Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut (Aug/1962) - Part 2
Part 2 of the 25 part French radio broadcast of the Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut interviews from 1962.
The Mountain.. The Mountain Eagle?
“The Mountain Eagle”. That was no good.
Afterwards was “The Lodger”.
Well, “The Lodger” of course, that’s another story.
“The Lodger” was the first true Hitchcock picture. I saw a play and it was called “Who is He?” and it was a play based on the book of Mrs Belloc Lowndes called “The Lodger”. The story was the house that took in lodgers and the woman of the house wondered “is the man upstairs Jack the Ripper or not?” But, I treated it purely from her point of view–– they have made it since and... they’ve done it two or three times since but too elaborate and no [???].
Now, of course, there is one slight difficulty – the leading man is England’s matinee idol and that’s Ivor Novello, but he was a big name. Well, these are the problems that we face with the star system. Always the story has to be compromised because the star cannot be a villain.
Was it not foreseen that he was an innocent–– wasn’t he innocent?
Yes, but a story of this kind, he should have go on into the night and we should never have known.
But you cannot do that with a big star, you must say “he is innocent.”
But I am surprised that Mr. Hitchcock would want to do a picture where the public would not know at the end.
Well, in this case, I think that if you have suspense – is he or is he not Jack the Ripper... if you say “yes, he’s Jack the Ripper”, you’ve merely confirmed a suspicion and that, to me, is not dramatic. But, we went the other way and we show that he wasn’t Jack the Ripper at all.
Would he have refused? Would––
Cary, at the time? Not necessarily. No, not necessarily. But the front office–– we call the front office.
I’ve read the book and I know the picture very well and I don’t think, at all, that the picture is inferior to the novel.
But I had a–– an ending for that picture. There’s a famous scene where he carries a glass of milk. You know, when I had that scene, I put a light in the milk... so it would show.
[to FT] No, no, no – in the milk. [In French] Dans le lait. A light in the milk ‘cause I wanted it to be luminous.
The ending I wanted to do, but they couldn’t permit it: the girl in the story knows that her husband is a murderer so she writes a letter to her mother, “Dear mother, I’m desperately in love with him but I don’t want to live – he’s going to kill me and I’d rather than die. But I think society should be protected from him.” And she puts it by the bed. He comes up with the milk. She says, “Will you send this letter to mother for me dear?” He gives her the milk, she drinks [it] and she dies. Fade out.
One scene–– when the–– one scene.
[FT] “Fade out”?
Fade out, it’s you know–– [in French] fondu.
Then, après, one short scene: Cary Grant, with a letter, whistling cheerfully, opens the mailbox...
[Hitchcock whistles and presumably mimes putting the letter into the mailbox]
Yes, very good, but... the novel is very, very good but the scenario... I think that you don’t sense any compromise in the scenario. It is truly the story of a woman who, realising that her husband is not what she’s dreamed of, fantasises to herself–– and begins to–– and finally is convinced he’s a murderer. Finally, it becomes less unusual than that of the novel, but psychologically really more beautiful.
Because you can even think the novel, taken from the scenario, would have been better than the original novel. That is, the character was Cary Grant was very, very successful. What was perhaps lacking in the picture were certain notations[?] on the fact that he is interested in other women...
...in the scenario, he is exclusively a little bit dishonest with money.
That’s right, yes.
I have seen the picture again ten days ago.
Oh, really? Yes.
And one believes really completely in their scenes of happiness together. For me, it’s one of your most beautiful American pictures and the last scene [of] the picture is very abstract, theoretical. And yet very, very beautiful.
Well, let’s go back to “The Lodger” because it was the first film possibly influenced by my period in Germany. The whole approach to it was instinctive with me. It was the first time I’d exercised any style. In truth, in truth, you could almost say it was my first picture.
In the first place, I took – shall we say – pure narrative and presented, for the first time, ideas in purely visual forms. I took ten minutes on a late winter afternoon in London, starting about five-twenty and I opened the picture with the head of a screaming blonde girl. And, I remember the way I photographed it – I got a sheet of glass, I laid the head of the girl on the glass and spread the hair until it filled the frame and, underneath the glass, lit it from behind. And then I cut from the “big head” to an electric sign which was advertising a musical play – “C’est soir, Tonight, Golden Curls. Tonight, Golden Curls”. And panned from the sign to the water and it’s flicking in the water and [Hitchcock now describes the sequence of subsequent camera cuts] out of the water comes the dead head of the drowned girl... pulled ashore... consternation... murdered... and, no titles... no titles. Police... crowd... reporter... notebook... reporter to telephone. He was a reporter for a wire service, not for a newspaper.
Now I proceed to show what happened to that piece of news. Typed out on the special wire service machine, there you read... only a little bit. Then you had people in the clubs looking – the newspaper people, the broadcasting people... being broadcast... people listening. Now following the newspaper and the running–– you know they call them “scintillating signs” they have on Broadway, you know they run...
[to FT] ...Times Square.
...they have them at the Place de l’Opéra, don’t they.
Each time, you got some more information that he murdered only fair-haired girls... he always did it on Tuesdays... how many he has done to date... reasons speculating why he did it... he goes around dressed in a black cloak... he carries a black bag... what might be in the bag?
