Hitchcock/Truffaut. Director Kent Jones. France/USA. 2015. 1hr 19mins. Cert. 12a.
Spoiler alert : None are needed
For Francois Truffaut finding out the detail of his favorite director techniques and outlook took him to engage with Alfred Hitchcock by writing and convincing him to participate in a week long set of interviews where both would discuss in depth the art of Hitchcock’s own direction but to evaluate the process and event of putting into Cinemas before the public something they had never witnessed.
These master film makers in 1963 combine their knowledge of cinematic practice to convey their individual take on the art with illuminating insightful dialogue and film extracts. The combination of this dual lecture is like a foundation course in the offer of mise en scéne which is more than just a landscape, portrait, photographic setting of narrative but a vision of the outside – would I be right in describing it as our fifth wall – the dimension of realisation brought through the interior realisation of cinematic ideas. Beyond novel forms or the singular Cinema protocols of the syntax, the metalanguage used to discuss the final cut which we are sometimes wrapped up in conceited evaluation, comes a dimension that from any outset will be of primary guidance and I don’t mean making money as the first rule of Film making but the heft of creativity. Fritz Lang never made a great deal of money from his chosen spectacular contribution to the metalanguage and as a pioneer of cinema which absorbed the masses before the digital age took over and instead left a priceless legacy.
Imagine how someone new to Cinema in a culture which has no Cinema or Media history would make of Metropolis. From the edges of a waterhole say, where a Tribesman watches antelope drink and while waiting for them to depart so he can allow his cattle to drink, he rests with mobile phone in hand and into his eyes come the black and white surreality of that film. From outside their world is brought a creation of which there is no terms of reference and this curiosity is born. If it is satiated is another matter.
Before he began Francois Truffaut had produced his opus screenplay narrative of how this particular event would happen. Through initial agreement he began to construct the syntax of what he intended to uncover as well as taking and dissecting themes within each of Alfred Hitchcock’s films chronologically. It would interweave at the beginning with the story of and influences derived by Hitchcock whose tastes were Catholic and universal.
Jules et Jim
What we are witnessing in this Kent Jones film is not unlike the scenario I described as I think it is a journey back into the interior of any films origin. The reason every director sets out to deliver, through self discovery of their own fixation, to a complex tower of stacked images which play before us as new ‘enlightenment to savor and react to.
It is done as a construct but one without script. Just a developing set of subjects and observations into which the all important genre making pieces are revealed and screened.
What Hitchcock became known for was his cinematic exploration of characters through their own psychoanalysis being realized outside them and on film. The theories under construction involved the casting into the narrative thoughts through dream sequence. Unseen before the unconscious met up with the conscious in separation while we were exposed to both. The film is of course Spellbound in 1945 with Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman. The dream sequence darkly realized was by Salvador Dali.
Troubled in his role as a director of a Mental institution Peck is at his youthful finest and Bergman is attracted to his peculiar behavior as an in-patient. She saturates the film with Scandanavian chilling reservation probably foreseeing the onrush of psychosis based films from that region. It is a brilliant thriller by a master artist (it only received 6 nominations for the Academy awards its newness being its downfall in not receiving any awards) whose future directions were to enter the mainstream as spellbinding films or more innovation and assured narrative.
The Best screen kiss? Notorious?
The stand of Alfred Hitchcock was one apart from milking the thriller with standard psychiatry, psychology, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy depictions, ones that appear in crime drama and turned full circle from Cagney to cowboy misfit Shane. He avoided the ordinary. So this film documentary starts with a challenged cinema. From the pre-Millenium gold rush of The Sopranos which harnessed and provided Television audiences in box set a new phenomenon, drama in which all manner of aspects of characters could be explored. It’s not now TV or Cinema as we have grown used to and the point of referring to it is to explain it was not foreseen by these directors. This is not the intended scope ofHitchcock/Truffaut but it has t be raised by virtue of its film message.
Who would be a Director?
Their psychoneuroses is a different story. Hollywood is a double identity town, actually a city. People with mere ambition meet the unpleasantness of greed and capricious exploitative hoping against hope to have an immersive part in the history of Cinema. To this warm climate, in the light and shade comes the fruit of either of two trees, Prunus dulcis (sweet almond) or P. dulcis amara (bitter almond) morality and sin. Creatives like Hitchcock did devour the subjects he calls at one stage ‘cattle’ ill patronage serving a visual zeal uncomfortable in his own shell he would insert his belligerence into each film as a contrarian note. His was not a beauty he would seek us to endure. Rather he sought out actresses and actors whose drama qualities were often heightened reactionary with the notable exception of Ingrid Bergman. Notorious and Spellbound her transfixing fragility held with disconcerting solidity and interior strength. Astonishingly beautiful she provided more than Hitchcock could have dreamt and his guidance was to turn out these two greatest of movies.
Troubled male and female connections.
