Documentary Filmmaking People

Hitchcock/Truffaut Documentary

I recently saw Hitchcock/Truffaut on HBO. It is a great documentary about two great filmmakers. It is highly recommended. Here are some background videos and the original audio interviews. I read the book in film school, where it is still required reading.

In 1962, French New Wave auteur François Truffaut, aided by translator Helen Scott, spent a week in Hollywood with his idol, Alfred Hitchcock, discussing the director’s rich and extensive body of work, including Psycho and Vertigo. The resulting 1966 book of interviews, Hitchcock, became a celebrated bible of cinema for generations of filmmakers.

Fifty years after its publication, Hitchcock/Truffaut brings this historic summit to life by combining rare original audio recordings and behind-the-scenes photos from the historic exchange. The film offers an eye-opening study of Hitchcock’s enduring genius and legacy, as the two men explore the technical, narrative and aesthetic questions at the heart of his work. The documentary also includes new observations from such acclaimed filmmakers as Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Peter Bogdanovich, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader. Bob Balaban narrates.

Hitchcock/Truffaut is directed by Kent Jones; written by Kent Jones and Serge Toubiana; co-produced and edited by Rachel Reichman; produced by Charles S. Cohen and Olivier Mille; associate producers, John Kochman and Daniel Battsek.


Director Kent Jones on Hitchcock, Truffaut and the Evolution of Cinema

In Hitchcock/Truffaut, director Kent Jones (My Voyage to Italy, Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows) explores the landmark series of interviews between French New Wave director François Truffaut and the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. These conversations were later published and helped position Hitchcock as a film artist and inspired a new generation of filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese, Richard Linklater, David Fincher and Wes Anderson—each of whom appear in the film to discuss Hitchcock’s artistry and the impact of the book. Jones, who programs the New York Film Festival, took some time to share his views on Alfred Hitchcock and his secrets as a filmmaker.

HBO: The film offers a rare glimpse into Alfred Hitchcock the artist—one that clashes with his public image as an entertainer. Was that a conscious misdirection on Hitchcock’s part?

Kent Jones: The public persona was a way of protecting himself. John Ford had a public persona. So did Howard Hawks. They didn’t go around waving the flag of artistry in front of the studio heads. If they had, their careers would have been over in milliseconds. And in Hitchcock’s case it was a brilliant idea to turn himself into a personality.

HBO: Toward the end of the film, Hitchcock’s standing has risen in the critical community—yet he still seems troubled about his role as a filmmaker. At one point he sends a telegram to Truffaut saying he wished he could do anything he wanted to do. Couldn’t he have?

Kent Jones:
There’s always this illusion that some people can do whatever they want. People say that about Steven Spielberg—there was this question about whether Lincoln would actually be released theatrically, and someone asked how this was possible, can’t Steven Spielberg do whatever he wants? The answer is no, he can’t. Nobody can. Neither can James Cameron or Michael Bay.

HBO: Why do you think Hitchcock doubted himself as an artist?

Kent Jones: An artist that great is going to be examining themselves and their work closely; they’re always going to be calling things into question. Couple that with the fact that he was working in a genre—actually created a genre—that was “disreputable,” and had gone unloved by critics and people who give awards. All those factors come into play. I was very moved when I came across that telegram because it’s a very basic expression of something common to all of us.

HBO: Do you have any thoughts on the third act of Hitchcock’s career? Did he fade away?

Kent Jones: I would think quite to the contrary. Brian De Palma has one assessment in which he says directors do their best work in their forties and fifties, and then in their sixties they start losing energy.

HBO: Some would say that Topaz (1969) is perhaps not his best work.

Kent Jones: We’re talking about a moment when all those guys from that generation were struggling. Hawks, Ford. For me, Hitchcock is the guy who easily came out on top. Topaz is the way it is, for various reasons. He wanted to make a different movie and he couldn’t. So he winded up doing this adaptation of this Leon Uris novel. But right in the middle of Topaz is one of the greatest sequences he ever directed, at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem. Frenzy (1972) is a great movie. It’s just a great, great movie. And Family Plot (1976), you can talk about the Disney-ish aspects of it, but the last time I saw it I found it a very rich experience. So I can’t really agree.

