TIFF Cinematheque presents Hitchcock/Truffaut

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival: http://www.wildsound.ca

By Gilbert Seah

Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut are my two favourite directors of all time.  Truffaut is the reason I studied French so that I could understand his films in French.  The recent documentary by Kent Jones on Truffaut’s interview with Hitchcock is every cinephile’s dream documentary.

TIFF Cinematheque presents the films by Hitchcock and Truffaut.  It is an exhaustive retrospective with many little not so well known gems like SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER, THE SOFT SKIN perennial favourites like THE BIRDS and NORTH BY NORTHWEST, the latter being my personal best film of all time.

Many films like THE BRIDE WORE BLACK, I have seen 5 times or more times and should be seen on the big screen.  Others should be enjoyed time and again.

Below are capsule reviews of selected film, films by Hitchcock followed by those of Truffaut – all listed in alphabetical order.  Mots of them are rated 5-stars – yes, because they are that superb.

For more information on the venue,program and date and time of screenings,click on the link to the Cinematheque website below:

http://tiff.net/summer2016-cinematheque/hitchcock-truffaut-magnificent-obsessions

FILM REVIEWS:

HITCHCOCK:

THE BIRDS (USA 1962) ***** Top 10 

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock 

Tippi Hedren could very well be Hithcock’s favourite blonde.  She is the one of the few that is the lead protagonist in the Hitchcock’s film world dominated by male protagonists.  And not only in one but in two movies, THE BIRDS and MARNIE.  In THE BIRDS, Hitchcock gives her the perfect compliment when he has her steer an outboard motor across the bay waters wearing a mink coat.  How is that for fabulousness?

A wealthy San Francisco socialite, Melanie Daniels (Hedren) pursues a potential boyfriend, Mitch Brenner (Rid Taylor) to a small Northern California town that slowly takes a turn for the bizarre when birds of all kinds suddenly begin to attack people there in increasing numbers and with increasing viciousness.

As far as movie THE BIRDS go, based on the book by Daphne du Maurier, it is the best of the Master’s work.  The beginning credits with the winged creatures tearing away the credit to an electronic score peaks audience anticipation early.  The film contains no musical score except for the scene where the school children sing a repetitive song.  There is no attack of the birds during the entire the first half of the film except for a peck on the head on Melanie (Hedren) and a crashed seagull at a door.  Hitchcock uses the time to establish the characters and setting for the film.  The romance between Daniels and Brenner is given centre stage.  But the film’s second half comes fast and furious with brutal attacks of the birds.  The attack scenes are extremely well executed, courtesy of the Master of Suspense who injects his sinister brand of humour in many scenes – example: the young Cathy telling Daniels of the man Brenner is defending in court: “Did you know the killer stabbed his wife six times?” No explanation is given for the bird attacks, which makes all the proceedings scarier!

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (USA 1959) ***** Top 10

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock 

Before going on with the capsule review, I have to say that Alfred Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST, which I have seen at least 5 times, is my favourite movie of all time.  It is Hitchcock at his very best, with a film that includes suspense, action, comedy and romance.  And Hitchcock has infused a perfect villain in James Mason as the Phillips Vandamm out to kill hero, Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant).  In the story, no reason is given for the existence for Vandamm’s organization or what its purpose is.  Like Hitchcock’s Macguffin, the chase is all the importance and it propels the plot to its climax, the reason being of no consequence.  Hitchcock gives the villain a human touch in the scene where his right hand man, Leonard (Martin Landau) delivers the message that his girl Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) has defected and fallen in love with the enemy, Roger Thornhill.  Vandamm punches the bearer of bad news with such force that he hurts his hand.  In the climatic scene, he jumps out at Thornhilll with a climatic fight at Mount Rushmore.  NORTH BY NORTHWEST contains many classic set pieces like the crop duster scene.  A film that should be seen many times for Hitchcock’s, author Ernest Lehman’s pure genius and Bernard Herrmann’s arresting score.

NOTORIOUS (USA 1946) ****

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

One of the most suspenseful of Hitchcock’s spy films (TORN CURTAIN, TOPAZ), Ingrid Bergman plays the romantic lead and also the damsel in distress.  Alicia Huberman, (Bergman) a German expatriate whose father has just been convicted as a German spy is hired by the Americans.  Devlin (Cary Grant) brings Alicia to Brazil in hopes to arrange a meeting with Alex Sebastian (the fantastic Claude Rains); another German spy who just happens to have a history with Alicia insofar that he was in love with her.  The plan is to get them together so that she can spy on Sebastian and his colleagues so that the Americans can get a leg up on their mutual espionage.  Of course, love develops between Devlin and Alicia, which complicates their operation and of course, their lives.  Performances are top notch and special mention should be made of Rains who makes his villain a human one, with a mother obsession.  The key suspense scenes is the climax in which Devlin brings Alicia down the stairs with the villain, Alex accompanying them.  A full 10-minutes of nail-biting tension!  The overhead shot of Bergman collapsing on the living room floor after being poisoned is also classic Hitchcock.

