LOS ANGELES, May 21, 2013 – Alfred Hitchcock is back in all his enigmatic and suspenseful glory. Well, kind of. In the star-studded biopic “Hitchcock,” director Sacha Gervasi (see the wonderful film “Anvil: The Story of Anvil”) brings the arduous making of “Psycho” to cinematic life in a straightforward yet spookily pleasant new comedy-drama surely to amuse the curious and depraved, as well as resurrect the age old inquiry: is Hollywood too bureaucratic?
The film, based on the non-fiction book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” by screenwriter Stephen Rebello, depicts Hitchcock in a much friendlier light than HBO’s recent television production “The Girl” portraying him as a neurotic, sex-starved deviant. And Anthony Hopkins, who’s no greenhorn when it comes to portraying the strange, does a fabulous job of humanizing the complicated and eccentric genius. “Hitchcock,” however, successfully extends beyond the mysterious brain of just Hitchcock.
Gervasi’s examination of Hitchcock struggling to transfer “Psycho” from book to screen is both a subtle commentary on how far Hollywood has come, and how far Hollywood hasn’t. On one hand, we’re reminded of the overbearing suitability regulations (then known as the Hays Code) that once stifled and inhibited directors. Hitchcock had to seek permission from a censorship board merely to depict a toilet on screen.
On the other, we’re reminded of the heavy price artists often unfairly pay for merely trying something different. Hitchcock was largely ostracized for embarking on a new artistic pathway, despite the fact he had already directed a number of successful movies prior to “Psycho,” including the masterpiece “North by Northwest.”
“Hitchcock” is also a love story of sorts that illuminates Hitchcock’s often overlooked and underrated wife, Alma Reville, played by Academy Award winner Helen Mirren (“The Queen”). Alma is depicted as strong and driven, a talented artist in her own right who must sometimes tie up the loose ends Hitchcock leaves behind. According to the film, Alma even helped direct part of “Psycho” while Hitchcock lay sick in bed at home, wrestling with his personal demons.
Despite the implication that she flirted with an extramarital affair, Alma remains faithful to Hitchcock until the very end, just as she did in real life. There’s no question, however, that at times she feels emotionally deserted, socially neglected, and even sexually frustrated by a man who frequently careens unpredictably within the shadowy boundary between megalomania and genius. In real life, Hitchcock wasn’t exactly known for his bubbly people skills.
We can see Alma (and others) in action in the following trailer issued for the U.S. release of the film:
In selected moments of this film, John McLaughlin’s screenplay is vaguely reminiscent of “Fight Club” or Quentin Tarantino’s “True Romance” (directed by Tony Scott) in that its main character, Hitchcock, spends a conspicuous portion of his time conversing with an evil figment of his dark and creative imagination. In the past, this kind of excursion has been a bit of a gamble in a movie, but in this case it works well and accents the story nicely.
One of the film’s more entertaining moments occurs as Hitchcock unleashes his thunderous displeasure on actress Janet Leigh, gracefully played by Scarlett Johansson, while filming “Psycho’s” infamous shower scene. In an effort to portray a more desirable and believable murder sequence, Hitchcock irately swipes the butcher knife away from one of the prop masters and indiscriminately lashes it in the direction of an utterly horrified Leigh—instantly generating the scream he was looking for. The only other director likely to try something like that might be Werner Herzog, who once famously threatened to shoot actor Klaus Kinski on the set of “Aguirre, the Wrath of God.”
“Hitchcock” was recently released internationally, following a relatively tranquil winter run in the U.S. and Canada. It’s likely to be a quiet success. After all, if there’s one director whose name resonates and garners shrieks across the globe, it’s Alfred Hitchcock.
When dealing with a Hollywood treatment of an historical figure, one can never be too certain how much of the “true story” is actual truth and how much is cinematic license (NPR explores that here). Yet it’s probably a safe assumption that Hitchcock wouldn’t have cared either way so long as the film, in his own cryptic words, gave audiences pleasure—“the same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.”
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