HBO: I remember being very impressed by the energy of Frenzy, particularly at that time in his life.

Kent Jones: Frenzy’s an incredible film, and deeply, deeply uncomfortable. And it’s a movie
that remains absolutely shocking, I have to say. That rape-murder scene is almost unbearable to watch.

HBO: Did you have any other films that are particular touchstones for you?

Kent Jones: Over the years I’ve come to love Saboteur (1942) more and more. I have a special love for I Confess (1953). He goes so deep into the emotion of this guy who cannot share what he knows with anyone. The loneliness of Montgomery Clift’s character is really, really powerful.

HBO: Coming from the silent era, Hitchcock had an almost purely visual approach to storytelling. Is it even possible for a filmmaker like that to exist today?

Kent Jones: James Gray brings that up in the film; he’s very hard on himself and says, “We’re not that good.” But really, what you’re talking about is a different orientation. Arnaud Desplechin talks about it as the “lost secret.” Truffaut said the same thing. And it’s true, to a certain extent. Hitchcock thought that cinema didn’t have to evolve the way that it did. But the fact is, it did. So now we have people who are masters of a completely different kind, like Martin Scorsese, or Paul Thomas Anderson.


Here is where you can buy the book.

Here are some cool images from Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451.

Documentary Music

All Things Must Pass: The Legendary Past and Celluloid Future of Tower Records on the Sunset Strip

“All Things Must Pass,” the upcoming documentary about Tower Records by Colin Hanks and Sean Stuart, features Robert Landau’s 1980 nighttime photo of the iconic record store from his book, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Billboards.”

Robert Landau


Established in 1960, Tower Records was once a retail powerhouse with two hundred stores, in thirty countries, on five continents. From humble beginnings in a small-town drugstore, Tower Records eventually became the heart and soul of the music world, and a powerful force in the music industry. In 1999, Tower Records made $1 billion. In 2006, the company filed for bankruptcy. What went wrong? Everyone thinks they know what killed Tower Records: The Internet. But that’s not the story. ‘All Things Must Pass’ is a feature documentary film examining this iconic company’s explosive trajectory, tragic demise, and legacy forged by its rebellious founder Russ Solomon.

Tower Records Founder Russ Solomon at Tower Sunset  (1980)

Tower Records Founder Russ Solomon at Tower Sunset  (1980)

The Legendary Past and Celluloid Future of Tower Records on the Sunset Strip

A Q&A with Colin Hanks about his new documentary, All Things Must Pass

It’s impossible not to think of Tower Records when referring to the Sunset Strip. It’s even more impossible to accept that the beloved store once located at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Horn Avenue is no longer in business.

I recently had dinner with a friend not too far from the old Tower location. As we were paying our bill, we discussed what we should do next. I joked that we should walk down to Tower Records and browse through rows and rows of LPs and cassettes, then head across the street to Tower Video to rent the latest release (most likely on VHS).

I wish it wasn’t just a fantasy. You see, Tower Records was more then just a record store, It was a musical rite of passage. It’s where kids graduated to die-hard music fans. I spent my very first allowance money on Blondie and Devo records. I’ll never forget the anticipation of rushing home to get them on the turntable! My friends and I would remove the cellophane from new records before we even got to the car. Even the store’s parking lot had its own identity. On weekends, there was so much pandemonium that fistfights broke out over available parking spots. It was the hub of the Strip, located directly across from the original Spago and a few blocks east of the Rainbow Bar and Grill and the Whisky a Go Go. It’s where rock stars mingled with locals and tourists; it wasn’t uncommon to bump into Robert Plant, Stevie Wonder, Robert Stigwood, Ella Fitzgerald, Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Elvis Costello, Robert Evans, Smokey Robinson or even George Burns in the aisles. I once witnessed Valerie Bertinelli (who had just married guitarist Eddie Van Halen) turn Van Halen’s “JUMP” record around to reveal her hubby’s photo, and I eavesdropped on David Bowie discussing English imports at the info booth that doubled as a DJ station at the center of the store. John Lennon even recorded a voiceover for this Tower Records commercial:

Tower Records was a music business melting pot. But the employees (some of which were in soon-to-be-famous bands themselves) were the main attraction. They knew everyone’s name, what music they liked, and what car they pulled up in. Axl Rose, a Tower Video employee, once shoved a flyer for his new band Guns & Roses, which was playing down the block at Gazzarri’s, into my bag. In 1976 Elton John told Playboy that if he weren’t a rock star, he would have wanted to be a Tower Records alumni.