But, the news was–– this information was spread over all these different means of communication. Now, the newspaper goes out. Now the effect on various people. It’s now nearly five-thirty... chorus girls are coming off the stage – the blonde ones are terrified and the brunettes are laughing. The hairdressing establishment – girls going home, stealing dark curls and putting under their hats.
That was a great success.
When it was first shown, they sent the distributors–– sent the head of their publicity department – a woman – and one of their high officials. They looked at the film and went back to report to the big boss, in the film centre – Wardour Street it’s called...
[to AH] “Warder Street”?
Wardour Street, that’s where they’ve they all the films... “Film Row”–– [spells] W, A, R, D, O, U, R.
Anyway, they said “Impossible to show. It’s too bad. The film is terrible. Terrible film.”
Two days later, the big boss comes down to the studio to look at it. He arrived at two-thirty. Mrs Hitchcock and I were not married then, but we were going to be married in about three or four months’ time. We couldn’t bear to wait in the studio to know the result and we walked the streets of London. Wondering... wondering... what’s happening... what’s happening? And finally, we walked for about one hour and a half, or more, and I said “it must be over by now, we’ll get a cab–– taxi and go back.”
We got back and I went in, looking at the people in the studio... he agrees, it’s terrible. It wasn’t a happy a happy ending to the walk – we were hoping we’d go back and he’d say “oh, it’s wonderful!”
So, they put the film on the shelf. They stopped booking it, because they were booking it on Novello’s name, you see. And about, some couple of months later, they decided to take another look at it and they wanted some changes made – I can’t remember what they were. I agreed to make about two and finally the picture shown and it was acclaimed as the greatest British picture ever made.
But I think that your camera work today is... aims to create effects which are not noticed as effects.
That’s right. That’s true.
Ah, ah! Well! That’s the change in general styles. No, I wouldn’t do the ceiling again because I would be satisfied with the moving chandelier.
For instance, because the British director who wanted to do a picture in your style – an imitation of your style – Lee Thompson had his character go to fetch something from the réfrigérateur and the camera was in the réfrigérateur. And that’s the sort of thing you would never do.
Never do. That’s like shooting through the fireplace.
At the end of “Lodger”... [to FT] “lynchage”? [to AH] ...there an atmosphere of lynch–– a lynching.
Yes, that’s right. Yes, sure.
Yes, he was handcuffed, you see, and he tried to climb over some railings and got hung on the railings... they got caught on the railings. Well, the handcuffs, of course, were... a thing that–– an idea that... goes, I don’t know, psychologically fairly deep. There’s–– I don’t know what do you think this–– what Francois thinks the psychological, almost psychotic, attitude is towards to tying up. [???] somewhere in the area of a fetish, isn’t there? Isn’t that so?
I don’t know, it’s impressed me very much in your pictures! Because one finds it very–– one encounters it very often in your pictures.
Well, but I think that somehow – I don’t know what it is – the handcuffing has a deeper significance to people.
It’s [???]–– it’s the most immediate symbol of the deprivation of liberty.
Well, yes but it has sex connotations.
[of FT] “I don’t have a psychoanalytical frame of mind at all,” says he.
And, in the scene of the handcuffing – I’ve seen that picture once – it seems to me that you did want to, perhaps, suggest Christ.
Talking down from the cross. When they lifted him down. That was my idea. That did occur to me.
From this respect, effectively it is the first Hitchcock... even in its themes because... it is a thing you’ve taken very often, a man accused of a crime he has not committed. One might think that “I Confess”, perhaps, has similarity to “The Lodger”.
Could be. Yes. To some extent.
You know the theme of the innocent being accused, I think provides the audience with a sense of terrible danger that they might be in the same position. Rather than a guilty man on the run, you see.
That is to say, it satisfies at the same time, for the audience, the desire to see illegal things and, at the same time, they might identify with the...
Yes, that’s right. Yes.
The average man is plunged into extraordinary, unaverage [???]
That’s right. Sure.
That’s a constant in your pictures.
Oh, it is. It represents every man and the average man is the best identification. This, again, is taking the audience into account.
Before I abandon the silent pictures... perhaps we would like to have a few generalities on silent pictures.
Well, silent pictures are the pure emotion pictures. There was only one thing missing in the silent pictures and that was sound coming out of the people’s mouths and sounds coming from the streets. But it didn’t warrant the big change that sound brought in.
In other words, you see, the silent picture was merely – looking at them from a realistic standpoint – it was natural sound that was missing.
In other words, there was no need to abandon the technique of the pure motion picture, the way it was abandoned when sound came in.
Yes, surely in the final years of silent pictures, on the whole the production perhaps... they had succeeded in reaching a certain amount of perfection such that, one might think, that the sound picture destroyed that perfection. I mean to say that, again, a lot of mediocrity came in.
I agree. Oh, of course – immediately. I still sustains to this day because, to me, as I said to you earlier this morning, so many of the films made today are photographs of people talking.
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
Notes & References
- i.e. flickering
- [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Place_de_l'Op%C3%A9ra Wikipedia: Place de l'Opéra
- i.e. the "big boss"
- Wikipedia: J. Lee Thompson