Although I for one would have enjoyed hearing more excerpts from their bilingual taped interview sessions, I can’t say that I came away from the new documentary “Hitchcock Truffaut” completely disappointed. For one thing it allowed me to enjoy, albeit in short excerpts, the sight of some of Hitchcock’s older films on a full-sized theater screen, for another it raised a thought-provoking issue: when does entertainment rise to the level of Art?
After 30-odd years as a gallery critic in Philadelphia, I would argue that it always does. To purloin the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Art is always “the achieve of, the mastery of the thing.” So whether you are contemplating a Renaissance Madonna, a Shaker table, an “Alien” action-figure or the swing of a bat, to my mind what makes it Art is the aptness of the thing. If Hitchcock was able to create films that delighted audience by their mastery of the rules of suspense, who can say that this isn’t as good as a play by Ibsen? By all means you can say that you prefer Ibsen. That is a matter of personal choice, but to declare that one is Art, worthy of admiration and emulation while the other is merely a disposable bagatelle is to be narrow-minded to the point of stupidity.
The saddest moment of the film, aside from the brief clip of the aged Sir Alfred receiving an AFI award, was the realization that Hitchcock allowed himself to boxed in by the critics. One can always argue as to whether Hitchcock or Fritz Lang was the greater director, but even if he was stuck directing a dog, Fritz Lang always knew that he was Fritz Lang, and, by God, that dog was a Fritz Lang dog. Hitchcock let the critics tell him Olivier’s “Hamlet” was Art while his own “Under Capricorn” was not. He could take a slim premise of a body discovered in the woods and make a near-Shakespearian comedy-of-errors, complete with lovers and zanies, but if “Variety” told him that it didn’t play, then it didn’t play. Critics made him embarrassed by his greatest work, “Vertigo,” so much so that he withdrew it from circulation and hid it away for years. Hitchcock himself would admit that he was always afraid to go too far–and yet his penultimate film “Frenzy” certainly goes a step beyond “Psycho” in his depiction of the affable serial-killer Rusk, as he goes about his deadly work. Oddly enough, as I recall, the critics liked that one.