2015, PG-13, 79 min. Directed by Kent Jones. Narrated by Bob Balaban.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Feb. 26, 2016
In 1962, two filmmakers sat in a room together to record 50 hours of conversation. Interviewer François Truffaut had at the time only made three films – The 400 Blows, Shoot the Piano Player, and Jules and Jim – but that was enough to make him a founding figure in the French New Wave. The one in the hot seat, Alfred Hitchcock, then coming off the shooting of Psycho, had, in contrast, decades of work under his belt coaxing chills and thrills from general audiences, but had been largely dismissed as a mere crafter of popcorn entertainment. Truffaut preserved for posterity their weeklong conversation in the 1966 book Hitchcock/Truffaut, and in the process revitalized the reputation of the roly-poly British expat behind some of the most enduring, deeply rattling, and influential movies in American cinema.
That’s a quick crib sheet to explain the slash – in the publication title and this documentary about the book – but director Kent Jones could have easily added nine more slashes. Just as the initial conversation between Hitchcock and Truffaut is such an engrossing artifact of two top directors discussing their mutual craft at a granular level, Jones’ film is most intriguing when it explores the relationship that 10 current filmmakers have to the book, and to Hitchcock explicitly. A Film Comment editor and director of the New York Film Festival with several film-themed documentaries on his C.V., Jones has a hell of a Rolodex to thumb through – Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, Arnaud Desplechin, Wes Anderson, and James Gray are among those who sat for his camera. While much of the history and critical interpretation summarized in the film will already be familiar to anyone who’s tenderly worn their copy of the book into shambles, the film’s fresh insights come in hearing great directors run through their individual readings of how Hitchcock’s rearing in silent cinema informed his directorial choices, say, or how profoundly he laid bare his fetishes onscreen.
Ah, those fetishes. They’re endlessly fascinating. The first time I remember hearing the term “male gaze” was in an undergraduate seminar on Hitchcock, though I think I’d already understood the concept in my gut – with all the queasy feeling that anatomical specificity implies – as a devoted, if unstudied watcher of Hitchcock. I’ll be blunt: The absence of a female filmmaker’s perspective in Jones’ collection of filmmaker interviewees gnaws at me. The ground is so fertile, and Hitchcock’s complicated relationship to women – as film subjects, and as artistic collaborators – is so essential to his work. (In interviews, Jones has explained that he reached out to several women directors for interview, who declined for various reasons.)
It’s generally not useful for the critic, in her evaluation of a work, to wonder, “Why didn’t you make the film I wanted you to make?” In any case, the one Jones did make is plenty interesting. The dizzying, even thrilling assemblage (by editor Rachel Reichman) intermixes the archival audio of three people talking in two languages (including the formidable translator/contributor Helen Scott) with archival photos from the interviews, film footage from Hitchcock’s canon, text grabs from the source book, 10 talking-head subjects, Bob Balaban’s narration, plus subtitles. That’s a supernova of information – and, accidentally, an amusing rejoinder to Hitchcock’s precise command of audience attention. The material begs for a much longer consideration than the film’s trim 79 minutes, but it’s still a must-watch for serious film fans.