Spotlight on Hitch and Alma in the New Film “Hitchcock”

28 11 2012

Anthony Hopkins portrays Alfred Hitchcock in his own way in the new film “Hitchcock,” which opened last week in limited release. The movie looks at Hitchcock’s difficulties in making the movie “Psycho,” while also delving into his relationships with actors, writers, studio executives and, most importantly, his wife, Alma.

Without creating a slavish recreation of Hitchcock’s drawl or picture-perfect likeness, Hopkins breathes life into the Master of Suspense, whether he is being charming or petulant, commanding or obsessive. Helen Mirren’s portrays Alma as every bit Hitchcock’s equal, returning his cool remarks with her own withering sarcasm. And yet there is a real affection behind their barbs.

Alma stands by Hitchcock throughout the arduous task of making “Psycho.” When he selects the project; she gets on board despite her distaste for the subject matter, and later she lends her expertise to sharpening up the final product after a screening goes badly. Despite his suspicions about her work with another former collaborator, writer Whitfield Cook, Hitchcock implicity trusts her, both as a soulmate and filmmaker.

“Hitchcock” is very enjoyable look at the creative process; one wonders, however, if it could have been sharper. The flirtation between Alma and Cook feels almost trite, and the specter of serial killer Ed Gein overstays his welcome. Also, this Hitchcock seems far more open with his feelings than the real one was; he acts explicitly where the real McCoy would likely not have. And as much as Hitchcock liked to say that he played his audience like an orchestra, it’s hard to believe that he would have acted that out so literally as he does in one scene here.

James D’Arcy and Ralph Macchio each have one great scene as Anthony Perkins and Joseph Stefano, respectively; each gives viewers a chance to see the voyeuristic component of Hitchcock’s personality, as he perks up at their mentions of their own neuroses. Scarlet Johannson and Jessica Biel, too, as Janet Leigh and Vera Miles (also respectively) serve to illuminate aspects of Hitchcock’s way of dealing with others. While Hitchcock has all but dismissed Miles for having dared to get pregnant when she was slated to star in “Vertigo,” he dotes on Leigh, his blond of the moment. There are glimpses, too, of composer Bernard Herrmann and designer Saul Bass, as well as censor Geoffrey Shurlock, and even Hitchcock’s beloved dogs, Geoffrey and Stanley.

The opening and finale may be the two most satisfying moments of the movie; first, Hitchcock introduces the proceedings directly to the camera, in the style of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” And the end hints with great humor at what is come next, acknowledging that “Hitchcock” portrays (and expands upon) just one episode in a tumultous career; indeed, Hitchcock says as much, first by promising that “Psycho” is going to be bigger than “North by Northwest,” and later fretting that it could be another “Vertigo.”

You can read my take on the source material, Stephen Rebello’s “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,” here.

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Hitchcock from Book to Screen: “Scripting Hitchcock”

1 01 2012

In the movies “Psycho,” “The Birds” and “Marnie,” Alfred Hitchcock presented tales with increasingly complex psychological underpinnings. The new book “Scripting Hitchcock” puts these films under the microscope, examining the process by which the Master of Suspense reshaped the source material for each into three of his most debated films. Using interviews with screenwriters Joseph Stefano (“Psycho”), Evan Hunter (“The Birds”) and Jay Presson Allen (“Marnie”), writers Walter Raubichek and Walter Srebnick reveal Hitchcock’s process of adaptation from the original stories.

The writers are both professors of English at Pace University, and they take a scholarly approach to the subject, with an appropriately scholarly tone. They dissect the underlying themes of the stories, which are largely Freudian, and Hitchcock’s desire to wrap these challenging themes in exciting stories that would hit audiences on a visceral level. The book looks at each screenwriter’s background and experiences in working with Hitchcock, the development of the story treatment as each compares to the source material, and how characterization, dialogue and camera work would bring the stories to life.

Like Steven DeRosa’s “Writing with Hitchcock,” “Scripting Hitchcock” looks at a rich vein in the Hitchcock oeuvre. Raubichek and Srebnick do an admirable job in explicating Hitchcock’s aims with these movies. This is no mean task, as two of the films had their themes candy-coated by fast-paced action, while the third failed to connect with audiences. With so much going on in each film, from the sensational publicity campaign of “Psycho” to the introduction of Tippi Hedren in “The Birds” and the lack of success of “Marnie,” which could be attributed to so many factors, it would be easy to examine so many aspects of these fascinating movies. Raubichek and Srebnick stick to their guns, however, and remain focused on the writing behind the films. Anyone who enjoyed “Writing with Hitchcock” would do well to order a copy of “Scripting Hitchcock,” which you can do here.








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