Rob Edelman: Hitchcock Truffaut
In recent years, there’s been an explosion of new documentaries highlighting a host of subjects. This year, quite a few have been biographical in nature. Two high-profile titles, which have earned heaps of PR, deal with the lives and fates of very different young women. The first is AMY, a biography of Amy Winehouse. Then there is HE NAMED ME MALALA, the tale of the Pakistani schoolgirl who was harassed by the Taliban after speaking out in favor of the rights of girls to attend school.
However, one excellent documentary which has just been released theatrically explores the careers of two individuals, both of whom are long-deceased cinema legends. It is titled HITCHCOCK TRUFFAUT, and it centers on the book of the same name that was first published in 1966. The volume consists of a series of conversations between Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock centering on Hitch’s films and career. In it, Hitch discusses everything from the complexities of the director-actor relationship to his own directorial choices: why he made them, and what they achieved cinematically. It is for good reason that HITCHCOCK TRUFFAUT the book is described in the film’s narration as “one of the few indispensable books on movies,” and it is understandable that what emerged from the Hitchcock-Truffaut get-together was a deepening mutual respect, and a friendship.
HITCHCOCK TRUFFAUT the film charts the backstory of how the meeting came about. At the time, Truffaut, who then was half Hitchcock’s age, had made just a handful of films. Hitch, meanwhile, was nearing the end of his career. Plus, the two men were the products of different cultures. But Truffaut revered Hitchcock and, while Truffaut already had earned international acclaim, the book was for him “every bit as important as one of his films.”
Throughout HITCHCOCK TRUFFAUT the film, a who’s who of contemporary filmmakers who are Hitchcock admirers discuss why the book is different, why it is special, and why Hitchcock is special. Martin Scorsese describes the book as “revolutionary.” Wes Anderson notes that Hitchcock remains relevant because his mind, and his films, are “filled with ideas.” Richard Linklater describes Hitchcock as a “sculptor of moments in time,” adding that you “don’t feel like he’s not confident in every shot.” In his day, Alfred Hitchcock may have been working within a commercial industry, but he still managed to create works of art.
At the same time, HITCHCOCK TRUFFAUT the film explores the life and career of Francois Truffaut, who of course is one of the leading figures of the French New Wave. To Truffaut, cinema was art-- and filmmakers were artists. True filmmakers will immerse themselves in their work, just as Alfred Hitchcock did.
Now these days, Hitchcock, who passed away in 1980, is as well-remembered as any filmmaker of his time. Still, there are those who do not know him. Several weeks ago, after briefly citing him in one of my classes, a student who was born perhaps a decade-and-a-half after his demise asked me, with a bit of hesitation: “Who is Alfred Hitchcock?”
And today, even more young people here in the U.S. would fail to recognize Francois Truffaut. One reason, I suspect, is that his films are French, are produced in a foreign language. Another is that Truffaut was just 52 years old when he passed away 31 years ago. Now I’ve loved Truffaut’s films for a host of reasons and I will admit that, when I learned of his death, I felt as if I had lost a member of my family. So it is wonderful to see his life and career celebrated in the lively and informative HITCHCOCK TRUFFAUT-- and it always is special to be privy to additional insight into the life and times of Alfred Hitchcock.
Rob Edelman as written several books on film, television, and baseball, and was a longtime Contributing Editor of Leonard Maltin’s annual Movie Guide. He teaches film history at the University at Albany.
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