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Q&A: Filmmaker Kent Jones talks “HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT”

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In the marvelous documentary HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT, filmmaker Kent Jones brings to life the creation and cinematic ramifications of the landmark 1966 film book of the same name. Jones (who also directed the acclaimed doc VAL LEWTON: THE MAN IN THE SHADOWS) recounts how New Wave French filmmaker Francois Truffaut traveled to Hollywood in 1962 to interview Alfred Hitchcock for a full week, the audio tapes of which would form the basis of Truffaut’s wildly influential book. These insightful conversations are also peppered throughout Jones’ film, which opens December 2nd at NYC’s Film Forum and LA’s Nuart on December 4th, before expanding into more cities well into 2016 (see here for future engagements).

In addition to these wonderful audio snippets and a plethora of classic Hitch clips, Jones includes interviews with today’s film masters, such as Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Richard Linklater and Paul Schrader, who talk about the influences of both book and director. Jones found himself on the other side of the mic for this exclusive FANGORIA chat.

FANGORIA: Why has HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT stood the test of time as the indispensable film book?

KENT JONES: Because it’s a discussion between two different filmmakers rather than a critic and a filmmaker, and that really makes a difference. There have been other discussions between filmmakers since then, but this one is different because it was certainly unprecedented on the scale in which they did it. As the two look over Hitchcock’s entire career, Truffaut’s saying, “I want to do this because I want to correct the impression that you’re nothing but a guy who gives people a good night out at the movies.” And Hitchcock is responding and saying yes, and all through their discussion they talk about it as filmmakers, which is very important.

Yes, Truffaut was a critic, but by that time, he was a well established filmmaker. So throughout their discussion, really the emotional exchange was Hitchcock just asking, “Was I good enough?” And Truffaut was saying, “You were more than good enough, you were foundational for all of us.” So that emotional undertone gives the book the force that it does in the nuts and bolts discussions of filmmaking.

FANGORIA: Were these audio tapes always available or did their discovery spur the creation of the documentary?

JONES: The discovery was in the ’90s; there were two copies of the tapes. Hitchcock’s copy was at the Academy, and Truffaut’s was in France. For a long time there have been about 11½ hours of it on the Internet. I heard it four years ago when it was done as a series of radio broadcasts, but that’s only 11½ hours out of 27.

FANGORIA: Why include the modern filmmakers commenting on Hitch? We could easily listen to just Hitchcock and Truffaut talk for 90 minutes.

JONES: That would be another movie and that’s cool. What I wanted to do was to say this is a film about filmmaking and that means that I want to extend the conversation into the present with other filmmakers. That really interested me, instead of a period piece. If I had gone down that road, I would have been creating something different.

So if you want to enlarge on the issues that Hitchcock and Truffaut are discussing, it’s a little problematic. But more than that, I wanted to bring it into the present. So I wanted people to be reflecting on the book, reflecting on the filmmaking and also reflecting as the filmmakers reflected on the filmmaking, bringing up the changes that have occurred in filmmaking.

Truffaut.Hitchcock_Photo.by.Philippe.Halsman.Courtesyof.CohenMediaGroup.1

FANGORIA: Truffaut was already an established director when he queried Hitchcock. What made him put his journalist hat back on to do the book?

JONES: I’m not sure if he did put his journalist hat back on. It’s not that Truffaut just did a book about Hitchcock; it’s a lot more involved than that. It’s almost like a film on paper in a sense that he’s planning it out and then editing the book, so that it moves like a film. It’s a truly unusual book that way, and it really is edited for fleetness just like a Truffaut movie, which is very different from the tapes obviously. Hitchcock is much more open and kind of discursive and making jokes, so I’m not sure if Truffaut was putting on the journalistic hat. It’s a very different enterprise.

FANGORIA: Do you hope to achieve the same thing with your documentary as Truffaut sought to achieve with his book, bringing more recognition to Hitchcock?

JONES: The thing about film history is that it can be deceptive and you can think that the awareness exists. We can take it for granted that everybody knows who Hitchcock is, everyone’s seen PSYCHO or THE BIRDS. But suddenly you realize, no, that’s not true. So it’s a matter of doing what Truffaut did, but also it’s certainly a matter of going into it very deeply on how important Hitchcock is to me and then to all these other people how foundational he is and how important the book was to many of them.

FANGORIA: The friendship that developed between the two men is quite touching.

JONES: I’m not sure if you really feel it in the book as you do feel it in the tapes. You certainly see it in the letters that they wrote to one another, and the telegrams that they exchanged are very touching. It was really moving to me when I came across the one particular telegram where Hitchcock said maybe he should have gone in a different direction, but maybe that would be like [Dutch painter Piet] Mondrian doing a Cezanne; perhaps he could, but would anyone care to see it? It’s very moving. He’s always going back to Truffaut asking him that same question: “Was I good enough?” And Truffaut always saying, “You were great; you were more than good enough.”

FANGORIA: Were you surprised how insecure Hitchcock comes across at some points in the tapes?

JONES: No, not really because it’s just human, and Hitch’s very open in his films about his humanity and the things that you know that are sort of just there for him. It’s like Fincher says, “If you think you can hide as director, you’re nuts.” People who do think they can hide don’t make good movies. In Hitch’s case, it’s all out there to begin with in his movies, so that wasn’t very surprising. Touching, but not very surprising.

FANGORIA: You close with lengthier examinations of the two greatest Hitchcock films, VERTIGO and PSYCHO, but you analyze some of their less familiar aspects. Talk about trying to find some stones that hadn’t been turned.

JONES: It’s not so much as trying to find stones that haven’t been turned as it is to finding in the exchanges between Hitchcock and Truffaut and in the energy with the filmmakers now, where’s the energy? So in other words, who is engaged by what? Sometimes you know people are saying things where they’re more engaged than they are by other things, they’re more alive, their words are more alive, there’s more of an emotional exchange between what they’re saying and what they’re talking about.

FANGORIA: Too bad Truffaut never spoke to another one of your heroes, Val Lewton!

JONES: Yeah. I was very happy to have made both films.

About the author
Tony Timpone
FANGORIA Editor Emeritus Tony Timpone helps manage the company’s VOD, DVD and digital divisions. For nearly 10 years he served as a Vice President of Acquisitions for FANGORIA’s three separate home video labels, and co-created FANGORIA’S BLOOD DRIVE short film DVD collection, hosted by Rob Zombie. For TV, Timpone was a Co-Producer of cable’s FUSE/FANGORIA CHAINSAW AWARDS and a Consulting Producer to the HORROR HALL OF FAME special. Since 1998, Montreal’s Fantasia film festival has engaged Tony as Co-Director of International Programming.
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