They could have called it Hitchcock/Truffaut/Scorsese/Fincher. Less an adaptation of one of the great books about film than a feature-length recommendation, Kent Jones' documentary take on François Truffaut's exhaustive career-survey 1966 interview with Alfred Hitchcock — Hitchcock/Truffaut — is an arresting précis, sharply edited and generous with its film clips: It's a smashing supplement to Truffaut's classic study.
It's a thrill to hear the directors' voices, recorded 50 years ago. Hitchcock, in that clipped and finicky rumble of his, describes the precise moment in Vertigo when Jimmy Stewart's character is worked up at last to a full erection. Jones and editor Rachel Reichman layer the talk over the scene itself: Stewart's frayed-nerve detective Scottie, almost panting in a hotel room lit the green of lime
But don't expect many such thorough explications. Jones' film, which
To that end, Truffaut published fascinating shot-by-shot and beat-by-beat examinations of key sequences: Stewart (in the second The Man Who Knew Too Much) confounded that his fingers are streaked with paint from the face of a man murdered in a Marrakesh marketplace; Martin Balsam ascending — and then flailing back down — the staircase in Psycho. Jones too shows us these scenes, but it's different to see them onscreen once again than it is to regard them on the page, to puzzle out the logic of pacing and cutting in your own mind. Truffaut also reproduces Harold Michelson's storyboards, laying out the accumulation of ravens on that playground in The Birds, but the film of Hitchcock/Truffaut notes few of the talented souls who worked on these films, presenting Hitchcock as a singular visionary more often than as a technician, craftsman, or collaborator.
Jones has assembled today's directors of note to chip in. They tilt his film from
James Gray illuminates the museum scene in Vertigo, and Martin Scorsese is — as ever — alive to detail. He occasionally takes over Hitchcock/Truffaut, but since the film only rarely slows down and lets us hear artists pick apart approaches and technique, Scorsese's sustained arias win the day: He marvels at the framing of Janet Leigh behind the wheel of a car in Psycho, describing the other ways Hitchcock might have composed the shots — and why the one we know is so effective. Scorsese's great on the intentional flatness of much of Psycho's first 40 minutes, on the necessity of the meditative driving scenes, on the way the technique becomes inventive and elaborate only when it must, to jar us. Being Scorsese, he finds something "religious" in the high-angle shot of "Mother" stabbing Balsam's detective, just as he does the
Scorsese speaks of
Directed by Kent Jones. Written by Kent Jones and Serge Toubiana. 79 minutes. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday, January 8, at Cinema Paradiso - Lauderdale (503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale; 954-525-3456; fliff.com) and Lake Worth Playhouse (713 Lake Ave., Lake Worth; 561-586-6169; lakeworthplayhouse.org).