With his documentary
/Truffaut” (December 2), New York Film Festival programming director Kent Jones
takes us back to the legendary 1962 27-hour interview between French critic-auteur Francois Truffaut and British master Alfred Hitchcock
. The movie plays some of the recordings that were translated and transcribed by Helen Scott in Truffaut’s classic 1966 cinephile must-read, “Cinema According to Hitchcock.” Truffaut was at the beginning of his career, while Hitchcock was nearing the end of his.
Jones (“A Letter to Elia”), who wrote the film with French critic Serge Toubiana, also brings in directors David Fincher, Paul Schrader, Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Olivier Assayas, friend/collaborator Arnaud Desplechin (“Jimmy P.”) and more to add insight to what Hitchcock means to filmmakers. They focus, especially, on two of Hitchcock’s most seminal and influential works, “Vertigo” and “Psycho.”
I met with Jones at the Hotel Majestic bar in Cannes
, where the film premiered. It also played Telluride and Toronto and will show at DOC NYC (November 12-19). The co-production between Lion and Arte and Charles Cohen will be broadcast on Arte. Cohen Media is releasing the doc stateside.
Anne Thompson: How do you have time to make a documentary?
Kent Jones: If I had done exactly what Richard Pena did I wouldn’t have time. That’s why I’m only doing the festival. I’m not teaching courses. I write. I’m involved with the [Martin Scorsese film preservation] Foundation as an advisor.
Why focus so much on ‘Psycho’ and ‘Vertigo’?
That’s where the energy went, the way I put it together. It’s where the people interviewed were going, in the direction of ‘Vertigo’ and ‘Psycho’ very specifically. It has to be about more—”Vertigo” and “Psycho” are about the movies but they also represented something more. “Vertigo” for Hitchcock is his creative id movie, that’s a big theme, about him as an individual artist. Then “Psycho” is something else.
The movie made me question how self-conscious Hitchcock was, how much did he analyze and understand himself, his own psyche? I like that the conversation with Truffaut led him to question his own filmmaking.
I think he just didn’t talk about it. You can tell when he was speaking that he has thought everything through. I think it was common of many of that generation, like John Ford too. They were worried that if they sat around talking about film as art publicly that Darryl Zanuck or whoever would look askance at it. Joseph von Sternberg was the exception to the rule. People didn’t spend a lot of time portraying themselves as artists. They’re both very reticent and unemotional, so that’s interesting.
Fincher, like Hitchcock, likes to control the mechanical frame-building aspect of filmmaking. Is Truffaut the one who makes a bridge between Hitchcock and the modern style which leans more on collaborating with actors? It’s great when Hitchcock’s “actors are like cattle” quote finally emerges.
I felt that it was important because it comes up in their conversation. It’s the big difference between Hitchcock’s cinema and what we know now. Hitchcock would never be able to begin to make a movie the way Paul Thomas Anderson does…
Or Mike Leigh—
Those are the extreme examples. Even David Fincher, who can relate to these questions with actors, even he’s says that you need to let things spill over the edge of the bucket.
Hitchcock didn’t want his actors to take control of the narrative and take him off his path. It’s touching when he says maybe he should have done more of that, as if he saw where it was going and he hadn’t gone there.
He knew he was at the end of his career.
Some of the actors he worked with, it always struck me if you were a movie star you had more clout with him than younger actresses who weren’t established.
That’s true, but the way the relationships with actors worked, they gave him exactly what he wanted. James Dean scared the shit out of them all and Brando too. Hitchcock did have the other experience in “Torn Curtain” with Paul Newman, like Montgomery Clift in “I Confess.” He worked with Bruce Dern in “Family Plot,” but that’s not a Dern performance.
You didn’t want to dive into the issues with Tippi Hedren?
No. By inference, talking about Vera Miles [originally cast for “Vertigo”], he “couldn’t get a rhythm going with her, she had to go get pregnant, that silly girl.” Talking about the scene when Kim Novak is coming out of the bathroom [in “Vertigo”], like Fincher says, “I gotta be me.” Hitchcock’s out front with everything. It’s all there. Some of the Tippi Hedren stuff people have made movies about.
And Hitchcock’s wife, editor and collaborator Alma Reville? I’m fascinated by what the real story is.
Maybe not. She was there all the time.
While Truffaut was interviewing Hitchcock, your documentary skews toward Hitchcock.
I wanted to spend a significant time orienting people on who Truffaut was and where he came from and include his cinema in the movie and that does come up in that scene with the two of them describing the acton in his film; that was very beautiful.
How did you pick the directors to interview?
I wanted people who’d say more than “yes I love Hitchcock and Truffaut and they’re great.” I wanted people who would be articulate and also say something surprising.
How did you balance how much Hitchcock and Truffaut to put in, as well as the name directors? I loved the audiotapes, some of which are online.
About half are online, it’s 27 hours. I wanted to make a film about filmmaking, that’s why I wanted directors, not experts.
The movie is not academic at all. And it’s short! You left me wanting more.
That’s good, that’s the idea. I wanted working directors who were extending the conversations, I wanted to continue the conversation and make it bigger. I like to be concise. I wanted it to move. I didn’t want to make something that’s inaccessible.
I’ve never seen Fincher this chummy, open and charming.
I was prepared for him to say, “maybe not.” “Have you ever read the book?” “A couple hundred times when I was young.” He’s brilliant and he knows his Hitchcock.
Scorsese we expect to be loquacious. James Gray took an odd feminist approach. How long did you spend with them?
Whenever Marty talks publicly he likes to surprise people. Fincher two hours, Marty an hour and a half, James a couple hours. The rest an hour or so. With “Jimmy P.” we put a “Dial M for Murder” scene in the script. Truffaut and Hitchcock are both important to Desplechin, in different ways. There’s no such thing as a bad Hitchcock movie!
Read: Hitchcock’s Top 25 Films, Ranked.
Some are better than others.
“The Paradine Case”?
It’s more Selznick than Hitchcock.
What’s your favorite Hitchcock?
I put “Notorious” on the last “Sight and Sound” poll.
It’s also my favorite. You used the long kiss between Cary and Grant and Ingrid Bergman; Hitchcock said they were very uncomfortable shooting that.
And he doesn’t care how they feel!