Alfred Hitchcock's a queer character. His outre allure seems to rest on the conflict of his Droopy Dog British stiffness with his renowned macabre mind. This, at least, is the caricature he built through Alfred Hitchcock Presents... In some ways, the gimmicky silhouette of Hitchcock became better known to the masses than the actual filmmaker, the innovator. "Hitchcockian" gets bandied so freely these days that it's easy to forget just how crisp and thrilling that porcine Brit's shots and plots were. Now, it happens sometimes that fantastic minds live fantastic lives--I'm thinking of the epic, uncanny existence of John Huston--but more often than not, they're placid and domestic--thinking Kubrick here. Hitchcock, I think, squeezes better into the latter type. Not a lot of grist, maybe, for a scandal mill.
The film takes place in the lull after North By Northwest's success. Mr. Hitchcock (played by a fat-suited Sir Anthony Hopkins) is on the prowl for a worthy follow-up. He finds a candidate with the novel by Robert Bloch, based loosely on the weirdo crimes of Ed Gein, who was notorious for wearing the flesh of corpses. (Bloch's influential novel, if you haven't read it, is really worth reading....) The tension in the film comes from Alma Hitchcock's (Helen Mirren) discomfort with her rotund husband's obsession with torturing blond starlets (said starlet played by Scarlett Johansson in the role of Janet Leigh).
There's been some mumbles and grumbles about how close to biographical fact Sacha Gervasi's film actually is. Psycho remains a sterling, taut film, and I understand where the desire to dramatise its creation, having Hitch be more like his Presents character, hails from. I can't help but think that any biographical liberties taken are to this end. Interesting things aren't always made so interestingly, unfortunately. If you want a truly wild look at the making a truly wild movie, check out Burden of Dreams or Hearts of Darkness.
One final note: Out of respect for Hitchcock's famous persnickety refusal to allow admittance after Psycho began, I'll talk to the boss and see if I can implement a similar caveat for our showings of Hitchcock. (You Johnny- and Jane-Come-Latelys out there shouldn't fret--I'm pretty sure the boss won't go in for this one at all....)