Published on: December 14, 2012
In case you haven't noticed, Alfred Hitchcock is enjoying something of a revival these days. Not his films, which never go out of style, and continue to be held up as examples of suspenseful and entertaining movie-making. But rather the man himself, who has been the subject of two recent movies.
By far the better of the two is Hitchcock
, in theaters now, and starring Anthony Hopkins as the master of suspense and Helen Mirren as his wife, Alma Reville. Hitchcock
explores the time during which Hitchcock made Psycho
, a time of great insecurity for the director. What I did not know - or at least did not remember, even though i've taken several courses about Hitchcock's films - was that coming off the enormous success of North by Northwest
, Hitchcock was at loose ends - he didn't want to do another film along those lines, and yet more challenging films like Vertigo
has failed at the box office. (Ironic, of course, because now Vertigo
is ranked by film critics in surveys as being the best American film ever made, surpassing even Citizen Kane
When he decided to make Psycho
, which he described as a particularly nasty piece of work, Hitchcock was rebuffed by Paramount Pictures, which did not want to fund the picture, and by his associates - including Alma - who thought a horror film was beneath his talents. But Hitchcock persevered - even though he was plagued with self-doubt that was both professional and personal - to the point where he mortgaged his home to fund the production and used the crew from his TV show to keep costs down. (Psycho
cost just $800,000 to make. Amazing, even for those times. I re-watched it a couple of weeks ago, and found it to be extraordinarily economical in its storytelling - not a wasted shot nor moment in the film. I've probably seen it a dozen times, but I'm always blown away.)
I won't tell you much more about the plot, except to concede that Hitchcock
is not a perfect movie. There are some scenes in which Hitchcock fantasizes about meeting the real killer upon which Norman Bates was modeled that I could have done without. But for the most part, Hitchcock
is an entertaining piece of work, driven by an impish performance by Hopkins (what would Silence of the Lambs
have been like had Hitchcock directed it?) and a lovely portrayal of Alma Reville by Mirren. (It won't matter if you don't get all the inside references ... they are fun, but you can enjoy the film on its own.)
There are business lessons aplenty in Hitchcock
. Many business people will relate to Hitchcock's desire to not do the same thing over and over, and the desire of investors to simply have him repeat himself because that's what seems to make money. Hitchcock was hardly the first or last entrepreneur (in movies, they would call him an "auteur") to mortgage his house to fund his business.
But I think the most persuasive business lesson in Hitchcock
has to do with how the master filmmaker, to some extent, believed his own press clippings and ignored the fact that his wife/partner had been with him for virtually his entire career, helping to choose projects, write screenplays, cast actors, cut films together in the editing room and even make post-production choices like music. Hitchcock got all the glory, which Alma Reville was fine with ... as long as he
recognized and appreciated her contributions.
In the end, Hitchcock
is about the importance of collaboration, of understanding that it is exceedingly rare that an enterprise of any breadth and depth is a one-man show. Even the most praised entrepreneurs and auteurs need to recognize that.
One element of Hitchcock's life that is only hinted at in the film is his obsession with cool blondes of the Grace Kelly/Eva Marie Saint/Kim Novak variety. It's there, but not exploited ... though there are scenes where Vera Miles, played by Jessica Biel, warns Janet Leigh, played by Scarlett Johansson, not to let Hitchcock intrude on her personal life too much.
However, this obsession is at the very core of the HBO film, The Girl
, which explored the time when Hitchcock was making The Birds
, which, as it happens, came immediately after Psycho
. Both films starred Tippi Hedren, a virtual unknown who Hitchcock planned to turn into the next Grace Kelly, but if The Girl
is to be believed, those plans were derailed by an increasingly unhealthy sexual obsession on Hitchcock's part, which veered into intimidation, exploitation and even abuse.
I have no idea the extent to which The Girl
may be true, but I can tell you that sitting through it was a genuinely creepy experience. I liked Sienna Miller as Hedren, but Toby Jones as Hitchcock had none of Anthony Hopkins' droll sense of morbid humor, and he is about as interesting as a peeping tom. The Girl
may be true, but it is no fun to watch. (In this, there is yet another business lesson - that when making an entertainment, even one exploring the darker impulses of someone like Alfred Hitchcock, it is important to be entertaining. After all, he always was ... no matter what the subject matter.)
Speaking of entertainments ... over the past couple of weeks I've also had a chance to screen both North by Northwest
and To Catch A Thief
, two of Hitchcock's four collaborations with Cary Grant. (The other two are Suspicion
.) If you get the opportunity, follow my lead - both movies are just fabulous, with Grant never better than in his portrayals of a) an ad agency exec mistaken for and hunted down as a spy, and b) a retired thief living on the French Riviera, who is accused by police of stealing valuable jewels and has to find the real thief to clear his name.
In the end, the Hitchcock oeuvre is really about enjoying the cinema experience. Not lowest-common denominator filmmaking, not condescending to the audience, and certainly not about doing things the way other people do them. It's what makes Hitchcock so special ... and a good lesson for anyone looking to create for their business a differential advantage.
My wine of the week is a red - the 2010 La Posta Malbec/Syrah/Bonarda blend, which is wonderfully smooth and rich. I enjoyed it last weekend while making a visit to Bin 36 in Chicago, and it is a perfect example of the best kind of customer service.
I went into Bin 36 and sat at the bar. Jimmy, the bartender there who I have gotten to know over the years, sees me, shakes my hand, and immediately pours me a glass of the La Posta - he didn't ask what I wanted, just made an assumption - and a good one - based on shared history.
To me, that's the best kind of customer service - intuitive, knowing, and accurate. (And speedy.) By the way, it is not like I am a frequent customer - I only go to Bin 36 when I go to Chicago, which is maybe a couple of times a year. But I go to Bin 36 every time
I go to Chicago, in the same way that I go to Etta's every time
I go to Seattle. I may not live in the neighborhood, but these are my neighborhood pubs ... and the customer service is everything I could ask for and more.
By the way...I know a lot of MNB readers are, like me, big "Homeland" fans ... which means that on Sunday night, you'll be on the edge of your seats waiting to find out how they're possibly going to wrap what has been a mind-blowing season. Season two isn't over yet, and I'm already looking forward to season three.
One other TV note. Who are you rooting for to win "The Voice"? I can't shake the feeling that it is going to be Nicholas David ... but then again, I probably would have guess that Trevin Hunte would win, and then he got voted off the show.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I hate so-called "reality television" (except for news and sports), but 'The Voice" has totally suckered me in ... it just seems to revel in success, not failure, and that makes it kind of unique.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.