Monday, June 03, 2013
30 Days of Nightmares #3: HITCHCOCK (2012)
The Story: A biopic about Alfred Hitchcock, set during the making of PSYCHO.
Expectations: When I was in college, I read Donald Spoto's biography of Alfred Hitchcock, The Dark Side of Genius. Spoto presents Hitch as a man who worked out his personal neuroses on film, occasionally (especially in later years) bringing a bit too many sadistic impulses to his cinematic world. I don't know that I'll ever fully escape those second-hand impressions of the master of suspense, which might explain why I was initially reluctant to watch HITCHCOCK. I'd heard that the film didn't depict the the filmmaker in a particularly favorable light, and I was especially put off by the idea that Hitchcock might have had delusional dialogues with the ghost of serial killer Ed Gein. It's one thing to say that an artist is psychologically "haunted," and quite another thing to say that he is literally haunted. It's a fine line and -- based on what I'd heard from people who had seen the film before me -- I was worried that the film wouldn't tread it successfully.
In the end, of course, I had to find out. As Hitchcock knew, curiosity always gets the better of us... and with a cast of luminaries like Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, and Scarlett Johansson in the lead roles, I couldn't ignore this movie.
Reaction: More often than not, I found this film endearing. The Ed Gein scenes did seem a bit out of place to me, but thankfully they were few and far between. I was surprised to find that the narrative was essentially a love poem to Hitchcock's lifelong partner Alma Reville. That said, Helen Mirren was really the star of the show... and when has Helen Mirren ever failed to live up to a role? Hopkins did a good job with Hitchcock's trademark dry humor, and even managed on occasion to humanize the icon with a simple sorrowful gaze. His performance here reminded me of his even more sentimental performance in HEARTS IN ATLANTIS, which I enjoyed. Scarlett Johansson held her own, bringing radiance and professionalism to the role of Janet Leigh. Jessica Biel conveyed a cold bitterness that I suppose is appropriate for Vera Miles. James D'Arcy did a spot-on imitation of Anthony Perkins... A real cause for celebration for anyone who remembers Vince Vaughn's take on Norman Bates in Gus van Sant's utterly embarrassing 1998 remake of PSYCHO. (I apologize for bringing that up.) And, according to IMDB, that was Ralph Macchio in the role of Joseph Stefano! Time flies.
I'm not sure that HITCHCOCK really told me anything I didn't already know about its subject, but it was nevertheless a pleasantly entertaining film. When the end credits began to roll, my wife turned to me and said, "That was nice.... if it actually happened that way." Does HITCHCOCK go too far in the direction of sentimentality? If so, I think I'll take that over the possibility of going too far in the opposite direction.
Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: I expected exploitative depictions of Hitchcock's now-legendary "cruelty" to his actresses, but even the filming of the infamous shower scene is presented in a manner that humanizes Hitchcock rather than demonizing him. Maybe, if I want to be truly horrified, I'll have to watch HBO's THE GIRL -- a behind-the-scenes look at the making of THE BIRDS.