Re:View - 'Hitchcock'

Christopher Fowler
It's academy season, which means a movie a night for many of us. It's not often you get to grill Dame Helen Mirren and Sir Anthony Hopkins, but last night, crammed into a tiny preview theatre in Soho, a few of us did after the screening of 'Hitchcock'. If a film is poor then this kind of close-up Q&A can prove awkward, but thankfully the movie is a gem. It's a growing sub-category, movies on movies, the most enlightening example being 'Gods and Monsters' about James Whale and 'Frankenstein', the worst being 'My Week With Marilyn'. 'Hitchcock' covers the period after the reception of 'North By Northwest' when Paramount wanted Hitch to make more lighthearted spy movies and he knew he had to test himself with something more stripped-back and dark. As the investors back away from the idea of bringing the story of Ed Gein to the screen, Hitch not only finds himself having to put up his house to raise cash for the project, but must face his wife Alma's increasing resistance to his autocratic attitude. As they start filming, long-present stresses begin to take their toll... It's a beautifully crafted script that has something original to say about the creative process, but what first intrigues is whether or not Hopkins is believable as Hitchcock. He has the mannerisms (leaning back, speaking only with the lips) and the fat suit, and after five minutes you accept this amalgam of actor and director. But Hopkins also manages to reveal Hitch's darker side, making him sometimes seem like a character from one of his own movies. His unblinking stillness and habit of sitting in the dark thinking is quite unnerving. Scarlett Johannson is fine as Janet Leigh, but this is largely Mirren's show as the iron lady behind Hitch who has put up with her role out of the spotlight for three decades. Two scenes will be repeated come awards time; Mirren's angry speech about what her life consists of, and Hitchcock orchestrating the screams from Psycho's shower scene while standing outside the closed cinema doors. James D'Arcy only has a couple of scenes playing Anthony Perkins but steals them both, simply because you'll swear the young Perkins came back to life for the movie. His impersonation is downright eerie. The project was eight years in development, but finally found the right director in Sasha Gervasi.


FabienneT (not verified) Thu, 15/11/2012 - 10:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

This sounds awesome. I have been a huge Hitch fan since I was a kid and will certainly try and see this!

Dan Terrell (not verified) Thu, 15/11/2012 - 13:03

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hitchcock, as you will remember did not at all like eggs - particularly runny eggs - he'd "cook" up a reason to slip one into a scene just so he could abuse it. And it would usually come as a surprise to almost all involved in the scene. (For example, that cigarette he had ground out in that uneaten poached egg. A trademark, like his use of heights, and his guest appearance.)He was apparently a very interesting, exact, person and would discuss his work in amazing detail.
I almost got to meet him while they were filming North By Northwest out on Long Island. But no such luck. It was strickly second unit - shots of the cropduster over and over - because he had to stay in New York that day. No actors eather, but still very interesting. This film's on my list.

Helen Martin (not verified) Thu, 15/11/2012 - 18:37

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

That crop duster was filmed on Long Island!? What a disillusionment!

Gary (not verified) Thu, 15/11/2012 - 19:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The problem that I have with this sort of thing is that you can never really be entirely certain what is real and what is made up. The real people involved start to blur in the public mind with the actor playing them. I still remember many years ago meeting someone who had served under General Patton during the War, and he told me that George C Scott as Patton was infinitely more effective and inspirational than the real thing: "I always felt that Patton was a jerk, but I'd a followed Scott's General anywhere!" he told me.

I suspect that Mirren's angry speech is something entirely created by the script-writer. Does it misrepresent what Alma thought or said. Similarly, although Hitchcock had a dark side, he also had a light side which a lot of his friends and colleagues remember. Is the character that we see on screen a fair representation, or is it slanted?

Christopher Fowler Thu, 15/11/2012 - 20:33

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I do think it's a fair representation because Hitchcock eventually acknowledged his wife's role in his success, and the film is closely based on a non-fiction book.

Gary (not verified) Fri, 16/11/2012 - 06:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Well, I know that both Hitchcock and his close friends and family credited Alma with being a very, very close collaborator on all his films. That said, she seems to have been determined to remain a shadowy character (I don't think that I've ever seen an interview with her). The result is that if a strong interpretation of a person appears on screen, such as Mirren,they can very quickly be seen as the real person. It's not the fault of the particular film, but of the whole genre. Even non-fiction books can have a strong fictionalising element in them, and when they are passed through the further fictionalising element of the film script, you have something that looks like the truth but actually isn't. I don't suppose that it really matters, and it certainly sounds like a good film. Anything that encourages a new audience to return to Hitchcock's films has got to be positive.

Dan Terrell (not verified) Fri, 16/11/2012 - 20:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Yes, Helen, the cropduster scene was filmed on Long Island so that the field would be wide and flat, the bean or soy crop would be low and the ski and days would be a close colour-match with the other outdoors shots. Grant ran infront of a screen projection. Sorry. That's the way it was then. Now, they'd call in George Lucas' tech people and use computers.

Helen Martin (not verified) Tue, 20/11/2012 - 01:26

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Well, all I can say is that that was an excellent bit of work because you certainly don't get the feeling of a screen. What was it the bug in Pogo said, "Destroy a son's faith in his father, will you!" It's all illusion anyway.