Sunday, August 09, 2015

Hitchcock (2012)

There is a moment in HITCHCOCK when the Master of Suspense, in a state of personal and professional crisis, stares contemplatively at a photograph of himself as a young man, directing one of his earliest films (his arm and index finger extended in a characteristic "director" pose) with his wife and assistant director Alma Reville directly over his shoulder. The photo, taken during the production of Hitchcock's second film, THE MOUNTAIN EAGLE, in 1926, captures the sense of enthusiasm that the movies inspired in Hitchcock, as well as the collaborative working relationship he and Alma shared from the very beginning.

HITCHCOCK, directed by Sacha Gervasi, examines the relationship between Alfred and Alma (played, respectively, by Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren) during the period when the great filmmaker was about to embark on the production of PSYCHO, perhaps the riskiest and most controversial film of his career. Early in HITCHCOCK, Alfred is explaining to Alma that in order to get the film made, he will need to put up the money personally, borrowing against the house and standing to lose a fortune if it is a flop. Alma asks him why he wants to make this film so badly, to which he responds that he longs to feel something of that excitement again that they felt in the early days of making movies, when they invented new approaches as they went along. With that explanation, Alma understands the importance that the project holds for him. And it captures what made Hitchcock such a singular artist and visionary filmmaker, someone who was not content to rest on his laurels (which, by 1960, were considerable), and for whom the creative possibilities offered by the medium retained their strong attraction throughout his life.

The rest of the film gets bogged down in a lot of artificially-imposed marital melodrama involving suspicions of an affair between Mrs. Hitchcock and an opportunistic hack writer, hints of Mr. Hitchcock's unsavory behavior toward his female stars, and a series of ill-conceived fantasy sequences in which the director wrestles with some vague inner demons through imagined conversations with serial killer Ed Gein (whose gruesome murders provided the inspiration for PSYCHO), none of which add up to very much at all. But there are tantalizing glimpses of the film that could have been when it evokes the shared creative passion that brought these two people together as young artists at the center of an exciting new medium filled with endless possibilities, and continues to give their lives meaning.

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