A Lifelong Love of Alfred Hitchcock vs Hitchcock (2012)

They say we should go into movies blind, with zero expectations and completely open minds, but I find that almost impossible. All our life experiences up to the moment we enter the theatre have shaped our tastes, likes and dislikes. Sure, if you’ve never liked a Western before you might still be blown away by True Grit, but it’s hard to really feel that going in. “This time, this might be the Western that impresses me!” The same is true for the opposite. If you love Stephen Speilberg’s work, how do you not get excited about his latest film? We as an audience have expectations and it shouldn’t be a hindrance. If liking the Harry Potter books gave me unrealistic expectations for the movie, that’s the fault of the filmmakers for not living up to the material, not me for wanting to be impressed. Anyway, this is a story about why I hated the movie Hitchcock.

I saw Psycho for the first time when I was about seven or eight. I was in my best friend’s basement for a sleepover and her older sisters put it on. They had all seen it before and I said I had too, but I think it became apparent I was lying when I got really confused by Anthony Perkins in a wig. This was my introduction to the works of Alfred Hitchcock. From there, I went to episode after episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and then Rear Window, Dial M for Murder, Strangers on a Train, Vertigo, North By Northwest, Lifeboat and the rest (not necessarily in that order). I own all of his movies and I’ve felt that joy of showing someone Shadow of a Doubt for the first time. My movie tastes tend to run towards suspense, thrillers, mysteries and murders, and my lifelong love of Hitchcock’s films is either the result or the cause, one can never be sure. Anyway, this is supposed to be a story about why I hated the movie Hitchcock.

I went into the movie with certain expectations. I thought this quasi-biopic about the making of Psycho would be entertaining, darkly comedic and shed some light on my favourite director and his most famous film. I did not expect to watch a corny dramedy that all but ignored Psycho and Hitchcock himself to focus on his strained marriage and his wife Alma. There’s kind of this revisionist history going around that geniuses aren’t as genius as we think they are, like the idea that Shakespeare was a plagiarist hack or the Beatles were overrated. Alfred Hitchcock has been added to that list of not-so-genius geniuses, according to Hitchcock. The film presents him as a sad and pathetic old man who would have had a flop on his hands if not for his brilliant and underrated wife Alma, who ultimately rewrote, cast, edited, helped direct and even scored Psycho.

Now I’m not saying I wanted this movie to be about a saintly or flawless Hitchcock or an exercise in hero worship. I’m aware of the history around Hitchcock: he was not easy to work with, to say the least. I do not, however, think he spent his days having imaginary heart-to-heart conversations with Ed Gein and crying over his wife possibly having an affair. (By all accounts, the Hitchcock’s actually had a happy marriage). It’s amazing he was able to get Psycho done, considering the only time we see him on set he’s having nervous breakdowns and storming off, or having a heart attack and making Alma go direct in his place, which is a complete fabrication by the way. If you know anything about the man you probably know two things: his affinity for blondes, and that he is a perfectionist. Hitchcock was often called a control freak, and he meticulously planned and storyboarded his films frame by frame. Alma did catch Janet Leigh moving once she was supposed to be dead, but let’s not pretend the whole movie was her idea. She was a brilliant editor, no doubt, and their unique working relationship and partnership could have been an interesting facet of this story, but that’s not what Hitchcock did.

I can’t help but wonder the point of this movie. It shed no insight into Alfred Hitchcock’s life or give him any depth at all. He is shown bumbling his way through scenes with the occasional dumb quip and pouted face, an exaggerated parody built of his own self-parodying cameos and appearances. It gives no behind-the-scenes look at the making of Psycho, other than that the studio didn’t want to finance it, which is information anyone could gather of Wikipedia. Anthony Perkins was a nothing but a gay joke stretched across five minutes and Hitchcock’s rocky relationship with Vera Miles is mentioned but never felt. We don’t even really get to see Hitchcock at work – we see the shower and the peephole in Bates Motel and that’s it. We don’t see his painstaking attention to detail or the sheer amount of innovation that went into creating the movie. We don’t even see any scenes of the movie!

The purpose of this movie, it seems, was to fabricate a history for Alfred Hitchcock, where he is a sad and troubled man and his wife is an unsung hero. An argument could be made for both these tidbits: anyone who watches Hitchcock films can draw their own conclusions about his mental state, and Alma was a frequent and important collaborator. But Hitchcock doesn’t seem interested in explaining why we should re-examine history this way. Alma just comes up with brilliant ideas off the top of her head, like killing off Janet Leigh 30 minutes in, while Hitchcock fantasises about murder. It isn’t a more interesting version of history, and the film doesn’t give us enough to work with to convince us that this is the way they were. The worst crime in Hitchcock is that even after the filmmakers twisted all the facts to create something bizarre and new, the movie still feels dull and fake. You’re inventing drama for a biopic about one of Hollywood’s most prolific figures, and this is the best you can come up with?

Psycho, from the filming to the release, was an interesting and unusual filmmaking process that changed the Hollywood system in a lot of ways. I would have loved to watch a film about that process, from Hitchcock’s meticulous filming methods and the different techniques used in the film, to his fights with censor boards on what is or isn’t appropriate. There’s a quick montage towards the end of the film about the release of Psycho where Hitchcock says they’ll write books about how they marketed this movie. He’s right, they did, but all Hitchcock gives us is a thirty-second montage. Psycho is the reason why movies have start times and lines beforehand, prior to its release patrons could wander into a movie any time after it had started and wait for the next showing to see the beginning if they liked. There’s a story around the making of Psycho, a real one, and it is unfortunately left behind in the book this film was adapted from, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. This film doesn’t really acknowledge what made Psycho influential, it just keeps telling us that it is.

If you’re going to make a movie about an iconic and influential filmmaker, your work needs to stand up to his. If I can get more joy, entertainment and value from a rewatch of To Catch A Thief than I can while watching Hitchcock, you’ve failed.

Basically, I hated the movie Hitchcock.



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