It’s a rare occasion in film history when two famous directors sit down and have a long interview on one’s work. It is even more rare to have those interviews on tape. That is what happened when newly introduced Francois Truffaut sat down with Hitchcock in an interview he was doing for a book dedicated to Hitchcock’s cinema. In his “cookbook of cinema”, some believe that the interview really provided both filmmakers with a lot of helpful exposure. Truffaut learned a great deal of information on film theory and techniques from one of his mentors. Hitchcock on the other hand finally gained the respect as an artist and a master of cinema techniques.
Conducted with the help of a translator, Truffaut’s interview went chronologically through the life of Alfred Hitchcock life. The interviews cover a lot of information of his early films shot it Britain such as Blackmail, The 39 Steps, and Secret Agent. Truffaut continues on into Hitchcock’s later well-known Hollywood productions like North by Northwest, Psycho and Vertigo. In total, the two filmmakers talked for over 12 hours, and provided both Truffaut and the world of filmmaking with an astounding assortment of information both on the works of Hitchcock, critical analysis, and filmmaking techniques.
Truffaut takes the role as a film critic in these interviews instead of a director. Truffaut does have moments where he mentions his own films but he tries to limit the dependency on relating to his own films due to the fact that Hitchcock had not seen any of Truffaut’s films at the time. When Truffaut goes back and relates a scene of his to Hitchcock’s work, he has to use such details in order to paint the picture for Hitchcock.
Even though Hitchcock at the time may not have been familiar with Truffaut’s work, Truffaut had definitely seen all of Hitchcock’s films at the time starting with The Pleasure Garden, which he made back in 1925. Truffaut’s questions and comments are very detailed and the translator has no issue getting across to Hitchcock. While Truffaut is known as a lover of Hitchcock’s cinema, Truffaut does not kiss Hitchcock’s ass on all of his films. Truffaut provides criticism on ideas that he though would of made some of his films better including what Hitchcock did really well and what he did not. While some could see that Hitchcock would be a guy that doesn’t take lightly to criticism, Hitchcock usually agreed with Truffaut that he did miss on some moments in his films. Hitchcock would also provide Truffaut with insight on those scenes in question and his ideas that he had behind those scenes.
One of the most interesting segments in the Truffaut/Hitchcock interviews is the 27-minute segment, which discussed The Wrong Man and Vertigo. The interview starts with Truffaut saying how The Wrong Man was “a mistake” which was a risky move. But this was Truffaut being the film critic that he was and being open with his opinion of the film. Hitchcock stays quiet for a moment contemplating and then responds with “it was purely a documentation of the original case…it was designed in exactly the same matter as everything occurred” and that “being so faithful to the original story caused deficiency to the structure”. Hitchcock opens up to Truffaut on how he felt when making the film and how he regretted some of the decisions that he made. This is a great moment because you see the complete honesty that both Truffaut and Hitchcock are giving each other in these interviews.
The great thing about these interviews between Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock is you can see how honest the two of them are being with each other. As a filmmaker myself, its hard for me to tell someone “yes I failed with this movie” or “yes I didnt do this right”. The trait of a great filmmaker is when you know you’ve put everything into your film and know that you did something wrong. Once I’ve finished a film, I now go around and ask people “What did you not like about the film?”. If you’re a filmmaker and ignore criticism, you wont be a filmmaker for long. This is evident in the interviews between Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock. Not only is Truffaut using Hitchcock to gain insight on the world of storytelling, but Hitchcock is using Truffaut to gain insight on how well his ideas are coming across to audiences. When Truffaut expressed a question or concern on an idea Hitchcock had in his films, Hitchcock would respond with that his intentions were and see if Truffaut thought that was the right way to do things.
– Bobby Carney