Retro Review: When the Old School Met the New Wave: HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT Makes a Big Splash at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema!

Posted on: Dec 9th, 2015 By:

hitchtrufmainHITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (2015); Dir. Kent Jones; Starring Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Wes Anderson and Peter Bogdanovich. Starts Friday, December 11; Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Tickets and showtimes here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Landmark Midtown Art Cinema continues to spur discussion of great movies by presenting a great movie about a great book which discusses great movies. That’s a lot of “great,” but it’s hard not to go overboard in the superlatives when you’re talking about Kent JonesHITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT.

In 1962, one of the founders of the French New Wave of cinema turned to his favorite director, one of the old guard, for a week-long series of conversations undertaken to establish the older filmmaker’s legacy as an artist. The resulting book (published in 1966) was one of the most influential documents ever published about filmmaking: HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT. The book worked as intended, as François Truffaut’s examination of Alfred Hitchcock’s ouvre to that point was possibly the first attempt to present the director’s work as a cohesive body of personal expression instead of a simple series of mindless thrillers.

It’s hard to imagine a time in which Alfred Hitchcock wasn’t taken seriously as a filmmaker. But even such a celebrated figure as Hitch was hardly unassailable during his time. Contemporary critics cited unbelievable plots or seeming lapses in logic in Hitchcock’s movies as detriments. He had, during the 1950s, become something of a comic figure. His gag-filled appearances as the host of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, as well as the plethora of products (magazines, books, record albums and board games) bearing his name, led to him becoming a beloved pop culture icon, rather than known as a true artist worthy of serious examination.

François Truffaut was no stranger to the serious examination of classic movies, having been one of the leading critics at CAHIERS DU CINÉMA, the celebrated French film magazine. It was there that he coined the “auteur theory”—the idea that some directors utilize the industrial trappings of filmmaking and the collaborative nature of the process the way a writer uses a pen or a typewriter, or the way a painter uses a brush. And, like a writer or painter, that these directors used the medium to explore their own idiosyncratic visions and psyches, and that much of these filmmakers’ projects contain similar themes, images and other elements that form an interconnected body of work. These directors were the true authors (or, in French, auteurs) of their work, rather than the screenwriters or producers behind the films, overriding the raw materials given to them and transforming their movies into personal testaments. It was this theory that fueled many of the magazine’s own critics (Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Éric Rohmer among them) to film their own movies, thus launching the French New Wave.

Hitch_Truffaut_book_aWhen the book was published, Hitchcock’s reputation was in need of rehabilitation, and Truffaut was riding a wave of acclaim. Truffaut was in a perfect position to draw attention to the solid artistic merit of Hitch’s films, and thankfully had both the writing talent to describe that merit and the intelligence to ask Hitch the right questions. HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT arrived at just the right time, and landed in the hands of a generation of aspiring directors who had grown up loving Hitchcock’s cinema and, like Truffaut, believed it to be worthy of serious consideration. This is where Kent Jones’ loving tribute comes in.

Jones not only offers a look inside the creation of this landmark work of film criticism, utilizing audio recordings of the interviews and never-before-seen photographs from the sessions, but also goes to the directors who have been inspired by this work. Wes Anderson probably best sums up its importance in the lives of the filmmakers involved, describing his copy as having been so frequently used that it has been reduced to a stack of loose papers held together with a rubber band. Also on hand are Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Olivier Assayas, Richard Linklater, Arnaud Desplechin and many others to express just how this book inspired them to look deeper into Hitchcock’s work and his technique. In discussing VERTIGO, for example, the documentary provides a capsule description of how Truffaut’s book led to Hitchcock’s work being reassessed. At the time of the book’s release, VERTIGO was almost impossible to see, having been a critical and commercial failure. Yet the discussion of the movie between the two directors made it one of the most in-demand titles among aspiring filmmakers, who searched out for rare film prints in order to learn from it. As a result, the film’s reputation grew steadily over the years as it began to be more seriously discussed and analyzed.

Jones weaves HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT together beautifully, using clips from Hitchcock’s movies to illustrate the comments from the documentary’s participants, and winds up being as much a celebration of the director as it is of the book about him. It will make you want to read (or re-read) the book. It will make you want to revisit Hitch’s filmography. And then it will make you want to revisit Hitch’s filmography with a copy of the book at your side. My only argument with the film is that at 80 minutes, it’s far too short for my liking. But, then, as an avowed cinema nerd, I’d gladly spend hours upon hours listening to the world’s top directors discussing this book and the two men responsible for it. For all you normal human beings out there, it’s the perfect length to get you hungry for more. In short, HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT is a delight for anyone even remotely interested in the behind-the-scenes world of movie making.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Mike Malloy Rewinds Back to the 1980s Home Video Revolution with His Latest Documentary Feature

Posted on: Jul 15th, 2013 By:

Mike Malloy. Photo credit: Andramada Brittian.

