Hitchcock – A Film Review
REVIEWED BY CRITIC, FILM BUFF & BEER CONNOISSEUR F.P. BLUCK
The local baseball club ad is really awful and I want to attack my eyes with a sharp object when I see it*. Previews for The Impossible (scarily real tsunami-stuff with Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts playing roles occupied in real life by Spanish people) and Zero Dark Thirty (interrogators nearly as brutal and effective as parents, leading to the death of Osama Bin Laden).
[Corpulent old guy appears on screen similar to though better dressed than your scribe. Speaks fluidly as one would imagine an unfit beagle speaking, if it could, in a palimpsest of an East End accent.] “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Tonight’s production tells the tale of a prolific director, no longer young, and his well-organised wife as they develop a new film for presentation to the public. There is also some ambiguity about the nature of their relationship, and you may notice some references to the work of the late Mr Hitchcock”.
What follows is a fine piece of work setting the context in which Alfred Hitchcock directed Psycho. Serious film historians can debate bits of the story – the extent of studio support, the extent of Alma Hitchcock’s control over the creation – but most of us will see it as sound storytelling. That story is of a self-centred auteur with a flock of personal demons and an unshakeable faith in his own specialised genius, who realises he needs to recover from some relative failures. He receives support from his long-suffering wife Alma, who manages what he cannot, and who acts as the mother figure which so troubled the director**. He fights the minions and titans of the corporate film world and outflanks the naysayers of censorship who inexplicably object to possible scenes of a naked woman being hacked to death with a knife. His most consistent ally is not always Alma, but the spirit of Ed Gein, the perpetrator of the macabre crimes which inspired the book and the film.
The performances are strong. While Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock) and Helen Mirren (Alma) should receive most of the praise, they provide only a robust structure. There is sound work putting flesh on the bones by Scarlett Johansson (as Janet Leigh), Toni Collette (as Peggy Robertson, the assistant director), James D’Arcy (as Anthony Perkins) and Jessica Biel (as Vera Miles). The settings are limited, but attractive (the Hitchcock home being a semi-Gothic masterstroke). “In Hollywood, you are only as good as your last film”, Hitchcock at one point intones. Hitchcock’s last film, in real life, was Family Plot, a poor example of his work (I saw it in 1976 or 77, and do not want to repeat the experience. Ever). This is a much better memory.
Three flat whites and a babycino, with a 1960-style chocolate eclair.
* – no objection to baseball, for those who can’t understand cricket and don’t care about their duty as Australians.
** – look at Psycho, and at this film’s references to betrayal by actresses who preferred to be mothers and its depiction of Hitchcock’s direction of actresses.