Talking Hitchcock/Truffaut

Kent Jones on connecting with David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, Bob Balaban and more.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Kent Jones with Gone Girl director David Fincher:
Kent Jones with Gone Girl director David Fincher: "I don't think David was responding to Vertigo …" Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Wes Anderson, Arnaud Desplechin, James Gray, Olivier Assayas, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Richard Linklater, Peter Bogdanovich and Paul Schrader with a narration by Bob Balaban, come together in Kent Jones' rhythmic Hitchcock/Truffaut, to discuss Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut.

John Huston's Let There Be Light, Fincher's The Social Network, Se7en and The Game, Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom narrator and Truffaut's interpreter in Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, the defector in Topaz, Psycho and Janet Leigh, Vertigo and Brian De Palma's commitment to Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow for their film De Palma come to light in my conversation with the New York Film Festival Director of Programming Kent Jones.

Alfred Hitchcock in thought with François Truffaut
Alfred Hitchcock in thought with François Truffaut

Hitchcock/Truffaut makes you want to discover and re-discover what they are about. In the context of The Paradine Case and Rear Window, Truffaut and Hitchcock talk about not wasting certain shots and saving images for future use. Kent's movie has the intriguing aura of a first episode with all the questions answered easily producing 500 more to be asked. Scorsese gives marvellous insight into his understanding of the man who perfected the "religious angle" and why "plot is just a line that you hang things on."

The steering wheel in the shot of Janet Leigh driving in Psycho or why the British Man Who Knew Too Much could be the first full-fledged Hitchcock, are things most viewers wouldn't contemplate. Fincher questions editing behavior over time and Linklater muses about how Hitchcock is "never not confident in every shot." Assayas calls him a "theoretician of space," and Kurosawa sees Truffaut's book (Le Cinéma Selon Hitchcock) "almost as if it were a bible" for filmmakers.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Hitchcock/Truffaut is so much a portrait of each of the filmmakers you interviewed. It seems as if the conversation between Hitchcock and Truffaut is continued by them today.

Hitchcock/Truffaut narrator Bob Balaban
Hitchcock/Truffaut narrator Bob Balaban Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Kent Jones: That's what I wanted to do very much.

AKT: It tells you so much about their different approaches.

KJ: For a while, I had clips from other people's movies in the movie itself.

AKT: From the filmmakers?

KJ: Yeah. I had some clips from Se7en and The Game. I had a clip from Comment je me suis disputé... (ma vie sexuelle), which Arnaud referred to specifically as an instance of him thinking of Hitchcock. I had a clip from L'eau froide by Olivier. But then they all, they felt very extraneous and out of place.

They really didn't add anything to the movie. I actually had a clip for a while from L'Avventura because that came out the same year as Psycho and Olivier was talking about that. I had a clip from a Renoir film for different reasons. All that went. It just seemed extraneous and distracting and slowing things down.

AKT: Of course, Let There Be Light had to be in it.

KJ: That's different. Because of what it embodies. But they do wind up being self-portraits, incidentally. They're self-portraits of the directors in the process of talking about filmmaking.

For My Golden Days director Arnaud Desplechin it makes no difference between what
For My Golden Days director Arnaud Desplechin it makes no difference between what "makes him shiver with fear or with love." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: And sometimes incredibly funny. When David Fincher says "What I love about Vertigo is that it's so perverted," and then you have the clip of James Stewart saying "Please, Judy, it can't matter to you." About her hair color. It's a wonderful clip and really brings us to the genius of Hitchcock because the abyss opens at that moment between the two of them. We realize that he [Scottie] is totally sincere. And the only way left for us to escape is laughter.

KJ: That's where the turn comes, because with Vertigo, the setting up of the movie, in my movie, leads to David [Fincher] on the one hand and Hitchcock and Truffaut on the other hand identifying with what they see as the problems with the movie… David is saying, it would have been more honest from the woman's point of view but Scottie's point of view is Hitchcock's point of view. Incidentally, that's a kind of a self portrait in the sense that one could argue that Gone Girl is that movie.

AKT: Oh? Okay.

KJ: One could argue it, you know, look at it in a certain light. I don't think David was responding to Vertigo, I just think that there's something about the enterprise of Gone Girl that's very much what it is in a way. It's at that moment when you have Hitchcock saying "I was disappointed, there was a hole in the story." Then David saying blah, blah, blah, then it shifts to Marty saying, I don't care about the story.