Video may have killed the radio star, or so that ’80s song goes, but it launched a lifelong passion for cult action movies in Kool Kat of the Week Mike Malloy. Now he’s paying homage to the format that revolutionized the way people accessed and watched movies from the late 1970s to the 1990s in the documentary series PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND: THE STORY OF THE ’80S HOME VIDEO BOOM, for which he is seeking funding through a Kickstarter campaignThe timing couldn’t be more perfect with VHS tapes, like 33rpm LPs, enjoying a renaissance among collectors, both old and new.

From his slicked-back hair to his Retro bowling shirts, Mike looks like he ought to be playing the stand-up bass in a rockabilly band. Instead he’s devoted himself to “playing” tribute to a side of cinema that often doesn’t get a lot of love from mainstream critics. At age 19, he signed his first book contract to write the first published biography of Spaghetti Western star Lee Van Cleef (for McFarland & Co.) Since then, he went on to write articles for a wide spectrum of national film magazines, served as managing editor of fan favorite Cult Movies Magazine, has spoken about movie topics at universities, ghost-wrote several fim books, and served on the selection committee of the 2006 Atlanta Film Festival.

In the past few years, Mike has moved increasingly both in front of and behind the camera. He has acted in more than 25 features and shorts. He co-produced the Western THE SCARLET WORM (2011) and directed the short, LOOK OUT! IT’S GOING TO BLOW! (2006), which won the award for best comedy short at MicroCineFest in Baltimore. But he’s garnered the most acclaim, both national and international, for EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE ’70s, a kickass documentary homage to that B-movie subgenre which he wrote, directed, edited and produced.

ATLRetro caught up with Mike recently to find out more about how home videos fired his fascination with film, his unique vision for PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND, some really cool incentives he’s lined up for his Kickstarter campaign which collectors will love  and what’s up next for Georgia’s Renaissance man of cult action cinema.

Having written Lee Van Cleef‘s first published biography at age 19, you’ve obviously been into rare cult and B movies since an early age. What triggered your passion for the less reputable side of cinema and why does it appeal to you so much?

I’m a rare guy who’s deep into cult and genre cinema without caring much for horror or anything fantastic. For me, it’s all about a desperate Warren Oates shooting it out in Mexico. Or Lee Marvin with a submachine gun. For some reason, I’m just drawn to gritty tough-guy cinema – which is not necessarily the same thing as action cinema.

How did the home video revolution influence you personally? Having been born in 1976, you can’t really remember the pre-video days, I’d guess, but it must have afforded you access to a whole spectrum of these movies which otherwise would have been hard to track down and see.

And I even missed most of the ’80s video boom, because my parents, in 1990, were the last on the block to get a VCR. But in 1994, I made up for lost time. I had a college girlfriend who had an off-campus apartment, and while she was at work,  she didn’t like the idea of me being on campus, potentially fraternizing with other young ladies. So before each shift, she would take me by the local mom-and-pop vid store and rent me 8 hours’ worth of Bronson, Van Cleef, Carradine, etc. That kept me safely in her apartment, and it put me on the cinema path I’m on.

Videophile Magazine; Jim Lowe and Mike Malloy on the set of PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND.

In Atlanta, Videodrome seems to be the last independent rental retailer still in business and it’s even hard to find a Blockbuster left. And of course, they now just stock DVDs. Now you can order up a movie online and watch it instantly. Do you think we’ve lost something by no longer going in to browse, and was there a particular video store that became your home away from home?

One of our interviewees said something interesting: The mom-and-pop video store business model was based on customer DISsatisfaction. That is, you’d go in to rent CITIZEN KANE, it would be checked out, and you’d somehow end up leaving with SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED (1974). Being forced to browse leads to an experimental attitude in movie watching. That’s a good thing.

VHS tapes can get damaged easily, the picture and sound quality can’t compare to a bluRay (or often even a regular DVD) and they rarely show a movie in widescreen. Why be nostalgic about them, and is it true that the VHS format, like LPs, is having a comeback?

VHS is experiencing a major comeback. There are about 20 little startup companies that have begun releasing movies to VHS again. A certain old horror VHS – of a film called DEMON QUEEN (1986) – sold recently on eBay for $750.00. VHS conventions are springing up all over the country.

I’ve always thought that the format is superior for horror films. If you watch THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) on a soft old VHS poorly transferred from a faded film print, that makes you feel as if you’re watching some underground snuff film obtained from a shady guy in a trench coat. Watch that same movie on a pristine Blu-Ray, and you don’t get that same grimy feeling.

Michael Perkins films a scene at Videodrome, Atlanta's last great independent video store.

