New URL, Same Alfred Hitchcock

12 04 2013

When I started this blog a few years back, my goal was to watch and write about every movie Alfred Hitchcock ever directed. I accomplished that goal and more, and have written about all 53 movies directed by Hitchcock, as well as books, television series, radio shows and much more. And it seems that the more I learn about Hitchcock, the more there is to say.

So, as you probably gathered already, I’ve change the name of the blog to “The Hitchcock Report,” which I believe is a little broader than the previous URL, “Hitchcock and Me.” I have a long list of new posts in mind, and my new goal is to post more often than before, with shorter features on a broader range of topics.

Coming up, I’ll be looking at books that inspired Hitchcock movies, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” TV shows that touch on the world of Hitchcock, new events and more. I think it’s going to be fun, and I hope you’ll stick around!


Checking into “The Bates Motel”

19 03 2013

bates-motel5 Who is Norman Bates? That’s the question raised by the new series “The Bates Motel,” which made its debut on March 18. Pitched as a prequel to “Psycho,” the show stars a 17-year-old Norman, played by Freddie Highmore, as he and his mother (Vera Farmiga) try to restart their lives together after the sudden death of his father.

“TBM” tries to play things both ways: Yes, it is a prequel to a movie that’s over a half century old, but Norman has a smart phone and is lured to a party where teenagers smoke pot and drink beer. Yet there’s something old fashioned—and creepy—about the little town where Norman and Norma make their new home. The local law is a sheriff (played by “Lost” alum Nestor Carbonell), and, outside 04-freddie-highmore-norman-bates-bus-stopof the school, the town looks quaint, even sleepy, in a Bodega Bay kind of way.

The show wastes no time in revealing its threats and mysteries. After buying the defunct Seaside Motel for a song, along with the gothic house behind it, the property’s former owner comes calling, and he is not happy to find the new folks settling in. In the show’s most jarring moment, that former owner returns and brutally attacks Norma (really, did it have to be that violent?), setting in motion events that reveal the first of the motel’s dark secrets.

It’s clear that the show’s creators are building a deep mythology here. Norman’s mother is demanding and intent on isolating her son from his new friends, but the bizarre item Norman finds in one of the hotel rooms shows that his young psyche will be warped by more than just his mother.

Norman longs to find friends, and is quickly accepted by a bevy of teenage girls who give him a ride to school and invite him to a party. There’s a refreshing lack of bullying in this episode: At school, when Norman throws up, a group of jocks laugh at him until one who met Norman at the party tells them to lay off. Another girl who befriends Norman hints at the strangeness that’s to come: She has cystic fibrosis, wears an oxygen tube under her nose and has a quirky fashion sense, all of which scream that she is a better match for Norman than any of the pretty people he’s met so far.

02-the-bates-motel-signOf course, as a Hitchcock fan, I couldn’t watch the episode without comparing it to “Psycho.” The people behind the series, including Executive Producer Carlton Cuse, have taken fewer liberties with Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” than Hitchcock took with Robert Bloch’s novel. And as much as I love the original film, it’s probably good thing that the TV series is finding its own way rather than remaining faithful to the movie. The main difference in story detail that I noticed was that Mrs. Bates purchased the Seaside Hotel, while in the movie Norman explains that her boyfriend had talked her into building it. And in the TV show, Norman and his mother have to row a boat into a bay to dispose of some incriminating evidence rather than using the marsh behind the motel from the movie—although it could be that they just haven’t discovered it yet.

“The Bates Motel” gets off to a strong start, full of the kind of darkness and violence you’d expect from a modern take on a horror classic. I’ll look forward to seeing where it goes once it finds a better balance between creepiness and violence.

A New Trip to “Bodega Bay” Onstage in New York City

10 02 2013

In “Bodega Bay,” the new play by Elisabeth Karlin now in a brief run at the Abindgon Theatre in New York City, the Hitchcock references fly fast and furious – but those not entirely educated in Hitchcock’s ouevre will enjoy its dark, funny story just as much as those of us who are steeped in the works of the Master of Suspense.

The play focuses on Louise Finch (played with a winning mix of timidity and determination by Susan Louise O’Connor), a woman who’s no longer young, and whose family tragedies have forced her to put her own life on hold. Caring for her younger brother (Brian McManamon), a needy addict, and clinging to a

Susan Louise O'Connor

Susan Louise O’Connor

menial job, Finch has never made time for herself. Now, with money running out, Finch decides to try and find the mother who abandoned them years before. Although she is desperate for more money, there is more to her quest, but exactly what that might be, she can’t say. Her journey takes her on a jagged route south and west, from the home of George Kaplan, her mother’s former boyfriend, to the office of a charming detective stricken with a fear of heights, and on a drive to Las Vegas with a drunk professor who will not remember her when he sobers up.

Left to right: Susan Louise O'Connor, Gerardo Rodriguez and Rae C. Wright

Left to right: Susan Louise O’Connor, Gerardo Rodriguez and Rae C. Wright

Aside from O’Connor, the other five members of the cast each play multiple roles in the play: Rae C. Wright, for example, plays a barfly, a sassy caregiver, the aristocratic Mrs. Wordsmith and more. The cast takes on these roles with complete commitment, bringing the characters to convincing life. Similarly, the small stage serves as a variety of settings; lighting, sound effects and a few bits of furniture establish each location. Karlin takes advantage of the restriction of the theater and small cast, providing updates of what is happening with those not on stage by way of phone messages and appearances by Finch’s coworker back in the office.

Although there is much humor in the dialogue, a melancholy mood hangs over the proceedings: Finch does not truly know whether her mother is even alive as she searches for her, and the dead continue to affect the living as she tries to remember her late father and their family life. And love, when it appears, is less about fireworks than the consoling warmth of commitment.

