Alfred Hitchcock, one of the greatest directors of our time or THE greatest director of our time? Was Hitchcock great or was he awesome? The answer is yes. As any film student will tell you, after prattling on about how great “Rear Window” is (my being a film student aside, it’s actually really good, you should see it), they’ll say how important and influential he was in the movie making world. Pretentious as they may seem, they’re right. The guy made a bunch of really great movies with an original style, broke social taboos and pushed the envelope to enormous success, and the impact of it all can still be seen in movies today. It’s similar to the way Eisenstein and his movies were influential on Woody Allen (film student, remember?).
Hitchcock, or as he refers to himself, Hitch, is coming off of what he sees as the disappointing “North by Northwest” and is looking for a way to reinvent himself as he suspects he’s being pushed aside for more modern and youthful directors to usurp his spotlight. It’s in this way that he finds himself face to face with the book “Psycho” based off the horror story that is Ed Gein’s life. The guy’s nuts to put it lightly. But his story is intriguing and provocative enough that Hitch decides that’s who he’ll base his next movie on. However, it’s the late fifties. Which means America is so conservative and uptight that you couldn’t even say the word “pregnant” on television. So what follows is the struggle of an artist to release the most shocking film ever made.
To say this movie idolizes Alfred Hitchcock is an understatement. At some point in the middle of the movie I expected the set to split in half and watch a herd of goats and cattle shepherded in to be ritually sacrificed in the director’s name. Sure he’s presented as a guy with flaws but they’re artist flaws that translate to “No one understands me and I’m insecure, someone recognize my genius already!” That isn’t to say he didn’t actually have those kinds of trouble in real life but it seems like it was more so to relate him to an audience of people who already worship the man and want to relate to him in the most superficial way, as a struggling artist. Never mind the fact that throughout the movie you’re constantly reminded of the enormous success and power he has as the most popular and well known director… ever. This movie has a specific audience in mind. Remember those film students?
This is a film for those film students who see moviemaking in this exact light. That they are artists, criticized by the world, seen as strange, yet always showing themselves to be genius in the end. Then, with their success in hand, they wait for all the people who ever slighted them to line up and apologize one by one for just how wrong they were. What I’m saying is that for the things this movie does right, it still feels like it’s playing to all the pretentions of a film student and in so doing never rises above it. The way the characters go on about basic structures and presentations of film that would make those students swoon in rehearing it if it’s from the mouth of such a prestigious director and the actors whose names they will Google once the credits role. Obviously, that means I really like it. But is it a good movie for anyone else?
It gets some things right. A movie about Hitchcock should try to emulate him as much as possible. The motion of the camera as it glides through the room, a voyeur, observing but never interfering. Clear metaphors and sexual euphemisms in physical response for emotional turmoil. Main characters being just out sight when you want to see them the most, raising the suspense to palpable levels (except this isn’t one of his horror movies so that palpable level is only in terms of a light drama). The reason it’s so easy to point all this out however is because of just how lacking all these elements were in displaying anything close to what Hitchcock may have captured with his techniques. This isn’t a thriller, horror, or even an action movie. It’s a movie about making movies. These elements aren’t used consistently throughout, but when they are it just makes it more apparent what this movie is lacking. The characters aren’t two dimensional, but they also aren’t three. And this is because they are all idolized. Hitchcock is a struggling artist. Alma, his wife, is the leash that keeps him tethered to the ground, lest he fly off with himself as he comes up with new ideas. Everyone around both of them are just happy to be there, except for the studio executives who clearly don’t understand what kind of masterpieces he makes and only want to make sure their bottom line is unaffected. There’s no real drama to be had in that.
This could be acceptable if they make up for it in other areas. This is a period movie, so I was hoping for something of a guided tour through old timey Hollywood by Hitchcock in his director’s chair. This movie didn’t feel like it was glued to 1959. In fact without the occasional typewriter or car on screen I forgot it was even the fifties. It could have been any year, assuming that year had really stringent rules concerning censorship. Then there was the makeup for Anthony Hopkins. This is what makes or breaks a movie like this. When you have to so drastically alter an actor to be who you want him to be, it’s a gamble no matter how good the actor is, and Anthony Hopkins is still an amazing actor. You need to get the impression just right, that it compensates for lacking effects, or the effects have to be just right to make up for a lacking performance. I never saw past Anthony Hopkins in a fat suit leftover from the nutty professor. But never fear, because HBO actually made their own movie about Hitchcock called “The Girl,” and instead of Psycho it’s about him making “The Birds!” The movie doesn’t idolize him and it doesn’t skirt his less than stellar credentials as a director either. “Hitchcock” isn’t necessarily a bad movie, it’s just disappointing. but there isn’t much substantial to it that you couldn’t get from a Wikipedia page and viewing of “Rear Window.”