There have been other documentaries about home video, such as ADJUST YOUR TRACKING (2013) and REWIND THIS (2013). What will PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND add to the topic that hasn’t been covered already?

PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND will be a three-hour series, spanning six half-hour episodes. Those others just have a feature-length running time. So if mine isn’t the most definitive word on the subject, I’ve really screwed up. I’m sort of glad those docs exist as companion works, because it frees me up to explore some of the weirder corners of the phenomenon I find fascinating. Things like video vending machines and pizza-style home delivery of VHS tapes.

You’ve got a pretty interesting line-up of interviewees, not all of which are big names. Can you tell us about a few of them and how you went about selecting them.

Right, many of these people are very significant without being instantly recognizable. We have Mitch Lowe, the founder of Netflix (and later a CEO of Redbox). We have Jim Olenski, owner of what is considered to be the first-ever video store. We have Seth Willenson, a Vice President at RCA who oversaw their failed video disc format. That’s just several off the top of my head. They all have that level of significance. And we interviewed a bunch of cult filmmakers, because working at the cheap extreme of the video boom was where some of the craziest stories were. Further, we were glad – er, glad/sad – to have been able to document a closing video store in Toronto during its final month.

Gary Abdo and Mike Malloy. Photo credit: Jonathan Hickman.

Moviemakers, and artists of all ilk, have always seemingly been ripped off by others who pocket all the money. What distinguishes the video era in that regard, and are there any lessons filmmakers can apply to the current wild west of digital camerawork and online distribution?

I think the potential for ripping off artists is greater when an industry is in upheaval, when the rules and the financial models are unclear. And you’re right, VOD and streaming have caused the same type of upheaval that the videocassette did in its day. So I love all the anecdotes we captured of swindled ’80s filmmakers fighting back against their underhanded distributors. And I hope today’s filmmakers realize that distributors are now becoming largely unnecessary at all. For instance, I hope Vimeo OnDemand – with its 90-10 split in favor of the filmmaker – is a total game changer.

You obviously went into this project with a lot of background, but did you find out any big surprises or delightful unexpected moments during your interviews/research?

I went into the project feeling proud that I was going to cover not only VHS and Beta, but all the failed video formats – like Cartrivision, Selectavision (CED) and V-Cord II. Turns out, they were just the tip of the iceberg. I now probably have about 15 different also-ran video formats I can touch on.

Left to right: a video vending machine; Mitch Lowe, founder of Netflix.

How different would the world be today if Cartrivision had caught on instead of VHS?

Well, Cartrivision was an early attempt at rights management for movies. The Cartrivision rental tapes couldn’t be rewound at home; that could only be done at Sears, where you rented them. It limited you to one viewing per rental. So it would’ve started the concept of video rentals off on a very different attitude and philosophy. I think part of the reason the ’80s home video phenomenon was such a boom was the freedom associated with it – you could rent a movie of your choosing and watch it at a time of your choosing. You could watch it a number of times before returning. Hell, you could use your rewind button to watch a jugsy shower scene over and over.

Tell us about the Kickstarter campaign. How’s it going and how are you going to use the monies raised to finalize the film?

Since ADJUST YOUR TRACKING and REWIND THIS both successfully kickstarted, I knew this would be an uphill battle. My only chance was to turn what is normally a beg-a-thon into a reward-a-thon. So I created a $75 level for the collectors where they could get so much more than just a copy of the documentary. The very first expense I’ll cover, if I get successfully funded, will be an 8 terabyte hard drive. I really can’t cut another frame until I get it.

PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND tells it like it was: Mike Malloy deals videos out of his van.

You’ve got some mighty cool incentives for donors, including actual vintage VHS cassettes. Tell us a little bit about them.

Not only have many of our filmmaker interviewees donated signed VHS and DVDs of their movies (to say nothing of rare, unused artwork and such), but a lot of these new startup VHS companies have also donated rewards. I’m feeling very supported.

Unlike your Italian-centric EUROCRIME documentary, you’re trying to involve Atlanta as much as possible in PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND, aren’t you?

Local documentarian Michael Perkins (THE BOOKER) is my second-unit director, and Atlanta-based musician/engineer Matthew Miklos is my primary composer. His ’80s synth sound is so authentic. An associate producer (Jonathan Hickman) and at least one interviewee (filmmaker Gary Abdo) are here too. Videodrome has been very cool about letting me shoot re-enactments in the store. I tried to document the closing of another Atlanta institution of the video-rental industry, but it didn’t work out.

Anything else on your plate right now or next as a writer, director, producer or actor?

Later this year, I’m acting in HOT LEAD, HARD FURY in Denver and BUBBA THE REDNECK WEREWOLF in Florida. I wish someone would cast me locally so my pay doesn’t keep getting eaten up by travel expenses!

Editor’s Note: All photos are courtesy of Mike Malloy and used with permission.

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