Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut (Aug/1962) - Part 1
Part 1 of the 25 part French radio broadcast of the Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut interviews from 1962.
Of the period of the childhood, they always tell a story of the police station when your father had you locked up. Is that a true story?
I was just sent along with a note, I must have been four or five years of age, and the head of the police read it and then put me into the cell and said “that’s what we do to naughty boys”.
And what had you done to deserve that?
I cannot imagine because my father used to call me “the little lamb without a spot”!
But he was very severe, very stern?
They say that in school you were very [an] average student but very strong in geography.
I was usually with the—— You see, I was with the Jesuits, you see, and I was usually about four or five in the form, in the class.
Four or five – that is the [???]
I was never first. I was second once or twice. But average, four or five.
And your ambition at that moment was to become an engineer?
Well, all little boys are asked what do they want to be when they grow, you know. And, you know, you say “engineer” and my parents took me seriously, so they sent me to an engineering school.
But perhaps you did have a more scient—— curiosity for science?
Well, I was able to pick up quite an amount of knowledge of practical engineering. The theory of laws of force and motion. Electricity, theoretically and applied. I learned to be a draughtsman, which helped me later on when I became an art director.
This was following the Jesuit college?
This would be the period of about 19 years of age. But, at that time, you see, I had great enthusiasm for theatre and for films. [I] would go to the theatre first nights alone.
I would like to situate that period. This was after the Jesuit college, because when you were with the Jesuits you couldn’t go out very much, could you?
No, no, no. It was after. It was after.
But, I was so keen on films that I only—— at the age of 16, I would only read trade papers. Not fan magazines.
Then, while I was with the engineering company, I studied art at the University of London. Then I got transferred to the advertising department, which enabled me to draw advertisements, and design, and the beginning of ideas.
This was already—— you were working for film companies then?
No, no, no, no – still with the engineering company then.
Well, what type of drawings were these, then?
Drawings for advertisements, in——
——but, what, I mean——
——for plumbing, or what?
For cables – electric cables. The big ones that go in the road, you know.
When I discovered that an American [film] company was opening in London, I wanted to get the job—— not to go in, but to merely to get the ordering of the words, to do their titles, for the films.
Let’s go back a little while because I want to develop[?] this period. Did you prefer theatre to movies—— to films?
I think I preferred films, although I used to go a lot to the theatre. I think that the films were the things that attracted me.
British films must have been rather poor at that time... but there was Amer—— there are American films?
Yes. Well, I was attracted more to the American cinema than I was the British – much more. For example——
——what did you have, Chaplin, Griffith?
Chaplin and Griffith and the early Paramount pictures – they were called “Famous Players” in those days.
Douglas Fairbanks. Mary Pickford. And also——
——what did you prefer?
——and also the films of Decla-Bioscop. Decla-Bioscop came before UFA. Decla-Bioscop and UFA came together as one company. But UFA was a big distribution organisation and Decla-Bioscop, they had these very early films of Murnau, you know.
German, oh yes. But Decla-Bioscop came before UFA.
Did Murnau’s pictures attract you?
Yes, but they came later, really.
And perhaps you saw them in Berlin?
They came—— no, Murnau’s films came around 1923-1924.
But what could you be looking at then, in 1920? What were you [tape dropout] that attracted you?
All kinds of films. I even remember the French... Max Linder.
[FT] Et le films du Griffith [...] ?
[Hitchcock makes a positive sound]
Those attracted you very much?
Oh, yes, sure. The [in French accent] “Intolerance” and “Birth of a Nation”.
There were more intimate pictures than that – “The Poor Love”, “Through the Storm”
“Orphans of the Storm”? That was a French Revolution story.
No, that was “The Two Orphans”.
In which firm did you go to work.
Ah, Famous Players-Lasky. Famous Players-Lasky British Producers.
[FT] C'est ça Islington?
Yes. Islington, yes.
There you went to design titles?
Yes, but I.. I designed the titles but I didn’t go to work [there] immediately, I still had the other job.
And what was the drawings, what was their specific function, these drawings?
Well, in those days, you see, all titles were illustrated.
You mean what would correspond now to subtitles?
The framing around the sub—— around the captions?
Well, erm, no. For example... you had, in those days, narrative titles and spoken titles. “Came the dawn...” is the most famous of all titles!
Now, for example, if the title said “George was leading a very fast life by this time” we will have lettering but underneath I would a draw a candle with a flame at each end.
That’s yes [tape dropout] we will find out exactly what the titles [loud cough] That is, to say, Mr Hitchcock had to guess... which would be, [to FT] yes... [to AH] you had already sensed which would be the period [i.e. moment] in the picture which one would have to use titles... you had already sensed that, on your own.
Oh, yeah—— well, no, they would be in the script, you see, but I had to provide the ideas for the illustration.
And so they liked your ideas and that’s how you got the job?
And in my notes I have “very rapidly Mr Hitchcock very rapidly became the chief of the titles in that department”.
Well, I’d like to elaborate on that a moment. I eventually went to work in the studio in the—— I suppose you would call it the "editorial department". Which consisted of two American gentlemen, who were writers by reputation, and the head of the department—— you see, in those days, they didn’t have producers – they had the director, who would then have, as his advisers, the editorial department. Under the head of the editorial department would be the writers.
When the film was finished it would come back to the editor—— head of the editorial department who would then write the titles, or rewrite them, from the original script because in those days, by the use of titles – narrative and spoken – whole sections of the story could be changed because the actor went [Hitchcock mimes an actor speaking] then a title came on the screen and they could put whatever words they liked in his mouth. It has been known for this process to save a bad film. There as one film I remember, it was a very bad film – a drama – so they put comedy titles all the way through it! A big success! Because it came satirical, you see.