Far from being or admitting to be knowledgable about women Alfred Hitchcock at 23 when he wrote his first screenplay and short shared the complexity of a young soldier willing and able to kill and go to war but unformed with emotional strength to enter relationships with women knowing only the urges and sexual dynamics sought and focused on as part of the self. Alfred Hitchcock is not to say a naive traveler but one whose exploration went deeper and had the ego in mind. The subconscious and conscious desires. Already established it would appear was the morality r lack of it brought by a Christian Brothers education in Islington, that liberal London ward. His funeral and admittedly that is an unexpected leap, Hitchcockian one perhaps, was in the Catholic Westminster Cathedral were Catholic Londoners converge upon their vision of God, next to the Abbey where Protestants converge on their vision of God but alongside for their weakness, sufferance and endurance they must tag sovereignty to their base of Christianity.
Alfred Hitchcock has therefore a semblance of knowing as a 23 year old and off he goes into the mysterious world of film making having been constrained by subtitling, imaginatively, films of British output having foresaken early ‘hothouse’ engineering and graphic design. He himself admits he was to devour films for their visual manipulation of time and thought, of their compression, halting, speeding up of time, the derangement of reality set before audiences suspensefully. The atypical Alfred Hitchcock sanguine outer ‘bulk’ intimidatory or not his frame was his shield and presence enabling the gruff dispelling of external, actorial, producer inserts to his master epoch. Very early on Francois Truffaut becomes aware of the confidence Alfred Hitchcock displays and how central it is to filmaking. No point in using ideas borrowed or contorted if you have a genius in the room would be, if solicited which would never happen except covertly, Alfred Hitchcock would summon.
New fresh Modernity
He would however as this film essay shows make the most extraordinarily imaginative leaps of film trust and almost counterintuitivly embrace audiences there to see the show me which he, Alfred Hitchcock, so desired himself. He would walk through the making of a film as it were with the rolls of film already conceived within his undreaming head. What we see in this film are dialogues, talking heads, along with too much non-descriptive quartet insoluble music which needn’t be there. That and the irritating, Alfred Hitchcock would not approve, hatch potch designs and variance of titles, subtitles which distract through lack of fluidity are small failings in a work, a film of this age which should become part of any prospective filmmaker, or for that matter viewer and interested cinemagoer; not one who’s expectations are low and easily satiated, but a compulsion and necessity to extend the satisfaction and advancement of thinking and diverse conjecture placed through the media. It is a joint enterprise, this act of belonging to a cinema audience, in a crowd, expectant, unprefixed, sensation or salutary seeking people that unite for that hour or two, that have digested an earlier lesser thrown net of complicit entertainment and through into a void of white screen soon to be filled in the second feature the top billed film to be shared in a darkness only to be illuminated by the vectors of the screen.
Paralysis of Psycosis
Is it a collective diagnosis of mankind, or to be non gender specific, Alfred Hitchcock’s intention to explain ourselves to ourselves or to have him by the same immersive process have it explained to him also, our evolved living. Not for him the science fiction, or comedy, or social transaction of say To kill aMockingbird. Instead he chooses to feed on fears or rather expose them for their irrationality. In The Birds, he explains to Francois Truffaut, there is a science in a room, a space he calls it in which the actress with her family hears the birds converging and echoing in the sky above their house. He has her withdraw to a sofa as the noise and unseen birds intensify in her space. Instead of following her onto the sofa for a facial expression or clasping hand on the knee or ightenibg grip to the sofa he stays back with the shot to convey she is worrying needlessly. The safety of the house is intact, the rooms has little light entering and no aperture for an on rush of birds. I don’t recall the windows or any shutters but what he is explaining is the safety existing and also the derangement of thinking the worst.
Psycosis is, this film underpins, quite a fixation of Alfred Hitchcock’s, outside the primary delight he has in using objects, the everyday and corrupting their part in our lives. The knife is over done here and there, in his films. His reverence of the supernatural which he conjectures, I believe as the form the church takes in people’s lives, is where the scenes he shoots – the person or the event, from below as a complete separation. The glass floor. Or the quayside lifting to the sky for an overview after the blaze connects two fires in The Birds as they too congregate in the godlike heavens over a small insignifant village extemplorising the narrowness of everyone’s view.
The endemic non linear thinking comprising our lives. The oversight of a God is also effected in the many scenes he develops using a completely directly overshot framing and stillness. The time is immemorial in Alfred Hitchcock’s films. He cares little of the concept of time.
In this film there are a few directors such as the Japanese director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanvitch, whose input is heightened as an extension of Francois Truffaut’s intelligent exploration. Pre-Cinema history courses and the explosion of availability there are several ubiquitous dialogues from talking heads included here in this film. Wes Anderson is one and has few insights other than his enthusiasm which given the dollar advantages is his staple modest amusement stic with which is his vogue modus. Martin Scorsese invites you to consider and does not tell. Truly wise he conceives of several dynamics of influential shifts in the film making process and of the straying to the avant grade in, for example Vertigo.
It’s the bra MS confides in the film.
