Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Sacha Gervasi's quick-witted Hitchcock discloses assorted desires of reinvention. "It's so unlike you," says Helen Mirren as Hitchcock's wife Alma Reville about his latest project, for which he orders his minions to buy up all copies of Robert Bloch's book Psycho. "That is exactly the point, my dear," responds Anthony Hopkins confidently as Alfred Hitchcock.

In order to avoid the linear bio-pic swamp successfully, Gervasi boldly adds the character of Ed Gein (played compellingly by Michael Wincott), the Butcher of Plainfield, who was Bloch's inspiration for Norman Bates. Gein's family farmhouse is the starting point of the journey and his interactions with Hitchcock are more than nightmare snippets.

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The vividness of the sequences reminded me of Joann Sfar's inventive double in graphic novel style for Serge Gainsbourg in Vie Héroïque in 2010. Hitch with a cup of tea and a poignant comment, watching farmhand brother kill farmhand brother, or turning Gein/Bates into a psychiatrist with dirty fingernails, while the shrink-shy director sweats in mock fear - these are moments where Gervasi breaks up the action, splinters the narrative into their strong visual and emotional components.

Alfred Hitchcock ("call me Hitch, hold the cock," he slyly corrects Anthony Perkins, played by James D’Arcy, walking on the set with him and Janet Leigh, played by Scarlett Johansson) was not only the master of suspense, but the master of the inanimate object. Gervasi has a light touch with some objects and over-indicates with others. Monogrammed bath towels in the Hitchcock household are a lovely reminder that Alma, as Mrs. Hitchcock, shares the same initials, and is so wrapped up in her husband's career, that escape seems impossible, though for a time very desirable. She did not need to be seen buying a red swimsuit to reinforce her longing to the audience. What woman likes to be called "very presentable" with all the Hollywood actresses in her husband's life?

Mirren, who looks nothing like Alma Reville, gives a killer performance and parallels Alma in another way, as Gervasi pointed out, when we spoke at the Gotham awards: "We were really excited that Helen Mirren wanted to play the role and bring her own experience of being married to a director (her husband is Taylor Hackford) to it." Mirren's Alma prunes scripts and roses and goes through a transformation at a beach house overlooking the Pacific.

Scarlett Johansson is more believable playing Janet Leigh in Psycho than playing Leigh in real life on set or at a lunch. Gervasi's Hitchcock is partly based on Stephen Rebello's book "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho."

A special mention has to go to the fantastic work of the Makeup Department - Howard Berger is credited as special makeup effects artist and Julie Hewett as makeup department head. Hopkins and his fat suit create a believable human being, (who attempts to hide his belly with tiny napkins and by hugging his dogs) and the lipstick colours for Helen Mirren, Toni Collette (as Hitch's secretary Peggy Robertson right on point with all reactions) and Jessica Biel (as Vera Miles) are lovingly chosen to match their skin colours. The costumes by Julie Weiss enhance the look of the time, and the handbags are spectacular.

When I had a chat with Guy Maddin earlier this year about his film Keyhole, we looked through a copy of W magazine together and stopped at a photo of Jessica Biel in a Louis Vuitton bikini. "I see her as the new Ava Gardner," he said, and I was reminded of his words while watching Biel as the ill-treated Miles in Hitchcock. Not least because of the peephole parallels.

Between the premiere of North By Northwest on July 8, 1959 and the opening of Psycho, promoted and staged with much creativity and enthusiasm with a conducting Hitch as the maestro pacing the theatre lobby at just the right time, Gervasi's particles of an artist's life amuse and bewitch.

We see much care for detail, and love for his subject - especially for the subject's dogs, Stanley and Geoffrey. Hitchcock's set of white Sealyham terriers, is respectfully greeted as "Sirs" by the guard at Paramount Studios and told to "relax, naughty boys," when they welcome the master home with too much vigor. Geoffrey and Stanley are played with irresistible appeal by Rapunzel and Cinderella and were obtained from the same animal trainer, who worked with the acrobatic Uggie from The Artist.

You might remember the real Hitchcock's dogs from his cameo in The Birds, where the three "naughty boys" leave the San Francisco pet shop together when Tippi Hedren enters. Sealyham terriers used to be very popular in Hollywood with stars such as Cary Grant , Gary Cooper, and Elizabeth Taylor, and are today an almost forgotten breed.

At the Gotham Awards, I asked Sacha Gervasi about the very first Hitchcock movie he remembered seeing. The answer shouldn't be a surprise: "Psycho, at 15. Very, very disturbing for a developing male." I asked if there was any scene in particular, that haunted the young Gervasi. "The shower scene, of course," he told me, and it is the inventive understanding of this scene, that elevates his own movie so many years later.

A Hollywood press junket with the warning of real fingers in the sandwiches, a star's gift of candy corn, a nightly food attack that reduces the world famous director to a wide-eyed child who is repulsed and delighted by the mess he made in front of the refrigerator and into his body, the movie Hitchcock is also about food. Nourishment of all kind comes in many disguises.

Reviewed on: 06 Dec 2012
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Hitchcock packshot
A love story between influential filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and wife Alma Reville during the filming of Psycho in 1959.
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Director: Sacha Gervasi

Writer: John J McLaughlin, based on the book by Stephen Rebello

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren and Scarlett Johansson

Year: 2011

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: United States


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