It took the French to realise what we had in Alfred Hitchcock. The master of suspense, creator of so many beloved films, was viewed as an entertainer, not an artist. The critics at influential French film journal Cahiers du Cinéma disagreed, pioneering an auteur theory with Hitchcock right at the top of the pantheon. Many of those critics went on to form the core of the French New Wave, but they never lost their love of Hitch. So strong did the passion burn for François Truffaut, he opened correspondence that led to a weeklong interview and the influential Hitchcock/Truffaut book and recordings. Kent Jones’ scattershot assessment of the man is disorderly, uncritical fun, catnip for film fans.
Assessment isn’t really the right word. It’s clear where sympathies lie. Hitchcock is a hero, an artist par excellence who deserves all the recognition he can get and more. A small and powerful cadre of current directors, all male and mostly white Anglophones are happy to wax lyrical. Jones rounds up bigshots like Martin Scorsese, David Fincher and Wes Anderson to form his chorus, giving testimony in favour of Hitchcock’s brilliance.
It’s a point that just about gets made, though not without diversions. Like a sporadically sharp student essay, there are interesting arguments – a lengthy delve into Vertigo, and THAT Pyscho scene included – but no unifying theme beyond Hitchcock the genius. Even the title is a misnomer as there’s very little Truffaut. After jumping between biographies of the two men, Jones seems to forget he was using the Hitchcock/Truffaut interviews as a framing device. They drop out of sight completely until a late rally at the end.Loss of focus isn’t always fatal. Interesting thoughts still bubble up around the use of cutting, his mastery of film as a visual language, and the relationship he maintained with an audience that lapped up so much of his output. Hinting at what could have been, there’s a fascinating and sadly unexplored line of questioning around a moment of self-doubt in which he wondered if he should have done more to experiment over the years. Naturally, his legendary disregard for actors also gets an airing – there’s a clip of him referring to them as cattle – but it’s discussed in a pre-determined way.
Mostly there’s a hell of a lot of footage from his films. It would have been nice to see more attention paid to some of the lesser known lights in his career, but the big hits are the big hits for a reason; they bring out the crowd. It’s impossible for anyone with so much as a passing interest in cinema to watch without immediately wanting to rush out and purchase his entire filmography. Unwilling to test its own premise of Hitch the artist rigorously, it’s safe to say there’s enough here to suggest they might be onto something.