Hitchcock (2012)


Hitchcock is occasionally an entertaining film–just about anything about Hitchcock, no matter how simplistic, is of interest–and it follows the Hollywood tradition of making biopics about great artists (or masters in other fields) with the going-in assumptions that (a) the audience is incapable of understanding let alone becoming interested in the dynamics of the artistic or other miracles of creation at hand, and (b) the audience will be caught up largely in lurid and eccentric sides of the artist’s life. I can’t think of any exceptions to this tradition; can you?

Yes, the decision to make a movie about an artist or other master is “green-lighted” only if the master’s life includes some tabloid incidents some mogul believes might put butts in seats, and some bowing and scraping screenwriter is only too willing to write about those incidents. Alfred Hitchcock evidently qualifies. He was: fat, sexually unattractive to his leading actresses but yearned after some of them, vain, eccentric, a “character,” had a British accent, and he made Psycho.

He never received an Oscar. It’s both a badge of distinction and an indicator of The Trouble with Alfred in Hollywood.

Hitchcock is based, we’re told with a certain knowing tone, on Stephen Rebello’s book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. But you leave the viewing of Hitchcock with a very clear idea of the take on Hitchcock and Psycho by the screenwriter, one John J. McLaughlin, and the director, someone named Sacha Gervasi, as pretty dull and unlikely: A reporter suggests to Hitchcock after the release of one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces, North By Northwest, that Hitchcock may be too old to make any more movies and should retire. Hitchcock is indignant and obsessed with proving the reporter wrong. Furthermore, Hitchcock decides to show everyone up by making a horror film based on the real-life murders by Ed Gein, a serial killer, in an horrific tale of murder and necrophilia in the Wisconsin hinterlands.  Hitchcock’s superb art in making movies receives a trivial treatment. In the meantime, we learn more than we need to learn about Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville. And, of course, Anthony Hopkins, helped by the Make-up people, tries as hard as he can to mimic Hitchcock’s appearance as well as the mannerisms Hitchcock displayed on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Helen Mirren plays Alma Reville; it can’t matter to the audience whether there is much of a resemblance, but Make-up probably tried.

I do not believe that Hitchcock gave any importance to the typically graceless comment of some reporter. I believe that Hitchcock was more likely indignant at the demands–the artistic compromises–of the Hollywood schlock industry and the censors and that Psycho was largely a Gothic holding pen for the herd–the general audience–a crowd he must have despised deep down: it entertains them but the joke is on them. Hitchcock saw no wisdom in crowds. He was surely happy to have made some good money through Psycho at their expense, a movie for which he himself had to obtain the financing and whose promotion he mostly carried out himself and ingeniously.