Monday, November 26, 2012
The Trouble with Hitchcock's critics
One of the movies out in limited release this holiday weekend was the biopic Hitchcock,starring Anthony Hopkins as the renowned director,with Helen Mirren as his wife Alma and focusing on the making of his classic horror 1960 film Psycho. It received a mixed bag of critical reception,most of it being positive.
Amongst the negative write-ups of the film,I noticed a particular pair of themes running them through them. One,that too much time was devoted to depicting the marriage of Hitch and Alma and second,that Hitchcock's inappropriate overtures towards his blonde leading ladies was focused on too much as well:
While I haven't seen this film,I did see the recent HBO film,The Girl,which was often mentioned in the bad reviews as another example of what was seen as disrespect to Hitchcock's legacy. Both of these movies arriving around the same time does tend to lend themselves to compare and contrast,but in this case I think this is being done for the wrong reasons.
Since I haven't seen the big screen version,critiques regarding how this material was handled may be legitimate but to object to certain things that were true about Hitchcock just because they don't cast him in the best light isn't a proper criticism to me. It's no secret that Alfred Hitchcock idealized blonde women in many of his movies and could at times be cruel to his leading ladies during production,as some of them attested to years later:
It's also no secret that Alma Hitchcock was her husband's creative partner. Many of Hitch's biographers such as Donald Spoto and Patrick McGilligan have covered that waterfront and given the lady her just due in encouraging Hitchcock's vision to come to life on film. By the way,saying that Helen Mirren is "too glamorous" to play Alma is an insult to both women,in my opinion.
Downplaying her importance to getting Psycho off the ground in the film would be wildly inaccurate,since the book by Stephen Rebello that's it is based on does showcase Alma's contributions.
Not to mention that Hitchcock had difficulty in getting the studio to finance Psycho,so he had to mortgage the family home to pay for the production costs,which would put a strain on any marriage. The fact that these two managed to stay together as long as they did,through personal and professional woes,is amazing especially in Hollywood and a integral part of the story worth telling:
To me,the qualms that some of these critics seem to have about these subjects comes from an undue adherence to the "auteur" theory of film making (in that the director is the sole source of creative quality)and sheer reluctance to seeing a noted creative genius' flaws.
While the notion of the "crazy and/or emotionally immature artist" has been overdone in the media,there is some ring of truth to it in certain cases. Many exceptionally talented folk have personality quirks and downright terrible dispositions that made them great achievers in their fields but horrible to live or work with.
Take Charles Dickens,for example. An amazing writer who did many charitable deeds during his lifetime and rightly seen as one of the best authors in the world both during and long after his lifetime.
However,he was also a bad husband and an indifferent father who in his later years kept a secret mistress,which some still insist that he never slept with(in my opinion,he most certainly did). Does that mean his books are worth any the less because of his personal misbehavior? No. Does his genius excuse that behavior? No,not at all.
What it does mean is that a mature look at the life and times of any artist involves taking in the bad as well as the good. If you're truly interested in seeing the full scope of that person's mindset and accepting the fact that he or she was a regular human being who made mistakes just like the rest of us. That this person was capable of creating such beauty for all to enjoy while struggling with such grievous faults makes their work all the more exceptional:
Perhaps I may feel differently whenever I do get a chance to see Hitchcock,but I suspect not. Playing fast and loose with the facts in a biopic has become a norm over the years and while some tweaks are seen as creative license,others are not tolerated by diehard devotees.
Granted, Alfred Hitchcock didn't have any chats with Ed Gein in real life(as is shown in this film)but Ed Wood never had a sit down with Orson Welles either and no one had much of a problem with Tim Burton when he did that for his cinematic portrait of the infamous director.
If you take a look at the bigger picture here,the best thing about both Hitchcock and The Girl is that they bring some fresh attention to the brilliant work of Alfred Hitchcock for a new generation of film fans and enthusiasts. That doesn't mean sloppy depictions should be acceptable(as many TV viewers found out with Lifetime's Liz and Dick movie the other night)but even a film that doesn't worship an artist unquestioningly is a good opportunity for his works to be appreciated.
So,let's be happy that Hitchcock is having a moment in the pop culture spotlight and take this opportunity to let one of our best sinister showmen strut his stuff:
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