TruffautHitchcockVillela: Part 2

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.

This is part two of a series which started here.

B.V.: Whether or not you were misquoted people believe you once said “Actors are cattle.” Can you tell me what you feel an actor’s role is?

A.H.: When a film is properly staged, it isn’t necessary to rely upon the player’s virtuosity or personality for tension and dramatic effects. […] He should be willing to be utilized and wholly integrated into the picture by the director and the camera (111).

Rope (1948, Warner Bros.)

I then inquired about one of my favorite Hitchcock films:

B.V.: In Rope you experiment with the unity of space and time. It sets up 105 minutes of suspense because you have the knowledge of the crime and the discovery of it as a constant threat. I feel it’s one of your best films what do you think?

A.H.: I undertook Rope as a stunt; that’s the only way I can describe it […] And I got this crazy idea to do it in a single. When I look back, I realize I was breaking with my own theories about the importance of cutting and montage for the visual narration of the story […] films must be cut (180).

The Kuleshov Experiment

B.V.: Yet, the lack of cutting is what makes it such a powerful situation. I think it is a testament to the power of setting and time in cinema and that there are more effective examples of the importance of editing, didn’t Pudvokin relate of some experiment?

A.H.: Yes, in one of his (Pudvokin’s) books on the art of montage he describes an experiment by his teacher, Kuleshov. You see a close up of the Russian actor Ivan Mosjoukine. This is immediately followed by a shot of a dead baby. Back to Mosjoukine again and you read compassion on his face. Then you take away the dead baby and you show a plate of soup, and now, when you go back to Mosjoukine, he looks hungry. Yet, in both cases they used the same shot of the actor; his face was exactly the same (214-216).

B.V.: That demonstrates how editing can displace acting and how a performance can be created in film through artificial means. You’ve discussed the importance of space as a physical entity, any thoughts about “space in the frame” as opposed to mise-en-scène?

A.H.: The size of the image is used for dramatic purposes only and not merely to establish the background (218). Space should not be wasted, because it can be used for dramatic effect (263). The placing of images on the screen, in terms of what you’re expressing, should never be dealt with in a factual manner. Never! You can get anything you want through proper use of cinematic techniques, which enable you to work out the image you need. The size of the image is very important to the emotion, particularly when you’re using that image to have the audience identify with it (290).

Hitchcock and Lehman working on a script (All Rights Reserved)

B.V.: One problem I’ve always had is that I always have various ideas vying for my attention which makes the decision of which idea to develop next quite a difficult one. Any thoughts on how you approach the development stage?

A.H.: Whenever you feel yourself entering an area of doubt or vagueness, whether it be in respect to the writer, the subject matter or whatever it is, you’ve got to run for cover. When you’re at a loss, you must go for the tried and true! (186). When you’re involved in a project and you see it isn’t going to work out, the wisest thing to do is to simply throw the whole thing away (248).

B.V.: Am I correct in assuming that this philosophy is part of why you have such a low shooting ratio? Preproduction had been the experiment so you knew what you wanted?

A.H.: Yes, I’ve always boasted that I never look at the script while I’m shooting. I know the whole film by heart. I’ve always been afraid of improvising on the set because, although one might have the time to get a new idea, there isn’t sufficient time in the studio to examine the value of such an idea (289). I used to shoot the film in such a way that no one else could put the pieces together properly; the only way they could be edited was to follow exactly what I had in mind in the shooting stages (195).

F.T.: It seems to me that once you get a cinematic idea, you never let go of it until you’re entirely satisfied — even if it takes several pictures to work it out successfully (314).

A.H.: I agree (314).

To Be Continued