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.


A Thorough Look at The Making of “Psycho”

18 06 2012

As you probably have read here and elsewhere, the movie “Hitchcock,” starring Anthony Hopkins as the Master of Suspense, is currently filming. Set to hit theaters in 2013, the movie is inspired by the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello, and while I’m not sure how they’re going to make the book into a work of fiction, the book itself is a fantastically detailed account of how the film was made.

Originally published in 1990, the book looks at the story of the film in a very thorough, step by step fashion. It begins with the original, horrific killings that inspired Robert Bloch to write the novel of the same name, and moves on to Hitchcock’s interest in B-movie shockers, his struggles with the studio, the writing, casting and shoot, all of which culminated in a publicity campaign that continued to mushroom as the movie became a bigger hit than anyone could have imagined. Rebello paints a picture of a director at the height of his abilities, with a commanding knowledge of every aspect of his craft. As an example, Hitchcock would tell his cameraman what lens to use to get a specific affect – without ever looking through the camera himself.

The overwhelming success of “Psycho” had a down side, though. After years of making the movies he wanted to, often surprising the rest of the world with his filmmaking prowess, Hitchcock found that the scale of his little shocker’s success increased his studio’s expectations. For the first time, the studio viewed him as a cash cow, and with raised expectations came greater pressure to make films as products for a preconceived audience. Hitchcock would experiment again with “Marnie,” but would be forced to work with less than ideal stars or properties in subsequent films.

The book draws some fascinating conclusions for the film industry. Hitchcock’s edict that no on be admitted to “Psycho” after the start of the film paved the way to the idea that for the first time audiences would have find out what time a film began and get there at that time, rather than showing up whenever they wanted and sitting through the movie and other features until they felt like leaving. It’s also very likely that the new, enforced showtimes contributed to the end of short subjects, newsreels and double features. Theater owners must have quickly realized that greater turnover meant greater profits. “Psycho” also inured audiences to a new level of violence, preparing them for films like “Bonnie and Clyde.”

You can order your own copy of “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” at Amazon and elsewhere, although it looks like it may be out of stock right now. Rebello has announced that there will be a new edition to coincide with the movie’s release, so it’s possible that the publisher has let the book go out of stock temporarily.

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