant but complex and flawed Renaissance man, with a personal life every bit as colourful and compelling as any of his award winning films or Hollywood peers. Significantly though, he was also a champion of the Golden Age of Cinema and one of Hitchcock’s most avid and longstanding devotees. Indeed, he styled himself after the French New Wave critics, and followed their lead by graduating from film criticism to directing. His first Hitchcock-related publication – and the third dedicated to the director anywhere – is The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock whose cover features his cameo in I Confess. The 48-page illustrated booklet was published to coincide with a Hitchcock retrospective Bogdanovich programmed at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) from May 5–November 16, 1963. It consists of a detailed filmography and a long interview which can be read here, here and here. Bogdanovich later confessed he’d only dreamt up the idea of a retrospective accompanied by an interview monograph as a ruse to meet his film heroes; Orson Welles and Howard Hawks had earlier received exactly the same treatment, as did many more after them.

Maintaining his lifelong relationship with the museum long after he had become a successful filmmaker, Bogdanovich wrote “A Hundred Years of Hitchcock“, an article appearing in the March 1999 issue 0f MoMA’s eponymous journal. It was to herald their second retrospective, this time commemorating his centenary by showing all of his films. MoMA’s June issue featured “Alfred Hitchcock: Behind the Silhouette” by Mary Corliss, curator of the concurrent four-month exhibition.

Though Bogdanovich didn’t actually get around to writing a full-length book on Hitchcock, they became firm friends and conducted formal interviews on many occasions. One of these ended up in Who the Devil Made It?, an endlessly entertaining read, along with its companion volume Who the Hell’s in It? Additionally, Bogdanovich appeared in well over a dozen Hitchcock documentaries and featurettes, many of which are extras on discs of the Master’s American films. Lastly, he also recorded an excellent audio commentary for To Catch a Thief with film historian-documentarian Laurent Bouzereau. The latter maintains a prolific work rate, having written, directed and produced around 400 documentaries with over 20 of them on Hitchcock. Bouzereau’s also authored more than a dozen books; his three on the Master would make him an obvious candidate for inclusion here but they already get a mention in the article on Alma Reville.


In 1990, while still a student at the University of Guadalajara, horror and fantasy thriller writer-director-producer Guillermo del Toro saw the publication of his first book, a Spanish-language biography of his idol. Simply titled Alfred Hitchcock, it was published in a small run by the university press. This was an early indicator of his future dual career, as he’s renowned almost as much these days for being an extremely literate and articulate cinéaste, both authoring and contributing regularly to scores of other books, articles, documentaries, film history and preservation efforts, etc. The biography was also published in Spain in 2009 and again in Mexico in 2018 (Fb/Tw). The latter occasion was to mark “Hitchcock, más allá del suspenso” (“Hitchcock, beyond the suspense”), a mammoth 35-film retrospective and six-month exhibition at La Galería de la Cineteca Nacional in Mexico City. To great acclaim, it had previously made its way through Espacio Fundación Telefónica in Madrid (2016) and the San Telmo Museoa in San Sebastián (2017).

Used copies of any pressings come up quite rarely these days; if interested, your best bet is to try here, here and here for Spain; and here (exp) for Mexico. Frankly, given del Toro’s A-list, Oscar winning status and legions of fans worldwide, I’m surprised his Hitchcock biography hasn’t been picked up yet for translation and reissue in other markets. However, as he’s always talking about Hitch, and citing him as his fave director, I half expect del Toro will write another, perhaps using his first as a springboard but bringing to bear his subsequent life experience and years in the business.

Video reports


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

Truffaut: “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 word 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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