Film buffs take note: two excellent documentaries are available for home viewing beginning this week. Kent Jones’s Hitchcock/Truffaut debuts tonight on HBO at 9:00pm. Gillian Armstrong’s Women He’s Undressed, the revealing story of Oscar-winning costume designer Orry-Kelly, makes its debut on VOD and DVD tomorrow from Wolfe Video. The films are as different in approach and content as their subjects.
I first saw Hitchcock/Truffaut at the Telluride Film Festival last fall, where it met with enthusiastic response, especially from baby boomers like me who grew up on the book of the same name, a lengthy conversation between the brilliant auteur François Truffaut and the redoubtable Alfred Hitchcock.
Now, almost fifty years later, the man who collaborated with Martin Scorsese on the documentaries My Voyage to Italy and A Letter to Elia has made a heartfelt film about the Hitchcock-Truffaut enterprise. Kent Jones draws on the original audiotapes, Philippe Halsman’s photographs of their interview, and generous excerpts from Hitchcock’s films. He then enhances this raw material with articulate observations from some of today’s leading directors who grew up with that influential book including David Fincher, Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Peter Bogdanovich, James Gray, and Scorsese, among others. The result is a joyous experience for any movie lover. It’s also heartening to know that so many of today’s finest filmmakers carry a deep knowledge of (and appreciation for) Hitchcock’s work with them.
Hitchcock/Truffaut, written by Jones and Serge Toubiana, will have a long life, I’m sure, and become required viewing just as the book that inspired it has become a standard work. Other HBO playdates: Aug. 11 (4:30 pm), 13 (1:45 pm), 18 (3:00 pm, 12:30 am), 24 (11:30 am) and 30 (1:30 am). HBO2 playdates: Aug. 10 (11:30 pm), 15 (1:45 pm, 8:00 pm), 21 (12:30 pm) and 29 (4:00 am). The documentary will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand.
Women He’s Undressed was a passion project for director Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career, Little Women, Oscar and Lucinda), who wanted to pay overdue tribute to a fellow Aussie who made a lasting impression in Hollywood—both on and off-screen. A three-time Oscar winner (for An American in Paris, Les Girls and Some Like It Hot) who worked on 300 movies, from Casablanca to Auntie Mame, he was also an unapologetic, uncloseted gay man. Inspired by his unpublished memoir, Armstrong has talented actor Darren Gilshenan play the role of Orry-Kelly and tell his dramatic life story first-hand, so to speak. Deborah Kennedy is also quite good as his devoted mother. It’s an unusual device that takes some warming up to, but it works—and I say this as someone who usually doesn’t care for dramatic re-creations.
This material is augmented by stunning film clips and fresh, candid interviews with Jane Fonda, Angela Lansbury, costume designers Catherine Martin, Michael Wilkinson, Colleen Atwood and the outspoken Ann Roth, who worked as Kelly’s assistant when she was just starting out. I am also onscreen in my role as film historian, alongside Deborah Nadoolman Landis, David Chierichetti, and others.
I won’t spoil the eyebrow-raising revelation that dominates the film. If you’ve read about it already you know how provocative it is, since leading men in the golden age of Hollywood couldn’t betray a hint of homosexuality… but facts are facts and Orry-Kelly is the source.