May 6, 2014
The Film, Video
and Moving Image
Magazine of Northern
Hitchcock: New Film, Dirty Old Hero
by Davell Swan
Director Gervasi apparently has Hopkin's Hitch modeled after the ghoulish grandfather in the 'Texas Chain Saw Massacre' (1974). photo: courtesy S. Gervasi
The new film "Hitchcock" is a purported personal dramatization of the production of "Psycho"—or "Hitch, hold the cock," a quote from the film—by the relatively inexperienced (almost all television or docs) Sacha Gervasi. From a screenplay by John McLaughlin and based on Stephen Rebello's "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho" ('98), it stars Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren and Scarlett Johansson.
"Hitchcock" is a valentine to the ever-growing legion of his fans but, unfortunately, not for his fan-atics. Ultimately, this glibly-made, happy-ending project is the perfect opposite to David Lynch's terrifying "Mulholland Drive" ('01), another ghoulish, top director's paean to both old Hollywood and his own previous films.
"Hitchcock" consists of a seemingly technicolor vintage expression of just how fabulous the sets were during his heyday, while "presenting" a ghastly image of the director himself, not unlike Tim Burton's treatment of "The Penguin" in "Batman Returns" ('92), or the grandfather in Tobe Hooper's "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" ('74), which was inspired by the grisly murderer Ed Gein, along with Anthony Hopkins starring vehicle, "Silence of the Lambs" ('91) .
No Hitchcock aficionado could accept the bland little ceremonial peck on the cheek he gives his wife Alma as they part in the new film. And the patrician, lady-like Mirren in no way whatsoever bears any palpable relation to the small, serious, dyke-like Alma Reville, who could well be rolling over in her grave.
Hitch's unique method-actress encouragement system consists of explicit beratement, here practiced on Johansson, perched at the wheel of a lovely 1955 Ford sedan. photo: courtesy S. Gervasi
However, Reville would beyond a shadow of a doubt appreciate finally getting her due, for her share of the power and intellect behind the Hitchcock oeuvre. (Mirren does, however, bear a strong resemblance to another important female Hitchcock collaborator, costumer Edith Head.)
Strangely, no acknowledgement of the existence of the Hitchcock's adult daughter—Patricia—is present, though she was a featured player in the "Psycho" cast.
It is material to this, that he and absurdist/ minimalist Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni were both quite aware of each others' work. Indeed, around the same time of "Psycho"'s ('60) innovative losing of the lead actress a third of the way in, Antonioni pulled the same trick on his audience within "L'Avventura" ('60), his first film featuring his actress paramour, the fantastically gorgeous and brilliant Monica Vitti—much to the chaste Hitchcock's great chagrin, we can assume.
In appreciation of the one-take technique of "Rope" ('48) and possibly Orson Welle's opening shot for "Touch of Evil" ('58), Antonioni did, while making "The Passenger" ('75), end with an extremely difficult to realize, very long, single shot. Interestingly, "Psycho" star, Janet Leigh played a role in the earlier Welles black-and-white vehicle, wherein she was tortured inside a cheap motel room.
Alfred Hitchcock confronts the suggestion that at 60 years old, he should "quit while you're ahead," by pushing the unusual "Psycho" project on, against all odds and opinions. This includes taking out a mortgage on the Bellagio Road, Bel Air, California house to self-finance the picture.
'Rear Window' ('54) is acknowledged, as Hitch is shown to be a serial peeper. photo: courtesy S. Gervasi
"Psycho" is also shown functioning as a wonderful means to shock innumerable innocents, including colleagues, the press and audience members, along with, initially, the censor. The scenes involving this "champion of good taste" are shot by Gervasi in a rather Lynchian-style.
Alma is shown dealing with the tragedy of her apparent aging and her husband's endless fascination with much younger and more physically desirable actresses by initiating a flirtatious writing partnership with an unctuous, barely middle-aged LA lothario. We must say that it is extremely unlikely that at this stage of their collegial relationship, Alma would have been in any manner fazed by her "Hitchy's" fantasy romances.
Toward obtaining the (no doubt begrudged) Hitchcock fanatic's good will, the film does ingeniously reference many of his pictures. As IMDB indicates, the dialogue name checks "The Lady Vanishes" ('38), "Rope", "Strangers on a Train" ('51), "The Wrong Man" ('56), "Vertigo" ('58), "North by Northwest" ('59), and of course, "Psycho".
If the reader leaves the comfort of their home to take a chance on "Hitchcock", they'd be wise to look for subtle references to "Foreign Correspondent" ('40), "Notorious" ('46), "Strangers on a Train", "Rear Window" ('54), "The Birds" ('63) and "Family Plot" ('76).
Luscious Olde Hollywood personified. photo: courtesy S. Gervasi
A nod to "Dial 'M' for Murder" ('54), along with "Vertigo" and other pieces of the Hitchcock puzzle, is attained via having the title character pick up Alma's purse. A very specifically pointed reminder of "Vertigo" occurs as Alma touches the writer's hand and they look into each others' eyes as if they're about to smooch, only to have the man's phone ring, which he eventually leaves to answer.
We get a nice shot in the master bath, of the couples' toilet and bidet, pointing toward "Psycho's" innovative similarity. As Hitch enjoys a color cartoon on the bedroom television console, we're reminded of the TV set that's almost always in a living room corner of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" ('55-61) and "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" ('62) episodes. This similar presence in the films, one could assume, was a not so subtle ad for the TV series.
We also find ourselves reminiscing regarding the animation rather obsessively utilized throughout the Hitchcock canon, whenever possible, including within "Sabotage" ('36), "The Lady Vanishes", Foreign Correspondent", "Spellbound" ('45) and "Vertigo". The many shots incorporating a mirrored image reflect such a constant presence in almost all of the films.
As with probably every Hitchcock flick, many scenes involve dining and drinking of spirits, although his ubiquitous brandy is not mentioned. Countless films revolve around scenes in which cars are important, particularly British sports cars. Here, we have a German, topless two-seater; an exquisitely massive 1958 Cadillac four-door hardtop that's often lovingly shown cornering with luxurious grace; a 1955 Ford sedan; the shiniest possible VW "bug"; and a clunky 1958 Oldsmobile two-door hardtop.
As with his uncanny Nixon, Hopkins does not so much resemble as embody Hitch. photo: courtesy S. Gervasi
Lastly, when Alma, with great pique and jealousy places an earring on Grace Kelley's publicity still in Hitch's study, the nearly constant reliance on jewelry to add different types of meaning to various situations is referenced. One constant barely used, however, is the director's stairway fetish.
"Hitchcock" reaches its optimistic conclusion, with her Old Man finally, "after 30 years of marriage", giving Alma her womanly, creative and intellectual due: reminding her that he's "the Master of Suspense."
As the film ends, the crow that lands on The Master's shoulder, is an unacknowledged, nasty harbinger of the following project during which he will begin his most unfortunate infatuation—with Tippi Hedren—leading to embarrassment for all parties and ultimately, his creative demise. If only the biopic could've foregone its preposterous upbeat ending, to specify this instead, we'd all have been much obliged.
Posted on Dec 12, 2012 - 12:37 AM