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After the countless books and miles of footage devoted to the movies of Alfred Hitchcock, is there anything new to be said? Possibly not; but there may be new ways of saying it, and Mark Cousins, inventive as ever, has hit on one: having the man himself explore his work for us. Or so we’re initially led to believe; the opening titles tell us that this film was “Directed and Photographed by Mark Cousins” and “Written and Voiced by Alfred Hitchcock”. The latter, of course, is a blatant lie, and it won’t take viewers long to detect it. The end credits reveal the truth: “Alfred Hitchcock didn’t write and voice this film… He is voiced by Alistair McGowan. Filmed, Written and Directed by Mark Cousins.”
It’s the kind of playful, sardonic joke that the director himself might have enjoyed, and McGowan has a very fair shot at reproducing his near-cockney accent. The film is divided into six sections: ‘Escape’, ‘Desire’, ‘Loneliness’, ‘Time’, ‘Fulfilment’ and ‘Height’, with ‘Hitch’ giving us multiple examples of these elements from his movies. This is perhaps the most valuable part of the film, since Cousins includes clips from several of Hitch’s more rarely screened features, a good many of them from his early years: The Pleasure Garden (1925), The Ring (1927), The Farmer’s Wife (1928), Juno and the Paycock (1930), Waltzes from Vienna (1934), Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941), Stage Fright (1950), et al.
At two hours, the film goes on a little too long and gets repetitive at times. But many of the observations ring true: Hitch’s love of injecting humour into dramatic moments “to escape the seriousness of the plot”, his taste for “add[ing] time to fear” (a good definition of suspense), his defiance of “the movie moguls” in showing “the poison, the dark side of desire” (though there’s no hint of the dark side of Hitchcock’s own desires, as notoriously shown in his treatment of Tippi Hedren). Cousins throws in a few sly jokes of his own: throughout the ‘Desire’ section we get a repeated still of Hitch peeping surreptitiously (and lecherously?) around the corner of a wall. And on several occasions Anthony Donaldson’s giant rust-red steel statue of Hitchcock’s head, sited at the old Gainsborough Studios in Islington, looms imperiously up as if mocking the whole proceedings.
Those already familiar with Hitch’s output probably won’t learn much new here. But it should entertain them and suggest a few interesting angles; and it illustrates how, as François Truffaut observed, “Hitchcock not only intensified life; he intensified cinema”.
► My Name is Alfred Hitchcock is in UK cinemas from 21 July.