TruffautHitchcockVillela: Part 4

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 three of a series which started here.

I then sought to get a few pointers on my favorite aspect of filmmaking:

B.V.: The screenplay is your favorite part of the production. What thoughts do you have about screenwriting?

A.H.: For me the film is 90 percent finished with the screenplay. I’d prefer to not have to shoot it. You conceive a film you want and after that it goes to pieces. The actors you had in mind are not available, you can’t get the proper cast. I dream of an IBM machine in which I’d insert the screenplay on one end and film would emerge on the other end complete and in color (330-331). To me, one of the cardinal sins for a script-writer when he runs into some difficulty, is to say, “We can cover that with a line of dialogue.” Dialogue should simply be a sound amongst other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms (222).

B.V.: I disagree, to the extent that I think you oversimplify. If dialogue was as irrelevant as that we’d still be making silent films. Many films have shown how essential dialogue can be such as Last Year at Marienbad, your very own film Psycho was greatly enhanced by the ironic use of dialogue especially in the scene where Janet Leigh is eating with Anthony Perkins.

Psycho (1960, Universal)

B.V.: I am trying to devise a system that ranks films based on how they stem from a type of dream. Being either daydreams or nocturnal; nightmares or fantasies. I believe all these playful delusions are the genesis of creation. This is why I think Spellbound is such an accomplishment because it makes dreams and the workings of the psyche tangible. You worked with Salvador Dalí yet avoided being too surrealistic which, is a trapping of dream-based films.

A.H: I was determined to break with the traditional handling of dream sequences through a blurred and hazy screen (163). Since psychoanalysis was involved there was a reluctance to fantasize; we tried to use a logical approach to the man’s adventure (165).

F.T: I hope you won’t be offended, but I found the picture something of a disappointment (167).

A.H.: Not at all. The whole thing’s too complicated, and I found the explanations toward the end very confusing.

Spellbound (1945, United Artists)

B.V: Not at all! Plus, I prefer some explanation rather than none as in The Birds.

F.T.: I’m glad you didn’t give a specific reason for the attacks. It’s clearly speculation, a fantasy (286).

B.V.: I found that Spellbound combined a whodunit aspect which you hate with one of your favorite themes of the innocent man wrongly accused and with great psychoanalytic deduction that Arthur Conan Doyle would’ve used had it been at his disposal. I also find it interesting that in Spellbound you killed a child, albeit in flashback, yet in that instance you don’t look at it as a mistake like it was in Sabotage, why is that?

A.H.: I don’t know. (167).

B.V: A remake is always a difficult and dangerous task to undertake. How then did you remake your own film?

A.H.: Despite the similarities, they’re really quite different from each other (228).

B.V.: So in essence you feel it was like making an entirely new film?

A.H.: Naturally (228).

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934, Gaumont British picture Corporation)

B.V.: Charles Chaplin is perhaps one of the greatest minds in the history of cinema, he thought film was akin to ballet and was against the advent of sound. Yet in 1940 he wrote and performed the most moving speech in film history. What do you think of sound?

A.H.: Well, the silent pictures were the purest form of cinema; the only thing they lacked were the sound of people talking and noises (61). Many films now being made there is very little cinema: They are mostly what I call … Photographs of people talking.” In other words since all that was missing was simply natural sound, there was no need to completely abandon the technique of the pure motion picture, the way they did when sound came in (61).

F.T.: I agree. In the final era of silent movies, the great filmmakers […] in fact almost the whole of the production — had reached something of near perfection. The introduction of sound in a way jeopardized that perfection […] In this sense one might say that mediocrity came back into its own with the advent of sound (61).

A.H.: I agree absolutely (61).

Rope (1948, Warner Bros.)

