Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Kent Jones on Hitchock
Prominent film critic Kent Jones was in Chicago this past weekend for a screening of his new documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut, which was shown at the 51st Chicago International Film Festival. The film, which opens in theaters in early December is brilliant, a superb look not only at the details of the famous interview in 1962 between Alfred Hitchcock and French director François Truffaut, but also an examination of several scenes from Hitchcock's finest works, as analyzed by such notable current film directors such as Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Arnaud Desplechin and several others.
Per agreement with the film's distributor, I cannot post my full review until the film's theatrical release, but I was able to conduct a brief phone interview with Jones. While technical issues on my end precluded me from transcribing the entire interview, I can give you some highlights.
I mentioned to Jones that I thoroughly enjoyed the musical score by composer Jeremiah Bornfield; subtle, quiet and edgy, the music recalls the spirit of Bernard Herrmann's finest work for Hitchcock without ever borrowing from it.
"That's interesting, " Jones commented, after thanking me. "We purposely didn't want a Herrmann-like score for this film. I was looking for something like what Johnny Greenwood wrote for There Will Be Blood. "But I'm extremely pleased with Bornfield's score."
I asked Jones, about his beginnings in film- did he go to film school? "I did, but I didn't stay very long- film school and I weren't meant to be," he replied. He mentioned, however, that he was stirred on by the tv documentary series in the 1970s, The Men Who Made the Movies, produced by film critic Richard Schickel. "It influenced me greatly," he told me. "I discovered there was such a thing as a director and an editor."
I asked Jones, who has just turned 55, about his first viewing of a Hitchcock film. "It was a 2-D print of Dial M for Murder," he replied, which he saw in college. Later on, his mother took him to see old prints of such Hitchock classics as The 39 Steps and Psycho.
In Hitchcock/Truffaut, there is a sequence in which Martin Scorsese describes one particular shot in the film Topaz (1969), in which a character turns his head a little to answer a question. Scorsese points out the slightly overhead angle of the camera so that we, the audience, can see this person's eyes faintly shift; for Scorsese, this shot tells us that we know the character is lying. It's a remarkable piece of analysis by Scorsese and of course, a marvelous, subtle piece of directing by Hitchcock.
I asked Jones if he thought that any evaluation such as this was being taught in film schools today. "I can assure you that it is not being taught in film schools," was his reply. I mentioned that this sort of analysis was not something the average film goer would pick up on. Jones agreed, but added, that Hitchcock, "was doing something that wasn't going to be noticed. It's just a fabric of what he was trying to achieve." Excellent scrutiny by Jones, as well!
I also asked Jones if he interviewed everyone he wanted to for commentary in this film. He said basically he did, except for Brian de Palma, whom he had asked, but opted to decline, as there is a new documentary coming out about him; thus de Palma was reserving his comments. When I asked Jones as to why he didn't talk to Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, who has written at length about Hitchcock's films, Jones basically told me that del Toro's work is in print for anyone to read.
Jones concluded the interview by stating that he is not into the idea of Hitchcock's perversity, as was suggested by critic Donald Spoto in one of his books (written, incidentally, after Hitchcock had passed away.) "There is so much moralizing throughout the culture today," Jones stated. "People love to point the finger." He continued on this topic by saying that "these conversations about women - they're not real issues in the film."
Clearly, Kent Jones admires the art of Alfred Hitchcock; his documentary is solid proof of that. It's also arguably the finest film ever about the great director. I highly recommend it - congratulations, Kent!