Thursday, March 3, 2016

Intertwined Auteurs: Hitchcock/Truffaut

The Normal Theater has started doing more than mere stand-alone programming. Now they're linking the movies they show, like this week and next week's Hitchcock/Truffaut mini film festival.

Those two filmmakers may not seem like the world's most natural connection. Hitchcock, "The Master of Suspense," was known for psychological thrillers and murder mysteries ranging from silent movies in the 20s to classics like Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1963) and he functioned as a pillar of British and American cinema. François Truffaut, on the other hand, was a rebellious film critic/screenwriter/director who wrote for the influential Cahiers du cinéma and attempted to blow the dust off the French film industry with the bold, new auteur theory and by directing Les Quatre Cents Coups or, in English, The 400 Blows, the 1959 movie that helped launch the French New Wave.

But the auteur theory that Truffaut was behind -- where it's the film's director rather than the screenwriter or cinematographer or even the person who wrote the original book who functions as a movie's "author" -- fit Hitchcock, who fiercely controlled every detail of his movies, to a T. In the early 60s, Truffaut interviewed Hitchcock about the older director's process and methods, about film in general, about cats, MacGuffins and Kuleshov, about what Hitchcock was thinking when he made The Lodger and Family Plot and everything else in between, and where he felt he'd succeeded and failed across his career. Truffaut put that together in a fascinating book called Le Cinéma selon Alfred Hitchcock, which became known as Hitchcock/Truffaut (as you can see from the original book cover above) when it was published in the US in 1967.

Last year, Kent Jones and Serge Toubiana decided to do some interviews of their own, but this time, instead of creating a book, they made a movie, as they talked to directors like Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese about how the book influenced their own work. The Normal Theater is celebrating that documentary, also called Hitchcock/Truffaut, by showing a representative Hitchcock film, The Birds, tonight and Saturday, followed by Truffaut's The 400 Blows next Thursday and Saturday, with the film Hitchcock/Truffaut next Friday and Sunday.

The Birds is classic Hitchcock, with our flying friends suddenly and inexplicably deciding to turn evil and attack all the people they see. Tippi Hedren, a quintessential Hitchcock blonde, is the heroine, matched with Rod Taylor as they try to avoid getting pecked to death. Suzanne Pleshette and Jessica Tandy are there, too, along with a cameo from Mr. Hitchcock himself (of course). If you've never seen The Birds, you really need to. You'll never look at a gathering of sparrows on a wire the same way again. It will be on screen at the Normal Theater at 7 pm tonight and Thursday, March 5.

The 400 Blows is a very different sort of film -- a contemplative, deeply personal character study that follows the unhappy life of a French schoolboy. At 14, Antoine finds both school and home impossible and repressive, where everyone just wants him to behave but they don't really give him the right tools. Alone and misunderstood, Antoine makes a series of missteps, acting out, skipping school, stealing, lying, and mixing up what's real life and what he's taken from a book. His mother and stepfather wash their hands of him, so he's sent away to a juvenile detention facility that makes his life even more awful. It's a beautiful film, one that continues to show up on lists of the Best Movies Ever. The Normal Theater is offering The 400 Blows at 7 pm on Thursday, March 10, and Saturday, March 12.

Hitchcock/Truffaut, the film that looks at the connection between the two men, as well as the influence of Truffaut's volume of interviews, will be screened at 7 pm on Friday, March 11, and Sunday, March 13. For more details, visit the Normal Theater site here.

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