The Alfred Hitchcock Encyclopedia by Stephen Whitty (Rowman and Littlefield, 532 pages, $80). Alfred Hitchcock is very much in season at the moment. His birthday is Aug. 13. And on Aug. 8 at 9 p.m. on HBO, the cable network will begin showing Kent Jones’ documentary film called “Hitchcock/Truffaut” in which stills from Francois Truffaut’s interview sessions with Hitchcock are seen along with tapes heard from the original sessions with the two great filmmakers.
Here is how critic Stephen Whitty describes the original “Hitchcock/Truffaut” book that Kent Jones turned into a film where “filmmakers talk about how the famous book length interview influenced their life and work”: “Along with ‘Hitchcock’s Films’ by Robin Wood, perhaps the essential book on the director’s work.” Truffaut’s interviews stretched to “50 hours of recorded tapes; after four years of transcription, editing, fact-checking and illustration research, the book was published in France in 1966 and in America the following year.” But adds Whitty “ (Truffaut) fails to follow-up on Hitchcock’s own allusions, functioning chiefly as a highly intelligent stenographer.”
And that’s only one small reason why Whitty’s Hitchcock encyclopedia might be added to the “essential” books about Hitchcock’s work. Obviously entries on all the films are here along with everyone involved and the films about Hitchcock. Also included are entries on Hitchcock’s intersections with critics like Pauline Kael, and even, in passing, the psychiatric phenomenon of “transference” which begins thusly: “Guilt is a movable feast in Hitchcock, a thing neither tied to a person or an action. What does one have to feel guilty about? In Hitchcock’s darkly brooding, extremely Catholic world, sometimes it seems as if – well, what doesn’t one have to feel guilty about? No matter how guilty the villain is there’s always enough guilt to be transferred back to the hero.” In the entry on Bernard Herrmann, Whitty tells us that Herrmann, after their break over the studio forcing Herrmann out of “Torn Curtain,” said to Hitchcock “What do you find in common with these hoodlums? ... What did they ever do? Make you rich? Well, I’m ashamed of you.” A book as smart and witty as it is informative. – Jeff Simon