Alfred Hitchcock created some of the most memorable movies, thrillers and spine-tinglers in film history. His style of suspense has often been imitated, but never duplicated, and he left a lasting mark on the foundation of cinema. We all have, at one time or another, double-checked to see if anyone with a wig and knife was coming after us in the shower or gave a cautious eye to that suspicious row of birds lining a power line above us. Hitchcock’s influence still rests on filmmakers today as it did back when he was working, and that’s the subject of documentarian Kent Jones’s latest film, Hitchcock/Truffaut, a candid look at filmmaking built around a day that the legendary “master of suspense” was interviewed by the up-and-coming French New Wave director. The film, which premiered this past May at Cannes, plays at the MFAH from Thursday, Dec. 10 through Sunday, Dec. 13.
Most of Hitch’s films have lasting imagery like Cary Grant running through a field in North by Northwest; James Stewart watching his neighbors through binoculars in Rear Window; or Kim Novak’s steely gaze in Vertigo (all three films show at the museum along with the documentary in the MFAH’s nod to the director). Jones, the documentary’s director, remembers his first Hitchcock experience quite vividly. “I was 12 and I watched Dial M for Murder. It was a kind of benign place to start watching Hitchcock movies. But the hand that reached out in the movie really stuck with me,” he notes.
This began not only an appreciation with Hitchcock, but with cinema and directors, like François Truffaut, as well. Truffaut was just starting his meteoric rise as the eye of French cinema when he set down to interview his idol, Hitchcock, who was prepping for his latest thriller, The Birds, and coming off the high of his 1960 horror classic, Psycho. Truffaut, who would later write a book based on their exchange, set out to lead Hitchcock out of the constriction of being a popular Hollywood director and into the realm of filmmaking legend.
“That exchange between the two of them is un-repeatable,” says Jones. “There had been other interviews of directors before. The point is this was a filmmaker [Truffaut], not a critic. That’s a big difference…He was on a mission, he was very clear.”
To unpack the directors’ discussion, Jones brings in a lineup of close friends and film aficionados who also happen to be among Hollywood’s elite behind the camera: David Fincher, Wes Anderson, James Gray, Peter Bogdanovich, and Martin Scorsese, to name a few. The documentary begs the questions: what did it mean for Truffaut, a young French director, to be inspired by Hitchcock? And how did the role of director change during the time of this exchange?
“I didn’t want to get technical, talking about cameras and so forth, but I wanted to hit on things like audience and story arc,” says Jones. “Marty [Scorsese] notes that the center of gravity shifts after the War. In a way I don’t think some people have come to grips with director style… making films the way Hitchcock made them is just not possible. You have to have a different relationship with the actors.”
The discussion also came at a time when cinephilia started to take over and film became a legitimate point of study. Hitchcock was a professor’s dream with his abundance of symbolism and fetishism instilled in his movies a la Marnie, Vertigo and Rope. The movie dives into moments where Hitchcock explains his processes and meaning behind his personal choices like casting and storytelling. Jones’s documentary, which weaves in sound clips from the meeting, giving a literal voice to a man who is more known for his silhouette—usually spotted within the first few minutes of each film as a trademark move—is a personal endeavor, and a nod to directors and filmmaking theory. It supports a preservation and appreciation of great movies and the people behind the camera.
Dec 10 and 13 at 1; Dec 11 and 12 at 6. $9; $7, seniors, members and students. Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet. 713-639-7300. mfah.org