Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Ok, so Scarlett Johansen doesn't look like Janet Leigh, Helen Mirren doesn't look like Alma Hitchcock and Anthony Hopkins, despite make-up costing the budget of seveal independent features, doesn't look like Hitch. All the reviews I've heard about this movie start out this way and it seems to colour the tone of them.

We accept far more of a gap in resemblance when we see it on stage because we expect film to give us a more note perfect illusion. But how can that form part of any valid criticism of a film that plays the cinema as artifice card so crucially? To be fair, it's probably because there is an inconsistency across the cast of the level of the attempt. Tony's in the fat suit and prosthetic double chin whereas Scarlett and Hel end at the wigs.

The Tony Perkins, however, is really convincing but his nervy performance reminds me of what Chopper Read said about the Heath Franklin's impersonation of him that it was based not on himself but on Eric Bana's performance in Chopper. James D'Arcy's creation is offered in imitation of Norman Bates rather than Anthony Perkins. Bad thing or good thing? Moot: his role is a lot smaller than it is in Psycho and is almost there for some perfunctory padding. Worth a thought by comparison with the others, though.

Still, this isn't a documentary, it's a fiction film and we should be concentrating on how well the themes of adultery (real or imaginary), sharing credit and how mainstream art can be pushed. How does it do on those scores? Pretty well ... if in a digestibly mainstream way.

If I were true to my claim of finding the above criticism objectionably irrelevant I would have begun this way: I love movies about movies, deep or shallow, glorious or grimy, and this is a good one.

It's 1960 and Alfred Hitchcock is a world-renowned film director known as the master of suspense. He's getting a lot of insinuation about ageing and losing his touch so he choses a risky horror story as his next project against the advice of everyone he knows or works with. Striking a risky deal with a studio the film, Psycho, gets under way and the real drama begins on set and off as Hitch pushes his players with a sadistic intensity and grows smoulderingly angry about his suspicions of his wife's infidelity. Blend with this the theme of ingratitude held by his wife Alma whose work for his has been essential and decades long and her sense of betrayal at her husband's uneasy relationships with his famous blonde leading ladies.

Resentment, betrayal, adultery, public expectations, self-doubt, exploitation, abuse of position, career frustrations etc are on the boil ... So there is a point to all the dress-ups. But for me it's still the bits that keep me nourished rather than the whole table: Hitch playing conductor and grotesque ballet dancer in the cinema foyeur as Psycho's first audiences find out what they paid for; the invisible weapons that take the air between director and star. There's a lot a fine turns on screen here.

Another thing that has bothered some reviewers but I emjoyed was the presence of Ed Gein. Gein's crimes of grave robbing, serial murder and human taxidermy inspired Robert Bloch to write the novel Psycho and Gein provides a continual touch point for Hitchcock who appears in scenes with him as a troublingly unaffected observer. What might well have been an easy-come-by trick served for me as a solid expression of the extent to which an artist might long to go but is saved from doing so by his art. It's not Bergman but it doesn't pretend to be. This is Hitchcock who saw himself primarily as a commercial filmmaker, regardless of how much art Truffaut got him admitting to.

So, I liked the obvious shortfalls in resemblance, the tropes and forced dramatics of Hitchcock because they blend so pleasantly into a great big choctop of a movie. I think it's likely that something will soon pass before my eyes which will erase this film from my memory but before that happens I'd like to compare it favourably against a film which attempts something similar but fails at every step (here, for some I know I am committing sacrilege): The Stuntman. That film pontificates with great leaden bowling balls of cynicism about the moral imperatives of the filmmaker, lurching with thundr'ous steps t'ward a goofy little line at the end. Hitchcock does some fine work but still is happy enough selling popcorn. Try some.

1 comment:

  1. Peter, I agree with you. Critics have been unfair. A lot of what Hitch says in the movie & his attitude to Vera Miles is very accurate - some are direct quotes. He notoriously hated method acting, refusing to "direct" actors. His peeping through blinds was fun echoing "Rear Window." I liked the way the characters echoed each other, with something to hide. I think the Ed Gein sequences are valid, as they show the kind of film Psycho would have been if made today. For more, see a good book on Hitch & Alma
    "Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies" by Donald Spoto. Excellent expose of his growing alcoholism, his mad obsession with Tipi Heddren etc. All up, a thoroughly entertaining film.