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The Times (16/Sep/1985) - Directing the converstation in contrasts

(c) The Times (16/Sep/1985)

Directing the converstation in contrasts

In May 1972, the late Francois Truffaut met Hitchcock before the Cannes Film Festival. At the request of a television network, Truffaut interviewed the Hitchcock.

Francois Truffaut: You have always made stylized films. Do you miss black-and-white cinema?

Alfred Hitchcock: No, I like colour. It's true that I filmed "Psycho" in black and white to avoid showing red blood in the killing of Janet Leigh in the shower. On the other hand, since colour pictures, we have problems with the decors. Violent contrast - for instance, extravagant luxury or abject poverty - can be expressed with precision and clarity on the screen. However, if we wish to show an average apartment, it is difficult to create a realistic decor because of the risk of lack of precision.

Francois Truffaut: A few years back, cinematographic audacity - eroticism, violence, politics - came from European productions. Today, American cinema has gone way beyond Europe in terms of insolence and freedom of expression. What do' you think of the situation?

Alfred Hitchcock: It reflects the moral climate and the way of life that prevail today in the United States, as well as being a result of national events that have had an impact on the film-makers and on the public. Still. American cinema dealt with social and political themes long ago, without attracting crowds to the box office.

Francois Truffaut: Are you in favour of the teaching of cinema in universities?

Alfred Hitchcock: Only on condition that they teach cinema since the era of Melies and that the students learn how to make silent films, because there is no better form of training. Talking pictures often served merely to introduce the theatre into the studios. The danger is that young people, and even adults, all too often believe that one can become a director without knowing how to sketch a decor, or how to edit.

Francois Truffaut: In your opinion, should a film suggest painting, literature, or music?

Alfred Hitchcock: The main objective is to arouse the audience's emotion and that emotion arises from the way in which the story unfolds, from the way in which sequences are juxtaposed. At times, I have the feeling I’m an orchestra conductor, a trumpet sound corresponding to a close shot and a distant shot suggesting an entire orchestra performing a muted accompaniment. At other times, by using colours and lights in front of beautiful, landscapes. I feel I am a painter. Oh the other hand. I’m wary of literature: a good book does not necessarily make a good film.

Francois Truffaut: Do you think the old rules still apply, namely that an appealing main character and a happy ending are still valid?

Alfred Hitchcock: No. The public has developed. There's no more need for the final kiss.

Francois Truffaut: Why don't you film today some of the subjects that interested you in the past, and that producers refused to finance?

Alfred Hitchcock: The need for profit is just as valid today as it was in the past. Even if I wanted to make, write, play, and finance a film on my own. I couldn't do it because I would run into problems with the trade unions.

Francois Truffaut: Do you prefer to shoot a screenplay with strong situations and sketchy characters, or the opposite?

Alfred Hitchcock: I prefer the strong situations, it is easier to put them into images. In order to probe a character in depth, you often need loo many words. In "Frenzy", the killer is likeable. If s the situation that makes him disturbing.

Francois Truffaut: In 1956, the remake of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" was a great hit. Your first version of the picture was made 22 years before. If you were to consider another remake today, which of your former films would you choose to do over again?

Alfred Hitchcock: "The Lodger", which I made in 1926. A London family wonders whether their new roomer is Jack the Ripper - an excellent story filmed without sound, which was the basis for two later versions by other directors.

Francois Truffaut: Do you have any suggestions for reforms in respect to the awarding of the Oscars?

Alfred Hitchcock: The awards would have to be given out every three months, which would be difficult. The disadvantage of the present formula is that the awards invariably go to pictures that were released between September and December 31!

Francois Truffaut: A few years ago, everyday life was banal, and the extraordinary was in films. Today, the extraordinary is commonplace: political kidnappings. plane hijackings, scandals, and the assassinations of chiefs of state. How can a director of suspense and espionage films compete with everyday life?

Alfred Hitchcock: The reportage of a news item in a newspaper will never have the impact of a moving picture. Catastrophes only happen to others, to people we don't know. The screen allows you lo meet and to know the killer and his victim, for whom you're going to tremble with fear because you care about him. There are thousands of car accidents every day. If the victim is your brother, you are really interested. If the film is well made, a screen hero will become your brother or your enemy.

Francois Truffaut: "Frenzy" is your first European movie in 20 years. What is the difference between your work in Hollywood and your work in England?

Alfred Hitchcock: When I enter the studios - be it in Hollywood or in London - and the heavy doors close behind me, there is no difference. A coal mine is always a coal mine.

This extract, hitherto unpublished, is taken from Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut (revised edition) published today by Simon and Schuster through the Heinemann Group at £18.