Face-off: Kent Jones Unpacks The Bible Of Auteur Interviews
It’s kind of odd to think that the Cohen Media Group picked up Kent Jones’ slickly produced bonus featuresque cinematic rumination on the monumental bible of film interviews, Hitchcock/Truffaut, being that nearly everyone interviewed in the film has had a film or more released by Janus Films’ homevid branch The Criterion Collection (with the only two exceptions being James Gray and Kiyoshi Kurosawa). Even Jones has appeared in Criterion in various capacities, either on screen as interviewee, in print as a critic or behind the scenes on the Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project release. But, regardless who’s releasing this hot little commodity, it’s a guaranteed cinephilic sugar rush.
Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Olivier Assayas, Paul Schrader, Peter Bogdanovich, Paul Schrader, Arnaud Desplechin and Richard Linklater round out the all-star lineup of interviewees who openly gush about the undeniable influence of Alfred Hitchcock on the medium in which they work. The structuralist rigor and extremely formal approach with which he produced such masterpieces as Vertigo, Psycho, North By Northwest, Rear Window and so many others has seeped deep into the fabric of modern movie making, but while the inclusion of Kurosawa, Assayas and Desplechin is an attempt to prove how internationally pervasive the master of suspense was, Jones’ film is very American-centic indeed, which is a bit odd when you consider the complete lack of UK representation and Hitchcock’s own British expat status.
But let’s not forget that Hitchcock’s reputation was transformed from lightweight genre director into premier auteur by the passionate writing of the French critics of Cahiers du Cinéma – chief amongst his admirers was François Truffaut whose own filmmaking career took off in the wake of The 400 Blows. Shortly after, Truffaut wrote to Hitchcock, proposing the two sit down for an in depth conversation that would span Hitchcock’s entire career up to that point. Flattered, the man agreed to sit down with Truffaut at Universal Studios for a week of interrogation. Their rollicking conversation resulted in the 1962 publication of Hitchcock/Truffaut, one of the most well regarded books of film criticism ever to hit print.
Taking pains to portray the joys of the text, Jones has done his research, highlighting key sections by letting his interviewees dissect their favorite Hitchcock sequences, from the neon lit hotel scene of Vertigo (which reveals a morbid fascination with necrophilia) to the Cary Grant-Ingrid Bergman kiss in Notorious (which reveals the director’s penchant for playing the audience, no matter how awkward the performance was for the actors involved), sprinkling in pertinent samples from the original audio recordings and sequential photographs taken during the interview for historical buttressing. Before getting to the meat of the matter, Jones briefly contextualizes the pair of filmmakers, placing them in the filmic landscape of the time before launching into the personal critical analysis that makes the book soar.
While it’s not oozing with new insight or juicy gossip about the obsessively written about filmmaker, Hitchcock/Truffaut remains an entertaining, well made memorial to a classic text of cinema studies. Kent Jones reminds us that admiration has the potential to reveal ascendance in worthy, thoroughly researched cases of mutual respect. And who could be more deserving than Hitch?
Reviewed on September 15th at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival – TIFF Docs Program. 80 Mins.