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Cineaste (2013) - To catch a filmmaker: The Girl, Hitchcock, and Hitchcock




Each depicts the production backstory of a primal Hitchcock film-namely, Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963), a matched pair of late-period masterpieces, the two great tributaries, as film critic Robin Wood observed, from which all modern horror flows: monster from the id or monster from Mother Nature, the serial killer or the natural disaster. Fessing up to the symbiotic if not parasitic relationship, The Girl and Hitchcock each traffic not only in reenactments of scenes from their host films, but also play an audiovisual mind game where the viewer is invited to spot other intertextual references scattered like bread crumbs throughout the landscape: the overhead view of the umbrellas from Foreign Correspondent (1940); the vaguely Bernard Herrmannesque musical motifs; the 8x10s of Grace Kelly, forever gone; the voyeur POV shots through Venetian blinds and peepholes.


In the classical Hollywood epoch, when job-of-work directors toiled in obscurity, denied the glory of marquee credit, Alfred Hitchcock's name was not just above the title but synonymous with a brand. As early as the Thirties, American film reviewers, alert to the distinctive style of his British imports, had coined the term "Hitchcockian." By the early Fifties, the brush-stroke signature of his one cameo appearance per film was widely enough known for the phrase "pulling a Hitchcock" to enter the pages of TV Guide when actor-producer Robert Montgomery played a bit part on his anthology series Robert Montgomery Presents (1950-1957). The director's brand-name recognition soared into the stratosphere with Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the CBS television show that ran from 1955 to 1962. Entering the small-screen space sideways in black silhouette and backed by theme music that conjured up "a syncopated elephant prancing along a narrow side-street in London" (as the critic and future director Peter Bogdanovich wrote), the genial master of ceremonies framed each episode of mystery, mayhem, and murder with a mordant introduction and pithy kiss-off. He lent his portly outline and bald noggin to one-sheet posters, he shilled his latest attraction in direct-address trailers, and he bantered with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show and the gushing host of The Dick Cavett Show (Cavett leafed through a copy of François Truffaut's black-jacketed Hitchcock to show he had boned up on his auteurism). Of course, the morbid shtick was all in good fun. Like the milquetoast Walter Mitties in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) or the daffy old biddies in Strangers on a Train (1951), he might vicariously entertain the notion of committing the perfect murder, but in reality the great director was so harmless-why, he wouldn't even hurt a fly.

Hitchcock's image as a droll raconteur and outrageous ham was given a post - humous knife in the torso by the biographer- critic Donald Spoto, whose [[T...

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