The Psycho of Hollywood

By Tanenhaus, Sam | Newsweek, December 3, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Psycho of Hollywood


Tanenhaus, Sam, Newsweek


Byline: Sam Tanenhaus

Director Alfred Hitchcock gulped martinis, treated actors like cattle, and lusted after his leading ladies.

Will a new film starring Anthony Hopkins reveal the man behind the movies?

To say he's making a comeback would be misleading, because he never went away. Alfred Hitchcock's place in the pantheon of great directors has long been secure, thanks to a string of classics stretching from the 1930s, when he created gems like The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes, to the films that conquered Holly-wood in subsequent decades, including Notorious (a1946a), Rear Window (a1954a), and The Birds (a1963a). Stylish, literate, beautifully constructed, visually opulent, they showcased the period's most fetching stars (including Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, and James Stewart). No popular film-maker has been more admired by critics in his own lifetime.

Now something new is going on with Hitchcock. Thirty-two years after his death, he has become more relevant than ever, the subject of fresh and contentious speculation, his reputation as a director soaring to new heights even as a campaign seems underway to expose him as a bully and beast.

The British Film Institute, in its largest-ever undertaking, has been diligently restoring eight of the nine films Hitchcock made in the silent-film era, when he was in his 20s. This past August, 846 critics and professionals from the film industry voted Hitchcock's Vertigo the greatest film of all time, toppling Citizen Kane from its 50-year-long perch, in the prestigious Sight and Sound poll (conducted once a decade). But good news was followed by bad: in October, The Girl, a 90-minute HBO biopic, depicted Hitchcock (Toby Young) as a sexual harasser who destroyed the career of a fresh-faced Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller) after she refused to submit to his demand that she make herself "sexually available" to him when the two paired up to make The Birds.

Perfection of the work vs. perfection of the life is an age-old conflict, but in Hitchcock's case the dichotomy resists convenient parsing, because the facts of his life are so tightly raveled with the big themes in his work: the thwarted desire that darkens into monomania, the tense duality of inhibition and violence, the exalted vision twinned with the near-sadistic drive for total control, especially over the actors he said "should be treated like cattle." These warring impulses shaped Hitchcock's ceaseless striving "to manipulate an audience's sensibilities to the utmost," as Donald Spoto wrote in The Dark Side of Genius, his biography of the director.

"There's no question about his work. He was one of the greatest geniuses in the history of the medium," says Sacha Gervasi, the director of an ambitious, period-soaked new movie, Hitchcock (in theaters Nov. 23), about the filming of Psycho, the masterpiece for which Hitchcock is best remembered today, though in fact it signaled a sharp break from all that had gone before. What remains is the mystery of Hitchcock's true nature. As Gervasi puts it: "What kind of a person was he?"

Hitchcock tries to answer this question, through a layered reimagining of the man that shows him rebelling against the lords of the studios in their waning days. Gervasi, whose first film was the prizewinning rock-and-roll documentary Anvil!, sumptuously re-creates the Paramount "dream factory" of the late 1950s: the prefabricated stage sets and make-believe city streets, the executive conferences in mahogany suites, the cumbersome editing machines, the small army of lackeys and assistants. Hitchcock, impersonated by Anthony Hopkins, is neither monster nor caricature, but a fish-out-of-water artist struggling to maintain his subversive vision in this strangely stodgy and repressed world.

Hopkins, with his antic intelligence, slyly peels away the layers of Hitchcock's familiar cartoon image--the swollen girth encased in undertaker's black suit, the comically plummy accent with its Cockney traces. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Psycho of Hollywood
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.