Saturday, December 8, 2012

While not masterly, ‘Hitchcock’ is fun, fascinating ‘Psycho’ telling


By Steve Crum

The cliche “crowd pleaser” applies to Hitchcock, which dramatizes a crucial time in the professional life of Alfred Hitchcock, when he made Psycho. That 1960 film marked the artistic and commercial peak of Sir Alfred’s career, and was one of the biggest crowd pleasers in the history of motion pictures. 

If only Hitchcock the movie had focused solely on Psycho’s behind-the-scenes production, which would have made it even more pleasing. Instead, there is a makeshift subplot involving Hitch and his wife Alma’s marriage bond, or lack thereof. Make that two subplots, the second referencing Hitchcock’s psychological fixation on real-life, sicko serial killer Ed Gein, the inspiration for Psycho’s central nutcase, Norman Bates. No doubt John J. McLaughlin’s screenplay, which is based on Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, includes the peripherals to appeal to a wider, non-movie buff audience. In the process, the story is muddled and somewhat alienates those who ARE Hitchcock fanatics. 

Director Sacha Gervasi does an impressive, if not campy, job with numerous profile shots of Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) in stereotypical pose. The Ed Gein dream sequences that show some of the atrocities he committed, particularly toward his mother, echo Psycho scenes featuring Norman and his mama. While it is documented that Hitch did base his Norman Bates on grim Gein stories he had read, there is no proof he obsessed about Gein to any extent. The film strongly implies Hitchcock was himself psychotic about the Gein saga, dreaming about it at night, and imagining Gein himself is advising for authenticity during the actual direction of Psycho. By the way, Gein’s murderous ways formed the basis for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a heinous 1974 movie directed by Tobe Hooper that spawned several sequels and copycat horror flicks.

Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife and film collaborator Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) clearly suggests that by the time Psycho was being planned, their marriage was more so one of convenience and uncertainty. Using a great deal of artistic license, Gervasi and McLaughlin fill in relationship unknowns with a quasi-love story. Although the two respect each other for their personal and professional history, Hitch himself feels he can tackle Psycho virtually alone, which alienates Alma to collaborate on close friend Whitfield Cook’s screenplay. As the two take extended trips to Cook’s beach house to edit and write, Alfred becomes jealous. 

Of course, Hitch continues his womanizing on and off the Psycho set, flirting with and leering at Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel). Such Hitchcock escapades are facts that have taken legendary proportions. See the recent HBO movie, The Girl, which shows Hitchcock literally pouncing upon Tippi Hedren in the backseat of his limo. While that incident may be exaggerated, Hitchcock’s lust for his blonde actresses is a given. It is assumed he never channeled Ed Gein during those moments. 

The meat and most fun of Hitchcock, however, is the making of Psycho scenes themselves, on and off the set. Casting Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy) as Norman was influenced by Perkins’ own mother fixation. We also learn of Hitch’s near disgust at Vera Miles for ruining his plans of making her a star by getting pregnant. Funny that in Psycho, Miles has more screen time than the top-billed Leigh, with Leigh’s character killed off early in the movie. 

Integral to the Psycho production story is Hitchcock’s fight early on with financing at Paramount Pictures, which (as shown) ended with Hitch himself financing the film. To me, Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho score contributes to at least half the impact and success of the movie. Happily, thanks to a very telling sequence involving a preview audience, Hitchcock verifies what I have realized all along.  

Even though Anthony Hopkins is not a Hitchcock clone, his makeup, body language, and speech mannerisms are convincing enough to accept him as “The Master of Suspense.” Add to it enough appropriately dark humor, and the illusion works. 

Despite the Ed Gein and love story MacGuffins, Hitchcock makes for a “good evening.” 
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GRADE On an A to F Scale: B
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Presenting the trailer to Hitchcock: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rQuRLERl6A

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