At this time, don’t we know just about everything there is to know about Alfred Hitchcock? Few filmmakers, if any, have had their lives and careers examined, explored and analyzed as much as the vaunted master of suspense. So unless hard evidence is suddenly found that the director secretly fathered a dozen illegitimate children by as many women and personally provided Churchill with an untraceable poison powder to drop in Stalin’s tea in Yalta, to see the Prime Minister chickening out is enough it’s unlikely that much new will ever be added to his life story that we don’t already know.
But let incredibly prolific Northern Irish documentary maker Mark Cousins forge a new way of approaching the subject with My name is Alfred Hitchcock; he enlisted a talented British impressionist and comic, Alistair McGowan, to give the late master of suspense a new voice by providing him with witty and informative commentary that respectfully and quite amusingly ruminates on carefully chosen moments from the career of half a century from the director (McGowan is said to be awfully good at impersonating Prince Charles and former Prime Minister Tony Blair). If that seems vaguely presumptuous on paper, it never seems so in practice, as the remarks are pronounced with, say, 95% authenticity of accent and a panache that has nothing to envy to that of the subject.
The two-hour play, divided into six chapters, cheekily announces that it was “written and voiced by Alfred Hitchcock.” His first commentary begins, disarmingly, from the grave as we see a huge statue of his head in the gardens of a London housing project. “They made me this monument after I died,” proclaims “Hitch,” adding that “I look like the Buddha in the movies.”
Quickly passing on his modest Catholic childhood in east London, “Hitch” announces that “I escaped. I’ve made my life in other places,” adding confidentially that “I knew movies were a country you could go to. I wanted to escape to a parallel world,” which he was able to do with his tiny, extremely intelligent wife Alma, herself a skilled writer who started working in film production at age 16, long before his future. husband, and whose considerable contributions to her husband’s work here receives only modest attention.
Accompanied by a vast array of thoughtfully curated clips, Cousins loads its investigation into the director’s life with insights and commentary that often involve his relationship with audiences; always eager to enter people’s “dream state”, “Hitch” insists that “I love you, my audience. I love to play with you. His overriding concern, he admits, is desire, and Hitch himself could not have expressed it better than the way Cousins sums up Hitchcock’s and Hollywood’s attitude towards his audience: “They wanted to keep you in a state of chaste excitement.”
Even though you’ve seen all the clips and heard many stories before, the new film is refreshing, even invigorating, due to Cousins’ deep knowledge of its subject matter and the clever way he devised to allow the audience to dive back in depth. -Hitchcockiana dish. Cousins’ narration has the director confide that he wanted to deviate from “the usual way of doing things,” promising, in turn, to give the viewer “a vacation away from life.” Fantasy counts, right?
In real life, Hitchcock “escaped” from class-conscious Britain to a place where his accent and way of speaking sounded elegant, precise, even distinguished. He quickly became wealthy and later a celebrity and even, in common parlance, a “brand”, perhaps more specifically than any other filmmaker of his time.
Many films are discussed at length, for their fundamental strength as well as their quirks. “I realized that movies are rogue media,” remarks “Hitch” at one point. “I’m a crook, you see. I wanted to straddle business and art, Murnau and DW Griffith. In the final scene of his career, in Family plotHitchcock asked Barbara Harris to wink at the camera – “a trickster wink”.
There’s something akin to a meeting of the minds between Hitchcock and Cousins, stemming, at least in part, from the two men’s obsession, their deep understanding of the medium, and a mutual delight they take in the oddities and pranks. It’s wonderful how, when “Hitch” speaks, Cousins chooses not to eliminate the narrator’s rough inspirational sounds; the decision actually serves to helpfully point out Hitchcock’s diminishing strength and health at the end.
Now, 123 years after his birth, we are still talking about Hitchcock and promoting new ideas about his work; is there another director of his time who is still as referenced as him? My name is Alfred Hitchcock is a lively, free and deeply informed salute from a very intelligent British guy to another who was also little more than that, the one who made his first film 97 years ago and whose work is still widely seen and known . Not bad for the son of a lowly East London grocer.