While a critic at Cahiers du Cinema, in 1954 Francois Truffaut coined the phrase “la politique des Auteurs,” and in doing so, invented a new mode to interpret and analyze a film – one that starts and ends with its director. The Cahiers critics, later becoming the filmmakers at the fore of the French New Wave, canonised these auteurs, or authors; the directors (Howard Hawks, Fritz Lang, Nicholas Ray) who in spite of the different genres they tackled and the collaborative nature of their medium, created and produced works distinctively and singularly their own. British director Alfred Hitchcock received the most sustained of this attention – in 1962, Truffaut publishing the in-depth Hitchcock/Truffaut. A profile of the director, the subject and interviewee logically approached film-by-film, Hitchcock/Truffaut is now a key text in film criticism, and returns to the screen this March.
In spite of their kinship, on first glance a macabre Hitchcock thriller -- the inventive Psycho, innovative Vertigo and voyeuristic Rear Window -- might seemingly have little in common with Truffaut’s brand of wistful melancholy. Certain trademarks might turn out a trap when we realise Hitchcock could be romantic, and Truffaut a director who could produce the occasional menacing genre film – and when Hitchcock’s influence has gone on to surface in the most surprising of places and people:Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Arnaud Desplechin, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Wes Anderson, James Gray, Olivier Assayas, Richard Linklater, Peter Bogdanovich, Paul Schrader. ‘Auteur’ is now a thrown-around term that nonetheless equally applies to the disparate bunch of contemporary filmmakers interviewed in Kent Jones’s documentary. His film invites its audience to revisit their filmographies with new perspective, and consider Hitchcock’s legacy today:
Hitchcock/Fincher: “He’s playing with all those things that make cinema fun and magic, the tricks of it.”
Twisted and beloved, David Fincher established his own specific style with the 1995 release of sadistic detective story Seven – its infamous twist ending reminiscent of Hitchcock’s own incredulous and pioneering treatment of the codes and tropes of the thriller genre. It’s difficult not to return to Hitchcock with Fincher’s femme fatale at the centre of the pulpy Gone Girl -- or indeed think of Vertigo when watching Harris Savides’s eerie rendering of San Francisco in Zodiac, or Lifeboat or Dial M for Murder when put in a tight space in the taut Panic Room.
Hitchcock/Scorsese: “All your expectations are taken and turned upside down”
Following the lead of the French, directors like Scorsese and Brian De Palma (his Hitchcockian Dressed to Kill and Body Double likely qualifying as remakes) came to prominence in the 1970s, a much-heralded decade of independent filmmaking in the United States. Not only did Hitchcock’s regular composer Bernard Herrmann (Psycho, North by Northwest, Vertigo) to score Scorsese’s breakthrough Taxi Driver, Hitchcock’s influence is keenly felt in Scorsese’s thrillers Cape Fear and Shutter Island. Scorsese’s yuppy-in-peril comedy After Hours – in which, most memorably, a set of keys are thrown menacingly -- seems to parody of Hitchcock’s careful emphasis on everyday objects and MacGuffins.
Hitchcock/Anderson: “This is somebody whose mind is racing, filled with ideas…”
Citing specifically the 1966 Torn Curtain, Hitchcock’s fiftieth film, Wes Anderson has incorporated the director’s signature dread and horror in his intricate cinematic universe – recreating Torn Curtain’s museum-stalking scene in his most recent The Grand Budapest Hotel. The scenario settling down after a trip through continental Europe, this steady chase sequence is a direct homage to Hitchcock’s spy thriller, and elsewhere in The Grand Budapest Hotel Anderson has noted the influence of Hitchcock’s work in Britain in the 1930s – The 39 Steps, Sabotage, and The Lady Vanishes.
Hitchcock/Linklater: “Hitchcock really does love to surprise people and to take you in unusual directions”
Like fellow interviewees Olivier Assayas (a Cahiers critic whose Irma Vep is somewhat an equivalent to Truffaut’s 1973 film industry satire Day for Night) and Arnaud Desplechin, Richard Linklater may be considered more in line with Truffaut’s tradition than Hitchcock’s – his decade-spanning coming-of-age film Boyhood closer in tone and thematically to Truffaut’s two-decade-spanning Antoine Doinel series. Soon to be the subject of his own documentary (the upcoming Linklater: Dream is Destiny), the American director, through Sundance and SXSW, nonetheless did shoot his sequel Before Sunset in long takes and real-time, an idea perhaps borrowed from Hitchcock’s Rope.
Hitchcock/Truffaut is in cinemas 4 March. HitchcockTruffaut.co.uk