It’s the thick of the summer once more and the screens all around the fair city of Toronto are just blazing red hot. That being said, in this season of studio tent poles and massive blockbusters some bemoan that there isn’t always something for the more discerning movie goer and as always the TIFF Cinematheque is here to prove everyone wrong.
Kicking off this July 7th and running until September 4th, we’ve got ourselves a duel retrospective as Hitchcock/Truffaut: Magnificent Obsessions brings us some of the iconic works that both of these men who admired each other so delighted audiences with throughout their careers.
Screening favorites like North By Northwest & The 400 Blows alongside efforts that are rarely screened like Saboteur & The Bride Who Wore Black really do highlight how well both men’s work intertwine with one another. Hitch was the Master of Suspense and Francois was his French New Wave acolyte and together they changed the world of cinema as we know it when they got together and recorded a series of interviews which eventually became the book; Hitchcock/Truffaut which almost acts as a bible to modern filmmakers today.
In addition to all these classic films screening as they were intended on the big screen, we also get the treat of revisiting what was one of my favorite documentaries from last year; Hitchcock/Truffaut. Directed by Kent Jones, a noted critic, filmmaker and director of the New York Film Festival is coming town to introduce and talk about not only his film but Truffaut’s Day For Night on July 8th but also Hitchcock’s I Confess on July 9th.
I got the unique pleasure to talk to Mr. Jones via e-mail before he comes to town to not only ask him a few questions about his film but about the legacy that Hitchcock and Truffaut created not only separately but together as well.
Dave Voigt: While the book has obviously been a success for years, in many ways this feels like it would have been a no brainer as a film. Walk us through your initial process of adapting one of the more beloved books about cinema for the big screen and what, if any road blocks you may have encountered along the way?
Kent Jones: You’re the second person I’ve encountered who has used the term “adaptation” to describe the film, and I like it, because in the end that’s exactly what I was doing. But it wasn’t the way I went into it. I got a call from Charles Cohen, the American co-producer, and he asked me if I was interested in doing a documentary based on the Hitchcock/Truffaut recordings. I knew most of the recordings already, because about 11 ½ hours of them are online. They were edited into hour long segments and broadcast on the radio in France, and those broadcasts are readily available on the internet.
I was really into the idea of making a movie based on audio recordings—the challenge of it appealed to me. I remember one interview I did in which I was asked about using the “footage” of Hitchcock and Truffaut talking to each other. There is no footage, I said, and the guy was surprised to remember that. I took it as a compliment—that was the desired effect. That’s moviemaking. The great American film critic Manny Farber called it “negative space”—you take images and sounds and put them together and an impression is immediately created in the mind. So what I was trying to do was create an imaginary space in which an ongoing conversation between moviemakers, not just Hitchcock and Truffaut but all of the directors interviewed for the film, was taking place. Noah and Jake do the same thing with their movie about Brian De Palma, which I love—they create something in the collision of images between Brian speaking and all the clips and photos. It’s a matter of nuance, of rhythm. As opposed to another one of the many movies in which the people interviewed never become more than talking heads, testifying to the greatness of importance or complexity of their appointed topic, and the imaginary space opened up is the mental equivalent of a TV studio or the 92nd Street Y—not interesting.
So in that sense, yes—I was “adapting” the book, a book I knew like the back of my hand. But I was also trying to create an experience that is complementary to the book; that takes the conversation those two had and extends it into the present, touching on many developments that have occurred since 1967, when it was first published in English. I didn’t really encounter any roadblocks to speak of, I just made the movie.
DV: I can imagine getting people talk on camera about the importance of Hitchcock/Truffaut to their careers was fairly easy, but were there any interesting stories or anecdotes that you had to cut for the sake of brevity from the film?
KJ: I wanted people that I knew were able to think and speak extemporaneously. I did not want them because they were famous, but because they’re great filmmakers, all thinking about the issues or variations on the issues that Hitchcock and Truffaut were thinking about. So in almost every case, I was talking to people I know, some very well. In the case of Marty and Arnaud and Olivier, we were continuing a conversation that’s been ongoing for many years.
The Hitchcock/Truffaut tapes run 27 ½ hours. You could make about 20 different movies out of that material. The interviews that I did were each a couple of hours long, and in each case you’re talking about people for whom every word counts. I could have made a whole separate movie out of David Fincher’s interview. Ultimately moviemaking whether fiction or documentary, is about making choices, because it’s all about concision.
DV: As iconic as the Hitchcock/Truffaut interview was, it has never been shared or expressed in any different medium other than with your film. Now with the release of the new documentary; DePalma by Jake Paltrow and Noah Baumbach, it feels like the door is open to create these accessible yet still critical examinations of other filmmaker’s works by filmmakers working today. Do you think there is a reason why it has taken us this long to make movies that truly look at the entire works of other filmmakers and their subsequent importance?
KJ: The thing you have to remember is that Truffaut’s book was the equivalent of a modern film about filmmaking. If Truffaut were to embark on such an enterprise now, he very well might have made a movie rather than a book. This is one area that has really been opened up by the switch to digital moviemaking. When I was young, there was no real genre of movies about moviemakers. There was Richard Schickel’s PBS series The Men Who Made the Movies, which was an eye-opening experience for me. In France there was Cinéastes de notre temps. But those were portraits. With Chris Marker and Godard, everything changed—with Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma in particular. That was an eye-opening experience for everyone. Now, that was still pre-digital—it was video—but the speed and fluency was there. It was Godard’s speed and fluency, as opposed to the App-engendered speed of many modern docs. But the sense of a mysterious mental space created by sounds and spoken words, moving and still images, music—it’s there in Marker’s movie about Tarkovsky, but it’s there in abundance in Histoire(s). Just as a talking head can never be just a talking head, a film clip can never be just a film clip. The minute you use a film clip, it becomes part of your own vocabulary for your own movie. It’s your job to work with it in such a way that it shines a light back on the original. I think that digital editing is conducive to the creation of this kind of movie.
But also, we’re at a strange moment in film history, because we’re seeing many, many movies made and lauded that are made by people either ignorant of movie history or who are denying it. In quite a few interviews, I’ve said that it’s pretty common now to see a movie that appears to have been made by someone who has never even seen another movie. That’s a common posture, I think. The reasons for this state of affairs are too complicated to get into here, but this is why we’re seeing movies like mine and Noah and Jake’s. Movies that stand up for the art of cinema, as opposed to the moviemaking industry, or the creation of movies based on “important” themes.
DV: Why is the book, still relevant for filmmakers today?
KJ: David Fincher answers that pretty succinctly in the movie when he says that it describes what direction is at its simplest and in the most basic terms. It does away with all the mystification about moviemaking and, in the process, posits it as a craft and as an art.
DV: If Mr. Hitchcock and Mr. Truffaut were both alive today to see the impact of what they did together on modern cinema, what do you think they would say?
KJ: I don’t think that either of them would be too pleased with modern cinema, but that’s a matter of business. In the 70s, when I was young, the New Hollywood was in full flower. We all took it for granted that it would go on like that forever. Moments like that are always brief. Art is always fragile. So, I think that while they would be appalled by the general state of movies, they would be excited by the work being done by the real filmmakers, many of whom appear in the movie, most of whom were inspired or, in Marty’s case, liberated by the book and by the ongoing miracle and wonder of Hitchcock’s cinema.
Hitchcock/Truffaut: Magnificent Obsessions the retrospective runs from July 7th until September 4th and yet again offers up and embarrassment of riches for any film lover in town. Get your tickets now.