Friday, April 5, 2013

Stubs - Hitchcock (2012)

Hitchcock (2012) Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette, Dabbt Huston, Jessica Biel, James D’Arcy. Screenplay by John J. McLaughlin. Based on Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello. Directed by Sacha Gervasi. Produced by Ivan Reitman, Tom Pollock, Joe Medjuck, Alan Barnette, Tom Thayer. Run Time: 98 minutes. Color. U.S. Biography.

Alfred Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors, his film Notorious made my top ten list and remains firmly on the list. Like anyone that has a long career, there are ebbs and flows. Some films are treated like classics, while others fall to the wayside through time. The film Hitchcock, deals with the making of one of the director’s best known and most famous (infamous) movies, Psycho (1960).

The movie, based on the book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making by Psycho by Stephen Rebello, discusses not only Hitchcock’s (Anthony Hopkins) creative process in making Psycho, but also in his collaborative and sometimes feisty relationship with his wife, Alma (Helen Mirren). As noted in our earlier review, Psycho was ahead of its time and was not viewed by Hitchcock’s colleagues as a suitable follow up to 1959’s North by Northwest.

Alma (Helen Mirren) and Alfred (Anthony Hopkins) Hitchcock.
Based on the novel, Psycho by Robert Bloch, the story is based on the crimes of serial killer Ed Gein, who confessed to killing two women, Mary Hogan in 1954 and Bernice Worden in 1957. The details of Gein’s crimes are very gruesome and not really fodder for this blog; however, if you like the macabre, you’re encouraged to research him on your own. Be warned that details about Gein are definitely nightmare fuel.

This is not the first and only film about Hitchcock’s work of this time period that has been made and wasn’t even the first one released in 2012. The BBC’s TV movie, The Girl (2012), which was shown on HBO about a month before Hitchcock’s theatrical debut, dealt with Hitchcock’s (Toby Jones) obsession with Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller) during the filming of The Birds (1963), Hitch’s follow up film to Psycho and Marnie (1964).

It has been well documented that Hitchcock had a thing for blondes and aggressively made passes at all of them, even though he supposedly never really cheated on Alma. He sort of sinned a la Jimmy Carter, who famously only cheated on wife Roslyn in his heart.  In Hitchcock, Alfred is supposedly not only obsessed with Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson), but also with the story.

Janet Leigh and Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh.
No one wanted him to make this film, but determined, Hitchcock self-financed the film using his own money and the crew from his Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV anthology series to make the movie. Even Alma was against it, in the beginning. But we learn that she made suggestions that made Psycho the film we know and love. (Out of deference to my own Psycho review, I won’t discuss spoilers about that film here.)

But Hitchcock deals with the strain movie-making puts on any relationship, made more severe by the financial and personal strain Psycho put on Alfred’s and Alma’s marriage, with each accusing the other of having an affair. However, their bond was strong and survived to make Psycho a financial and critical success.    

The movie is framed like an episode of the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents show, with the director playing host and directly addressing the viewers. We’re given a brief lesson of Ed Gein and again, what little they show is more than enough. Psycho is relatively tame compared to what the man really does. Gratefully, we’re not shown too much of the real crimes.

Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock and the real man.
Hitch is shown as a rebel against the studio system, making the film he wanted. Even though Hitch was putting up the money himself, he still must battle with Paramount head Barney Balaban (Richard Portnow) and the Motion Picture Production Code Administration head Geoffrey Shurlock (Kurtwood Smith). Without the support of Paramount and without the MPPC Seal of Approval, the film will never see the dark of a theater. Throughout, Hitchcock shows his disdain for both bureaucracies. While he doesn’t charm Balaban, he does get around the Code by showing respect for Shurlock and offering to let him practically direct the opening scene of the film.

When Paramount only plans to open the film in two theaters, Hitch knows he has to build up a mystique about the film. He dreams up guidelines for exhibiting the film, setting up strict rules that no one will be seated after the movie starts. Audiences are intrigued and the film really delivers the goods, especially for 1960 audiences. And the film is a great success.

But above all, Hitchcock is the story of the woman behind the man. Alma Hitchcock, who is usually shoved into the back, is given credit as Hitchcock’s main collaborator and champion. Even though she feels abandoned and turns to working with writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) on a book he wants Hitch to read, Alma comes back to take care of Hitch when he falls ill during filming. Alma even takes over the directing chores.

The real Alfred and Alma Hitchcock.
The final product, however, is not very good and Alma helps Hitch to whip the film into shape, leaving us with the film we have today. It should be noted that it is best to have seen Psycho before you watch Hitchcock. The latter almost assumes that you have seen the film, as it gives away the film’s spoilers as part of the story-telling.

If you have seen and enjoyed Psycho, then Hitchcock will add to your enjoyment of that film, by giving you a behind-the–scenes, though somewhat fictionalized, take. Think of it as a supplementary feature. Otherwise, I would not recommend you see Hitchcock first.

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