Peter Brouwer and O'Connor

Peter Brouwer and O’Connor

As a contributor to the website Alfred Hitchcock Geek, playwright Karlin knows her Hitch. I enjoyed the references to movies, characters and situations that echoed those in Hitchcock’s films (including names like George Kaplan, Marie Samuels, Carlotta and Scottie). In speaking with director Sturgis Warner, I learned that there are over 200 such references in the play. The play does not rely on Hitchcock, though; in one scene, Finch meets a couple who are committed never to be more than ten feet from one another – a situation I heard about a few years ago in another context. And while the viewer may catch on to the Hitchcock references, the characters know only their own struggles, right through to the smart, ambiguous end of the play.

“Bodega Bay” runs at the Abingdon Theatre through February 17. Let’s hope it goes on to a longer run in the future.

Alfred Hitchcock and “The Moment of Psycho”

3 02 2013

Alfred Hitchcock may be the most influential film director of all time, but choThe Moment of Psychoosing which is his most important film is not quite so easy. The British Film Institute clearly favor “Vertigo,” as I wrote about here. And other filmmakers never seem to tire of making references to “North by Northwest.” But for influence that encompasses both film and society itself, nothing surpasses “Psycho.” Writer David Thomson looks at Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece in his 2009 book “The Moment of Psycho.”

The book begins with think piece on the state of the cinema circa 1960, and how “Psycho” transformed both the growing awareness of serial killing and Robert Bloch’s book of the same name into an unsettling film that was unlike anything else in theaters at the time. It had more in common with Roger Corman’s low-budget shockers, which played mostly in drive-ins, than with other films of the time. Indeed, to keep the studio off his back, Hitchcock invested his own money, with a controlling ownership of 60 percent of “Psycho.” As the majority shareholder, he was beholden to no one in his choices. Filming quickly, in black and white, with every scene carefully storyboarded and working with his television series crew, the shoot accomplished a hat trick that is usually considered impossible: It was fast, cheap, and good.

And it was Hitchcock’s control of “Psycho” that made it what it was. At the time, he was still seen by Hollywood as a talented journeyman director, but the French saw him differently. In the pages of “Cahiers du Cinema,” the case was being made that Hitchcock was something else: an auteur, someone whose work as a director transcended the limits of Hollywood backlots to bring a unique vision to the screen.

The real horror of “Psycho,” Thomson argues, is not mere murder and mayhem, but the way in which that bloody moment that shocked audiences follows forty minutes of the banal, depressing life of Marion Crane. It’s a life of furtive, go-nowhere affairs, sleazy clients, ill-conceived and impulsive thievery, an interminable drive, a vaguely threatening cop (whose mirrored shades force Marion to see herself), used-car salesmen and, finally, a rundown roadside motel. And while the young manager is welcoming and sweet, the motel is a place of shadows, stuffed birds and a shrill, unseen mother who’s “not herself.” Marion’s redemption is short-lived; she convinces herself that she can just return the stolen money, writing the sums earnestly, childishly, on a scrap of paper, before she takes the symbolically cleansing shower that seals her fate.

Thomson makes the case that Hitchcock planted the seeds of the story and its real intent from the very start of “Psycho,” when the credits read “And Janet Leigh as Marion Crane,” as though she were a featured player and not the star. Marion’s story is the prologue to the film’s actual story, just as the tale of the stranded passengers in “The Lady Vanishes” is the prologue to Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave’s search for the missing Dame Mae Whitty. Anthony Perkins gets top billing, even though he doesn’t show up in the film until Marion reaches the Bates Motel. And after all, the movie is called “Psycho,” not “Marion.” A few years later, Hitchcock would film a tale of a female thief and give it the more appropriate name of “Marnie.”

To Thomson, “Psycho” presages a decade of the horrors of war and the struggles of the Civil Rights movement. Popular entertainment moved away from musicals and biblical epics and toward tales of crime and violence. Following the 1940s and 50s, during which Hitchcock had kept violence at arm’s length and relied instead upon veiled threats and creeping suspense, “Psycho” pulls back the curtain on a new decade of frank sexuality and explicity violence. Hitchcock would see out the remaining years of his career with films that followed in the footsteps of “Psycho,” serving up violence and sex in differing ratios in “The Birds,” “Marnie,” “Torn Curtain” and “Frenzy.”

If you’ve just seen the movie “Hitchcock,” which of course focuses on the making of “Psycho,” “The Moment of Psycho” would make a great postprandial refresher. Rather than looking at the struggles of making “Psycho,” David Thomson takes the long view on its impact. You can order your own copy of “The Moment of Psycho” here.

When Mel Met Alfred

19 01 2013

Here’s a quick laugh for the weekend: In his recent interview with Joy Behar, Mel Brooks—one of the funniest people alive—discusses his lunches with Alfred Hitchcock. Click here to watch the video at the Current TV website, then come back and keep reading for my takeaway on it.

Meanwhile, here’s the theatrical poster from Brooks’s hilarious tribute to Hitchcock, “High Anxiety.”

High Anxiety movie poster

So, did you watch the video? Here’s what I took away from it: First, the idea Hitch pitched to Brooks was fantastic, and I wish one of them had used it. Second, Brooks’s description of Hitch’s meal at Chasen’s jibes with other descriptions of Hitch’s eating habits from various biographies, which until now I had a hard time believing. And lastly, although Brooks talks about Hitch and Tippi Hedren, I don’t believe he could have had any real information there, as Brooks knew Hitchcock about ten years after Hedren had broken with Hitch. I assume Brooks was basing his impression of what might—sounds like typical Hollywood behavior at the time.

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