December 19, 2012 – There’s a lot to be said about separating the artist as a person from his or her work. I sometimes prefer enjoying the art for what it is, and knowing next to nothing about the actual human being who created it. Too often, it can ruin the enjoyment if you know too much.
Back in October, when I discovered that two movies were made about the life of “The Master of Suspense” Alfred Hitchcock, I looked forward to learning more about the genius filmmaker, despite what had been speculated about him and his obsession with his leading ladies known as “Hitchcock’s Blondes”. Craziness aside, he was one of the greatest directors of all time, and I’m a huge fan.
“The Girl” premiered in October on HBO starring Toby Jones and Sienna Miller as Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren, and it focused on their time filming “The Birds”. This version of Hitchcock’s story did nothing for me; I didn’t enjoy it, and it honestly gave me the creeps. Not that it surprised me, but it portrayed him as an off-balanced pervert.
Still, curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to see the theatrical version of “Hitchcock” because of the acting talents of Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren. Directed by Sacha Gervasi and based on Stephen Rebello’s book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho”, it centers on the marriage of Hitchcock (Hopkins) and Alma Reville (Mirren) during the filming of the movie. It also stars Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh and Toni Colette as his office assistant, Peggy Robertson. It’s easy to see that women had a major impact on Hitchcock, his movies and his choices.
After both movies, I’m still a huge fan of his body of work, although as a human being, Hitchcock may be questionable. Hopkins, an actor I adore, did a marvelous job making me cringe. He is well cast and does a fine job creating the illusion of being the actual director. Hopkins appearance isn’t identical, and perhaps the makeup crew tried a bit too hard to make it look like it was, but Hopkins sounded very much like the director and did an excellent job with his mannerisms. Mirren is equally impressive in her role, and as usual, steals most of the scenes she is in. If portrayed honestly, Alma, Hitchcock’s wife, was cunning enough to get what she wanted, yet she supported him and his crazy ideas. She was more than able to hold her own against the great and powerful Master of Suspense, and he was putty in her hands.
Unlike “The Girl”, which portrayed an awful relationship between Hitch and Hedren, “Hitchcock” presented a wonderful relationship with the director and Janet Leigh. Or at least that she knew how to handle him. But what I liked most about it is that it focused more on behind the scenes business of making movies, and it avoided too much of the quirky personality stuff that made “The Girl” too dark for me. And the personality traits that they did take on had a fun, campy quality to it. Some critics have pointed out that it’s played too cute and comfortable, but that’s OK by me.
It was also interesting to learn the back-story of Psycho, how it was based on a true story, and how the studios didn’t want anything to do with before they shot it, and even after they saw it. But the clever Hitchcock was a marketing genius as well, and knew how to give an audience what it wanted. “Psycho” went on to become his most popular work.
The story began and ended splendidly, with Hitchcock’s familiar “Good evening” monologue, just like he did with his television series and with the same memorable music in the background. That added another element of fun, and I knew instantly it would be much more enjoyable than the HBO film, and that I would probably like it. And I did. It was far from one of my favorite movies of the year; the competition is especially steep in 2012, but it was highly entertaining just the same.
Interestingly, Toby Jones was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his Hitchcock portrayal, along with Sienna Miller, but Hopkins was snubbed. And he was a better Hitch than Jones in almost every way. Mirren, however, did capture a nomination as best actress. The Golden Globe is thought to be a precursor for the Academy Awards, so with the steep competition, we probably won’t see Hopkins nominated for an Oscar, either. But in Hitchcock’s colorful and crazy world, stranger things have happened.