Before I even knew the meaning of fancy words, Alfred Hitchcock was my first auteur. At age eleven, my Sunday nights were reserved for AMC’s broadcasts of Torn Curtain, The Birds, and Psycho. I rented Vertigo and borrowed various books from the library. I even dressed as Norman Bates (as his mother) that year for Halloween. Though I never came across Hitchcock, the seminal book of interviews by critic-turned-filmmaker Francois Truffaut, my recent reading of it, along with viewing critic-turned-filmmaker Kent Jones’ chatty tribute to it, tickled at that early obsession, even if I didn’t quite understand all the sexual subtext then. Both the book and the film are rudimentary texts for those entrenched in cinephilia as well as those curious about the depths and horizons of film studies. Like the book, Kent’s film is breezily accessible and intellectually empowering. Both push film criticism past a flood of singular voices towards a larger, greater discussion about a prized medium.
Shortly before The Birds’ release in 1963, a correspondence began between Hitchcock (sixty-three years old and fifty films deep) and Truffaut (thirty-three years old and three films deep), who had championed the stout elder’s sensitive and voyeuristic work despite his rancid reputation among American critics. Truffaut flew to Universal City (along with painstaking translator/mediator Helen Scott) for a week-long blow-by-blow of Hitch’s ouevre, from Vertigo’s necrophilia to the textbook definition of “suspense,” with the man himself. The conversation (the audio from which is featured) stretched into a friendship lasting until Hitch’s death, and further beyond Truffaut’s own as the transcript continues circulation, ugly granite cover and all. Aside from basic grounding of Hitch’s and Truffaut’s careers, Jones recedes from the book just enough for fellow buffs David Fincher, Oliver Assayas, and Martin Scorsese to expound their own theories. Clips from obscurer works The Wrong Man and I Confess outnumber the classic ones, proving that though Hitchcock is celebrated, he isn’t celebrated enough. Jones (whose words are narrated by Bob Balaban, who wasn’t Truffaut’s translator but played one onscreen) inspires in the voyeur an insatiable urge to view more films, a notion to which all films and film criticism should aspire.
Missing from Hitchcock/Truffaut is a slew of voices to engage in (or disrupt) Hitch’s cult of personality. Despite appearances from several persons of color, there’s nary a female filmmaker or critic present (not even from Jones’ home-base publication Film Comment), which, I suppose, keeps with the book’s male-dominated voice. Nor is there much comment on Hitch’s anti-social tendencies with actors, including the turmoil endured by The Birds’ Tippi Hedren. Considering how gender- and sexual-related theories (not to mention the negative backlash of Psycho’s all-too-pronounced transphobia) have grown in prominence among film crowds, the absence makes for an unfair balance. General consumption of criticism has boiled down to a Tomatometer or letter grade (or, for untrained eyes who saw Room 237, absolute nonsense), and Jones’ charge — making criticism readily available — is expanded in Hitchcock/Truffaut. Anyone can enjoy it, just as Hitch and Truffaut would have preferred.