Friday, 8 February 2013



Exactly how can you "do" Alfred Hitchcock? He was, and remains, one of those (literally as well as figuratively) larger than life characters that it would be impossible to underplay: a distinctive figure with distinctive mannerisms and a distinctive voice. Is he still Hitchcock when he's doing the washing up? How can you show his private self when his public self is so known and recognised more than thirty years after his death? Surprisingly, the somewhat risky proposition of putting Sir Anthony Hopkins in one of Eddie Murphy's old fat suits more or less comes off. At the very least, playing someone with such a famous voice means he can't default to his usual vocal world tour of Welsh, Irish and American. Whatever the troubles with the film, Hopkins' performance isn't one of them.

In fact Hitchcock isn't really about Hitchcock the man, but the genesis and making of probably his most celebrated work (oddly, like Lincoln, it's named after the man but is focussed primarily on one pet project and its impact on his domestic life). Having completed the romantic spy caper North By Northwest, Hitch does an abrupt about face and opts for a low-budget black and white shocker, Psycho, as his next production. Paramount don't want to touch it so he finances it himself; the MPAA won't give him their seal of approval but he forges ahead anyway, and a cinematic legend is ultimately born.

There's a moment in the James Whale memoir Gods And Monsters where the aging Whale breaks off from his reminiscences to wearily ask his interviewer "You only want to know about the horror pictures, don't you?" - to which the answer was yes, we do want to know about the horror pictures. In the case of Hitchcock I could have happily sat through five or six hours of reconstructions of the shooting of Psycho: all the backstage behind-the-camera interaction and how they did this and that, with Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh and James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins. I'd love to have seen more about the legendary music - Bernard Herrmann gets one brief scene with maybe two lines of dialogue, which isn't nearly enough considering his score's importance to the film (and the Herrmann pieces tracked into Hitchcock's soundtrack are from a rerecording not even conducted by him). Even screenwriter Joseph Stefano (Ralph Macchio!!!!) is barely in it.

But what takes up too much of the time is a subplot in which Hitch comes to suspect his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren, basically playing Helen Mirren, although to be fair we know a lot less about what Alma was like than we know about Hitch, Leigh and Perkins) might be having a fling with a shifty looking screenwriter played by Danny Huston. Is it just a writing partnership or is there something more going on? And how does this impact on Hitch's ability to direct his film? To be honest I didn't care; I wanted the film to get back to the set. Private lives should remain private; it's the public and the professional that I'm much more interested in and whatever their effect on Psycho, bouts of marital discord, jealousy and sexual frustration really don't need to be aired quite as much as they are here.

What the film also lacks is the feel of Hitchcock: it feels like a cosy Sunday night ITV dramatisation rather than a film in its own right and while a few individual moments deliberately echo Hitch (the shooting of the shower sequence is edited together like the shower sequence itself) it doesn't have any Hitchcockian oomph behind it. To that end it could have also used a more dynamic and upfront pseudo-Herrmann soundtrack, and Danny Elfman's score is pretty uninteresting (let's not forget he adapted Herrmann's Psycho music for the Gus Van Sant remake!). Oddly, Dario Argento's underrated and surprisingly playful 2005 film Do You Like Hitchcock? was made for television, yet it feels much more cinematic and has more of the essence of Hitchcock in it (even though it's more Do You Like De Palma? in places).

Still, for all its flaws Hitchcock turned out to be a lot better than I'd feared, while not being quite as good as I'd hoped. More about the actual making of the movie and less of the private dramatics would, at least for me, have improved matters considerably. I'm also unsure of the scenes in which Hitch is visited and counselled by the spirit of Ed Gein (the inspiration for Robert Bloch's original Psycho novel). Stop trying to analyse and explain genius: once you understand, the magic is gone. Instead, just enjoy it: watch the man's films again. That's where Hitchcock really is.


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