Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on November 15, 2015
The 38th Denver Film Festival calls it a wrap today. When it began in 1978 it featured the works of such diverse directors as Woody Allen, Wes Craven, and Louise Malle. This year #DFF38 was held November 4 – 15 and it had an equally varied lineup that covered a wild gamut of genres from all around the world. Of specific interest to TCM viewers would be a documentary by Kent Jones that screened last night at the DFF titled Hitchcock/Truffaut. It uses a legendary 27-hour interview between François Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock conducted in 1962 as its starting point. The results provide an excellent launch pad for cinephiles looking to rekindle a discussion for what Hitchcock referred to as “the greatest known mass medium in the world.”
The impressive list of highly regarded directors that Jones gets to chime in on Hitchcock during his doc include the likes of Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Peter Bogdanovich, Arnaud Desplechin, David Fincher, James Gray, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Richard Linklater, and Paul Schrader. But it’s the past recordings, translations, and transcriptions between François Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock that truly dominate attention. Truffaut, a passionate cineaste who was taken under the wing of André Bazin at Cahiers du Cinéma and was at the vanguard of the Nouvelle Vague had a career trajectory on the upswing. Hitchcock, on the other hand, was in his filmmaking twilight and wondering if his body of work would forever be filed under the category of entertainment rather than art. Truffaut made sure the world knew that Hitchcock’s work belonged firmly in the latter category.
Truffaut’s interview with Hitchcock would result in an ongoing friendship with Hitchcock often offering suggestions for many of Truffaut’s films, such as on Fahrenheit 451 (1966) and others. Hitchcock died peacefully in his sleep in 1980 the age of 80. Truffaut, sadly, was not far behind him when he had a stroke and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He died in 1984 at the age of 52.
While Hitchcock/Truffaut does touch on many of Hitchcock’s films, including the early silent film era work, the two films that get the most attention are Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960). Several of the directors interviewed liked to point out how hard it was to screen Vertigo at the time they were growing up, Scorsese even referring to it as “sacred document” – the studio having largely abandoned it after what it considered to be a disappointing opening. For those eager to revisit the film, sometimes the only way was via clandestine screenings of highly coveted 16mm prints, which is surely anathema to today’s generation who have “indiscriminate access to everything.”
It is interesting to contemplate how Hitchcock’s early work in the silent film era was instrumental in creating the master filmmaker who is still being scrupulously studied today. Hitchcock recognized that silent cinema was “pure motion picture” and that there was “no need to abandon it”. The pure visual vocabulary of his past threads its way into every film he would make afterward, stitching together visual codes that went far beyond entertainment. As Jones’ documentary makes clear, Hitchcock wrote with the camera and his themes fused obsession, melancholy, loss, and desire into enigmatic fantasies. These are enigmas that cinephiles are still trying to crack to this day, each book, documentary, thesis, an attempt at a Turing-like device that might finally reveal all the hidden answers inside Hitchock’s sacred visual texts. But as any obsessive can tell you, desire has a way of remaining elusive.
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