Magazine article Variety

Spellbound by the Notorious Mr. H

Magazine article Variety

Spellbound by the Notorious Mr. H

Article excerpt

More than three decades after his death, Alfred Hitchcock is having quite a year.

In July, the British Film Institute presented restorations of nine Hitchcock silents, followed by a threemonth retrospective of the director's work. The timing couldn't have been better At the height of all the Hitch hullabaloo, "Vertigo" topped the once-a-decade critics' poll run by the BFI's Sight & Sound magazine, knocking "Citizen Kane" from its long-held perch as the greatest film of all time.

Not all the attention has been quite so favorable. On Aug. 1, the day of the Sight & Sound announcement, Tippi Hedren appeared at the Television Critics Assn.'s press tour to discuss "The Girl," an unsettling HBO/BBC drama about her tempestuous dealings with Hitchcock while making "The Birds" and "Mamie." At the time, I noted the irony of Hitchcock being saluted for "Vertigo" - by far his most personal and confessional work, the film in which he most directly acknowledged his desire to tame, control and possess his beautiful blonde muses - even as one of those muses was speaking none too flatteringly, about the collaboration that launched and torpedoed her career.

"The Girl," directed by Julian Jarrold, is one of two pictures this season to turn the Master of Suspense's behind-the-scenes drama into biopic fodder, the other is Sacha Gervasi's "Hitchcock," a genial farce about his struggle to wrestle "Psycho" to the screen. Although wildly divergent in tone, emphasis and intent, both films take a special interest in the well-known matter of Hitchcock's often smothering fixation with his leading ladies, turning the director into a drawling avatar of sexual repression and psychological instability. The viewer is left with the implication that no movies so brilliantly twisted could possibly have sprung from a well-adjusted mind.

And so, in this eerie confluence of reverent tributes and warts-andall exposes - a phenomenon one might perhaps term Hitch-steria - we behold the curious spectacle of a great filmmaker's legacy burnished in one breath and lightly besmirched in another. Insofar as no one is above reproach, there is nothing particularly wrong with this. Given Hitchcock's sly awareness of his own legend and the deadpan glee with which he turned his sinister persona into a marketable signature, I suspect the director is not spinning in his grave so much as chuckling in it.

Or perhaps he's smirking. Although marked by dishy details and adroit feats of actorish mimicry, neither "The Girl" nor "Hitchcock" rises far above the level of glib entertainment, much less to the rich level of their respective source texts. In seeking to illuminate the inner workings of creative genius, they achieve merely reductive imitation.

"Hitchcock" follows an ultimately uplifting arc, showing how the director (played by Anthony Hopkins) took a m^jor risk on a movie he alone believed in, and wound up with an unprecedented B.O. triumph. "The Girl" traces a downward spiral from that triumph, as untold reserves of commercial and creative cachet led Hitchcock (Toby Jones) to become ever more maniacally exacting, according to the film.

Jarrold's movie depicts Hitchcock making a clumsy pass at Hedren (Sienna Miller), and shows his wife, Alma (Imelda Staunton), to be long-suffering to the point of pathetic complicity in her husband's machinations. Gervasi's film casts Helen Mirren as Alma and elevates her to the role of wise, faithful collaborator; it dramatizes the Hitchcocks' marriage in an ultimately admiring, even inspiring light.

Each film restages a famous setpiece to imply that Hitchcock's personal demons are getting the better of him on the set. …

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