Wednesday, 12 December 2018

An angry and unhappy creative genius who binged on foie gras - Review

BEHIND every successful man stands a woman. And in the case of Alfred Hitchcock, it was Alma Reville, his wife.

BEHIND every successful man stands a woman. And in the case of Alfred Hitchcock, it was Alma Reville, his wife.

A talented film editor, screenwriter and no-nonsense helpmate, she collaborated, mostly uncredited, with “Hitch” in his movie-making, all the while tolerating his bombast, egotism, voyeurism and penchant for (blonde) leading ladies.

Director Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock focuses on the relationship between the great film director and Alma during the making of the horror masterpiece, Psycho.

It opens at the 1959 première of North By North West when Alfred is asked by a journalist if, at the age of 60, he should think about retiring.

Determined to keep ahead of the game, he looks for something innovative that will keep his master of suspense reputation alive and becomes fascinated by Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho, based on real-life serial murderer, Ed Gein.

“It’s got murder, voyeurism, necrophilia — everything I like. This is not your usual kind of nutcase,” Alfred says.

When the project is given the thumbs-down by Hollywood’s film studios, Hitchcock and Alma (despite her initial “It’s low-budget, horror movie claptrap” dismissal) mortgage their luxury home to fund the movie themselves to the tune of $800,000.

Hitchcock intends the movie to be a shocker and there are many explosive meetings with the censor, including clashes over nudity, and a scene where Hitchcock has to persuade him that a flushing toilet (a film first) is crucial to the plot.

Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren as the main players are excellent. The rest of the cast, including Scarlett Johansson, vivacious as Janet Leigh (Psycho’s doomed Marion Crane), give good support.

Jowly and paunchy, corpulent and cuddly, Hopkins’ Hitchcock comes across as a man suddenly plagued with self-doubt, uncertain of his future in a changing Hollywood, and jealous of his wife — who he believes is having an affair.

He is an angry, unhappy, yet seemingly compassionate person who binges on booze and foie gras. There are allusions to his bullying, lascivious (but not abusive) leanings towards the opposite sex and his voyeurism. He gets a kick watching actresses undress through a spyhole in his office wall. At home he and Alma, chaste in shapeless pyjamas, sleep in single beds.

Mirren gives a commanding performance as Alma, a creative and formidable force in her own right but rarely acknowledged, supportive of her husband despite his foibles, and always there to bail him out when the going gets tough. It would appear that Alma knocked Psycho into shape after distributors gave the finished film a “four-letter” rejection.

Overall, this is a cosy, enjoyable, light-hearted film that doesn’t delve too deeply into the Hitchcock psyche, instead giving a tantalising glimpse into his wife’s unsung influence. However, it does rather assumes that everybody knows about Psycho, its impact on audiences and why it became the masterpiece it is, sealing Alfred Hitchcock’s reputation forever as the ultimate thriller director.

This begs the question: what would someone who hasn’t seen Psycho make of it all?

Perhaps I should have taken a Psycho virgin with me to find out.

Film: Hitchcock

Certificate: (12A)

Released: February 8

Director: Sacha Gervasi

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel, James D’Arcy

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