François Truffaut looking up to Alfred Hitchcock:
François Truffaut looking up to Alfred Hitchcock: "Sometimes it's one to one - when Marty is talking about the defector in Topaz or Janet Leigh …"

AKT: That's the clothesline quote.

KJ: "I never believed it anyway," you know, Marty and James Gray go on like that.

AKT: The scene in the flower shop gets to me every time. I am moved by the mere colours and the perspective. The moment when you show it in your film, I wanted a woman to comment on it. Did you approach women filmmakers?

KJ: Yes. I approached a few people. One person said she was happy to have been asked but she just didn't have anything to say about Hitchcock. One person said she was just too shy to appear on camera and talk about that. Another person was in pre-production. You know, unfortunately there's not an unlimited supply of female filmmakers in the world.

AKT: It surprised me, because I could think of a few I would like to hear talk about it.

KJ: So could I. What I didn't want to do was ask somebody because they are a woman. That's something I really don't believe in.

AKT: Absolutely. There is a focus on Vertigo and Psycho, where the "energy is", as you said.

KJ: Yes, the amount of attention in the film structurally - it's concentrated in Vertigo and Psycho … Whenever there's a clip, it's the interaction between the clip and what's being said that brings it alive in a way that's new. There's something else that happens, you know, a chemical reaction. That's what I was looking for. Sometimes it's one to one - when Marty is talking about the defector in Topaz or Janet Leigh - but other times it's … but even there, it's Marty's innovation, his interest in it, it's not just him spouting off on [Kent changes his voice] " an example of a high angle".

AKT: At one point in the narration it says that they were "freeing each other". Is that in a way what you were trying too, freeing some particles out there?

Martin Scorsese in Hitchcock/Truffaut:
Martin Scorsese in Hitchcock/Truffaut: "… then it shifts to Marty saying, I don't care about the story."

KJ: But then bind them at the same time. Free them and then have the movie be about the binding of it. I did say to the editor [Rachel Reichman] "What I have in mind is something that works like the website creation/party scene at the beginning of The Social Network." I'm not saying that it's an homage or something like that. I just wanted that feeling.

AKT: Your film felt very open. I wanted more.

KJ: That's good.

AKT: The fact that Hitchcock's movies are a constant reference point is really quite surprising. I never get sick of them.

KJ: It's true. It occupies a very unique place.

AKT: Did you think of Bob Balaban as narrator because he was such a wonderful narrator in duck boots in Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom?

KJ: Maybe in the back of my mind. More pointedly because he was Truffaut's friend and because Bob made films. He's a filmmaker, that was very important. He met Truffaut when they made Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. He actually acted as his translator as his character in the movie. He wrote a book about it.

Hitchcock/Truffaut US poster
Hitchcock/Truffaut US poster Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Did you approach Brian De Palma to participate?

KJ: Yes, I did. He declined for very good reasons. He was very clear. He said "I have to save my thoughts about Hitchcock for Noah [Baumbach] and Jake's [Paltrow] movie.

AKT: That's what I thought and why I asked.

KJ: And he was absolutely right to do so. At a certain point, Noah and I exchanged movies and we both had the same thought - wow, these are complementary. Very similar in their orientations. I love that movie. It woke me up, it brought me back to De Palma.

AKT: It's interesting that the structure of their film is the structure of the Hitchcock/ Truffaut interviews, going film by film in chronological order.

KJ: The difference is that Brian is very interested in talking about the circumstances in which the films were made and then the other films he wanted to make were not made.

AKT: Back to your film, there is an important quote by Arnaud where he says it makes no difference between what "makes him shiver with fear or with love."

KJ: Yes. Wow. That's one of the cornerstones of the movie. It's something fundamental to who Arnaud is. It's fundamental to who we all are, really. The things that make us shiver with fear we are drawn to. The things that make us shiver with love we are somehow afraid of … It's like the end of the Divine Comedy. It's something that I agree with fundamentally. In the same way that I agree with Fincher saying " if you think you can hide as an artist, you're nuts."

Read about how it all began for Kent Jones with Dial M For Murder, Fahrenheit 451 and Richard Schickel's Men Who Made The Movies that included William Wellman, Howard Hawks, Vincente Minnelli - but no John Ford.

Hitchcock/Truffaut will be screened in the Stranger Than Fiction section of the Glasgow Film Festival and is scheduled for release in the UK on March 4, 2016.

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