With his latest in-depth filmmaking, prolific documentarian Mark Cousins changes his approach by adding a healthy dose of mischief. My name is Alfred Hitchcockhis love letter to one of the big names in cinema, sports a title that could be an impostor’s statement on Tell the truth. The opening credits announce that the film was “written and voiced by Alfred Hitchcock”. Say what? The first sound of this voice on the soundtrack, as familiar as its adenoidal depths and Cockney inclinations are, raises reasonable doubt – suspicions confirmed when the maestro’s first comments relate to a huge bust of him in London, erected 20 years later. his death.
The master of suspense is voiced by English impressionist Alistair McGowan, and ultimately, once you get past the film’s ventriloquist conceit – that Hitchcock, speaking to Cousins and us, revisits his work from the perspective of the 21st century connected to the smartphone – you will be amazed by the breathtaking details of the performance. By then the film will have you drawn in with Cousins’ typically sharp ties as it delves into the visual language of Hitchcock’s designs, narrative motifs and inventive strategies – magic tricks in “a trickster medium”.
My name is Alfred Hitchcock
Brimming with ideas and movie love, once you get past ventriloquism.
One wonders if the “Hitchcock speaks” ploy enriches the document, as does the question of whether he would deign to explain all this to us as patiently as he does, his historical conversations with Truffaut notwithstanding. But the artifice adds an appropriate layer of playfulness, as does Hitchcock’s promise that he’ll fool us once during his commentary – which he does, spectacularly.
The Cousins documentary, which premiered at Telluride, comes on the centenary of Hitchcock’s first filmmaking effort, Number 13. Set among tenants of an affordable housing building, it was pulled from production due to budget concerns, with its completed scenes later lost. There is no mention of it in My name, a film that consists almost entirely of clips from the 54-year-old’s filmography. Cousins’ selections are striking in their breadth and depth, and they’re intertwined with organic propulsion, the collection never feeling rushed or pedantic or listy (the sleek edit is done by frequent contributor Timo Langer of Cousins).
Other than one of his trademark cameos, in Marnie, there are no moving pictures of Hitchcock himself; instead, the doc rotates a few stills of the author. Any suggestion of a TV magazine-style rehearsal is quickly dispelled by Cousins’ curious camera, which tightens, and the lively liveliness of the late filmmaker’s voiceover.
Carried by Hitchcock’s narration, we scrutinize his photographic portrait, and his films: the “most serious” (the wrong man), the lesser-known mutes (“You probably haven’t seen it,” Hitchcock/McGowan says of 1927 Downhilla.k.a When the boys leave the house), the glittery black and white nail biters of the 40s, 50s and 60s (shadow of a doubt, Strangers on a train, psychology) and immortal dreamscapes in Technicolor (rear window, vertigo, from north to northwest, The birds).
As “Hitchcock” notes, his films have been analyzed all over the place and vice versa. Cousins’ new approach divides the work into six sections, an elegant capsule that weaves together existential questions with the practical challenges and opportunities of big-screen storytelling. The first chapter, Escape, is the longest, and from there the film moves through longing, loneliness, time and fulfillment, culminating in Height – as if in an elevated sense of perspective. It’s a damn good glimpse of a lifetime, not to mention a compelling plan to explore the artwork.
Cousins’ way of viewing films is as steeped in storytelling as his research into Hitchcock productions. Biographical elements shimmer through the dynamic cross-section of the film’s moments, mostly complementing the stories they tell. He doesn’t question or take apart the films; it focuses on what motivates them. With one notable exception, this version of Hitchcock, our narrator, embraces the choices he made. Born at the very end of the 19th century, he upsets Victorian literary ideas with vigorous modernity. Until Truffaut’s wholehearted endorsement, he was generally considered a mere artist. But he used radical methods. My name is celebrates the ways in which Hitchcock escaped the conventions of drama, replacing them with hyperrealities, much like his beloved Cézanne: “His geometry was not the geometry of the world,” Hitchcock says of Cousins.
This Hitchcock is aware of the digitization of the future – our present – but Cousins is not interested in updating it or running it through the revisionist mill. “My little metaphor is still relevant” is Hitchcock’s verdict on a scene in Bewitched. His voice rings true when he uses the now past tense “transvestite” and sometimes calls women girls. But there’s no allusion here to the man who said actors should be treated like cattle; he speaks fondly, and on a first-name basis, of the megastars who have dominated his features – Jimmy, Cary, Ingrid, Hank (Fonda).
For those curious about Hitchcock, Cousins’ film could easily serve as an introduction to his work. For others, it sheds new light on scenes you may have watched dozens of times, laying bare the pain in Norman Bates’ philosophical musings and the charged space around lonely female characters. He finds a thrilling rhyme between the phone booth in The birds and the shower in psychologyand connects the blinding orange afterglow of the flashes in rear windowon a facsimile soundstage from Greenwich Village, to the A-bomb tests in the desert on the other side of the continent.
No Hitchcock fan needs to be reminded that the best of his movies are watchable endlessly and insistently. And yet, seen through the lens of this insightful and adoring doc, it’s remarkable how touching the footage is still and how the action can still get your heart racing. Handling the camera as a voyeur, detective and “ghost of time” brewing tension, Hitchcock takes us along. By comparison, with its theatrical device of a false narrator, the documentary keeps at a distance. The resulting push-pull keeps this valentine from going limp, and at its strongest, it’s a robust, eloquent friction.