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"Hitchcock" in the cinema : The great manipulator

The greatest shudder in the cinema is not necessarily triggered by images. But: sounds. If you turn off the tone in "Psycho" at the moment when Janet Leigh gets into the shower, the murder that follows seems almost harmless. You can see the woman in the water jet and in the opposite section the shower head from below, in her perspective, a door that opens and a silhouette slowly approaching, then a flashing knife that stabs over and over again. At the end a dark liquid disappears - "Psycho" is a black and white film - in the drain. It has to be blood. The most shocking scene that Alfred Hitchcock has ever staged unfolds its full force only in combination with Bernard Herrmann's soundtrack and his piercing, painfully high-pitched violin chords. It starts exactly at the moment when the killer pulls the shower curtain aside.

Hitchcock was a gifted manipulator. Like no other filmmaker, he has succeeded in playing with the emotions of the audience. In the famous mammoth conversation that Truffaut had with Hitchcock about his films, he said that with “Psycho” it was important for him to “make the audience scream”. He succeeded. A key scene in the film "Hitchcock", which is about the shooting of "Psycho", shows how much the title character, played by Anthony Hopkins, enjoys spreading fear and horror. At the premiere of "Psycho" he stands in the lobby of the cinema and waits for the audience to react. When the shower scene begins, it gets very quiet. Then the sickle sounds of the film music can be heard, mixed with the screams and screams of the visitors. And the little fat man begins to dance and conduct. The master director: a mixture of Rumpelstiltskin and Sir Simon Rattle.

The genesis of “Psycho” was, so to speak, a thriller itself. It ended in triumph. The Paramount studio thought the material was too brutal and refused funding. So Hitchcock had to produce the film himself. He mortgaged his mansion, borrowed $ 800,000, and worked quickly and with a small team. "Psycho" grossed $ 13 million and became Hitchcock's big hit. "Hitchcock" tells of the struggles that the director waged with the scrawny studio bosses and with prudish censors who wanted to cancel the shower scene for him, and adheres closely to the original, the book "Hitchcock and the Story of Psycho" by the film historian Stephen Rebello.

But the British director Sacha Gervasi is not interested in Hollywood revelations; instead of the artist Hitchcock, he is more interested in private individuals. At the beginning - we are in 1959 - Hitchcock lies in the bathtub and reads to his wife Alma, who only calls him "Hitch", from a slap of his last film in the "New York Times". Am I really too old, have I lost my magic? Hitch struggles with himself, if he had not already passed his 60th birthday, one would have to regard his self-doubts as the symptoms of a mid-life crisis.

Just as Hitchcock doesn't even look up from the newspaper when Alma walks in to show off an evening gown and he just growls, "very presentable," it is immediately clear that the marriage is not going well. They have been married and grew old together for more than 30 years. But they don't have much to say to each other. When they met in a London film studio, she was his boss. She became his editor and went to Hollywood with him. The man makes a career, the woman slips back: not an unusual constellation for the 20th century.

Helen Mirren plays Alma as a story asset, with quick wit. When Hitch tells her that he wants to shoot “Psycho”, she replies: “Doris Day should turn it into a musical.” Anthony Hopkins has mastered the clumsy, bear-like body language of his role model as well as his sleepy, clucking manner of speaking. But he can't keep up with Helen Mirren's dynamic.

"Hitchcock" belongs to a genre for which the thriller specialist Hitchcock had no talent: It is a love story. Not that he was able to produce “Psycho” against all odds - the film suggests - was the director's greatest success. It's that Alma hasn't left him. He recreates blondes on the set, especially the leading actress Janet Leigh, played by Scarlett Johansson. She flirts with an oily screenwriter played by Danny Huston, with whom she is working on a script in a beach house. But there was no such affair, the invented episode is the biggest weakness of the film. It seems like the punishment for the hero's sexually abusive behavior, who even drills a peephole in a wardrobe wall in order to be able to watch an actress undress.

Hitchcock had abysses. In her memoir, Tippi Hedren reports how the director harassed her while filming “The Birds”. But Sacha Gervasi prefers to leave it to the anecdotal than to deal more closely with such charges in his first feature film. He shows Hitchcock exactly as the viewers of his television program "Alfred Hitchcock presents" know him: as a gnarled genius. Why was he called the "Master of Suspense"? Because in the end he confesses to his wife that he always found her more attractive than any other blonde.

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