1960, 20th Century Fox, Affair, Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Hopkins, Anthony Perkins, beach, Danny Huston, Ed Gein, Helen Mirren, Hitch, infamous, Janet Leigh, mark cousins, Norman Bates, Obsession, Paramount Pictures, Psycho, Scarlett Johansson, Shower scene, the girl, the story of film, tippi hedren, toby jones, Vertigo, Voyeurism, Wife
Hitchcock‘s audience is that of people old enough to have seen Psycho in theatres. Our subject is old, fat and coming off the success of North By Northwest. At its premiere, a reporter asks, “you’re sixty-years-old, shouldn’t you just quit while you’re ahead?” This scene can be viewed in the theatrical trailer for the film, but it was still a surprise to see such blatant foreshadowing in the first 2 minutes. The question is silly considering that Hitchcock’s contemporaries, like Chaplin, DeMille and Keaton were still making films into their seventies regardless of their successes.
Hopkins’ transformation has made a creature of him, but the creature isn’t frightening. His chin, which is like a malfunctioned flapping dickey, is hypnotically distracting. It seems such a superfluous feature to constantly have attention drawn to it as though Hitchcock had swallowed his own brain. This soft, rotund, sad sack Hitchcock – with an eating disorder – isn’t remotely intimidating. How can the master of suspense and fear, played by the same vessel, who peeled off a dead man’s face in Silence Of The Lambs be such a… pussy cat?
We see past Hitch’s chin via a strange subplot involving Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), and his deceased mother. With this, and the fondling of his stars’ head shots, the profile of Hitchcock’s “voyeurism” is inconsistent and doesn’t match what was probably a truly perverted, bullying nature. The filming of the shower scene, with some good screaming by Scarlett Johansson, is ridiculous and makes another lazy comparison between Hitchcock and his male characters that protects viewers from him, by filling the mentally ill with his frustrations, like freezing them in fiction. He becomes impossible to connect with, and the romance, which is supposed to hold the film together, becomes secondary to confining Hitchcock’s fears and desires to the product of his craft.
The Psycho marketing campaign is Hollywood legend, and a realisation of this legend is always going to be problematic particularly in a domestic drama that never aspires to the affect or style of its subject. There is a second Hitchcock film The Girl, based on his relationship with Tippi Hedren, starring Toby Jones as Hitchcock, who also featured in Infamous, as Truman Capote, in competition with Phillip Seymour Hoffman a few years back (an irrelevant, though interesting, recurrence). A Hitchcock collection on blu-ray is now available featuring 12 of his later films, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents is playing on TV again. Melbourne’s Astor Theatre screened The Birds and Psycho back to back and Vertigo recently succeeded Citizen Kane as the greatest film of all time – a title Kane held for 50 years – in a critics poll conducted every 10 years by Sight & Sound magazine. Hitch is the flavour of the month, and the Hollywood system is unlikely to yield anything for his admirers to engage with. Thankfully, Mark Cousin’s The Story Of Film, which offers an awing, poetic chronology of film history, names Hitchcock as cinema’s great artist. Watch that instead.