Hitchcock/Truffaut Is Not Just for Film Buffs

In 1962, the 30-year-old French New Wave director François Truffaut, whose Jules and Jim and The 400 Blows had recently garnered him international acclaim, wrote a letter to one of his filmic heroes, the 63-year-old British director Alfred Hitchcock. Truffaut got in touch to propose an in-depth series of interviews on the topic of Hitchcock’s oeuvre. “Everyone would recognize that Alfred Hitchcock is the world’s greatest director,” Truffaut wrote. How could Hitchcock say no? “Dear Mr. Truffaut, your letter brought tears to my eyes,” Hitch wrote back, and soon thereafter Truffaut flew to Hollywood, where he spent eight days holed up in a conference room at Universal Studios interrogating the master of suspense about his craft.

Their conversation, presided over by a translator and documented by the photographer Philippe Halsman, ate up 27 hours of tape, which Truffaut eventually transcribed and assembled into a book. Hitchcock/Truffaut, published in 1966, comprised a title-by-title analysis of the older director’s inimitable technique, alongside illustrative freeze-frame montages. It also did precisely what Truffaut had hoped: helped relieve Hitchcock of his burdensome reputation as a lowly mainstream entertainer, and elevate him to the ranks of cinematic auteurs.

Over the 50 years since its publication, Hitchcock/Truffaut has become something of a cult object, a foundational text for young film buffs. Kent Jones, now a critic, filmmaker, and director of the New York Film Festival, was among those budding cinephiles on whom Truffaut’s book made a major impression. And tomorrow, Jones’s documentary about the collaboration, also called Hitchcock/Truffaut, hits theaters.

The film uses audio of Truffaut and Hitchcock’s conversation to illuminate prominent themes and signature innovations in the latter’s work, and illustrates those ideas visually with film clips. But in addition to that ghostly discourse between the younger French director, who died in 1984, and the older Brit, who died in 1980, Jones splices in interviews with a lively cast of modern-day directors. Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, and Martin Scorsese, among others, contextualize Hitchcock’s legacy through discussion of their personal experiences with Truffaut’s book.

We called Kent Jones to chat about his film and the remarkable meeting of filmmaking minds that gave us Hitchcock/Truffaut. That conversation, below.

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