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Grimes & Rowe Watch a Movie: Hitchcock

By Storycarnivores @storycarnivores

Hitchcock-2012-Movie-PosterTitle: Hitchcock
Directed by: Sacha Gervasi
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight
Release Date: December 14, 2012
Rated: PG-13

Synopsis: A love story between influential filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and wife Alma Reville during the filming of Psycho in 1959. (Via IMDB)

Brian: I was excited for this movie all year. Super excited. Like, really excited. My favorite film director of all time is Alfred Hitchcock. I’ve seen almost all of his fifty-plus films, including some of his obscure British work from the 20′s and 30′s. Some of my favorite movies of all time are The 35 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca, Notorious, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds. Most directors I have one favorite. With Hitchcock, it’s more like ten. I’ve read the classic Francois Traffaut interview with Hitchcock, and I currently just hit the halfway point of the exhaustive 800-page biography A Life in Darkness and Light, by Patrick McGilligan. I love, love, love this man, and anything more I can discover about his life, I’m in. Therefore I was excited about the prospect this year of seeing not just one movie about the famous director, but two. The Girl, which premiered on HBO in October, was well acted, but it disappointed me in its total desecration of Alfred Hitchcock’s character. While I don’t disagree something happened between him and Tippi Hedren, it’s so one-sided that I could never fully engage in the dark, questionable material. And now we have Hitchcock, starring Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, which I hoped would be a more balanced take on the director, his personal life, and his process. I was happy to discover I was right. While Hitchcock is in no way a perfect movie — it’s a little too sappy at times, a subplot involving the legendary Ed Gein doesn’t work, and the film as a whole doesn’t dig very deep — it’s a breezy, entertaining look at the making of Psycho, and includes notable moments worth treasuring.

Shaunta: I don’t share Brian’s obsession with Hitchcock. We saw the Birds at the theater this year and I completely loved it. Psycho is one of my favorite horror movies. I haven’t ever seen any of Hitchcock’s other films. I’m ashamed to admit that, and all I can say is that I plan to remedy it. I have to admit though, after seeing The Girl and Hitchcock, I’m a little squeamish about the man. Apparently he was obsessed with his leading ladies to the point where, in more modern times, he might have been arrested. I’m thinking of a particular Peeping Tom scene in Hitchcock right now. In both movies, but maybe particularly Hitchcock because it’s told from his point of view, the director comes across as an incredibly creative, talented, disgusting, disturbing man. Because I didn’t go into the movie already idolizing the man, I was turned off by him (as he was portrayed.) What I love, love, loved about this movie, though, was Helen Mirren’s portrayal of Hitchcock’s wife Alma. She was outstanding. Truly, wonderful. She made me want to learn more about the woman she brought to life for me.

Brian: Of all the movies Hitchcock made, Psycho is probably the most iconic, so it was simply a pleasure getting a behind-the-scenes look at a movie that’s so famous, and that I love so dearly. While Psycho is in every way different than his previous film North by Northwest, I wasn’t aware of the harsh struggles Hitchcock faced to make this project his next picture. This is the element of the movie I liked the most, culminating into far and away the best, most emotional scene scene of the movie, when Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville (Mirren) asks Hitchock (Hopkins), “Why this one, Hitch? Why is this one so important to you?” And he reminds her of the risks he used to take in his youth, that he never settled into a routine. The creative life of a person can flounder if he or she doesn’t take a risk once in awhile, and Hitchcock, at age 60, found himself there following one of the most successful movies of his life. He could’ve made another North by Northwest, but he didn’t. He made a low-budget, black-and-white shocker that, in the hands of another director, might have been dreck. I identified with this moment of honesty from Hitchcock so much that I was brought to tears in a matter of seconds. I wish there had been more moments like this throughout the movie.


Shaunta: Like Brian, I really appreciated that this movie was basically a look at a genius at work. Hitchcock came across in it as a deeply unhappy, mentally-unstable man with incredible vision. There was a scene where he was standing in front of an open fridge shoving can-after-can of imported goose liver into his mouth, that felt very real to me. His fear of failure and desperate need to see Psycho through were palpable. Another scene showed him and his wife talking about reducing their expenses to make ends meet, since they mortgaged their house to fund Psycho. Hitchcock dismisses such ideas as eating domestic goose liver and giving the driver weekends off as too much to ask. That scene also came across as both ridiculous and very real to me.

Brian: Hitchcock is super entertaining and definitely worth seeing, but it’s missing that special something that takes it from good to great. The acting by Hitchcock and Mirren is superb, and James D’Arcy spookily resembles Anthony Bates in both his appearance and behavior. On the other hand, however, I found Scarlett Johannsen and Jessica Biel a little distracting, as Janet Leigh and Vera Miles, respectively. They’re fine but the actresses are so instantly recognizable that I couldn’t really find the characters they were playing. There’s a weird subplot throughout the movie of Hitchcock having visions of infamous killer Ed Gein that slow down the movie and don’t really go anywhere (and have no basis in fact!). The ending is a little pat, with a final back-and-forth between Hitchcock and Alma that is so corny and convenient I rolled my eyes. And then, like in The Girl, Hitchcock here is presented as misogynistic, disgusting, and insensitive in too many scenes that I can count. The scene where he tries to get true fear out of Janet Leigh by thrusting the knife toward her naked body himself, is overblown and way too dramatic to have really happened. I ultimately just stopped looking at the movie for insight into the actual making of Psycho, and treated it more like fiction, as nothing more than a breezy romp. Call me biased, but I want to remember Hitchcock for the genius that he was, not as some sick slob who treated everyone like shit. The portrayals of Hitchcock in both The Girl and this film have brought out multiple defenses as to who he was, many of which are featured on the blog Save Hitchcock. This guy made some of the best movies of all time. Do we have to remember him as a psycho, himself? My other favorite scene in Hitchcock shows the Master of Suspense doing what he does best: scaring the hell out of his audiences. He stands in the lobby, as the shower scene plays out in the packed theatre, and waits for the reveal with the glee of a child. When the audience starts screaming, he dances around the lobby, swishing his hands left to right like he’s the conductor of an orchestra. This is the man Alfred Hitchcock was, and this is the man I choose to remember.

Shaunta: The scene in the theater lobby, where he seems to be literally directing the audience reaction was amazing. My favorite in the whole movie. That being said, I can’t choose only to know that Hitchcock made great movies. If the two movies I saw about him this year were even half true, he was a scary man who ruined the careers of women who wouldn’t submit to him.

That Save Hitchcock site has this quote from Norman LLoyd:  “I was against Tippi’s behavior in total, doesn’t mean to say I’m right. But if these things did happen and she felt that way, she shouldn’t have written about them. My reaction to Tippi is very subjective, I don’t believe she should have said the things she said about Hitch even if they were true, because she did it, why? He made her the name that she is, such as she is. She painted him as an ogre. That he was evil. All this is bull.”

I can’t agree with that. But I did really enjoy the movie Hitchcock. I was particularly struck by how well it told a story of a tortured creative genius, and how the people who loved and supported him had a huge impact on his life and work. I left the movie wishing I’d already seen some of Hitchcock’s other movies, so that I could have watched them unsullied, like Brian did.


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