Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Keeping Us In Suspense Is What He Does

When I watch a film about actual people, I always wonder how accurate the portrayal is. It's not always an issue, but in biographical srots of films, it seems relevant. I'm also a bit leery of finding out some historical figure who I admired, or whose work I enjoyed, was a total scumbag.

So I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to watch Hitchcock, but I gave it a whirl. It's more a snapshot of a brief period in his life, after the highly successful release of North by Northwest, until the premiere of Psycho. Mostly it deals with Hitch's personal doubts, and the problems this creates for people around him. Helen Mirren plays Alma Reville, who is his editor and a valuable contributor throughout the creation of his films. The problem is, she's not receiving any recognition, being regarded primarily as "Hitchcock's wife", she and Hitch are growing a bit distant, and there's a reasonable desire on her part to do something that isn't inextricably linked to Alfred Hitchcock. So there's a thread where a writer, Whitfield Cook, asks for her to edit his script, but this seems largely a way to get his script in front of Hitchcock. Considering it makes Hitchcock suspicious that they're having an affair, this was hardly the best approach. Perhaps more than usual he buries his attention in his film, and his apparently unhealthy fixation on his leading ladies, this time Janet Leigh.

I was curious for more of Leigh's (played by Scarlett Johansson) perspective on it. She hears about Hitchcock's tendency to try and dominate the lives of his lead actresses from Vera Miles, but she doesn't seem to entirely buy it. Jokes about how he's easier to work with than Orson Welles. There is the sequence where Hitchcock demonstrates the stabbing for her death scene, and something about it terrifies her sufficiently to get the reaction he wanted. But there isn't any real follow up that suggests it significantly altered how she saw him, or even anything that suggests what she made of it. Did she suspect he had other things on his mind, or simply that he was very dedicated to his craft?

It was sort of an interesting portrayal of him. He doesn't seem like a bad guy, more kind of sad, a bit insecure. For all the outward bravado he directs at the studio heads, or the demands he places upon those who work for him, he doubts people respect his work, fixates on his leading ladies, thinking he can save them, improve them, something. Doesn't understand who he has in Alma until it's almost too late. I did like the idea that he didn't want to simply repeat his previous work, that he wanted to try something different. It's a desire I think is admirable. It can lead to odd things, but if he has the opportunity and the desire to do a dark, sort of screwball comedy like The Trouble with Harry, why not? I'm less enthused with the repeated scenes where he's in the book, talking to the killer Norman Bates was based on. Him getting too far into the mind of his monster, which is one of those things I wonder about being made up for dramatic purposes. Was that something he actually struggled with, or did they just think it made a nice thread.

I thought all the actors did well, Mirren especially. I quite liked Alma, especially when she takes over directing the film while Hitchcock recuperates, and rebuffs the studio head's attempt to insert a Martin & Lewis movie director. Jeez, that would have been a disaster. At any rate, the people we got were pretty good. I'd still rather watch just watch one of Hitchcock's movies. You can still learn a bit about him, based on the story he tells and what the characters are like, and it's usually more interesting.

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