Some of us teenagers dropped by five times a week since the store couldn’t keep the latest singles in stock. Prince’s “Purple Rain” was consistently sold out, but if you were in with one of the employees, they would hold a copy for you.

Tower Records, which stayed open until 1 a.m. on weekends, was a music venue, too. Hundreds of musicians including Rod Stewart, Randy Newman, and XTC performed live inside the store, and thousands of fans wrapped around the L-shaped parking lot to get in when Aerosmith, Keith Richards, Dolly Parton, James Brown, Duran Duran, and Brian Wilson stopped by to sign records. David Lee Roth shut the Strip down for several hours when he rappelled down a replica of the Matterhorn built on the record store’s roof to deliver his album “Skyscraper.” Alice Cooper drove up in a huge trash truck to deliver “Trash.”

David Lee Roth delivers his album “Skyscraper” by repelling down a replica of the Matterhorn on the roof of Tower Records.
David Lee Roth delivers his album “Skyscraper” by repelling down a replica of the Matterhorn on the roof of Tower Records.


The music mecca shaped my youth and will always be a part of my soul. It’s hard not to get misty-eyed thinking back on it now. (Thankfully, I saved a dozen of my Tower Records red and yellow vinyl bags. Today they are about as desirable as collectible records.) That’s why I am personally relieved and thankful to Colin Hanks for raising enough funds via Kickstarter to make his latest passion project: a feature documentary that will keep Tower Records’ legend alive.

All Things Must Pass examines the iconic company’s rise and fall and profiles its rebellious founder, Russ Solomon. After watching an exclusive cut of the film, I can say it’s the closet thing to a time machine. The images and archival footage are spellbinding. I could almost smell the vinyl through my screen. In addition to bringing the store back to life, the documentary taught me its backstory: Tower Records began in a Sacramento drugstore owned by Russ Solomon’s father, and Solomon opened his second outpost on Columbus Avenue in San Francisco in 1968. Two years later Tower Records opened on the Sunset Strip, taking over the site where “Madman” Muntz had sold the very first car stereos. Solomon eventually opened 189 stores around the world, and the franchise made $1 billion dollars by 1999. Then things took a dramatic turn: In 2006, the company filed for bankruptcy.

Tower Records founder Russ Solomon at the Tower Records store opening in New York in 1983.
Tower Records founder Russ Solomon at the Tower Records store opening in New York in 1983.


People blame the Internet for, among other things, Tower’s demise. iTunes, the illegal downloading of music, and YouTube may have contributed to the chain’s closing, but that’s not the full story. Hanks—who will premier All Things Must Pass at SXSW in Austin, Texas on March 17 before screening the film at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles on March 25—filled me in:

Every time I post photos of Tower Records on my Vintage Los Angeles Facebook page I receive an emotional response. Why do you think that is?
Everybody has his or her own emotional connection to music. At its height Tower was a place you bonded with friends over music, and people’s fond recollections are the residue of those relationships. It was one of those places that transcended being a normal record store. They accepted everyone. It didn’t’ matter how you looked. It didn’t matter how you dressed. It didn’t matter what you sounded like or what music you liked. Everyone was welcome.

How did the documentary get started?
I had a very similar emotional response [to the store’s demise] since I grew up in Sacramento and Tower originated there. I was having dinner with a family friend in 2006 when the stores were closing and I was living in New York at the time. My friend walked by the Lincoln Center store on the way to meet me and we got on the subject of Tower Records closing. At the end of the conversation she said, “Hard to believe it all started in that tiny little drug store,” and I said, “Excuse me? What are you talking about?” She filled me in on Russ Solomon and how he started selling used 78’s out of his father’s drugstore in the ‘40s and ‘50s and a light bulb went off. The story starts there and ends with him closing all his stores four decades later. That’s a pretty amazing journey for one guy. I’m also a huge music fan and have my own personal recollections of going into Tower and applying to work there and not getting the job. I remember seeing 50 applications in front of mine.