He cares not that the script and story don’t stack up in several ways but he focuses on the deployment of the camera and art of deceptive emotional tugs and plays with the audiences expectations. He speaks of the perversity of the sexual connotations as Francois Truffaut emulates, was he to experiment and mulatein Jule et a Jim? It is the psychosis Alfred Hitchcock prevails upon in this and outwardly in Psycho. In vertigo Alfred Hitchcock proposes the perfection sought; a Swan Lake scenario and the many derivations thereafter, none say After Swan Lake do they?!, of a partner, Black swan, White Swan.
To be aroused Alfred Hitchcock wants both (Vertigo) but can’t have either and destruction awaits. It is a fantasy of realities making, of how we are configured with Ibsens troll, that totally adulterated word, of The Wild Duck formed in this failure of morality to be upheld. No time is described in these examples that is not conducive to that reading. Indeed the reading of plays as Timberlake Wertenbaker ** astutely observes in responding to the perceptions of her brilliant play, and one I have as amongst the very best, Our Country’s Good, s the observation it is better to set a theory in a constructed past or version of it to reveal the core. That balance is what is found in our Irish envelope, in the England of the Catholic Shakespeare and the Scandinavian and Germanic Protestantism. From Luther to Lang.
There is a lot to digest and take away from this important timely documentary, as we enter a period where filmaking as it becomes a more democratic entity, for the richness of observation. It is a filmic vision of former times cleverly woven into contemporary meaning and sets up , as perhaps my take on Wes Andersons contribution being in this context slight, has to show us the convincing human condition exploration one Alfred Hitchcock, and then one Francois Truffaut committed to the canon. It is a dreadfully sad note to end on but the untimely death of Francois Truffaut has robbed the world of a genius unfulfilled but with a legacy nonetheless. It is a film made with undoubted affection and determination to give continuance to the art in providing for the most part, unfettered disclosure in the true affectionate appreciative way both principals would have wished for and desired. The fact this film commemorates their joint enterprise is testament enough of that.
QFT queensfilmtheatre.com feature this in March on the following dates. Friday 4 – Sunday 6 and on Wednesday 9 and Thursday 10. Check for details.
Timberlake Wertenbaker ** The philosophy equally applies in my view to Cinema. Your duty to watch!
Much of these quotes disseminate wisdom found in both Cinema and Theatre.
Included as the fourth wall exists in each.
“The Greeks believed that it was a citizen’s duty to watch a play. It was a kind of work in that it required attention, judgement, patience, all the social virtues.”
“And the Greek were conquered by the more practical Romans, Arthur.”
“Indeed, the Romans built their bridges, but they also spent many centuries wishing they were Greeks. And they, after all, were conquered by the barbarians, or by their own corrupt and small spirits.”
― Timberlake Wertenbaker
“I’d forgotten how arrogant people are in the theater, I’m agreeing to starve for a year and he seems to think I should be pleased to have the part.”
― Timberlake Wertenbaker, The Break of Day
“I’d forgotten how arrogant people are in the theater, I’m agreeing to starve for a year and he seems to think I should be pleased to have the part.”
― Timberlake Wertenbaker, The Break of Day
“Being laughed at is excellent preparation for marriage.”
― Timberlake Wertenbaker, The Ash Girl
“Dawes? Dawes, do come back to earth and honour us with your attention for a moment.”
― Timberlake Wertenbaker, Our Country’s Good
“Why are you so angry with your Duckling, harry? Don’t you like it when I open my legs wide to you? Cross them over you – the way you like? What will you do when your little Duckling isn’t there anymore to touch you with her soft fingertips, Harry, where you like it? First the left nipple and then the right. Your Duckling doesn’t want to leave you, Harry.”
“I need freedom sometimes, Harry.”
― Timberlake Wertenbaker, Our Country’s Good
“It is very good, Wisehammer, it’s very well written, but it’s too-too-political. It will be considered provocative.”
“You don’t want me to say it.”
“Not tonight. We have many people against us.”
“I could tone it down. I could omit ‘We left our country for our country’s good.'”
“That’s the best line.”
― Timberlake Wertenbaker
“This is a profligate prison for us all, it’s a hellish hole we soldiers have been hauled to because they blame us for losing the war in America.”
― Timberlake Wertenbaker, Our Country’s Good
“Unexpected situations are often matched by unexpected virtues, are they not?”
― Timberlake Wertenbaker, Our Country’s Good
The crossover may not be completed including the above yet the narratives are similar in a lot of ways to the provisions of film though without the FX.
Posted here below is the transcript from Hitchcock Wiki, after the Hitchcock.zone insert, which you may also appreciate.
2 March 2016
From the Hitchcock.zone
In the fall of 1962, whilst The Birds was in post-production, François Truffaut carried out extensive interviews with Alfred Hitchcock at his offices at Universal Studios. The interviews were recorded to audio tape and the content eventually edited down into Truffaut’s Hitchcock book.
Although Truffaut could speak a little English, he hired Helen Scott (of the French Film Office in New York) to act as the translator for the interviews.
