“Qu’on écrive un roman ou un scénario, on organise des rencontres, on vit avec des personnages ; c’est le même plaisir, le même travail, on intensifie la vie.”
In the mid twentieth century, when an art form is less than a century old, it is difficult to see it as a phenomenon as important as a sculpture by Michelangelo or a composition by Mozart. Filmmaking was established, but continuously being reinvented and revolutionised. This documentary meets two directors that helped establish the art of film as culturally, aesthetically and historically important, despite their creative styles differing in more ways than one. It follows François Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock through their creative journeys, whilst analysing their intersection as detailed in Truffaut’s 1966 book Hitchcock/Truffaut. The result is one that resonates strongly, and explains how to this day directors owe their inspiration to these two incredibly important men.
In 1966, after a week of recorded conversation with his hero Alfred Hitchcock, Truffaut published the book of conversations. “We spoke all day about cinema, even during lunchtimes,” Truffaut fondly remembers. It was certainly an important moment for the young Frenchman; Hitchcock – “utterly unpretentious, no pomposity” – was his hero, and revolutionised the art of directing with his masterful craft and ability to create suspense. Truffaut was revolutionary in a different manner; alongside his native contemporaries, men like Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol, he sought to capture the spirit of youthful iconoclasm, experiment radically with visual style, and place an autographical element onto the art form. Indeed, these French directors, self-confessed “auteurs” (authors) as opposed to directors as such, were individual artists who engaged in self-exposure. Hitchcock/Truffaut successfully and interestingly highlights how this relates to the way in which Hitchcock conducted his creation of film; his dreams, terrors, and fetishes all realised themselves within the screen; Hitchcock famously had a dramatic preference for blondes, for example, having James Stewart in Vertigo (1958) force a woman to dye her hair blonde for his supposed sexual gratification.
An important part of the documentary is when we hear from today’s successful directors about how indispensable Truffaut’s 1966 book was to them: from Martin Scorsese, to Wes Anderson, to David Fincher. Each man talks passionately about the influence Hitchcock and Truffaut had on their own works, citing the former in particular as being a true master of space, of style, of light. Hitchcock inspired many, yet Truffaut in return wanted to help Hitchcock shake off his reputation as a light entertainer who clings to the rising curve of narrative. Truffaut didn’t have this perception, saying to his hero “in your films, you always get the powerful scent of original sin.” In films like Rear Window (1954) the limited perspective of the voyeur is a theme felt particularly strongly, yet critics often found Hitchcock’s film as rather sexualised and dealing with perverse behaviours. It was a different type of critic that would alternatively appreciate these devices that Hitchcock flirted with; Truffaut’s career began when he was introduced by André Bazin to the exclusive group Cahiers du cinéma, where he, alongside other pioneering members of the nouvelle vague movement, contributing to the film magazine, reinventing the basic tenets upon which film theory and criticism had been based upon. “We’ve now come to admit that a Hitchcock film is as important in the history of art as the publication of a book by Gide or Aragon,” Jean-Luc Godard has stated.
The documentary explores many facets of film making that the two directors engaged in; for example, silent cinema was a concept celebrated by both directors. Its visual legacy was seen as the most pure art form, a “lost secret,” and it is said that the films of both Hitchcock and Truffaut would work silently too, which is perhaps the evidence of an excellent director.
The message that this fascinating documentary divulges most strongly perhaps, is that in our day and age, where we are being “pummelled by visual hyperbole,” we should perhaps take a refreshing second look at the works of and relationship between two geniuses. When a language barrier is put up, the two men speak the language of cinema, transcending all of the limitations of communication, and are consequently two of the greatest directors of all time.