Doug Weiskopf: Documentary Film About Truffaut On Hitchcock
By Doug Weiskopf
Recently I was watching a 2015 award winning documentary movie, “Hitchcock/Truffaut”, made about Francios Truffaut, French film director, screen writer, actor, and critic about his famous interviews with Alfred Hitchcock, which was based on his classic book on the same subject in 1966. The film included commentary by several noted movie directors, including Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, and Paul Schrader.
In both the documentary movie and the book Hitchcock and his long illustrious career in film making was lionized and his influence on several generations of directors was made clear. It was during the long segment on what was perhaps Hitchcock’s finest film, “Vertigo”, that I realized what a master manipulator of audiences the wiley old Alfred truly was, as he has utterly fooled, right up to the present, all of the smart sounding directors and film critics who narrated the Hitchcock documentary.
In his nearly perfect film, “Vertigo”, Hitchcock was able to pull off a monumental magic act of mis-direction by making a figure of worship out of the beautiful Kim Novak character, Madeleine/Judy, who spends most of the movie plotting to murder a woman with the co-conspirator husband by cruelly tricking the severely injured and psychologically damaged Jimmy Stewart as “Scotty”. At the end of the movie, even though the awful truth comes out on Novak’s character we still have, thanks to Hitchcock’s genius, the same lingering adoration for her that “Scotty” does This is despite the fact that in reality she is one of the worst cinematic villains of all time, driving poor “Scotty” to a mental breakdown so severe that he requires a stint in a mental hospital bed listening to piped in Mozart music while having spectacularly colorful on-screen delusions that would later be experienced by persons under the influence of LSD.
In all of the high octane comments the directors make during the Truffaut/Hitchcock documentary I thought they all missed the central point of Stewart’s character in “Vertigo”, who was a severely psychologically damaged ex-police detective who’s on the job trauma from an incident where he hung from a five story rooftop and watched helplessly as a fellow officer fell to his death while trying to rescue him. The experience leaves “Scotty” with a morbid fear of heights called vertigo, which Novak and the husband of the murder victim plan to take full advantage of to commit their heinously perfect crime. “Scotty”, however, was a police detective at heart and could not help himself from solving the crime, as he was so good at from his training and experience, and subconsciously re-enacts the murder, first forcing Judy to dress herself as the victim she portrayed herself as and then walking through the crime itself at the scene of it (he was able to find the vital clue to solving the mystery by noticing a piece of jewelry Judy wore when posing as Madeleine, telling her “never keep souvenirs of a crime”. His obsession, I am convinced, was more towards being a good cop once more than searching for his mysterious true love.
Hitchcock seduces his “Vertigo” audiences in large part by making full use of the highly talented veteran film composer, Bernard Herrmann, who Truffaut’s documentary makes no mention of, probably because Herrmann and Hitch had a near violent falling out after a long and successful association working on many wonderful films together, Apparently the composer refused to write a pop music score for Hitchcock’s artistic and box office failure, “Torn Curtain” (Herrmann might just have saved the movie if he had been allowed to compose the music his way).
The cinema is unlikely to see the likes of Hitchcock again, unfortunately, as it now relies heavily on computer special effects, which audiences expect to be entertained by with its fast paced violence and deafening sound. There’s not so much room anymore for the kind of film art “Hitch” blessed us with in films like “Vertigo”, which if it were re-made today would probably include “Scotty” involved in a violent car chase through San Francisco while following Madeleine.
I think “Hitch” had the view, which can be seen in nearly every film he directed, especially “Vertigo”, that when it comes to a beautiful woman most all men are born saps.