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‘Hitchcock/Truffaut’ is a summit of two movie masters

Still of Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut in “Hitchcock/Truffaut.”
Still of Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut in “Hitchcock/Truffaut.” cohenmedia.net

If you’re a film fan, it’s likely you’re an Alfred Hitchcock enthusiast. He dazzles veteran viewers and newcomers alike.

“Psycho” is now 55 years old but the shock of Janet Leigh’s shower scene has not diminished. A master of stunning suspense, debonair humor and seamless technique, Hitchcock achieved a rare timeless standing among film directors; no other is so much a part of American pop culture. What today’s cinema would be like without his legacy is hard to imagine.

Yet at the peak of his power, Hitchcock’s fame and success was considered by most American film critics the reward for shallow, light entertainment. In 1962 Francois Truffaut traveled to Hollywood to correct that error.

The French rising star director, cinephile and historian, who considered Hitchcock “the greatest film director in the world,” persuaded the very private celebrity to have a series of in-depth discussions on his career, artistry, philosophy and films. Truffaut won a week of articulate, witty face-to-face conversations with the great man. After four years of comprehensive editing, their sessions became “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” one of the finest film books ever published.

Now director Kent Jones has turned still photos from their encounter and tape recordings of their 30-hour narrative into an outrageously good documentary.

“Hitchcock/Truffaut,” the film, gives us the voices of creative titans, with the droll Hitch declaring “logic is dull” and “actors are cattle.” The latter triggered the duo’s only creative disagreement. Truffaut tells Hitchcock that in “Jules and Jim,” Truffaut’s three actors improvised a valuable scene. Hitchcock is stunned: He would never permit that, giving us descriptions of on-set tiffs when stars resisted.

Their conversations were intimate in a way that Hitchcock never allowed with the press. Almost every topic receives a candid exploration, with minor but telling exceptions. Truffaut is fascinated by what he sees as the recurring influence of Catholicism in Hitchcock’s guilt-focused work. Did his faith influence the iconic God’s eye view from “The Birds,” a sky-high shot of Bodega Bay consumed by flames? Oddly, rather than go on the record, he asks Truffaut to turn off the recorder while he answers.

The book’s focus was entirely on Hitchcock, never digging deeply into the neophyte author’s personal story. The film follows the same path, even though Truffaut’s wonderful filmmaking career deserves its own salute, as does the lifelong friendship that grew between the pair.

Jones, the director of the New York Film Festival, features photos of the hours the two men spent together. He also includes infectious commentary from famous directors who call the book better than film school, including Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Martin Scorsese and David Fincher (who raves about reading “Hitchcock/Truffaut” 200 times when he was a boy).

Jones’ film is a treat to devotees who cherish the encyclopedic print version. It also is a fascinating introduction for film buffs who haven’t yet opened that must-read book.

Hitchcock/Truffaut

1/2

Rated: PG-13 for suggestive material, violent images. Starring: Mathieu Amalric, Wes Anderson and Peter Bogdanovich. Director: Kent Jones. Running time: 79 minutes. Theater: Flicks.

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