B.V.: I disagree to an extent, I believe that as film has evolved; the lines between the arts has blurred. Film is now the most complete art-form. In your films you demonstrate this in Rope you capture some of the essence of theater, in a film like Fantasia music is the driving force, Le Chien andalou and Spellbound illustrates painting’s impact, any number of literary adaptations would show the impact of the written word. Statues coming to life have long been a popular motif in the arts and film is not immune; animation is a medium of its own in the realm of film. Even still photography has made its mark and while I hate the “freeze-frame ending” as a rule, the momentary freeze frame is wonderful as illustrated in Jules and Jim. What this all means is that the cinema is now the ultimate art-form and as such the quality of films suffers because there are too many incomplete artists and cannot handle all the disciplines film entails, having said that I believe this represents a paradigm shift, meaning that film is no longer “purely visual” but “primarily visual.”

A.H.: It seems unfortunate that with the arrival of sound in the motion picture, overnight, assumed a theatrical form (61).

B.V.: Film is the most theatrically contrived art-form. Nowhere else can the final product be so meticulously planned before hand. What occurred is that sound was used as a crutch for lazy and or less than competent visual artists. This conversation is rather moot since sound is dominant because the audience demanded sound. I don’t think they would’ve been satisfied with piecemeal sound, however, I agree that it is sad that many films were less visually interesting. Yet the slide continues. In the ’30s Hollywood made many dialogue-heavy films but the set design and cinematography were interesting so there was something to look at. The audience is dictating to studios who dictate the artist and when the audience will shell out money for subpar films money rules so quality won’t change. It’s a hard cycle to break. They say “We want sound! We want color! We want Cinemascope!” and they get that and story is thrown out the window.


TruffautHitchcockVillela: Part 3

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 three of a series which started here.

When we began discussing Stage Fright Hitch asked:

A.H. Why is it we can’t tell a lie in a flashback? (189).
François had no answer, but I speculated.

B.V.: Well the nature of a flashback is slippery to begin with. When we’re taking an audience back in time it is implied that necessary information is going to be conveyed. Film is a continuous art-form as opposed to literature and television where there are breaks, so if we interrupt the forward progress of the story we must have good reason and we must also be truthful for then the audience will feel we have wasted their time even if for only 30 seconds.

B.V.: What did you think of the acting in Strangers on a Train?

A.H.: I wasn’t too pleased with Farley Granger; He’s a good actor but I would’ve liked to see William Holden in the part because he’s stronger (190).

B.V.: That’s a very good choice, Hitch.

I Confess (1953, Warner Bros.)

B.V.: You’ve made reference in that past to the fact that French films and films in general seem to be moving away from plots. Yet you’ve always seemed more interested in situations than plots, is that correct?

A.H.: Yes, I’d prefer to build a film around a situation rather than a plot (203).

B.V.: You’ve had reservations about I Confess, especially the fact that priests are not to divulge what they are told in a confessional. Is the fact that this is not universal information the cause of your reservations?

A.H.: Putting a situation in a film simply because you yourself can vouch for its authenticity, either because you’ve experienced it or heard about it simply isn’t good enough (203). That’s the trouble with I Confess. We Catholics know that a priest cannot disclose the secrets of the confessional but the Protestants, the atheists and agnostics all say, “Ridiculous! No man would remain silent and sacrifice his life for such a thing”(204).

F.T.: Then would you say that the basic concept of the film is wrong? (204).

A.H.: That’s right; we shouldn’t have made the picture (204).

B.V.: I absolutely disagree with you. I don’t think the concept is wrong. If any of your concepts was flawed it was that of The Birds because of the niggling wonder I get about the birds and why they act the way they do, even knowing that nature is unpredictable hasn’t helped me embrace that film. I Confess, however, has a great scenario.

To Be Continued

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

TruffautHitchcockVillela: Part 1

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.
-Bernardo Villela

Francois Truffaut on the set of Confidentially Yours (1983, Le Films du Carrosse)

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)

Citizen Kane (1941, RKO)

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.

Alternate History: A Hitchcock-Clouzot Switch

Alfred Hitchcock and Henri-Georges Clouzot had two lengendary square-offs for film adaptation rights for novels by the writing team of Boileau & Narcejac.