It just seemed like an interesting story for a documentary. I didn’t know who the characters were, I didn’t know what the real story was, but it seemed like a place to start.

Tell us about the process of getting this film off the ground and your seven-year journey making it.
It’s been a long journey, that’s for sure. We started gathering money to shoot stuff in 2008. I went up to Sacramento on a lark to talk with Russ and asked him if he would tell us his story, and I drove by the old Tower Records store at the corner of Watt Avenue and El Camino Avenue. The sign was still up and all the racks were still inside. It was basically still intact, just without the records! I frantically gathered as much money as I could so that we could at least shoot the store and the first round of interviews. Then I spent a great deal of time trying to raise funds to finish the film. We were politely laughed out of rooms—well, not really—but we did have a few pitch meetings with production companies and financiers. Companies like Lehman Brothers and were going under because the recession had just hit, so nobody wanted to make a documentary about a business that declared bankruptcy when pretty much everyone was going bankrupt. So I put the project on hold until Kickstarter came around. That really saved us!

I cant wait to hear about the stories you documented.
We spoke to so many people—former employees, musicians, artists. What’s a bit unfortunate is a lot of these great anecdotes you hear about Tower Records are personal stories, and you can’t make a movie of just hundreds of those. You have to find the narrative. You have to find your characters. The film is about the family that came together around Russ to help make Tower what it was.

Last year a few friends of mine were on a crusade to turn the Sunset Strip location into a Sunset Strip museum while you were filming.
We were there! We even filmed the City Hall meeting. But we couldn’t work that footage into the movie. I think Gibson [which will be over Tower Records’ old Sunset Strip site] is going to be really great torchbearers for that location. We have been speaking to them quite a bit and they’ve been very helpful. Having them take over that scared space is exciting and makes sense.

How do you think younger generations, who aren’t growing up in record stores, will respond to your film?
I don’t know, because I think this is the moment were the rubber meets the road. I have to embrace the fact that I’m of an older generation now. But there’s always going to be those “cool kids” that collect records and pass them along. Good music always finds its way into the hands of the people that want it. There are some really awesome records stores out there like Amoeba and some smaller boutique ones around town. I think as long as people support record stores, that’s the key.

How does it feel to be premiering your movie at South By Southwest?
SXSW was always where we wanted to premiere the film. They had a popular Tower Records [in Austin], and I’ve always dug the festival. We saw a window of opportunity and knew we needed to finish the film so we could get it there in time. I just can’t wait for the film to finally be seen!

The Grammy Museum screening in Los Angeles is really going to be fun. We have some very cool things planned for that. I want fans of music to be able to see this movie. I hope that everyone who went to Tower and has their own connection with it enjoys it. And I hope that everyone who worked there is reminded of good memories. Hopefully we were able to capture the essence of what Tower was really like.

The poster art for "All Things Must Pass"
The poster art for “All Things Must Pass”


Alison Martino is a writer, television producer and personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. In addition to CityThink and VLA, Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present on Twitter and Instagram

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Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles

The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

Update:The new Orson Welles documentary MAGICIAN starts in Los Angeles and New York City on December 10th! 

More info:


Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles looks at the remarkable genius of Orson Welles on the eve of his centenary – the enigma of his career as a Hollywood star, a Hollywood director (for some a Hollywood failure), and a crucially important independent filmmaker. From Oscar-winner Chuck Workman.

With: Simon Callow, Christopher Welles Foder, Jane Hill Sykes, Norman Lloyd, Ruth Ford, Julie Taymor, Peter Bogdanovich, James Naremore, Steven Spielberg, Henry Jaglom, Elvis Mitchell, Beatrice Welles-Smith, Walter Murch, Costa-Gavras, Oja Kodar, Joseph McBride, Wolfgang Puck, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Michael Dawson, Paul Mazursky, Frank Marshall