PSYCHO (USA 1960) ***** Top 10

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

With a new sound restored print Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO sounds more chilling with Bernard Herrmann’s haunting score and the screams of Janet Leigh in the shower scene. The plot concerns Secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) embezzling $40,000 and taking off from the town to drive to settle down with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin) in Fairvale.  A storm forces her off the road to take refuge at the Bates Motel where she is murdered in cinema’s most famous shower scene, a pleasure to watch for the umpteen time, ripping shower curtains, chocolate syrup down the tub hole and all with accompanying restored violin/cello screening soundtrack.  This sends Sam and her sister Lila (Vera Miles) with a private dick (Martin Balsam) on her trail after she has disappeared. The pleasure derived from watching PYSCHO will take different forms depending on the viewer.  The film contains many surprises from start to finish, with many of these being cinematic.  The most important is Hitchcock’s killing of, of Leigh – the film’s main character in the shower, a first at its time.  But with the full story known to audiences viewing PSYCHO for a repeat, myself for the 4th time, the film still holds many surprises, especially in shots or techniques not observed before.  PSYCHO contains lots of nudity and sex scenes without showing any private parts. For myself, one is a shot of Bates (Anthony Perkins) climbing up the stairs.  Perkins (gay, in real life) was allowed by Hitchcock to interpret his character so long as it did not involve camera movement.  His sexy shaking of his bum from side to side clearly stood out to me during this screening.  Others include his infusion of suspense in many segments, like the one with the blinding rain and bright lights hitting Marion’s car windscreen forcing her to stop at the Bates Motel.  Also, the details of the title credits – December 11th; 2.43 pm; Phoenix, Arizona implies the importance of details and puts the audience in a specific and not imaginary time and space.  To have the audience feel for sympathetic towards Marion who has stolen the $40,000, Hitchcock has the man paying her boss the money say: “I carry more than I can afford to lose!” Neat too is Hitchcock’s use of voiceover and irony.  Irony in the form that Marion’s boss actually sees her, as observed by Marion through her windscreen, leaving town.  Voiceover involves imagined conversations in the head of Marion that could have or could just be imagined by Marion.  What is really neat, is that it dos not matter to the plot whether the conversation did occur but that it serves to highlight Marion’s paranoia.  The ending explanation of Bates’ mental situation by a psychologist is a bit too talky but PSYCHO should be re-seen for its many masterly staged scenes like the ending parlour scene, the murder of the private investigator as he falls down the stairs and of course, the famous shower scene, just to name a few.

REAR WINDOW (USA 1954) **** 

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock 

Based on a shot story, REAR WINDOW feels at times that it is short of story.  But Hitchcock more than makes up for him with the banter between star photographer Jeffries (James Stewart) and his icy blonde girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly).  The film is totally told from the point of Jeffries, apartment bound because of a broken leg, the cause of which is never brought up.  The Master would likely say that it would make no consequence to the suspense.  He spies on the courtyard and is convinced that the neighbour u the building across (Raymond Burr) has murdered his invalid wife.  He gets Lisa and his nurse (Thelma Ritter) to aid him in his quest to out the killer.  Hitchcock generates lots of suspense moments from the set-up, the best one being Jeffries watching though his binoculars Lisa getting caught breaking into the killer’s apartment by the killer, unable to do anything being bound to his wheelchair.  The two lovers are at logger heads throughout the film’s first half but Jeffries admires her once she aids him – also bringing out the film’s charm.  Nurse Stella says it right (Hitchcock steals a message here to the audience) when she tells Jeffries that most people look out at other people’s lives instead of their own.

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (USA 1951) ***** Top 10

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

In this flawless film adaptation the Patricia Highsmith novel, two strangers on a train, tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) talk about swapping murders when Bruno actually carries out his part of the bargain.  Guy’s trampy wife is murdered so that he can wed Anne (Roth Ronan) the one he really loves.  When Guy realizes what has happened, he becomes the prime suspect, while Bruno pressures him to carry out his part of the bargain.  STRANGERS ON A TRAIN is typical and perfect Hitchcock, an innocent hero caught up in intrigue with a smashing climax at the end of the film with hero and villain battling out on a runaway merry-go-round.  There are many classic scenes in this film – like the villain popping a kid’s balloon at a fair with his cigar; the villain entertaining gossipy old ladies with the notion of murder; a suspense laded tennis match and a strangling viewed through the lens of fallen glasses.  There is also the additional bonus of a prize performance by Hitchcock’s daughter, Patricia Hitchcock as Anne’s spritely sister who steals every scene she is in

