“I promise you nothing but entertainment.” Alfred Hitchcock.
Hitchcock was born at the end of the 19th century, the son of a greengrocer in the then rural town of Leytonstone. Like a pasty Churchill dog dressed as if attending a perpetual funeral, Alfred Hitchcock is an unlikely candidate for the most celebrated director in the history of cinema; a local boy cruelly under-appreciated by the Olympic ceremonies.
As Sacha Gervasi’s new film Hitchcock is released, charting the making of the pulp-fiction horror-noir Psycho, a studio-opposed career gamble which Hitchcock funded alone, i-D proposes some of the greatest – and most revealing – moments of a complex and conflicted genius. As The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane says: “Whatever the source of his undoubted fetishism, the more compelling fact is he ended up making fetishists of us all.”
JOSEPH GORDON LEVITT tells i-D about the art of porn and his new film ‘Don Jon’s Addiction’.
Rear Window (1954)
Shot mainly in a Greenwich Village apartment with a view into a multitude of rooms across a public courtyard, James Stewart is the photojournalist wheelchair-bound after a horrific injury, who uses his camera as a telescope to spy on his neighbours, which include a travelling salesman (Raymond Burr) who may have killed his wife. Rear Window is a salacious, capricious celebration of urban life – of what happens when people live on top of each other. It’s an investigation of voyeurism before the internet – the lures of the lens told through a lens. And it’s probably the greatest fusion of sexuality and fear ever laid to celluloid. Grace Kelly, whom Hitchcock spirited a career-best performance, makes the film whole. Elegant and proper in everything she does, she remains charged and unpredictable, unafraid of desire, uncontainable in the most literal way, making Jimmy Stewart watch, powerless and aghast, as she casually searches through Raymond Burr’s belongings. She’s Jimmy Stewart’s carer and lover, but also his master – and possibly Hitchcock’s too. Her first introduction, waking Jimmy from a fevered dream as if an ethereal fragment from the waking world, sets the tone for a once in a generation movie.
An ice-cool veil hiding a sexually traumatized kleptomaniac, Tippi Hedren plays Marnie. An early Sean Connery, 34 when the film was shot and fresh From Russia With Love, stars as the hunter-salesman who hires Marnie as his secretary. Catching her taking from the till, he decides to heal her mind and – most important of all – win her body. Hitchcock wanted Grace Kelly for the role, but Kelly was otherwise disposed as the new Princess of Monaco. So Hedren, whom Hitchcock held an equal but far darker attraction, was chosen. The recent HBO film, starring Toby Jones and Imelda Staunton, is based on the revelation Hitchcock abused Hedren on the set of The Birds, forcing her to continue to reject him, and then punishing her for it. Marnie is the creative unravelling of this fatal relationship. “One might call Marnie a sex-mystery if one used those words,” Hitchcock says in the film’s trailer. Even for a Hitchcock film, Hedren is obsessed over, the camera relentlessly tracking her every gaze. “You don’t love me, you’ve just caught me,” Hedren says, as Connery quells her escape. “You think I’m some kind of animal you’ve trapped.” “That’s right you are,” Connery smoothly responds. “And I’ve caught something really wild this time haven’t I? I’ve caught you and trapped you and By God I’m going to keep you.” Marnie is late-period Hitchcock; maybe as close as he ever came to revealing his true hand.
North by Northwest (1959)
It was written as “the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures.” Cary Grant, who wore a suit so brazenly that it’s now the staple of every film star, is the ad-man on the run across America after the false accusation of murder. Sipping Martinis in the diner car of a train, or running from a low flying plane, or hanging one handed from the cusp of the Presidential Rock, or hoisting Eva Marie Saint onto his bunker as if she were clinging on for dear life. But Grant breezes through the film, all charm and elegance and control, all the time engaged in a lethal dance of wit and agenda. Did he know how profoundly he was moulding a new era of aestheticism? Dr No came three years later, and with that the credit of the suave loner adept at accelerated intimacy but completely unknowable. Cary Grant coined that archetype – he was that man. Set free by Hitchcock, the result is the most quietly influential expression of masculinity ever created.