- Published on Monday, November 12 2012
- Written by Katie Marzullo
If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that they saw something Psycho or Tony Perkins-related and thought of me, I’d be able to finance my own production of Psycho V. What I’m saying is, it’s part of my identity, like Jerry Seinfeld and Superman, or Tom Cruise and Scientology, and this makes me the utmost authority to view and review the new Sacha Gervasi film, Hitchcock!
The historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood played host to a double-feature over the weekend which included an advanced screening of Hitchcock (which officially opens on November 23) followed by the original 1960 film Psycho, and in between would be a live Q&A with the director Gervasi, author Stephen Rebello (upon whose book Hitchcock is based), and costume designer Julie Weiss. Obviously, I was front row-center. (Well, okay, 5th row-center!)
I’ll cut to the chase. Hitchcock is a great film. It was a fun experience. It was smart, it was cheeky, it was everything you would want an actually film directed by Alfred Hitchcock to be, so it only stands to reason that a movie about him would carry the same sort of morbid sense of humor and (yes) suspense at which Hitchcock was second-to-none.
Now, I bought and read Rebello’s book almost 20 years ago, and I dusted it off and read it again prior to this screening. I’ve read other books and seen documentaries and stuff over the years, so I am pretty familiar with the events surrounding the shooting of Psycho. This movie, however, strayed in another direction. Hitchcock was, first and foremost, about the man himself – about his mythos, the grandiose legend that is The Master of Suspense. It was also about his storied relationship with his wife, Alma Reville. And so these were the parameters within which Gervasi framed his tale. Unlike Gervasi’s previous feature, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, this is NOT a documentary, and thus it was not bound by the heavy restrictions of facts. And, as you probably know, I am quite a stickler for accuracy in historical/period/biopics. HOWEVER, this was not a straight biopic. This was the story of a man and the film he is (arguably) most remembered for.
To be honest, Hitchcock reminded me much of Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, in that it was not too concerned with being rigid on historical accuracy but was more inclined to tell the story of an extraordinary, notorious man and do so in the style reminiscent of that filmmaker. Hitchcock is filled to the brim with wicked humor, subtle recurring motifs, psychological drama, and nail-biting suspense. Also, there is the famous “MacGuffin” that Hitchcock was always so fond of. In Psycho, the MacGuffin was the $40,000 that Marion Crane steals, which leads her to the Bates Motel and her untimely and shocking death. In an ironic twist, the MacGuffin in Hitchcock is Psycho itself!
This carried over into the portrayals of the people themselves. Anthony Hopkins, though never really physically convincing (in my opinion), so embodied the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock that it really didn’t matter that he looked very little like him. He brought an uncanny sense of humanity to a man whose public image was very… at arm’s length. Hitchcock always seemed as cool as a cucumber, no matter what. But Hitchcock pulls back the public veil so that we may peer, voyeur-like, into the troubled mind of a great artist. I’ve often said that it’s a good thing certain people have a creative outlet with which to express their darker sides, otherwise they might become serial killers. I imagine Alfred Hitchcock falls into this category too. All this is to say, if Oscar doesn’t come knocking in a few months, then the Academy SERIOUSLY has some kind of weird bias against Hitch (who never won a competitive Oscar in his long career).
As for the other stars, Helen Mirren was, well, Helen Mirren! You can’t go wrong when you put her in a leading role. She bared no physical resemblance to Alma Reville, and personality-wise is really anyone’s guess, as Alma was a rather quiet public figure. Mirren didn’t have a whole lot to go on, so she made the role her own. And she was, as always, top-rate. Scarlett Johansson was actually quite charming in the role of Psycho’s leading lady, Janet Leigh. I was skeptical, but she pulled it off. Jessica Biel – like her alter ego, Vera Miles, herself – wasn’t given a whole lot to work with, but she was certainly competent with what she had and I came away satisfied.
And, because I know you’re all waiting for it – James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins. OKAY. Here’s the thing… as far as physicality goes, mannerisms and whatnot, D’Arcy was dead-on. Even just little things such as hand gestures – He had clearly done his homework. The problem I had was the role which the “character” of Tony Perkins was portrayed. It was the same old tired trouble-actor-in-the-closet routine that Tony is so often (mis)remembered for today. Perhaps that is the taste he left in the mouths of many he came across, but that can’t be said for the folks with whom he worked on Psycho. There is a scene in Hitchcock where Tony and Janet Leigh are on set with Hitchcock, and Tony thanks the director once again for the opportunity and addresses him as “Mr. Hitchcock”. The director replies, “That’s Hitch; hold the ‘cock’.” Tony’s face immediately falls into a sheepish embarrassment, showing him as someone completely mortified by a bawdy joke. When, in fact, by all accounts, Tony would have likely been the one to make that very joke HIMSELF! In both Rebello’s book and Janet Leigh’s own book about the making of Psycho, they both extol on Tony’s ribald sense of humor, his willingness to make a quip to get the ladies blushing. In fact, Tony, Janet, and Hitchcock were quite the trio, yukking it up between takes.
Not pictured: Discomfort.
Having said this, though, I understand the point they were trying to make. Tony, like everyone else in the film, had secrets, had a dark side that he was unwilling (at that time) to confront. The “character” of Tony Perkins acted as yet another motif in Gervasi’s bigger picture. I get it. I’ll allow it. If this was a biopic of Tony, it would be different, but this is not.
Other bits ‘n’ bobs of note: Toni Collette, as always, was terrific. Her role was not terribly challenging, but she made it very memorable. And I was so happy she got to share a scene with Helen Mirren. SO MUCH ACTING! Ralph Macchio’s role as Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano was little more than a cameo, with him appearing in one less-than-five-minute scene. Michael Wincott as serial killer Ed Gein was SPOT-ON… truly disturbing! Other roles that they took the trouble to actually cast with REAL actors, like star Martin Balsam (Richard Chassler), title designer Saul Bass (Wallace Langham), and editor George Tomasini (Spencer Garrett) were practically just walk-on bit parts. Also, I was surprised they omitted Alfred and Alma's daughter, Patricia, completely, especially since she even had a role in Psycho. Couldn't they have just called up Emma Stone and have her come in for a day for a brief yet poignant scene?
Oh, and the scene in the movie where Hitchcock stands just outside the theatre doors as the audience reacts to the shower scene was just fantastic.
During the talk-back with Gervasi, Rebello, and the costumer, Rebello explains revealed his long relationship with Hitchcock, which began one day when the author was just a starstruck boy who called the main office at Universal and was, to his great shock/delight, patched through to Hitchcock himself! Thus began an acquaintanceship by phone between the writer and famous director, and Rebello developed a deep affection for the man. Because of this, he was insistent that the movie delve into more emotional content than his book, to appreciate the man as well as the artist. Right before the lights dimmed for the screening of Psycho, I shook Mr. Rebello’s hand. He asked me if I liked the movie, or if I “felt betrayed.” What an interesting question! But it wasn’t in that jaded way that artists feel about fanboys/girls who never seem to be satisfied when their beloved works of literature are adapted to the screen. No, he seemed genuinely concerned that the movie be received with the intent that he envisioned; that Hitchcock be perceived through the same lens in which this lifelong fan and confidante saw him. I think all involved succeeded.
Hitchcock opens nationwide on November 23. Go see it!
- Katie Marzullo, YH Staff Editor