Director: Kent Jones
Writer: Kent Jones and Serge Toubiana
Cinematographer: Nick Bentgen, Daniel Cowen, Eric Gautier, Mihai Mălaimare Jr., Lisa Rinzler, and Genta Tamaki
Producer: Charles S. Cohen and Olivier Mille
by Jon Cvack
There’s been a series of great filmmaker biopics coming out as of late - De Palma (2015), Spielberg (2017), Altman (2014), all providing deep dives into most of their work; all experiencing the same problem in being far too short. It often breaks my heart looking back at these filmmakers, knowing that they all got to live through a time when cinema’s popularity remained strong. I’ve recently joined a show run by a relatively recent NYU grad, who for as much as he loves cinema, admits that the theatrical experience is close to dead for him and most of his friends and that Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Amazon are where they discover most of the content they consume. One even gave up his Movie Pass after it failed to work at a theater, figuring he probably wouldn’t use it enough anyway.
I get a lot of resistance when I say that film is losing its position as the pinnacle of American art; as I'm also the first admit that we’re living in one of cinema’s golden ages in terms of content. The issue is that few care to participate. Movies will always get made, but they no longer hold the position as America’s premiere art form in which the theatrical experience is holy. Most people I talk to (even for those working in the industry) watch shows and a couple movies here and there. Few I know ever go to the movies for anything beyond the occasional spectacle film, or what spreads through word of mouth. Industry people aside, I hardly know anybody that has seen more than one or two Best Picture nominees, not even hearing of most of them. There’s a part of me that so badly wants cinema to return to where it once was; like wishing for an ailing relationship to suddenly correct itself, knowing it’s forever gone. Movies will always exist, but in terms of their dominant position in culture, once Virtual Reality gains ground, cinema will be no different than the state of literature or theater; a bit above jazz or poetry, as though an immortal senior citizen, retiring for new generations.
Truffaut/Hitchcock opens with various filmmakers - Paul Schrader, David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Peter Bogdanovich - all discussing what the book meant to them when it came out as they went through it page by page and shot by shot. I had initially purchased the book back in college, and probably take about four years before I ever got around to reading it. I haven’t revisited the book since Road to the Well (2016), and after seeing this, I’m pissed that I didn’t think of going to the book before we shot. While I can’t remember the details, I do recall certain sequences broken down shot by shot in a series of images in order to demonstrate the language of cinema.
As with most great and progressive artists, it’s only far into their career that they’re finally celebrated for their achievements (Spielberg being our generation’s version of this fallacy who only recently is receiving the unanimous recognition he deserves). I enjoy Hitchcock and his obsession of being wrongfully accused, often placed with a Freudian dreamlike style; the yarn being when he misbehaved as a boy, his father took him to a police station who locked him up for ten minutes or so, leaving him with the note saying, “This is what we do to bad little boys.” In the mediocre Hitchcock biopic film, we also learned of Hitch’s affinity - possible obsession - for attractive young women, much to the chagrin of his wife. To think the guy made over 53 films, most within the same genre, just goes to show the extremity of these obsessions.
It poses a fascinating question of authorship and the limitations of certain filmmakers, along with how extraordinary it is when other filmmakers (Billy Wilder, Kubrick, etc.) are able to transcend a singular genre and explore all forms of story. We’ll never know if the event from Hitchcock’s past is what caused his obsession with the the story.
What the film and the interviews do best is highlight what’s been missing from most mainstream film and television - the ability to show and convey information rather than say it. At various points the filmmakers discuss their favorite visuals - the crop duster chasing Cary Grant in North by Northwest (1959), the God’s eye view from The Birds (1963) when the gas station explodes, the shower scene from Psycho (1960). Last October I watched What Lies Beneath (2000), serving as yet another attempt by a modern filmmaker to replicate Hitchcock’s style, and while doing pretty well, had too poor of an ending to retain the tension. The issue is that Hitchcock had explored so many of the different visuals from the genre that even De Palma admitted in his documentary that he struggled to think of new ideas. Nevertheless, Hitchcock set the standard for what a popular filmmaking could be - utilizing visuals of the highest craft within an accessible story; allowing the spectrum of audiences to enjoy it. This movie could - and should - have spent an hour on each of his major films, allowing us to go scene by scene or even frame by frame to understand what he did. In terms of documentaries about cinema, this is one of the finest.
BELOW: Part 1 of a 25 episode audio feed of the interview
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