It was a meeting of the minds - two great, movie-obsessed minds: Alfred Hitchcock, who was 63 and had recently unleashed Psycho on an unsuspecting public, and Francois Truffaut, a 30-year-old critic-turned-director with just three titles to his credit (but what titles: The 400 Blows, Shoot the Piano Player, Jules and Jim).
They met over the course of a week in August 1963 at Hitchcock's offices on the Universal Studios backlot. Truffaut would ask a question, Hitchcock would respond.
Four years later, Hitchcock/Truffaut was published. The book, an edited transcript of their conversations, featured page upon page of stills and scene breakdowns from Hitchcock's work alongside the director's witty, illuminating commentary. The book fast became a bible for budding filmmakers and film historians, and essential reading for anyone who cared deeply about movies and how they are made.
Now, Kent Jones, a writer and director (and head of the New York Film Festival), has turned that book into a documentary.
Using the original audio recordings of the interviews, Hitchcock/Truffaut is essential viewing. The two men come alive (responses that seemed dry or diffident on paper are tinged with humor, with audacity, even), and so, too, do the images. Exquisite clips from Notorious, Marnie, Vertigo, Psycho, and The Birds serve to remind us (as if any reminding is needed) of Hitchcock's genius - his daring gaze, jarring perspectives, and uncanny editing instincts. But the documentary also uses clips from his early, British-made pictures, including The Lodger, The Manxman, and the 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, to underscore how fully formed Hitchcock's vision was, even way back then.
Bringing these dialogues into the 21st century, Jones intercuts observations from contemporary directors - Martin Scorsese, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Richard Linklater, Olivier Assayas among them.
Wes Anderson, natty in checks and stripes, reports that his copy of Hitchcock/Truffaut is so manhandled that it looks like a stack of loose, tattered pages bound by a rubber band. David Fincher says, "What I love about Vertigo is just that it's so perverted. So perverted."
Hitchcock, deconstructing the James Stewart/Kim Novak hotel room scene from Vertigo, certainly confirms Fincher's assessment. The Master of Suspense's voice practically oozes lasciviousness.
" 'Why do these Hitchcock films stand up well? They don't look old-fashioned?' " says Hitchcock at the start of the film, repeating a query from Truffaut. "Well, I don't know the answer."
Sitting with these two gentlemen for the next 80 minutes, it's perfectly clear that Hitchcock does know the answer. He knew it all along.