“All of us harbor dark recesses of violence and horror.” – Alfred Hitchcock
Magnificent. Wildly entertaining. Engaging. Hilarious. Fascinating. If we’re talking about director Sacha Gervasi’s 2012 biopic Hitchcock, then, yes. All these things. All of these things a dozen times over. Easily a contender at the 2013 Academy Awards, Hitchcock is a must-see for fans of Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Jessica Biel, Scarlett Johanssonor the movie Psycho. That should cast a wide enough net. I haven’t been this entertained by a biographical film in years.
It’s true, what they say, about Anthony Hopkins disappearing into every performance he’s ever given. He is almost (almost, not completely) unrecognizable in Hitchcock. And although I have no first-hand knowledge of Hitchcock as a man, I found Hopkins’ performance delightful, emotional, intense.
“You can call me Hitch … hold the ‘cock’.” – Hopkins as Hitchcock
Hitchcock begins with the release of his latest film, North by Northwest. A wild success, the question on everyone’s lips is, “What’s next, Hitch?” Feeling the pressure of age and the need to best himself, Hitch launches into a single-minded frenzy in an attempt to locate his next project. Something different, something that will set him apart. That something? The film adaptation of the novel “Psycho” by Robert Bloch. A risk for Hitchcock at the time because the director was widely known for his work on thrillers, suspense. ”Psycho” was a new animal. It was a horror film. And no one wanted anything to do with it.
The book is an allusion to the real-life drama that unfolded in 1957 when the farmhouse of Ed Gein was raided. Police discovered furniture, silverware, and clothing made from human skin. Later, it was suggested Gein was attempting to make a “woman suit” to wear and pretend he was his mother. Sound familiar? At the time, the story captivated and terrified the American public. For Hitchcock, Psycho was perfect.
The movie’s central plot deals with the efforts of Hitchcock and his wife, Alma (played by Helen Mirren), who collaborated with him for more than 30 years, to adapt Bloch’s novel to the silver screen. Hitchcock finally brings to bear the unique and tremendously creative relationship the two shared.
As Alma, I couldn’t take my eyes off of Mirren. Mirren is absolutely stunning. If you haven’t seen Mirren’s SNL Digital Short, hop over and check it out: Helen Mirren’s Magical Bosom.
Scarlett Johansson plays Janet Leigh in Hitchcock. Johansson presents a mild-mannered, reserved Leigh in the film, full of class and professionalism. In preparing for the infamous Psycho shower scene, Johansson said in an interview with V Magazine:
“We only had the luxury to shoot the scene for a day, and everybody was feeling very nervous because it involved water and nobody wants the actor to get wet. They were concerned with modesty and all these things — but I don’t care about any of that stuff and Janet Leigh never did either.”
Jessica Biel stars as Vera Miles. Biel’s performance of Miles is beautifully subdued. Summoned to portray Marion Crane’s older sister in Psycho, the actress, once Hitchcock’s next big star, is shunned by the director. Shunned for choosing to be ordinary, for having a child instead of wanting to be a star. It was this pregnancy that lost her the leading role in Vertigo. I’d read interviews with and books about Hitchcock that suggest the relationship Hitch often shared with his leading ladies verged on the obsessive. The film plays with this theme at length, defining it as a wedge that comes between Hitchcock and his wife, Alma.
I was fortunate enough to see Hitchcock at an advance sneak peak screening, shown as part of a double-feature. The other film? Psycho, of course.
In true Hitchcockian fashion, there were armed guards and security check points. It felt like the opening night of Psycho, which only screened in two theaters at the behest of Paramount Pictures. With everything riding on the success of the film, Hitchcock and his aide, Peggy Robertson (played indelibly by Toni Collette), wrote a manual to the theater owners on how to show Psycho. It was pure marketing genius that created an unmatchable frenzy. Hop over to oscars.org to learn more about how Hitchcock got people to see Psycho.