Friday, September 11, 2015

TIFF 2015: Hitchcock/​​Truffaut

The masters ... Hitchcock and Truffaut
Hitchcock/​​Truffaut (U.S., 2015) directed by Kent Jones, 80 minutes, AGO Jackman Hall, 11.30a

First film of the festival for me! Nearly didn't make it to the film. Standing in line, I suddenly realized that I didn’t have enough cash for a rush ticket. I quickly texted my intrepid child who was attending classes at OCAD during his first week of classes and as J was leaving he quickly ran to the ATM and saved my proverbial bacon.

In the 1960s, French director Francois Truffaut proclaimed that Hitchcock was his favourite director. At the time, this generated a certain amount of surprise and perhaps derision amongst the admirers of the French New Wave of which Truffaut was one of the fresh, new creative forces behind the new movement. In 1962, Truffaut was determined to demonstrate the artistry of the British director’s work with a week-long interview, interrogating him on many of the films he made, with the assistance of a translator. Photographs and an audio tape was made of the session that eventually became the much admired tome of cinema history Hitchcock/​​Truffaut in 1967. 

The narrator of the doc, Bob Balaban, spoke of Truffaut’s desire to find a father figure – something he sought in many artistic mentors from Andre Bazin to Jean Renoir to Hitchcock. I admit I was more drawn to why Truffaut wanted to interview Hitchcock than to the work of Hitchcock himself.

The book that Truffaut produced became an influential publication for many aspiring filmmakers, many of whom are interviewed in this film: Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, David Fincher, Paul Schrader, Wes Anderson, James Gray, Richard Linklater. Where are the women you ask? Well, it appears that the director Kent Jones had three in mind and none of them could contribute for various reasons (he would not name them specifically, more on this anon).

The director, who also serves as the Director of Programming for the New York Film Festival, spoke before and after the film and said he did not want to dwell on the salacious material connected to Hitchcock. So … yes, I can see why so few female directors may not have wanted to laud Mr. Hitchcock. But let’s not dwell on what the film isn’t right now, let’s talk about what the film is, lest you throw the book at me for indulging in identity politics. You can't speak to all people in your artistic work, that's not your obligation as an artist. 

The documentary is beautifully put together. It covers a broad range of films in Hitchcock’s oeuvre from the 1920s to the 1960s (born in 1899, Hitchcock started making films in 1922). The directors are thoughtful, articulate, specific in their admiration of his techniques, and, sufficiently full of awe. I thought it important that Hitchcock wanted to employ a cinematic language that would, say, move audiences in Bombay and Stockholm. He strove to reach the audience; he respected that they wanted to be entertained. His attention to detail was phenomenal. I don’t know if he perceived himself to be an artist. The directors who spoke of him certainly did, as the audience I was in seemed to.

I don't agree that art should be judged by the behaviour of the artist - if I did, I would never be able to look at another painting by Picasso or see another Woody Allen film. 

But I can think of a few impediments for the female viewer/artist with respect to Hitchcock's work – specifically the concentration on the male gaze and what might be perceived as particularly “masculine” obsessions/proclivities.

James Stewart’s efforts to physically remake Kim Novak in the image of the wife he lost in Vertigo; Anthony Perkins’ psychotic delusions about his mother and subsequent adoption of her hateful, and ultimately, murderous persona (Psycho); the punishing manner in which Hitchcock tormented Tippi Hedren both during, and after, the filming of The Birds (a tortuous interaction that Hedren herself has written about) or the scene in which Marnie (Hedren again) is raped by her husband Mark (Sean Connery) after she admits that she can't stand to be touched by a man (Marnie).

I would have preferred to learn more about his wife Alma Reville’s role in the creation of these films as she was crucial to their formulation. Or to learn what was at the root of Hitchcock’s seeming animosity towards women - especially the icy blonde variety. But that’s not the film that was made was it?

But perhaps it is best to follow Flaubert's edict: "We should not touch our idols; their gilding will remain on our hands."

TIFF OF THE DAY: Of the three female directors whom Jones approached, one said she had nothing to say on Mr. Hitchcock. The second was unsure of herself on camera and the third was immersed in pre-production work and unable to participate. That pretty much wiped out the number of female directorial voices in Hollywood. 

No comments: