tn_hitchcockHow do you make a narrative film about Alfred Hitchcock filming PSYCHO? Adequately.

Anthony Hopkins (BAD COMPANY) plays Alfred “Hitch” Hitchcock, fresh off of NORTH BY NORTHWEST, anxious about his reputation and itching to do something new. He doesn’t want to turn into some by-the-numbers hack so he turns down bullshit like some stupid “Casino Royale” movie they want him to do, whatever the fuck that is. (keep in mind parkour had not been invented yet so it wouldn’t have been that good back then.) He doesn’t want to repeat himself and he’s fascinated by the gory true story of Ed Gein, famed Wisconsin killer, cannibal, grave robber and mama’s boy. When Robert Bloch’s Geinsploitation book Psycho comes out he decides it’s his next movie, but Paramount disagrees. Through his stubbornness, tenacity and a good agent he finds a way to fund it himself and have them distribute it. He makes them his errand boy.

But there’s surprisingly little re-creation of famous scenes from PSYCHO, and no mention of changing things from the book or deciding to film in black and white with the crew from Alfred Hitchcock Presents or anything like that. One thing I did like is when it shows the filming of that scene where Janet Leigh is driving by herself and you hear her thoughts, and she has to react to them. Here we get to see what Hitchcock was (supposedly) saying to her off-camera to get those expressions.

Of course they make a big deal out of filming the shower scene, but in a phony way where he flips out and does the stabbing himself and scares everybody, and then he calls cut and everybody leaves even though we’ve all seen PSYCHO and know that he hasn’t filmed the part where her body’s on the ground. There were more shots in that scene than just the stabbing – ask Gus Van Sant if you don’t believe me. He’ll back me up on this.

mp_hitchcockThey make scenes out of famous trivia like “PSYCHO was the first American movie to show a toilet.” I’m surprised they left “the blood was actually Hershey’s chocolate syrup” alone. And “the sound was stabbing a watermelon.” Gotta respect them for that, I guess. I had a hard time believing some of the movie’s ideas, like that Alma suggested Anthony Perkins to star because she knew he was gay and would know about living a secret life. I think that’s an interesting thing about the movie that probly was crucial to his performance, but was it really done consciously? Let me know if the book says that, but it seems to me like a little modern revisionism there.

Also the movie portrays Perkins as kind of a doofus who asks Hitch dumb questions because he can’t understand peeping on girls. And it says that Hitch does understand it and somehow is able to use the peephole set to watch Vera Miles (Jessica BLADE 3 Biel) undress. Furthermore, he whines a couple times about not having an Oscar. Is that real? I’d like to think he didn’t give a shit. That seems more like something movie fans complain about in retrospect.

PSYCHO screenwriter Joseph Stefano only appears in one scene where he’s interviewing for the job. I wish he was in more, because he’s played by Ralph Macchio. Poor guy gets in a pretty big movie again and it’s only a cameo. For what it’s worth he does a good job.

The main thrust of the movie though is not PSYCHO, it’s Hitch’s relationship with his wife Alma (Helen SHADOWBOXER Mirren). She’s very supportive, gives him some great ideas, is a key creative force in the production of his movies. Together they have a comedy-team rapport, batting at each other with dry humor of a style familiar from his TV show introductions. But also she’s clearly fed up with his obsessions with younger, hotter, blonder women who he’s not married to. She convinces him to cast Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson, THE SPIRIT) by reminding him that he liked her “figure,” but she’s clearly jealous when he follows her advice and behaves accordingly. She keeps finding headshots on his desk and getting upset. Are we supposed to imagine he’s been jerking off to publicity stills of Grace Kelly?

Meanwhile, Alma is developing a script with her hunky friend Whitford Cook (Danny 30 DAYS OF NIGHT Huston), the writer of STAGE FRIGHT and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, and seems to be teetering on the edge of adultery. Note that she calls her husband “Hitch” and her collaborator “Whit.” Hitch starts to notice, gets jealous, starts to act like a baby about it. These two need to work some shit out.

There’s a scene where Alma’s stayed up all night in a secret beach house writing with Whit, and she’s trying to sneak into bed without waking up Hitch. I thought it would be great if she’s tip-toeing into the room and suddenly there’s a bolt of lightning and a shadow appears, and it’s the famous Hitchcock silhouette. Sadly, they had more restraint than to do that. But they do manage to shoot him in profile an awful lot. I’m not sure if that was supposed to be a nudge-nudge to the audience or if they just designed the makeup sideways and knew it was a better likeness from that angle.

I haven’t read the book, but from what I hear this adaptation is mostly bullshit. I think they tried to model it after ED WOOD, but it’s not as well made and doesn’t have the same underdog quality to it, no matter how much Hitchcock complains about bad reviews or not getting an Oscar. One weird touch is a bunch of scenes where he sees and speaks to an apparition of Ed Gein (Michael ALIEN RESURRECTION Wincott). Seemed like forced quirkiness to me, but I guess it’s a way to depict how unsavory he seemed at the time even though his movies are all very tame by modern standards.

Although only John J. McLaughlin is credited for the screenplay, Wikipedia claims that Stephen rebello, the author of the non-fiction book it’s based on, “wrote additional drafts that shifted the story’s focus to the complex personal and professional relationship of Hitchcock and his wife.” There’s no citation for this one, but I did find an official press release mentioning “revisions by Ryan Murphy, Stephen Rebello and Sacha Gervasi.” If it’s true that Rebello shifted the focus of the movie I wonder if that relationship stuff is therefore less Hollywoodized than the movie-making parts? I don’t know.

What makes it watchable is good performances by the cast. Hopkins in a fat suit imitating Hitchcock seemed like a joke when I saw it out of context in commercials and clips, but in the movie I liked it. He works the slow-talking, emotionless persona into a vulnerable, funny, horny, sometimes mean human-like character. I’m sure it’s not the most thorough portrait of the man, but this is a guy who my picture of him is mainly a one-joke TV mascot, like the Crypt Keeper. And the movie makes me see what he could be like as, like, a dude who has to eat food and likes to take baths and read the newspaper and stuff.

Johansson is pretty good too, I was surprised how much they got her looking like Janet Leigh and acting like an old fashioned lady. The characterization isn’t too complex. She basically just has to rebuff Hitchcock’s sexual harassment, be professional, try to be nice to him. But it’s kind of a sweet friendship and a role that could’ve easily been embarrassing if done badly.

Biel as Vera Miles is a pretty important role, but a small one. That’s okay, she got to do THE TALL MAN. And anyway she gets more to do than poor Toni Collette, who basically just plays a secretary.

Maybe people wanted to see a harsher portrayal of Hitchcock, because he has a reputation for being controlling and cruel, and because things didn’t work out with his wife later, and also people like the dark shit. I don’t know, I don’t mind a more optimistic story, and it’s not like they pretend he was just a lovable scamp. He’s obviously not treating Alma the way she deserves, that’s made clear.

I’d mostly heard terrible things about the movie, but researching this review I found a quote from Tom O’Neil on The Huffington Post calling it “a serious contender for Best Picture, lead actor, lead actress, adapted screenplay, makeup, music score and maybe art direction.” Luckily Mr. O’Neil (who runs an awards-predicting sight) made better predictions closer to the actual awards.

I guess I’m being easy on it because I had very low expectations and was just watching it on video. It kinda felt like a made-for-cable movie, even though I know the made-for-cable one is the one where Toby Jones plays him and it’s during the making of THE BIRDS. I think it’s called HITCHCOCK IS FOR THE BIRDS. Anyway, I’m not gonna claim HITCHCOCK is a very good movie, but I found it a fairly enjoyable time watching actors play dress up as other actors.

I’m sure this joke has been made already, but it’s okay because I’m not joking: I want to see VAN SANT now, aka GUS VAN SANT AND THE REMAKING OF PSYCHO. I’m gonna suggest Ron Livingston as Van Sant, Jennifer Lawrence as Anne Heche and Johnny Knoxville as Vince Vaughn. And I guess it would have to be Jaden Smith as Joseph Stefano. Get to it, Hollywood.

This entry was posted on Friday, March 15th, 2013 at 3:09 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

27 Responses to “Hitchcock”

  1. As interesting as the Van Sant movie would be, I’d actually prefer Shadow of the Vampire: Phantom der Nacht, a Shadow of the Vampire remake set during the filming of Herzog’s remake of Nosferatu.

  2. Have to pretty much concur, Vern. It was an enjoyable little bauble, kind of a minor valentine for movie buffs (and a little bit of a fuck you to non movie buffs, who would probably spend most of the movie WTFing). I liked the playfulness of the filmmaking–there actually was a thunderclap gag at one point, and how he addresses the audience at the end like on his TV show–but it felt cobbled together out of cute little made-up (and as you say revisionist) bits. It was Hitchcockish. It didn’t feel solid, or whole, or something. I was not as big a fan of the casting. Hopkins got the voice right of course, and the mannerisms. But he looked less like Hitch than he did Nixon, which not at all. And Johanssen’s face is all soft curves. She’s practically fluffy. Leigh was all angles and edges. Someone like Milla Jovovich–or even Jessica Biel–would’ve been a closer match. But yeah, Johanssen managed to make it work.

  3. I hated this phony crap. There weren’t enough Hitchcock anecdotes out there so they had to invent a load of filler for the film? No way he could just be a brilliant film-maker making a film, no, he has to be in crisis and needing to prove himself to Hollywood (why? Because North By Northwest was such a critical and financial flop?). If only he’d had a daughter who could be the confidant character in the film, maybe one that actually had a cameo in Psycho. No? Oh well, have the ghost of Ed Gein advise him on the state of his marriage then.

    It’s pretty amazing that Ed Wood gets Ed Wood and Hitchcock gets two awful biopics in one year. Both the Hitchcock films treat us like we are idiots who don’t know the first thing about the subject. The Girl, the tv film, was the worst of the two in my opinion (though, to be fair, at least it didn’t waste his name by using it as the title like Hitchcock did, thus ruining it for any future competent biopics that get made) as it essentially says that Hitch was a sex offender and abused Tippi Hedren throughout the making of The Birds, so much so that she went on to make Marnie with him and sing his praises in Googleable clips of her tribute speeches to him years later. It shows a scene from The Birds being filmed with Hedren being pecked, scratched and terrorised by real birds on the set of the attic scene at Hitch’s command. This ordeal apparently went on for a week with Hedren imprisoned with no breaks, according to the film. Right. How did the costume people and make-up artists reset for continuity before each take then? Do we believe that they just didn’t? Did Hitch get lucky with the first take and use that?

    Expect another biopic, in about twenty years: CAMERON, with Kate Winslet traumatised because she is forced to stand in waist-high water, while he sits behind the camera getting pep talks from the zombified captain of the Titanic. “Don’t make the mistakes I did, Jim. Avoid the icebergs in your life.” “Thank you, Captain. Now I know how to finish my film.” etc.

  4. One Guy From Andromeda

    March 15th, 2013 at 5:06 am

    Sounds like a movie in the vein of “My Week with Marilyn” or whatever that was called, or “Frost / Nixon”. I hate that kind of film, you can always tell it’s all bullshit.
    I never got why i would watch someone dress up as a celebrity and reenact scenes that are super familiar, then in the next scene have them make up something ridiculous, it never gels, it’s never really interesting. If i was movie god i would forbid any actor to portray someone on whom film material exists. Why anyone would watch a scene where Gwyneth Paltrow pretends to be Bob Dylan at a Press Conference, especially when the press conference in question is easily viewable without much searching is beyond me. Look, that guy almost looks a little bit like Hitchcock from a certain angle!

    It’s just too post modern for me i guess, the two images of the person in my head never align and it feels weird…

  5. Elizabeth Bennet

    March 15th, 2013 at 6:05 am

    “Expect another biopic, in about twenty years: CAMERON, with Kate Winslet traumatised because she is forced to stand in waist-high water, while he sits behind the camera getting pep talks from the zombified captain of the Titanic. “Don’t make the mistakes I did, Jim. Avoid the icebergs in your life.” “Thank you, Captain. Now I know how to finish my film.” etc.”


    This film will not do anything for me based on the usual, great review written by Vern (thanks!) but I’m now interested in Alfred Hitchcock presents and ordered the first season. I really like his films, my favorite being The Rear Window followed closely by Vertigo.

  6. The problem with these biopics about artists, is that the art always has to be a reflection on the artist’s life. For me this really undervalues art. I’ve never like biographical reading of works of art, because it severely limits what it could be about. Any great artist takes in the past thousand years or so of artistic tradition, combines it with ideas of language, representation, politics, history, and aesthetics, to name a few, but these biopics would have us believe that art is really about one single person.

  7. Exorcise this movie from your brain and read Rebello’s book. (Alfred Hitchcock and the Making Psycho) I read it fifteen years ago, so i can’t comment on whether or not Alma had suggested Perkins for the role, or whether or not the book’s focus shifts to Hitch’s relationship with his wife. I just remember that the book covers every detail about the making of the movie that Rebello could find, and the result was not just a ‘making of’ story, but rather a compelling narrative about a unique film whose production appears to have been equally unique and fascinating. It’s one of those “you can’t put it down” kind of books. I’ve got to get my copy back from a friend who borrowed it a couple years ago. I plan to re-read it, and i recommend it to anyone, not just fans of Hitch.

  8. Also, Alfred Hitchcock Presents has been playing nightly on the relatively new Antenna TV network, and damn near every episode is great. The writing is top-notch, and it’s nice to see early performances by actors who would eventually get pretty big, Robert Loggia, Walter Matthau, Cloris Leachman, Martin Sheen, Burt Reynolds, etc, as well as performances by Hitchcock veterans like Joseph Cotten, Claude Rains, John Williams, Ruth Roman, etc. Highly recommended television viewing.

  9. Dikembe Mutombo

    March 15th, 2013 at 9:58 am

    I actually liked THE GIRL a fair amount. It’s a modest little genre movie instead of a wikipedia article brought to life. and I like Toby Jones as Hitch a lot more than Hopkins.

    charley cvercko – love your point about Leigh being “all angles and edges”

  10. Didn’t see this, but saw the HBO one. Vern, for the sake of completion, you should follow this one up with that. I’d definitely be interested in seeing your take on the two side by side.

  11. Otto: I’ve been watching “AHP” on Netflix the last few weeks. That Joseph Cotten ep was about the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen on TV. (Although they pussied out on really bringing it home, and I’d never noticed before how annoying Cotten’s version of the fake Mid-Atlantic accent was.)

  12. The Original... Paul

    March 15th, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    So what you’re basically saying is, this is the same kind of thing as the Margaret Thatcher biopic where they couldn’t alienate half the Oscar votors either way by showing her actual politics in either a good or bad light, so instead they made it all about her relationship with the ghost of her husband? Good to know.

    One of these days, a really good one of these films will come out, and I’ll miss it because my expectations have been lowered so much by the (few) ones that I’ve seen.

  13. I watched The Girl, too, and not this one. Hedron was amazing in The Birds, and Marnie is my favorite Hitch, despite its flaws, so I was looking forward to something more than what it was. I wanted complex, but all I got was: “Hitchcock was a perv! And a meanie!”

  14. @OneGuyFromAndromeda… agreed with what you are saying until you brought up what I assume was “I’m Not There” (Gwenyth Paltrow is not in that movie). I think what that film is emphasizing is that the key moments in an icon’s life, like the famous press conference or Hitchcock’s filming of the shower scene, CAN’T be replicated, because they constantly shift and change with each memory and interpretation.

    Bullshit’s ALWAYS going to manifest, and sometimes it means Bob Dylan is an asexual stringbean played by Cate Blanchett, or a religious firebrand played by Christian Bale. There is no definitive Dylan, but movies like this pretend that Hopkins is playing a definitive Hitchcock, and it’s insulting and disrespectful… half an hour in, I thought this movie was some sort of a parody. What a waste of Toni Collette and Michael Stuhlbarg, not to mention the ability to get Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel in period-wear. Not a waste of Danny Huston, though; am I the only one who thinks 80% of the time he’s terrible?

    Anyway, not sure about the reputation of “I’m Not There” (perhaps forgotten in the ridiculous collection of riches that was 2007?) but I think it’s friggin’ great. For anyone who has seen it, it’s a biopic of Bob Dylan that chronologically jumps around to the different periods of his life, and he’s played by Blanchett, Bale, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw and a little black kid named Marcus Carl Franklin who is actually pretty terrific. It pretty much lays waste to the idea of the conventional superstar biopic, and had more than five people seen the film, it would have killed dead the idea of anyone making something like “Hitchcock.” Vern, I see there’s no review for it here…?

  15. Vern, I’m honored because I made the VAN SANT joke. I didn’t go so far as to cast it though. Or did I suggest Van Sant remake HITCHCOCK shot for shot? I can’t remember now.

    HITCHCOCK IS FOR THE BIRDS is all you. Amazing.

  16. Just wanted to substantiate the asseveration that “I’m Not There” is a great fucking movie that attempts more than pretty much any American movie of recent vintage I can think of, and achieves even more. If you haven’t seen it you have an “I’m Not There”-shaped hole in your life and you don’t even know it.

  17. The My Week With Marilyn approach is slightly different as it pushes the interesting subject to supporting character status and shows them through the eyes of a boring dweeb who can shine a spotlight on their various personality defects. Same as Me and Orson Welles and (probably) that new Bill Murray one about the president (haven’t seen it).

    So they need a ghost or a no-mark to help us get in these celebrities’ heads. Why? Seems a lazy approach. I’m sure I read a screenwriting tip that was something like ‘If you find yourself writing a psychiatrist character, don’t’.

    Incidentally, anyone read The Three Investigators books when they were a kid? I don’t know anyone that remembers them. They were about kids that were detectives but at the start and end of their little adventures they would report to Hitchcock himself.

  18. Dikembe Mutombo

    March 16th, 2013 at 5:27 am

    I’m Not There is awesome, though I wonder if it has anything to offer to people who aren’t fans of Dylan

  19. “I’d like to think he didn’t give a shit.”

    Vern – Nonsense. For every filmmaker or actor who’s had countless hits with critics and audiences, there comes a point inevitably when they feel like “the town” don’t respect them enough. For all his bitching about how nonsense Oscars are, if Robert Altman had won an Oscar and not a honorary one, he would’ve loved it. Its a symbol of respect from your peers, your industry, a totem of being awesome.

    I’m reminded of that legend about Humphrey Bogart, who himself thought the Oscars were bullshit. (Hell like about everybody else on CASABLANCA, I’m sure he was stunned it won the Oscar and I’m sure he would’ve been more surprised that we still talk about it.) Anyway point is, if I remember this anecdote correctly, he more than once told his friends and co-workers that if somehow he actually ever won an Oscar, he would tell them to go fuck off.

    When he did win his first (and only) Oscar, Bogart was apparently surprised. He really didn’t believe he would win. But he did, and he was pretty humbled on the spot.

    Completely different topic, but same theme: Iggy Pop is one guy who can say (with everybody else agreeing) how worthless the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is. Yet by his admission when finding out his Stooges got voted in, he said he had an “emotional episode.”

    Everybody wants respect, even if we don’t necessarily need it.

  20. Jimbolo, that also sounds like the upcoming DIRTY WHITE BOY which adds the racial element: ODB biopic but the main character is the douchey white kid who was a PA at VH1 and convinced them he knew ODB, then visited him in prison and became his manager for the last couple years of his life.

  21. The Original... Paul

    March 16th, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Jimbolo – I remember that book! Years later I’m still stunned that it exists. I’m not sure if it was “a” book either – I thought it was part of a series, although I could be wrong.

  22. Paul: Yeah, it’s a series of books. Very popular in Germany; my wife has dozens of Die Drei ??? audio cassettes from when she was a kid and still listens to them occassionally.

  23. Hitchcock being in The Three Investigators books always confused me. I knew he was a real person so I wasn’t sure if that meant that the stories had to be real or not. I was a gullible kid.

  24. “Why anyone would watch a scene where Gwyneth Paltrow pretends to be Bob Dylan at a Press Conference, especially when the press conference in question is easily viewable without much searching is beyond me. Look, that guy almost looks a little bit like Hitchcock from a certain angle! ”

    I’m a Dylan fan, and I’m Not There was more about the pop culture idea of Dylan and how he changes personas through the years. It made sense to me on an intuitive level. This kind of biopic just sounds like bullshit.

  25. And yeah the Three Investigators were great. With the Hitchcock biopic’s its like… do we need them? He’s not an inaccessible filmmaker who’s lost to modern audiences. My bro’s 17 and he’s seen Psycho twice last week, said it scared him both times. He’s still watched and studied and his movies are still entertaining.

  26. I knew you lot would not fail me. I should dig my old copies of those books out and get my kids to read them whenever the time comes. As a chubby kid, I liked that Jupiter Jones, the fat one of the gang, was the smart one that solved shit. I seem to remember they would mention his weight in the text a lot (“Jupiter pointed a chubby digit at the bad guy.”) but maybe I was just picking up on it more than skinny kids would. The best part was that they would always meet up with Hitchcock at the end and go over clues and stuff. I knew who he was from the 80s Alfred Hitchcock Presents, so it was cool to see him turning up as a character in books. Always thought there should be films. Good titles too: The mystery of the green ghost, The secret of the sinister scarecrow, The screaming clock.

    Vern, that ODB film sounds lame, of course. I don’t get it, it’s like they don’t trust the audience to even know who the film is about, so they have to engineer a cypher character to introduce the actual subject of the film, in the same way that, I dunno, a sci-fi film needs a civilian character for use as a relatable exposition receptacle. Weird.

  27. Tippi Hedren interviewed by filmfreakcentral a few months ago, discusses Hitchcock’s rapishness etc:

    Chaw: You were the victim of sexual assault.
    Hedren: By the most powerful man in Hollywood–one of the most powerful in the history of Hollywood. I was confused. I deflected this for twenty years after it happened. I didn’t talk about it, I didn’t want to. Even though I knew that he’d done it to other women, I was silent. People would ask and I would just give the accepted line about how great an honour it was… And it was a great honour. I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Mr. Hitchcock and to have been in these movies that everyone is still talking about, still studying. I’m incredibly grateful to have the voice that these films allow me to have even after all this time.


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