Truffaut had intended to quickly publish the book of the interviews, but the first edition wasn’t published until several years later (1966 in France and 1967 in America). To bring the book up-to-date, Truffaut conducted further interviews to discuss Marnie and Torn Curtain.
In 1984, Patricia Hitchcock donated a set of the interview tapes to the Margaret Herrick Library, where they are now part of the Hitchcock Collection. Although Truffaut claimed that the recordings lasted 50 hours, the surviving tapes — which cover the 1962 interviews — last for less than 26 hours.
Research by Janet Bergstrom has made clear the fact that the book often does not contain a verbatim transcript of Hitchcock’s responses to Truffaut’s questions.
Certain categories of information seem to have been omitted from the published interview for reasons over and above the need to keep the page count down or omit Hitchcock’s slightly off–colour jokes and descriptions of individuals that might offend them or even prove libelous. Information was dropped that would be considered precious today, particularly by film historians: explanations of technique were greatly limited compared to the original, references to television and the film industry as such, including observations about people who were not necessarily well–known and what they did, as Hitchcock remembered this or that film or phase of his career.
The interviews were used as the basis of Alain Riou and Stéphane Boulan’s French stage play Hitch: When Truffaut Confronted Hitchcock.
Posted here is the transcript from Hitchcock Wiki which you may appreciate.
Of the period of the childhood, they always tell a story of the police station when your father had you locked up. Is that a true story?
I was just sent along with a note, I must have been four or five years of age, and the head of the police read it and then put me into the cell and said “that’s what we do to naughty boys”.
And what had you done to deserve that?
I cannot imagine because my father used to call me “the little lamb without a spot”!
But he was very severe, very stern?
They say that in school you were very [an] average student but very strong in geography.
I was usually with the—— You see, I was with the Jesuits, you see, and I was usually about four or five in the form, in the class.
Four or five – that is the [???]
I was never first. I was second once or twice. But average, four or five.
And your ambition at that moment was to become an engineer?
Well, all little boys are asked what do they want to be when they grow, you know. And, you know, you say “engineer” and my parents took me seriously, so they sent me to an engineering school.
But perhaps you did have a more scient—— curiosity for science?
Well, I was able to pick up quite an amount of knowledge of practical engineering. The theory of laws of force and motion. Electricity, theoretically and applied. I learned to be a draughtsman, which helped me later on when I became an art director.
This was following the Jesuit college?
This would be the period of about 19 years of age. But, at that time, you see, I had great enthusiasm for theatre and for films. [I] would go to the theatre first nights alone.
I would like to situate that period. This was after the Jesuit college, because when you were with the Jesuits you couldn’t go out very much, could you?
No, no, no. It was after. It was after.
But, I was so keen on films that I only—— at the age of 16, I would only read trade papers. Not fan magazines.
Then, while I was with the engineering company, I studied art at the University of London. Then I got transferred to the advertising department, which enabled me to draw advertisements, and design, and the beginning of ideas.
This was already—— you were working for film companies then?
No, no, no, no – still with the engineering company then.
Well, what type of drawings were these, then?
Drawings for advertisements, in——
——but, what, I mean——
——for plumbing, or what?
For cables – electric cables. The big ones that go in the road, you know.
When I discovered that an American [film] company was opening in London, I wanted to get the job—— not to go in, but to merely to get the ordering of the words, to do their titles, for the films.
Let’s go back a little while because I want to develop[?] this period. Did you prefer theatre to movies—— to films?
I think I preferred films, although I used to go a lot to the theatre. I think that the films were the things that attracted me.
British films must have been rather poor at that time… but there was Amer—— there are American films?
Yes. Well, I was attracted more to the American cinema than I was the British – much more. For example——
——what did you have, Chaplin, Griffith?
Chaplin and Griffith and the early Paramount pictures – they were called “Famous Players” in those days.
Douglas Fairbanks. Mary Pickford. And also——
——what did you prefer?
——and also the films of Decla-Bioscop. Decla-Bioscop came before UFA. Decla-Bioscop and UFA came together as one company. But UFA was a big distribution organisation and Decla-Bioscop, they had these very early films of Murnau, you know.
German, oh yes. But Decla-Bioscop came before UFA.
Did Murnau’s pictures attract you?
Yes, but they came later, really.
And perhaps you saw them in Berlin?
They came—— no, Murnau’s films came around 1923-1924.
But what could you be looking at then, in 1920? What were you [tape dropout] that attracted you?
All kinds of films. I even remember the French… Max Linder.
[FT] Et le films du Griffith […] ?
[Hitchcock makes a positive sound]
Those attracted you very much?
Oh, yes, sure. The [in French accent] “Intolerance” and “Birth of a Nation”.
There were more intimate pictures than that – “The Poor Love”, “Through the Storm”
“Orphans of the Storm”? That was a French Revolution story.
No, that was “The Two Orphans”.
In which firm did you go to work.
Ah, Famous Players-Lasky. Famous Players-Lasky British Producers.
