It'd be redundant to point out that creative industries have a tendency towards dramatisation, but in films 'dramatisation' is often an excuse for revisionism. More than any others, the film industry glamourises, worships and warps its own history, and this synthesises with the star system to create an introverted bubble of self-importance. Is anyone really surprised that 'Argo', a film that casts Hollywood as an international hero, took Best Picture at the Academy Awards last year?
That's why I always approach films involving representations of filmmakers with an extra layer of suspicion. It's not even necessarily that they glorify them, but in making them seem either more eccentric (as in 'Ed Wood'), or more insanely obsessed (John Malkovich's unfortunate portrayal of Murnau in 'Shadow Of The Vampire'), they build a mythology of film directors which exceptionalises them.
These reservations might be misplaced in 'Hitchcock', however, as by all accounts he genuinely was obsessed, affected and arrogant. Based on Stephen Rebello's book 'Alfred Hitchcock And The Making Of Psycho', Sacha Gervasi's biopic covers the production of Hitchcock's masterpiece and attempts to animate his neuroses through an increasingly corrosive relationship with his wife and his colleagues.
While Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of Hitchcock verges on caricature, Helen Mirren gives a persuasive performance as his suffering wife, Alma, and Scarlett Johansson's Janet Leigh is expressive in an under-written role. Jessica Biel and Danny Huston give performances which are brilliantly restrained, but this has the unfortunate effect of emphasising Hopkins' Hitchcock cartoon by contrast.
The story of the production of 'Psycho' is inevitably simplified, and the recurring manifestation of Hitchcock's burgeoning insecurity through imagined dialogues with the real-life serial killer Ed Gein, played by Michael Wincott, is an affectation that's both unnecessary and undermining. The Hitchcock Presents framing device mirroring his classic television series is similarly affected and unnecessary, however Gervasi does construct and exploit some more interesting parallelisms.
The repeated theme of voyeurism in Hitchcock's films is reflected here, but whether it's an empty postmodern intertextuality or a significant swipe at why we watch biopics of troubled people depends on how cynical you think Gervasi is being. In any case, Hitchcock's breakdown in the filming of the infamous shower scene is a compelling analogue, his psychological disintegration creating a shocking crescendo.
I can't recommend 'Hitchcock' to you if you aren't already familiar with at least 'Psycho' - it's assumed throughout the film that you're conversant with its characters, the scenes that are being shot, and their later cultural significance. Even if you are, you'll need to be a fan of Hitchcock himself to put up with his depiction here, otherwise it'll just look like a film about an asshole being undeservedly successful. It's certainly not an effective introduction to Hitchcock's work or life, it's a dramatisation for those who are bored of the usual histories. And in that regard, I guess it's decent.
DVD EXTRAS:- Audio Description
- Hitchcock Cell Phone PSA
- The Story
- The Cast
- Danny Elfman Maestro
- Hitch and Alma
- Remembering Hitchcock
- Theatrical Trailer
'Hitchcock' is available to purchase on DVD and Blu-ray from amazon.co.uk etc.