TO CATCH A THIEF (USA 1955) **** 

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock 

There is hardly any suspense in this lightweight romantic comedy thriller but the sinister Hitchcock touches are still present – the stubbing of a cigarette butt on an egg; the dropping of a casino chip into a lady’s bosom.  The story concerns a reformed thief John Robie (Cary Grant) aiding Lloyds Insurance finding the real burglar and clearing his name of recent jewel thefts.  In the meantime, he meets France Stevens (Grace Kelly) who falls in love with him and his past, and who believes him to be the real thief.  Hitchcock’s foray into sophisticated comedy is interesting enough with sufficient humour scattered evenly during the film.  Shot in the Riviera, the scenery is stunning, matched only by the gorgeous costumes worn by Kelly.  The costume ball at the film’s climax outdoes any real life fashion show.  The extended car chase scene blends suspense and humour as the Master had redone in his later movies NORTH BY NORTHWEST and FAMILY PLOT.

TRUFFAUT:

L’ENFANT SAUVAGE (THE WILD CHILD) (France 1969) ***** Top 10
Directed by Francois Truffaut

Shot in black and white, this apparently simple looking period film is a masterful look at the behaviour of human beings.  The true story of a boy discovered in the wild and educated by a professor played by director Truffaut himself.  Truffaut is well known as a kind director and this film shows off this trait off at its best.  The boy is taught manners, the alphabet and finally the difference between right and wrong.  The climatic scene in which the boy is punished for doing right is one of the most brilliant and moving segments ever captured on film.  Also in the picture is the professor’s housekeeper, Madame Guerine who shows exceptional kindness to the boy.  An altogether most wonderful experience at the movies, THE WILD CHILD is one of the best films of all all time about kindness.

JULES ET JIM (France 1962) **** 

Directed by Francois Truffaut 

Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Henri-Pierre Roche, JULES ET JIM (JULES AND JIM) is the definitive best film ever (before till even the present) of a ménage a trios.  Jules (Oscar Werner) is married to Catherine (the informidable Jeanne Moreau) but carries on a friendship with Jim (Henry Serre).  Catherine also loves Jim.  Jules is willing to allow Catherine to divorce him and marry Jim so that he will not lose her, as he cannot satisfy all of her needs.  The villagers call the 3 of them lunatics but these are the happiest lunatics one will ever see on screen.  And this makes one of the happiest films Truffaut has ever made.  Despite the relationship problems, when things are right, the three have a really good time.  Catherine is spontaneous to a fault – sporting a moustache and pretending to be a man; jumping into the river but everyone (audience included) cannot help it from fall in love with her.  The film tracks their relationship from the first meeting, through the Second World War, through the marriage and after.  The soundtrack by George Delerue is also amazing and has been named 10 Best soundtracks of all time by TIME Magazine. 

LA MARIEE ETAIT EN NOIR (THE BRIDE WORE BLACK) (France 1967) ***** Top 10

Directed by Francois Truffaut 

My personal favourite Truffaut movie and French film of all time sees sultry siren Jeanne Moreau do away with the 5 killers who accidentally shot her bridegroom on her wedding day.  Julie methodically tracks them down one by one and kills them without remorse.  Truffaut gives her femme fatale more human feelings than necessary as she almost falls in love with one of them.  Five of France’s most popular actors of the time (Claude Rich, Charles Denner, Jean-Claude Brialy, Michel Lonsdale) play 4 of Julie’s victims, and to me a delight to watch all of them on the screen again.  This film is Truffaut’s tribute to Hitchcock after he interviewed and the Master of Suspense wrote the book Hitchcock.  Using Hitchcock’s frequent composer Bernard Hermann, the film has the complete Hitchcock feel.  Truffaut has been described as the kindest of film directors and this film illustrates why.  He does not let the innocent characters die.  The cleaner who steals and drink from the bottle that holds the poisoned liquor is emptied by Julie.  When the school teacher Julie impersonates to do away with a victim is arrested, she calls the police to prove her innocence.  THE BRIDE WORE BLACK is unfortunately Truffaut’s least favourite film as he had a big argument with his cinematographer on the look of this movie, but to this critic the film is still near perfection! 

TIREZ SUR LE PIANIST (SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER) (France 19  ) ****
Directed by Francois Truffaut

One of Truffaut’ more obscure but no less impressive feature, SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER follows the adventures of a bar’s pianist, Charlie played by French singer Charles Aznavour after his bother runs to him for hiding.  The film is part thriller part romance but i is the little details of the film that creates the charm and magic f his sensitive film.  One scene has Charlie contemplating whether to ask Lena (Marie Dubois) to have a drink r to be more subtile by asking her if she was thirsty.  When he immediately turns to her to utter by mistake, “Let’s go for a drink,” she has already walked off.  The execution of musical numbers like the rendering of “Framboise” also does the trick.  Aznavour is no great actor, by Truffaut milks the charm that has made this singer so famous.   Again, the are lots of shot of women’s sex long legs here as in his oner films.  I saw the film only once 20 years ago and was not really impressed then, but am now.

 

 

 

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