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Alfred Hitchcock's Catholic guilt

  • 05 August 2016



Hitchcock/Truffaut (PG). Director: Kent Jones. Starring: Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Olivier Assayas, Peter Bogdanovich, Richard Linklater, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Arnaud Desplechin, Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut. 79 minutes

The question at the heart of this French and American co-production — Was Alfred Hitchcock, director of popular thrillers such as The Birds, Psycho and The Man Who Knew Too Much, an entertainer or an artist? — has long been asked and answered (he was both).

Kent Jones takes as the fulcrum for his thesis a series of conversations in 1962 between Hitchcock and the great French New Wave auteur François Truffaut (The 400 Blows), who had cited the older man as a key influence on his work. These conversations eventually constituted a book, whose publication in 1966 is seen as key to cementing Hitchcock's reputation as a great filmmaker.

That Hitchcock's greatness is never in question — and will not be among the cinephiles who are this film's primary audience — does not make the premise less interesting. The film combines recordings from those conversations, with interviews with modern American, French and Japanese filmmakers. Ostensibly this is to explore the influence of Hitchcock's work on their own, but it becomes an exercise in valorisation, as these filmmakers who also are film fans enthusiastically discuss one of their favourite directors. The brief running time allows little space for concrete analysis; nor will anyone hoping for a fair-minded examination of the more divisive aspects of Hithcock's oeuvre be much satisfied.

It is telling, for example, that all of the subjects are men. They acknowledge that Hitchcock often had a fractious relationship with actors, who he described as 'cattle', there to do his bidding. But there is no mention of, for example, his reportedly abusive relationship with Tippi Hedren — one of the iconic 'Hitchcock blondes' — who is on the record describing sexual harassment by the director on the sets of The Birds and Marnie.

Also the interviewees regard Vertigo with awe, waxing lyrical about its potent psychosexual subtext that bubbles up to supplant even plot and story; but not a word is said about the inherent misogyny of a film that is explicitly about a man's objectification of a woman. Linklater does observe, intriguingly but also revealingly, that a more interesting film might be one told from 'the girl's' perspective (Kim Novak was 25 at the time).


"There is a sense of the divine spectator, interested but inactive, in Hitchcock's