Jan 04

“Hitchcock”: The Filming of “Psycho” and More

Sacha Gervasi‘s new film Hitchcock stars Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren as the real-life movie director Alfred Hitchcock and his wife Alma Reville, who ultimately work together to create the ground-breaking Psycho (1960). Much of what we see are the dynamics of their tension-filled marriage.

First, here’s the Hitchcock trailer:

Accuracy. Thanks to a friend’s heads-up, I was aware before seeing it that this based-on-fact film had been reviewed as not-so-fact-filled after all—always a pet peeve of mine.

Scott MendelsonThe Huffington Poststates, “It pointlessly rewrites history to give us conformist, pandering character arcs for the sake of ‘playing to the masses’ even as the truth is far more entertaining than this bland fiction.”

A common type of perception among critics, it turns out. All the more puzzling is that the material adapted for the movie is a nonfiction book by Stephen Rebello called Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho (1990).

Minding Therapy. Some brief points:

Before becoming a writer Rebello was a therapist.

A blink-and-you’ll-almost-miss-it scene in Hitchcock involves Hitch interviewing screenwriter Joseph Stefano (Ralph Macchio), who admits to having daily therapy sessions that focus on “sex, rage, my mother.” Hitch, appropriately intrigued, hires him to adapt the Psycho novel.

An article online indicates, however, that although Stefano did have an interest in Freudian psychology, it was actually many years post-Psycho that he first entered analysis.

Hitchcock was not known for being a fan of self-examination.

The Marriage. While codependent spouse Reville continually coaxes “Hitch” to curb his overuse of food and alcohol, it’s to no avail, of course. And they bicker continually, and there’s a lack of warmth, affection, and (apparently) sex, but she’s his steadfast companion and helper and not the straying wife he imagines her to be.

Manohla Dargis, The New York Times, however, calls the movie version of their marriage a “fantasy vision”—a sentiment echoed by other critics as well.

The Man. Dargis goes on to say that the film’s portrait of Hitchcock “doesn’t merely give creative genius a bad name, but also pathologizes it.” Furthermore, “Hitchcock, you are meant to believe, was himself a little psycho and could only work from a place of madness. His stash of glamour shots of his blondes are the equivalent of Gein’s grisly human trophies.”

Director Gervasi is quoted by San Tanenhaus, Newsweek, regarding Hitchcock’s overall mental state: “I think we all sense he’s working something out, sublimated rage toward women, obsession with sex, death, and murder.”

Thus, states Tanenhaus, he’s shown in the film to be “a creature of ravening appetites who drains martinis in a single noisy slurp and, armed with pruning shears, assaults the overgrown hedges on his large estate with chain-saw ferocity, wittily recalling Hopkins’s best-known performance, as Hannibal Lecter, one of the many monstrous stepchildren of Psycho’s Norman Bates.”

The Man: The Real Story. From Cracked (because I like my bios with a dose of zany humor):

Alfred Hitchcock was born to a working class family in 1899 in Leytonstone, London. His father was a harsh disciplinarian, often sending the child to the cops for punishment, and his mother forced him to address her at the foot of her bed, proving once again what your children can accomplish if you scar them for life. Hitchcock swore vengeance by thinly veiling his mental illnesses through film. In addition to a crippling and vaguely Oedipal fear of his mother, Hitchcock also feared eggs and authority figures, nailing the trifecta necessary for the Sigmund Freud Award for Adorably Crazy.

Yes. If you can’t rely on the movie’s veracity, you can rely on Cracked for truth-in-bio. And yes, Hitchcock really did have an extreme case of ovophobia.

Apt Review Titles. “Id, Ego and I: Gervasi’s Hitchcock Opens a Rear Window Into the Madman Behind Psycho” (Rex Reed) and “A Slash-and-Yearn Mentality” (Ann Hornaday). These two critics land on different ends of the film-approval spectrum, however, with the former considerably more positive.

Oct 31

“High Anxiety”: Suspense and Silliness By Mel Brooks

“High Anxiety”—as in intense fear-ridden anticipation? As in what many felt recently as the powerful storm Sandy approached? As in what many feel about the upcoming elections?

Or how about, as in an old movie? High Anxietya 1977 comedy directed by and starring Mel Brooks, parodies the genre of suspense films made by Alfred Hitchcock and takes place mainly in a mental hospital. Although back in the day it wasn’t highly rated by the critics, many viewers over the years have disagreed.

What we know at the start is that the head of a psychiatric facility has gone missing. Wikipedia describes the rest of the plot: “Brooks’ character, Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke, arrives as new administrator of The Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous to discover some suspicious happenings. When he’s framed for murder, Dr. Thorndyke must confront his own anxiety disorder, ‘high anxiety,’ in order to prove his innocence.”

What exactly is this high anxiety that afflicts the esteemed psychiatrist? Exactly how it sounds—he has a fear of heights.

Who frames him for murder? Dr. Montague, a psychiatrist played by Harvey Korman, who’s in cahoots with Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman).

I saw High Anxiety when it was playing in theaters, and what stays with me the most, you ask? In the words of Ryan Gilbey, New Statesman:

When High Anxiety was released, viewers were familiar enough with the babble and buzzwords of psychoanalysis to respond instinctively to the film’s wittiest sequence, when Brooks’s speech at a psychiatric conference has to be spontaneously modified so as not to impinge upon the innocence of two young children who have joined the audience. ‘Penis envy’ becomes ‘pee-pee envy’; the womb is temporarily rechristened ‘the woo-woo.’

Pure silliness.

I won’t give it all away, but Dr. Thorndyke does eventually achieve insight regarding his high anxiety—and said insight is faux-psychoanalytically oriented, of course.

The trailer’s below: