Saturday 31 August 2013

Hitchcock (US 2012: Dir Sacha Gervasi)

I confess that apart from Anvil: The Story of Anvil I haven't seen any of the films on Sacha Gervasi's admittedly rather slim CV, nor have I seen the BBC production The Girl, about Alfred Hitchock's relationship with 'Tippi' Hedren, which came out about the same time and with which Hitchcock has been compared. I may well rectify the second viewing gap at some point but on the basis of the inert, flaccid Hitchcock I'm unlikely to do anything about the first one.

Based on Stephen Rebello's book 'Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho', Hitchcock comprises three interwoven stories: the director's attempts to get the film Psycho made against the wishes of his studio executives; the strain on Hitch's relationship with his wife and collaborator Alma Revell during the making of the film (and fuelled by his obsession with his latest blonde, Janet Leigh); and the spectre of Ed Gein, the infamous Wisconsin killer who provided the source inspiration for Robert Bloch's novel on which Psycho was based, and who acts as a kind of shadowy (tor)mentor to Hitchock while making his movie.

As the movie poster suggests, Hitchcock isn't a heavyweight film. Its touch is relatively light (but not deft) and I think this is the fundamental problem. The legacy of Psycho as one of the game changing films of the last century and the director's most successful film, the dark subject matter of the source material and Hitchock's own idiosyncracies sit uneasily with Gervasi's rather brisk, upbeat approach, which makes the film rather uninvolving. It's not helped by the beginning and end being bookended by some Hitch direct to camera utterances meant to evoke his TV shows, which further invites the audience to be in on the joke. If the contrast between the film and the sunny Hollywood setting is meant to be ironic, it's a pretty obvious one, but no more obvious than, say, the shots of Hitch animatedly conducting the audience's screams from the lobby at Psycho's premiere (a rather too literal interpretation of the much quoted desire of the director to play the emotions of the audience as if they were notes on an organ).

The collective talents of Anthony Hopkins as Hitch, Helen Mirren as Alma and Toni Collette as assistant Peggy Robinson are pretty much wasted (Collette has little to do but pout and look over the top of her horn - rimmed specs), although Mirren injects some weight to her role, rising above John McLaughlin's uninspiring script. And on the subject of weight, although Gervasi didn't want the Hitch character to be merely an actor doing an impression of the great man, Hopkins in his fat suit and jowly prosthetics ends up doing just that. James D'Arcy playing Anthony Perkins seems to have confused the actor with the character of Norman Bates, delivering all his lines with the twitchiness of Bates's first meeting with Marion Crane.

I had less of a problem with the Ed Gein segments than other reviewers (although I was reminded of the spirit of Humphrey Bogart stalking Woody Allen in Play it Again, Sam) but I seriously doubt whether Hitchock was that interested in/obsessed with Gein, rather than in Bloch's book, which he discovered through reading Anthony Boucher's crime column in The New York Times.

Perhaps the real crime is that Gervasi managed to make the process of making Psycho look so incredibly dull. Watching the scenes of that film being made, you wonder why anyone bothers making a film. I certainly wonder why anyone made this one. If you're at all interested in this bit of cinema history, read Rebello's fascinating book instead.

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