The first of which was for Les Diaboliques. Htichcock wanted it, but did not get it. How Hitchcock having done that film in 1955 would have changed his career it’s hard to tell, save for the fact that it likely would’ve accelerated his evolution and perhaps there would not have even been a film version of Psycho. For if Hitchcock had unleashed Diabolique on an unsuspecting American public, then maybe Psycho wouldn’t have seemed as shocking. Though there are some clear differences.

The second such square-off was for the rights to the book D’entre les morts. That one Hitchcock won. It later became known to US audiences as Vertigo.

I venture in this post to just do a bit of dream-casting in the what if scenarios of Alfred Hitchcock directing Diabolique in the US in 1955 and Henri-Georges Clouzot directing D’entre les morts in France in 1958.

Hitchcok’s Diabolique


So who would be this dream cast? Although the last vestiges of the studio system were still hanging about in 1950s, Hitchcock was at that point virtually his own boss so if he had a film he could do it how he saw fit and studio affiliations of actors and the like wouldn’t matter as much. Since this is a hypothetical situation, and one that involves Hitchcock, it’s essentially carte blanche.

There are a few possibilities that came to mind for Diabolique in the US in the 1950s. Hitchcock always did have stars involved but for the most part they were the best fit for the role also. For the role of Michel Delasalle, let’s call him Michael in the US version, the seemingly-jilted husband; a few possibilities came to mind.

Hitchcock did a lot of work with Cary Grant in the 1950s so his name would naturally come up. Though Grant could easily play this two-sided role he was perhaps too classically good-looking. Perhaps someone with a little more of a rugged and mysterious quality; I also considered Fred MacMurray. MacMurray’s career was a fascinating one. He was a film noir staple and later became a linchpin to many family-oriented projects; first, the sitcom My Three Sons and then many Disney films. However, as good as that selection seems, the potential of Robert Mitchum was just too enticing. Just imagine that in some alternate universe Robert Mitchum made Diabolique and Night of the Hunter in the same year. The mind boggles.

For the role of Christina, Michael’s wife who is always racked with more doubt than her cohort, only one name really ever came to mind: Audrey Hepburn. Not only is Hepburn perfectly suited for this part, but it would have been fascinating to have seen her in a Hitchock film and playing a school teacher a few years prior to The Children’s Hour.

Marilyn Monroe

The role of Nicole was one I tussled with a bit. Hitch’s only only 1950s blond that was in the vicinity of this character to me was Anne Baxter. However, there is that bombshell quality to the character which is why Simone Signoret is in Les Diaboliques and Sharon Stone was tapped for the American remake. So there was one more dream pairing with Hitch that just had to be made: Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn is likely where my warning about studio affiliation comes most into play, but I think whether Fox got involved or loaned her, if Hitch had this cast in his sights, and this property, some arrangement would’ve been made and it would’ve been a colossus.

Clouzot’s D’entre les morts

D'entre Les Morts

My frame of reference for an American Diabolique is much greater than mine is for a French Vertigo, which in all likelihood would’ve just retained the title that Boileau-Narcejac gave it in the first place D’entre les morts. However, two names immediately came to mind for the two key roles in the film and I never looked back from there.

For the role that became ‘Scottie’ (James Stewart) in the American version I thought only of Maurice Chavalier. Granted Chevalier was 10 years older than Stewart at the time but there is an analogous quality between the two that I think would’ve made Chevalier quite the amazing fit. His interpretation I’m sure would’ve been very powerful.

The blond goddess, the now seeming reincarnation of his lost love, in the late 1950s in France could be played by no other than Brigitte Bardot in my mind. Though I suspect Clouzot would’ve likely gone back to Simone Signoret for this part too as he did for Nicole in the Diabolique that did occur.


Night of the Hunter (1955, All Rights Reserved)

I’m not sure if I’ll find another instance in film history that coud’ve changed things so greatly that would allow me to speculate like this anew, but it was sure great fun this time around.

Who would you see in these films if things had gone differently?