[FT] C’est ça Islington?
Yes. Islington, yes.
There you went to design titles?
Yes, but I.. I designed the titles but I didn’t go to work [there] immediately, I still had the other job.
And what was the drawings, what was their specific function, these drawings?
Well, in those days, you see, all titles were illustrated.
You mean what would correspond now to subtitles?
The framing around the sub—— around the captions?
Well, erm, no. For example… you had, in those days, narrative titles and spoken titles. “Came the dawn…” is the most famous of all titles!
Now, for example, if the title said “George was leading a very fast life by this time” we will have lettering but underneath I would a draw a candle with a flame at each end.
That’s yes [tape dropout] we will find out exactly what the titles [loud cough] That is, to say, Mr Hitchcock had to guess… which would be, [to FT] yes… [to AH] you had already sensed which would be the period [i.e. moment] in the picture which one would have to use titles… you had already sensed that, on your own.
Oh, yeah—— well, no, they would be in the script, you see, but I had to provide the ideas for the illustration.
And so they liked your ideas and that’s how you got the job?
And in my notes I have “very rapidly Mr Hitchcock very rapidly became the chief of the titles in that department”.
Well, I’d like to elaborate on that a moment. I eventually went to work in the studio in the—— I suppose you would call it the “editorial department”. Which consisted of two American gentlemen, who were writers by reputation, and the head of the department—— you see, in those days, they didn’t have producers – they had the director, who would then have, as his advisers, the editorial department. Under the head of the editorial department would be the writers.
When the film was finished it would come back to the editor—— head of the editorial department who would then write the titles, or rewrite them, from the original script because in those days, by the use of titles – narrative and spoken – whole sections of the story could be changed because the actor went [Hitchcock mimes an actor speaking] then a title came on the screen and they could put whatever words they liked in his mouth. It has been known for this process to save a bad film. There as one film I remember, it was a very bad film – a drama – so they put comedy titles all the way through it! A big success! Because it came satirical, you see.
And perhaps you might use, also, titles to cut. If an actor was very bad, you could cut what was bad out of the picture by the use of—— by substituting titles?
More than that, you could take the end of the picture and put it up in the beginning. Anything.
You could save a picture by adding many titles?
But in no case could you take out any titles, because they were all foreseen in the shooting… they were anticipated——
Yes, but it didn’t matter.
For instance, recently the Germans reissued they… I think they called them Buster Keaton’s “The General”?——
…and in order to make it more modern, they try to take out the titles and it was so disastrous, the screening was so disastrous that they were forced to put them back in.
Because Keaton really worked from the titles.
Oh, did he? Yes. Yes, yes.
Well, it was while I was in this department, you see, that I got acquainted with the writers and was able to study the scripts. And, out of that, I learned the writing of scripts.
And also to look at—— examine the pictures very close, from inside?
For sure. And, not only that, if an extra scene was wanted, I used to be sent out to shoot it. Not important—— not acting scenes, no.
But, just transition scenes?
Yes, yes. So, in this department, I was able to learn quite a lot because one was learning the beginnings of a film and the end of a film.
When the studio closed down, I found a story – a long novel – in a magazine—— a novelette, you know. And I found that the story was owned by Universal, an American company. And I didn’t mind, I sat down and wrote a script, based on this story, as an exercise.
Now that the Americans returned [to the United States], they closed the studio and let it be for rentals… [for] English companies to come in and rent the studio space, you see. So, we were looking to these companies coming in for our jobs, you see. Well, I got a job as an assistant director.
[FT] Michael Balcon, non?
No, before Balcon. Before Balcon.
There was a famous London actor: Seymour Hicks. And, he quarrelled with the director and said to me “let’s, you and I, finish this alone.” He was an actor and a director in the theatre, but he didn’t know much… but not much on films.
[FT] C’était “Always Tell You——”?
——“Always Tell Your Wife”, yes. So I helped him and, meanwhile, there was another company coming in and they hadn’t got a story, and I was going to be assistant director with this company. And, my friend, who was the art director for Paramount [i.e Famous Players-Lasky] was going to be the art director. And, I helped them talk to these—— this company – which was Balcon, Freedman & Saville – and they bought a story called “Woman to Woman”.
[FT] Saville? C’est Victor Saville, non?
Yes, Victor Saville.
So, they said, well we have to get a script ready. So, I said I would like to do that. They said “You? What have you done?” I said, “I will show you something.” So, I showed them the script I’d written. They were very impressed, so I got the job. I was 23.
Oh, that was a comedy. That never finished. A two-reeler.
What was that, a documentary?
No, there was a woman working in the studio who had worked with Chaplin and she had an idea for a story – a two-reeler – and she wrote this thing and we found some money and it wasn’t very good. This was also when the studio closed down.
It never came out?
What was “Woman to Woman”?
