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Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 08:58 am

Hitchcock too fractured

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Helen Mirren as Alma Reville and Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock in Hitchcock.

Much like the bathroom at the Bates Motel where Marion Crane met her untimely death, Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock is a bit of a mess. Attempting to tell the story about the making of one of the most notorious films of all time, while psychoanalyzing its director, is an intriguing story on paper. Not so in practice.

The script by John McLaughlin ends up being as schizophrenic as Norman Bates. Neither the plotline, focusing on the behind-the-scenes machinations that went into the making of Psycho, nor that concerning Hitchcock’s private trials are fully developed. The result is a movie composed of two halves that don’t meet in the middle but rather fracture one another, resulting in a disappointing viewing experience.

The film opens at the premiere of one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces, North by Northwest. Despite the success of this film, the director (Anthony Hopkins) is filled with doubt. Trade papers are beginning to tout the success of younger more relevant filmmakers. Out to play against expectations and prove that he still has a trick or two up his sleeve, he sets out to find a story that will put him back on top. He finds it in Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho, a highly fictionalized account of a series of murders committed by Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein. Grisly and considered distasteful, Hitchcock has to finance the film on his own when Paramount Pictures refuses to do so, and while his loving wife Alma (Helen Mirren) supports him, she too has her doubts as to how acceptable this story will be to the viewing public.

Based very loosely on the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello, a work I cannot recommend highly enough if you want to get the straight dope on this seminal horror film, McLaughlin’s screenplay uses far too much conjecture as to what Hitchcock was feeling and thinking during the making of the film and then clutters matters even more by focusing far too much on Alma and her relationship with screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston). Hitchcock is seen speaking to Gein (Michael Wincott) in his mind when he’s wrestling with his doubts or unfulfilled desires where pursuing his leading ladies are concerned. He’s also shown in the act of voyeurism just as Bates does in the film. Gervasi wants us to believe that Norman was Hitchcock’s surrogate through which he acted out his repressed violent desires. These moments come off as cheap and half-realized and only serve as a distraction from what should be the focus of the film.

As a result, not nearly enough time is spent examining the trials and tribulations Hitchcock went through to complete Psycho. Though his bouts with Hollywood censors are seen twice, they don’t begin to scratch the surface as far as the true titanic battles he had to endure with them. Other tidbits, such as how he determined the sound effect for how a blade sounds when it enters flesh, how he cut costs by using the crew from his television show and the process he went through in determining what should be used for blood on screen are all ignored. Most egregious is the fact that the making of the famous shower scene, perhaps the most analyzed 45 seconds in film, is completely ignored and is instead used as an opportunity for Hitchcock to go into another of his self-analytical trances.

The end result is a movie that fails to meet expectations on every front. A failure as a historical account and an embarrassment as a character study, Gervasi’s movie plays like a student project that would have been acknowledged as “intriguing” in film school, but is hardly the work of even a competent director, let alone a master, whose life provides the fodder for this misguided exercise.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org

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