12.02.2012

The Films of 2012: Hitchcock



Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock is a movie about Hitchcock for people who don’t actually like, care or know much about Hitchcock.  It offers a superficial account of the making of Psycho that ultimately tells us nothing of interest about the film or its creators; it simply uses them as a means by which to invoke the most tiresome platitudes, chief among them being that old chestnut, Behind Every Man There Is A Great Woman.  While the film is right to note that Alma Reville, Hitchcock’s wife and longtime collaborator, played a major role in shaping the work for which her husband received most of the credit, it turns their complex relationship into something mawkish.  After both he and she spend most of the film engaging in playful (but apparently chaste) flirtations with other men and women, they have a cheap reconciliation, capped with a nauseating punchline (Hitch to Alma: “Of all the Hitchcock blondes, none is as pretty as you”).  Hitchcock is a film that capitalizes on the Hitchcock name—still powerful thirty-plus years after his death—in order to sell audiences on something that bears not the slightest resemblance, in body or in spirit, to anything having to do with its subject.  It’s a big empty box tied up with a ribbon that’s been stamped with the image of Hitchs profile.   

Like last year’s similarly facile My Week with Marilyn, Hitchcock grasps at profundity by using pop psychology to “explain” its iconic central figure.  This isn’t just a story about how Hitch financed Psycho with his own money, or about his marriage problems—it’s about how he secretly identified with the figure of Norman Bates, and, by extension, with Ed Gein, the real-life murderer on whom Bates was based.  (In its most absurd scenes, the film goes so far as to stage fantasy sequences in which Hitchcock is visited by a spiritual manifestation of Gein himself.)  We’re made to understand that Hitchcock’s genius was driven by his own voyeurism, sexual obsession, and repressed murderousness.  But while this would seem to suggest that the film mounts an unsettling and complicated portrait of the Master of Suspense—one similar to that presented by Donald Spoto in his famously nasty biography—it’s ultimately only a feint.  In the end, Hitchcock is reduced to a cuddly, if slightly dirty, old man, one who has used Psycho to work through his pesky sex-and-violence issues.  (The trouble with Hitchcock is not that it’s too ugly a representation of its subject, it’s that it’s not ugly enough.) 

Anthony Hopkins does what he can in the title role, but given the limitations of this material his performance ends up being little more than a caricature.  Only Helen Mirren is able to command our attention, giving us an Alma who is a good deal more lifelike than the one-dimensional device into which the film tries to make her.  The rest of the cast, much of it made up of C- and D-list actors (Jessica Biel as Vera Miles; Ralph Macchio—yes, The Karate Kid himself—as Joseph Stefano), deserves no comment, other than that they contribute to the made-for-basic-cable feel of the whole thing.  Those interested in Hitchcock would be better off spending their time reading Stephen Rebello’s excellent Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, or watching Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary The Making of Psycho (included as a special feature on the Psycho DVD and Blu-Ray), or, for that matter, (re)watching Psycho itself, or virtually any of Hitchcock’s other films, or those of Brian de Palma, or…

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