As I say, I was 23 at the time, and I’d never been out with a girl in my life. I’d never had a drink in my life. This was a story, which was a successful stage play in London, about an army officer during World War One, on leave in Paris, has an affair with a dancing girl, goes back to the front and is shell-shocked and he loses his memory. [He] goes back to England and marries a society woman, and then the dancer turns up with child. And the conflict [???] You know, the end of the story is that the dancer dies.
And you were the assistant—— at the same time you acted as assistant director on that picture?
More, more. My friend, the art director, said he couldn’t come on the picture, so I said, “I will do the art directing!”
[FT] …Graham Cutts?
Yes, Graham Cutts. But I did the art direction—— I wrote the script, did the art direction and helped in the production. My wife was the editor and, in those days, script girl and editor was one person. Because, today, script girl keeps too many books, you know? She’s an accountant[?].
So, you’d just got married then, at that period then?
No, not yet. Oh no, not yet.
Oh, you hadn’t gone out with a girl——?
We met on that picture.
I was curious——
We met on that picture
The Mountain.. The Mountain Eagle?
“The Mountain Eagle”. That was no good.
Afterwards was “The Lodger”.
Well, “The Lodger” of course, that’s another story.
“The Lodger” was the first true Hitchcock picture. I saw a play and it was called “Who is He?” and it was a play based on the book of Mrs Belloc Lowndes called “The Lodger”. The story was the house that took in lodgers and the woman of the house wondered “is the man upstairs Jack the Ripper or not?” But, I treated it purely from her point of view–– they have made it since and… they’ve done it two or three times since but too elaborate and no [???].
Now, of course, there is one slight difficulty – the leading man is England’s matinee idol and that’s Ivor Novello, but he was a big name. Well, these are the problems that we face with the star system. Always the story has to be compromised because the star cannot be a villain.
Was it not foreseen that he was an innocent–– wasn’t he innocent?
Yes, but a story of this kind, he should have go on into the night and we should never have known.
But you cannot do that with a big star, you must say “he is innocent.”
But I am surprised that Mr. Hitchcock would want to do a picture where the public would not know at the end.
Well, in this case, I think that if you have suspense – is he or is he not Jack the Ripper… if you say “yes, he’s Jack the Ripper”, you’ve merely confirmed a suspicion and that, to me, is not dramatic. But, we went the other way and we show that he wasn’t Jack the Ripper at all.
I found the same problem many, many years after making a film “Suspicion” with Cary Grant. Cary Grant couldn’t be a murderer.
Would he have refused? Would––
Cary, at the time? Not necessarily. No, not necessarily. But the front office–– we call the front office.
I’ve read the book and I know the picture very well and I don’t think, at all, that the picture is inferior to the novel.
But I had a–– an ending for that picture. There’s a famous scene where he carries a glass of milk. You know, when I had that scene, I put a light in the milk… so it would show.
[to FT] No, no, no – in the milk. [In French] Dans le lait. A light in the milk ‘cause I wanted it to be luminous.
The ending I wanted to do, but they couldn’t permit it: the girl in the story knows that her husband is a murderer so she writes a letter to her mother, “Dear mother, I’m desperately in love with him but I don’t want to live – he’s going to kill me and I’d rather than die. But I think society should be protected from him.” And she puts it by the bed. He comes up with the milk. She says, “Will you send this letter to mother for me dear?” He gives her the milk, she drinks [it] and she dies. Fade out.
One scene–– when the–– one scene.
[FT] “Fade out”?
Fade out, it’s you know–– [in French] fondu.
Then, après, one short scene: Cary Grant, with a letter, whistling cheerfully, opens the mailbox…
[Hitchcock whistles and presumably mimes putting the letter into the mailbox]
Yes, very good, but… the novel is very, very good but the scenario… I think that you don’t sense any compromise in the scenario. It is truly the story of a woman who, realising that her husband is not what she’s dreamed of, fantasises to herself–– and begins to–– and finally is convinced he’s a murderer. Finally, it becomes less unusual than that of the novel, but psychologically really more beautiful.
Because you can even think the novel, taken from the scenario, would have been better than the original novel. That is, the character was Cary Grant was very, very successful. What was perhaps lacking in the picture were certain notations[?] on the fact that he is interested in other women…
…in the scenario, he is exclusively a little bit dishonest with money.
That’s right, yes.
I have seen the picture again ten days ago.
Oh, really? Yes.
And one believes really completely in their scenes of happiness together. For me, it’s one of your most beautiful American pictures and the last scene [of] the picture is very abstract, theoretical. And yet very, very beautiful.
Well, let’s go back to “The Lodger” because it was the first film possibly influenced by my period in Germany. The whole approach to it was instinctive with me. It was the first time I’d exercised any style. In truth, in truth, you could almost say it was my first picture.
