Hitchcock/Truffaut: Nouvelle Vague, by Matt Warren
Kent Jones’s Hitchcock/Truffaut is a documentary about a book about a bunch of movies. That’s at least one too many layers of abstraction away from being a totally relevant or necessary cultural product, but hey. Who am I to scoff at Hitchcock obsessives and their tireless thirst for yet one more totemic recantation of the Cock’s classic “show-the-bomb” theory of shock vs. suspense? Good stuff, sure, but not the sort of thing that demands your fifteen bucks, or even your full attention. This doc is a Netflix laundry-folder if every there was one. After all, what better soundscape to accompany the pairing-up of matching socks than the wet, throaty bubble of Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic voice shit-talking Montgomery Clift?
Perhaps you’re already familiar with the original Truffaut/Hitchcock book? First published in 1966, T—/H— is a hundreds-of-pages-long transcription of French New Wave auteur Francois Truffaut’s extended interview/conversation with the venerated Master of Suspense. Truffaut was the wide-eyed young upstart. Hitchcock was aging into the twilight of his career. Within 20 years they’d both be dead. The book was the first serious appraisal of Alfred Hitchcock as a genius of filmcraft, with Truffaut and his Cashiers du Cinema colleagues rightfully recognizing the popcorn showman for the sophisticated, masterful technician he really was. As a bible for hardcore cinephiles, the book has become almost as iconic as the films it discusses—a big gray doorstop the size and shape of The Complete Grateful Dead on long box cassette, the directors’ dueling names printed vertically down the front in a tacky 1970s yacht rock font.
That’s as much as I really know about the book, since I never actually read it. But I can confirm that the book contains lots of photos from the interview sessions themselves: Hitchcock, an avuncular pile of gin-soaked vanilla garlic knots, and Truffaut, a dapper Euro wisp of human cigarette smoke, talking animatedly, indicating with their hands, doubled over in hilarious director-man shop talk. It looks like fun. The book also contains numerous stills from Hitchcock’s films, and probably some from Truffaut’s as well—I honestly don’t remember.
There’s a lot of good material to work with here, but unfortunately Jones doesn’t know what to do with it. Is his film a “making of” chronicle of the book’s creation? Is it a cinematic adaptation of the book’s content? An exploration of the generational shift from peak Hollywood to the emerging international art house? A hagiographic celebration of Alfred Hitchcock’s influence of young filmmakers? A Hitchcock biography? Hitchcock/Truffaut (the film) is a bit of each, but not nearly enough of any one to really be satisfying. The film is unsure of itself. It has the book as a foundation, but it doesn’t know what to build on top of it. Instead, Jones hedges his bets in every direction, erecting an unsteady hodgepodge of nonspecific Alfred Hitchcock content loosely tied together with some severely milquetoast Bob Balaban voiceover.
As pure factoid dumps go, Hitchcock/Truffaut is interesting enough, but it’s far from a great documentary. My recommendation: stick with the book. Then when you get a chance, find me on Twitter and let me know if I should read it. I may still have my discount at the college bookstore.