This article is a partially fictitious account wherein I imagine myself in conversation with two of the greatest minds in cinema: Truffaut and Hitchcock. This work was inspired by the series of interviews the two conducted which was later turned into a book. The quotes from the two are real though the context isn’t always. If you are interested in the book it can be purchased here. If this alternate history premise insults your sensitivities please move on.
Film is: Eternal yet momentary, Enormous but has no space, Minuscule yet takes its place, Inflexible yet elastic, Sincere and sarcastic, Confined to a frame, which expands in your brain. When a showing ends, The Journey begins. You close your eyes and travel within. Never has it ever been so warm to be frozen in form.
I’m a lot older than I look. I was in Paris in 1968 trying to get Nino Rota to score my latest film and ultimately I failed and managed only to gain six pounds eating Crepes Suzette. While there, however, I did run into Francois Truffaut. After I asked him how L’enfant Sage was going he told me he was going to meet with Hitchcock and asked me if I’d like to come along. Of course, I agreed. On the way there I asked him:
Bernardo Villela.: What do you believe is the art of suspense?
Francois Truffaut: The art of creating suspense is [!] the art of involving the audience, so that the viewer is a participant in the film. (Truffaut, 16).
We arrived a few minutes later in a very plush room at the Georges V. Francois introduced me and afterward Hitchcock said he’d like my last film very much, to which I got very embarrassed as I felt I didn’t deserve such phrase. We sat down had some Sauternes as apparently Hitch had just finished a meal. It wasn’t the best lead in but I then asked.
B.V.: What did you think of The Wizard of Oz?
Alfred Hitchcock: It was a very bad movie (39)
I was reading a newspaper and saw that Julie Andrews had just signed to make Darling Lili and this prompted me to ask:
B.V.: Can you tell me what you thought of the Star System?
A.H.: These are the problems we face with the star system. Very often the storyline is jeopardized because a star cannot be a villain (43). Cary Grant could not be a murderer (44).
B.V.: Yet you always seemed inclined to work with stars, why?
A.H.: I’ve learned from experience that whenever the protagonist isn’t portrayed by a star, the whole picture suffers, you see, because the audience is a lot less concerned about the predicament of a character who’s played by someone they don’t know. (145)
B.V.: The comment you made about Cary Grant brings us to the trouble with Suspicion. The film is constructed and leading us to think Cary Grant is guilty and then in the last 5 minutes you jump the rails.
A.H. Well I’m not too pleased with the way Suspicion ends. I had something else in mind. The scene I wanted, but it was never shot was for Cary Grant to was to bring her a glass of milk that’s been poisoned and Joan Fontaine has just finished a letter to her mother – “Dear Mother, I’m desperately in love with him, but I don’t want to live because he’s a killer. Though I’d rather die, I think society should be protected from him.” Then, Cary Grant comes in with the fatal glass and she says Will you mail this letter to mother for me, dear?” She drinks the milk and dies. Fade out and fade in on one short shot: Cary Grant, whistling cheerfully, walks over to the mailbox and pops the letter in. (142)
I felt quite embarrassed by dominating the questioning but I think Francois gave me free reign owing to the fact that this was a unique experience for me.
B.V.: Many directors including Robert Altman make films only for themselves and don’t care what the people or the studios think of them, what is your reaction to this kind of thinking?
A.H.: I always take the audience into account. (48)
Our exhaustive discussion of Citizen Kane led me to ask:
B.V.: How do you define as a masterpiece?
A.H.: Theoretically, a masterpiece is something that has already found its perfection of form, its definitive form. (72)
B.V.: Many people find your films very implausible. I love The Lady Vanishes but even I find the third act a little hard to swallow, what’s your response to that?
A.H.: I’m not concerned with plausibility; that’s the easiest part, so why bother? (99) In a documentary the basic material has been created by God, whereas in the fiction film the director is god; he must create life. (102)
B.V.: Can you comment on why your films so often deal with the extraordinary?
A.H.: I don’t want to do a “slice of life film” because people can get that at home, in the street or even in front of the movie theatre [!] And I avoid out-and-out fantasy because people should be able to identify with the characters. [!] What is drama, after all, but life with the dull parts cut out.(103)
B.V.: My two favorite British Hitchcock films are The Lady Vanishes and Sabotage. While I feel the Lady Vanishes is more sophisticated in its structure , bravery is something I greatly admire in filmmaking and that’s part of why I like Sabotage so much.
A.H.: I made a serious mistake in having the little boy carry the bomb (109).
F.T.: Making a child die in a picture is a rather ticklish matter; it comes close to an abuse of cinematic power (109).
A.H.: I agree with that; it was a grave error on my part. (109)
B.V.: But I feel that’s part of what made it such a compelling film, the fact that a man has to pay for his sins through the loss of his son.
This is the first part of a series that will post on Thursdays. This is the first time this series has appeared on my new home.