In the first place, I took – shall we say – pure narrative and presented, for the first time, ideas in purely visual forms. I took ten minutes on a late winter afternoon in London, starting about five-twenty and I opened the picture with the head of a screaming blonde girl. And, I remember the way I photographed it – I got a sheet of glass, I laid the head of the girl on the glass and spread the hair until it filled the frame and, underneath the glass, lit it from behind. And then I cut from the “big head” to an electric sign which was advertising a musical play – “C’est soir, Tonight, Golden Curls. Tonight, Golden Curls”. And panned from the sign to the water and it’s flicking in the water and [Hitchcock now describes the sequence of subsequent camera cuts] out of the water comes the dead head of the drowned girl… pulled ashore… consternation… murdered… and, no titles… no titles. Police… crowd… reporter… notebook… reporter to telephone. He was a reporter for a wire service, not for a newspaper.
Now I proceed to show what happened to that piece of news. Typed out on the special wire service machine, there you read… only a little bit. Then you had people in the clubs looking – the newspaper people, the broadcasting people… being broadcast… people listening. Now following the newspaper and the running–– you know they call them “scintillating signs” they have on Broadway, you know they run…
[to FT] …Times Square.
…they have them at the Place de l’Opéra, don’t they.
Each time, you got some more information that he murdered only fair-haired girls… he always did it on Tuesdays… how many he has done to date… reasons speculating why he did it… he goes around dressed in a black cloak… he carries a black bag… what might be in the bag?
But, the news was–– this information was spread over all these different means of communication. Now, the newspaper goes out. Now the effect on various people. It’s now nearly five-thirty… chorus girls are coming off the stage – the blonde ones are terrified and the brunettes are laughing. The hairdressing establishment – girls going home, stealing dark curls and putting under their hats.
That was a great success.
When it was first shown, they sent the distributors–– sent the head of their publicity department – a woman – and one of their high officials. They looked at the film and went back to report to the big boss, in the film centre – Wardour Street it’s called…
[to AH] “Warder Street”?
Wardour Street, that’s where they’ve they all the films… “Film Row”–– [spells] W, A, R, D, O, U, R.
Anyway, they said “Impossible to show. It’s too bad. The film is terrible. Terrible film.”
Two days later, the big boss comes down to the studio to look at it. He arrived at two-thirty. Mrs Hitchcock and I were not married then, but we were going to be married in about three or four months’ time. We couldn’t bear to wait in the studio to know the result and we walked the streets of London. Wondering… wondering… what’s happening… what’s happening? And finally, we walked for about one hour and a half, or more, and I said “it must be over by now, we’ll get a cab–– taxi and go back.”
We got back and I went in, looking at the people in the studio… he agrees, it’s terrible. It wasn’t a happy a happy ending to the walk – we were hoping we’d go back and he’d say “oh, it’s wonderful!”
So, they put the film on the shelf. They stopped booking it, because they were booking it on Novello’s name, you see. And about, some couple of months later, they decided to take another look at it and they wanted some changes made – I can’t remember what they were. I agreed to make about two and finally the picture shown and it was acclaimed as the greatest British picture ever made.
But I think that your camera work today is… aims to create effects which are not noticed as effects.
That’s right. That’s true.
Ah, ah! Well! That’s the change in general styles. No, I wouldn’t do the ceiling again because I would be satisfied with the moving chandelier.
For instance, because the British director who wanted to do a picture in your style – an imitation of your style – Lee Thompson had his character go to fetch something from the réfrigérateur and the camera was in the réfrigérateur. And that’s the sort of thing you would never do.
Never do. That’s like shooting through the fireplace.
At the end of “Lodger”… [to FT] “lynchage”? [to AH] …there an atmosphere of lynch–– a lynching.
Yes, that’s right. Yes, sure.
Yes, he was handcuffed, you see, and he tried to climb over some railings and got hung on the railings… they got caught on the railings. Well, the handcuffs, of course, were… a thing that–– an idea that… goes, I don’t know, psychologically fairly deep. There’s–– I don’t know what do you think this–– what Francois thinks the psychological, almost psychotic, attitude is towards to tying up. [???] somewhere in the area of a fetish, isn’t there? Isn’t that so?
I don’t know, it’s impressed me very much in your pictures! Because one finds it very–– one encounters it very often in your pictures.
Well, but I think that somehow – I don’t know what it is – the handcuffing has a deeper significance to people.
It’s [???]–– it’s the most immediate symbol of the deprivation of liberty.
Well, yes but it has sex connotations.
[of FT] “I don’t have a psychoanalytical frame of mind at all,” says he.
And, in the scene of the handcuffing – I’ve seen that picture once – it seems to me that you did want to, perhaps, suggest Christ.
Talking down from the cross. When they lifted him down. That was my idea. That did occur to me.
From this respect, effectively it is the first Hitchcock… even in its themes because… it is a thing you’ve taken very often, a man accused of a crime he has not committed. One might think that “I Confess”, perhaps, has similarity to “The Lodger”.
Could be. Yes. To some extent.
You know the theme of the innocent being accused, I think provides the audience with a sense of terrible danger that they might be in the same position. Rather than a guilty man on the run, you see.
That is to say, it satisfies at the same time, for the audience, the desire to see illegal things and, at the same time, they might identify with the…
Yes, that’s right. Yes.
