Glasgow Film Festival: Mark Cousins’ documentary My Name is Alfred Hitchcock is enticingly immersive but, like its subject, revels in misdirection.
My Name is Alfred Hitchcock opens with a “written and directed by” credit for the man himself. It’s quite the feat considering he’s been dead for 40 years.
In fact, the misdirection is a frame that, together with impressionist Alistair McGowan’s voice, attempts to take us into Hitch’s world. Or perhaps, to bring him into ours. Either way, Mark Cousins’ documentary about the notorious director – pun intended – is immersive.
“So many people have had their say about my movies,” this reconstituted Hitchcock tells us, before inviting us to inspect his work from less familiar angles.
These align with six themes: escape, desire, loneliness, time, fulfilment and height. One by one, they walk us through and into Hitchcock’s films, unpicking the significance of camera angles, story and settings, and matching them to parallels in his life.
Hitchcock’s characters are so often looking for escape and, he tells us here, so was he. The director escaped London in search of adventure, but never left his audience behind. He recognised the function of Gothic settings and picture postcard views both to the story and the audience’s need to be transported.
Hitchcock in his own myth
In inspecting his work through these lenses, My Name is Alfred Hitchcock is biography, masterclass and film exposition all at once. Some of this won’t be new to fans, and yet what’s here is still fascinating. Cousins’ documentary runs like a personal audience with Hitchcock, a hologram performance that still feels intimate, if inflated by self regard.
It’s the small details that unlock the legacy of his work. Studio bosses demanded a chaste portrayal of desire, while Hitchcock favoured the dark – to things felt but not said. Thus fleeting shadows in Rear Window reveal a photographer lusts for his girlfriend … but doesn’t yet love her.
This isn’t to say you’ll agree with the six lenses chosen. For me, time and fulfilment feel a little light. Either way, it invites you to consider your own labels. How would you condense and catalogue the work of your favourite directors or writers? That Cousins pull it off speaks volumes about his knowledge and appreciation of Hitchcock’s life in and off the screen.
Yet while the documentary is compelling and infectious on the director’s achievements, it doesn’t touch on his treatment of actresses beyond the most indirect of glances. As the industry grapples with its #MeToo moments, it’s a notable absence, and missed opportunity. Or perhaps it’s in keeping with the style of this piece, which gives us Hitchcock very much in his own myth.
Gaps aside, it’s an effective approach, spellbinding in its simplicity. There are clips from all of Hitch’s movies, yet the most affecting images are still photos that, like a fairground trick, appear to move. “Look closely at my pictures,” Cousins’ Hitchcock tells us, “and you’ll see things”.
My Name is Alfred Hitchcock (2023), directed by Mark Cousins
Screening at Glasgow Film Festival 2023
What to read or watch next
- The Eyes of Orson Welles (Mark Cousins)
- The Birds (1963)
- Vertigo (1958)
- Rope (1948)
- Rebecca (1940)
- Pyscho (Robert Bloch’s source novel)
- So you want to be a Producer (cinema history)
- Housebound detectives
- The Beasts / As Bestas (GFF23)
- God’s Creatures (GFF23)
Picture credit: JJ Shev