And perhaps you might use, also, titles to cut. If an actor was very bad, you could cut what was bad out of the picture by the use of—— by substituting titles?
More than that, you could take the end of the picture and put it up in the beginning. Anything.
You could save a picture by adding many titles?
But in no case could you take out any titles, because they were all foreseen in the shooting... they were anticipated——
Yes, but it didn’t matter.
For instance, recently the Germans reissued they... I think they called them Buster Keaton’s “The General”?——
...and in order to make it more modern, they try to take out the titles and it was so disastrous, the screening was so disastrous that they were forced to put them back in.
Because Keaton really worked from the titles.
Oh, did he? Yes. Yes, yes.
Well, it was while I was in this department, you see, that I got acquainted with the writers and was able to study the scripts. And, out of that, I learned the writing of scripts.
And also to look at—— examine the pictures very close, from inside?
For sure. And, not only that, if an extra scene was wanted, I used to be sent out to shoot it. Not important—— not acting scenes, no.
But, just transition scenes?
Yes, yes. So, in this department, I was able to learn quite a lot because one was learning the beginnings of a film and the end of a film.
When the studio closed down, I found a story – a long novel – in a magazine—— a novelette, you know. And I found that the story was owned by Universal, an American company. And I didn’t mind, I sat down and wrote a script, based on this story, as an exercise.
Now that the Americans returned [to the United States], they closed the studio and let it be for rentals... [for] English companies to come in and rent the studio space, you see. So, we were looking to these companies coming in for our jobs, you see. Well, I got a job as an assistant director.
[FT] Michael Balcon, non?
No, before Balcon. Before Balcon.
There was a famous London actor: Seymour Hicks. And, he quarrelled with the director and said to me “let’s, you and I, finish this alone.” He was an actor and a director in the theatre, but he didn’t know much... but not much on films.
[FT] C’était “Always Tell You——”?
——“Always Tell Your Wife”, yes. So I helped him and, meanwhile, there was another company coming in and they hadn’t got a story, and I was going to be assistant director with this company. And, my friend, who was the art director for Paramount [i.e Famous Players-Lasky] was going to be the art director. And, I helped them talk to these—— this company – which was Balcon, Freedman & Saville – and they bought a story called “Woman to Woman”.
[FT] Saville? C'est Victor Saville, non?
Yes, Victor Saville.
So, they said, well we have to get a script ready. So, I said I would like to do that. They said “You? What have you done?” I said, “I will show you something.” So, I showed them the script I’d written. They were very impressed, so I got the job. I was 23.
Oh, that was a comedy. That never finished. A two-reeler.
What was that, a documentary?
No, there was a woman working in the studio who had worked with Chaplin and she had an idea for a story – a two-reeler – and she wrote this thing and we found some money and it wasn’t very good. This was also when the studio closed down.
It never came out?
What was “Woman to Woman”?
As I say, I was 23 at the time, and I’d never been out with a girl in my life. I’d never had a drink in my life. This was a story, which was a successful stage play in London, about an army officer during World War One, on leave in Paris, has an affair with a dancing girl, goes back to the front and is shell-shocked and he loses his memory. [He] goes back to England and marries a society woman, and then the dancer turns up with child. And the conflict [???] You know, the end of the story is that the dancer dies.
And you were the assistant—— at the same time you acted as assistant director on that picture?
More, more. My friend, the art director, said he couldn’t come on the picture, so I said, “I will do the art directing!”
[FT] ...Graham Cutts?
Yes, Graham Cutts. But I did the art direction—— I wrote the script, did the art direction and helped in the production. My wife was the editor and, in those days, script girl and editor was one person. Because, today, script girl keeps too many books, you know? She’s an accountant[?].
So, you’d just got married then, at that period then?
No, not yet. Oh no, not yet.
Oh, you hadn’t gone out with a girl——?
We met on that picture.
I was curious——
We met on that picture.
In general, the transcriptions made by the Hitchcock Wiki attempt to match the English parts of the interview, with the following caveats:
- occasionally Hitchcock, Truffat and translator Helen Scott spoke across each other without adding to the conversation and this is marked as "[crosstalk]"
- quick verbal corrections mostly ignore the words that the speaker was correcting — for example, Scott occasionally has to modify her translation of Truffaut
- Hitchcock occasionally has to repeat words to allow Scott time to translate and these repeatitions are generally not included
- audio dropouts in the recording are marked as "[tape dropout]" — if the missing words can be guessed confidently, they are included
- occasionally Hitchcock responded in French directly to Truffaut — if this is simply a repetition of words already spoken in English by Hitchcock, they are generally not transcribed
- occasionally Hitchcock understood Truffaut without the need for Scott to translate — in these instances, the statement is prefixed with "[FT]" to indicate that it is Truffaut speaking and not Helen Scott and only limited attempts have been made to transcribe the French words and phrases
- where it is unclear what is being said, entire words or phrases are replaced with "[???]" and dubiously transcribed words are appended with "[?]"
- where the meaning of a statement is unclear or ambiguous, additional information in square brackets is added to clarify the meaning
- if the speaker seems to be addressing a specific person, it is marked as "[to AH]", "[to FT]" or "[to HS]" to indicate Hitchcock, Truffaut or Scott respectively
- "——" is used to represent a speaker being interrupted or for when the speaker decides to change what they were initially going to say
- pauses in mid-sentence are generally not indicated, as Hitchcock often pauses to allow Scott to translate into French and Scott often begins translating Truffaut before he has finished his sentence — where they are included, they are shown as "..."
- in general, the transcripts attempt to follow the flow of dialogue whenever possible