The average man is plunged into extraordinary, unaverage [???]
That’s right. Sure.
That’s a constant in your pictures.
Oh, it is. It represents every man and the average man is the best identification. This, again, is taking the audience into account.
Before I abandon the silent pictures… perhaps we would like to have a few generalities on silent pictures.
Well, silent pictures are the pure emotion pictures. There was only one thing missing in the silent pictures and that was sound coming out of the people’s mouths and sounds coming from the streets. But it didn’t warrant the big change that sound brought in.
In other words, you see, the silent picture was merely – looking at them from a realistic standpoint – it was natural sound that was missing.
In other words, there was no need to abandon the technique of the pure motion picture, the way it was abandoned when sound came in.
Yes, surely in the final years of silent pictures, on the whole the production perhaps… they had succeeded in reaching a certain amount of perfection such that, one might think, that the sound picture destroyed that perfection. I mean to say that, again, a lot of mediocrity came in.
I agree. Oh, of course – immediately. I still sustains to this day because, to me, as I said to you earlier this morning, so many of the films made today are photographs of people talking.
The next picture was the next “Hitchcock picture” – “Blackmail”.
But… I’m trying to think when the–– of course, my experiments with the “Blackmail” picture – it was started as a silent picture.
And certain scenes were then shot over again for sound?
Well, the interesting, slightly romantic side of that is that I was asked to prepare the last scene only – the last reel in sound. Because, in those days, when talk first came in, they used to advertise it as “part sound” and they made a novelty of the sound starting in the middle of the picture.
You see, when I knew that they were going to make the thing into sound, there was–– I was shooting silent. I prepared in my own mind to make the whole film in sound and I knew where certain talking scenes went in. But, of course, it, to me, that shows today – if you look at the film today, it’s still a silent film and practically with the people speaking titles.
It looks like that, it’s a…
I saw it at the cinémathèque but I don’t remember if it was sound–– there are two versions, aren’t there? Are there––
It seems to me I saw the sound version. There was a piano scene I think that was remade with sound.
Well, the whole thing was sound at the end.
Because I had that famous use of sound when the girl has committed the murder and she goes home and there’s a scene at a breakfast table of her family and there’s a talkative neighbour from next door. And the neighbour is talking about the murder around the corner and “What a terrible thing to kill a man in the back with a knife.” The woman said “If I were committing a murder, I’d hit him over the head with a brick, but I wouldn’t use a [with emphasis] knife.”
And, as her dialogue went on, it became a sound of talk, talk, and the talk became less clear, except one word: “knife… knife”. And I played it on the girl’s face… and you hear this neighbour–– and it dies away and it goes a long way away. All you can hear is, “[mumbled words] KNIFE! [mumbled words] KNIFE! [mumbled words] KNIFE!”
Suddenly, the voice of the father, “Pass the bread knife would you please, Alice?” – normal voice. And she has to pick up the same [type of] knife as she committed the murder with. But it was the contrast of the [makes repetitive noises to represent the beat of the word “knife”] to the normal voice coming back. That was the first experiment with sound.
Aside from that, were you pleased with the script–– with the scenario?
It was a simple yarn. It was a simple story. I never really did it the way I wanted to. It–– I was probably using “The Lodger” form. I was showing in the first reel the technique of an arrest.
[ to be completed! ]
In general, the transcriptions made by the Hitchcock Wiki attempt to match the English parts of the interview, with the following caveats:
occasionally Hitchcock, Truffat and translator Helen Scott spoke across each other without adding to the conversation and this is marked as “[crosstalk]”
quick verbal corrections mostly ignore the words that the speaker was correcting — for example, Scott occasionally has to modify her translation of Truffaut
Hitchcock occasionally has to repeat words to allow Scott time to translate and these repeatitions are generally not included
audio dropouts in the recording are marked as “[tape dropout]” — if the missing words can be guessed confidently, they are included
occasionally Hitchcock responded in French directly to Truffaut — if this is simply a repetition of words already spoken in English by Hitchcock, they are generally not transcribed
occasionally Hitchcock understood Truffaut without the need for Scott to translate — in these instances, the statement is prefixed with “[FT]” to indicate that it is Truffaut speaking and not Helen Scott and only limited attempts have been made to transcribe the French words and phrases
where it is unclear what is being said, entire words or phrases are replaced with “[???]” and dubiously transcribed words are appended with “[?]”
where the meaning of a statement is unclear or ambiguous, additional information in square brackets is added to clarify the meaning
if the speaker seems to be addressing a specific person, it is marked as “[to AH]”, “[to FT]” or “[to HS]” to indicate Hitchcock, Truffaut or Scott respectively
“——” is used to represent a speaker being interrupted or for when the speaker decides to change what they were initially going to say
pauses in mid-sentence are generally not indicated, as Hitchcock often pauses to allow Scott to translate into French and Scott often begins translating Truffaut before he has finished his sentence — where they are included, they are shown as “…”
in general, the transcripts attempt to follow the flow of dialogue whenever possible.