My Name is Alfred Hitchcock – Review

My Name is Alfred Hitchcock

“I’m only going to lie to you once,” says, er, Alfred Hitchcock as he narrates his way through Mark Cousins’ documentary. It’s perfectly expected that a director who loved to toy with his audiences’ emotions would want to continue to do so long after his death. And as the great auteur acknowledges that cinema is a “trickster medium”, this documentary pulls off one particular trick of its own.

The opening credits state that the film was written and narrated by The Master of Suspense himself. What we really have is the versatile impressionist Alistair McGowan swallowing the ends of his words or growling and purring throughout. It takes the documentary from a straightforward examination of a body of work to a performance-within-a-performance type of situation. It is very strange, at first. But McGowan’s monologue is full of witty asides and juicy titbits of (what feels like) gossip. So you are utterly drawn into what Hitchcock wants you to see on screen. No difference, then, to when he was making movies.

Cousins splits his film into different themes in order to explore Hitchcock’s work more thoroughly. This isn’t about the man himself (or any rumours about his religious upbringing or obsession with his blonde starlets). This is a film about the art of film-making; about how to reel your audience in and keep them on the hook.

And it really does deliver in terms of variety. Whilst discussing these key themes – escape, desire, loneliness, time, fulfillment and height – it would be so easy to fall into the trap of rehashing old ground on the likes of Vertigo and Psycho. And whilst these films do feature, there is a plethora of examples of his early work, including his silent films.

For each strand, “Hitch” talks about not only why he chose to pursue certain thematic elements in his work (he talks about the feeling of omniscience during the height section and the good and bad interpretations of desire during that strand), but the technical trickery involved in bringing these common elements of human experience to life. How does he make us feel Norman Bates’ loneliness or Madeline Paradine’s desire? Do we really know how long it takes and how difficult it is to kill a person? Well, he’ll show you in Torn Curtain.

My Name is Alfred HitchcockSo much of Hitchcock’s work could be written off as seat-filler cinema. But when you hear from, ahem, his own mouth how much thought and craft goes into a particular shot in order to highlight a character trait or warn you about an upcoming plotline, you really can’t help but sit back and admire. More than this, Hitchcock comes across as an ardent lover of cinema. He talks about being in awe of the work of the German Expressionist era in the early 1920s, when he lived and worked in the country, shadowing the likes of F.W. Murnau. There is a clear passion for the craft; for telling a captivating story.

Whilst there are some odd elements to this documentary – the repeated close-ups of Hitchcock’s eyes in old studio stills being the most jarring – it is so thoroughly watchable. The voiceover work could have come across as cheesy and gimmicky, but it really works. You genuinely feel like you are getting insight from the man himself. The links between the different narrative strands run seamlessly and, whilst some footage is used more than once, this definitely feels like something more in-depth than your bog standard Hitchcock documentary. Although it does reference his working class East London upbringing and his Catholic faith – complete with scenes from I Confess – it doesn’t salivate over these details. There is nothing salacious here (unless you count a couple of clips from Frenzy.) It’s just two hours of pure exploration or, as Hitch might put it, escapism.

Whether you are a novice when it comes to exploring the works of Alfred Hitchcock or you can tell your Sabotage from your Saboteur, Mark Cousins’ documentary is thoroughly entertaining. Its simplicity, coupled with the witty voicework work, makes for a very engaging watch.

Oh, and the “one lie” he tells? A real treat for fans of Strangers on a Train. 

My Name is Alfred Hitchcock is screening at the Glasgow Film Festival 2023, as is the 60th anniversary screening of The Birds. Get your tickets to both here.

Mary Munoz
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