The legendary director Alfred Hitchcock seemingly returns from beyond the grave to lay bare his secrets in this new documentary.
Dogwoof is a distributor known for its compelling and inventive documentaries and My Name is Alfred Hitchcock aims to be no different, celebrating the centenary of the legendary British director’s first feature with a novel exploration of his ground-breaking cinematic craftsmanship. Mark Cousins’ documentary film frames its exploration of Hitchcock’s work through an appealing device: Hitchcock himself is positioned as the film’s narrator (or rather a Hitchcock voice impersonator is,) creating a slightly disconcerting doppelgänger effect that wouldn’t be out of place in Vertigo, Psycho or several of Hitchcock’s other celebrated classics.
Dogwoof hails the approach as ‘radical’, although in truth, it has been implemented before by other filmmakers. Johan Grimonprez’s ingenious 2009 documentary Double Take used a mixture of library footage along with a brace of Hitchcock impersonators to weave a far more ambitious retrospective of the director, seamlessly interweaving the real and the staged until the viewer is floating helplessly in a sea of paranoid uncertainty. A sadistic intent that Hitchcock himself enjoyed subjecting his audiences to.
Whereas Double Take boasted a wickedly-capricious style that we imagine would have been pleasing to Hitchcock, My Name Is Alfred Hitchcock is a more stolid and conventional attempt to give voice to the deceased filmmaker, employing this device in a far more traditional sense, giving the film an engaging framework with which to re-examine Hitchcock’s use of cinematic techniques. It’s an exhaustive analysis too, amounting to two hours examining sequences spanning Hitchcock’s decades-long filmography, all broken down in granular and insightful fashion by a fictionalised version of the man himself.
As an approach, it certainly adds colour to the proceedings, and ardent Hitchcock fans will certainly enjoy the novelty of revisiting some of the Master of Suspense’s greatest moments from a fresher perspective. Once your brain gets used to the uncanny nature of ‘Hitchcock’ (actually impressionist, Alistair McGowan) talking to you from ‘beyond the grave’, there’s undoubtedly something to relish about the presentation, it feels like a natural leap forwards from 1960’s trailers during Hitchcock’s golden era when he himself would appear in previews of The Birds and Psycho to conspiratorially reveal a few juicy details to build anticipation.
It has to be said that the film is dogmatic in its admiration for Hitchcock and never really unshackles itself from its adulating gaze to consider the more nuanced aspects of Hitchcock’s legacy. Hearing the strangely anachronistic musings of ‘Hitchcock’ as he wonders how the invention of mobile phones might have changed his films is amusing. But it begs the question that if our narrator somehow has a preternatural awareness of 21st century technology despite his death in 1980, he must also be painfully aware of the MeToo movement and how that has reflected upon the way he treated his female stars, not to mention the reports that surfaced following his death of a spiral into alcoholism and depression. If so, why would he not address them given the part they play in his thorny legacy?
It’s clear that this is territory that Cousins never intended to explore and again, other odes to Hitchcock already have, not least the similarly-titled 2021 documentary, I Am Alfred Hitchcock. Whether Cousins’ film suffers for the absence of exploring Hitchcock’s complicated status as one of cinema’s true masters depends on what you want from it. Whilst its self-imposed narrow contextualisation can leave the film sometimes feeling a little like a technical and intellectual exercise, it’s still nothing less than a compelling analysis of the psychology and technical mastery of Hitchcock’s work.
There’s an argument to be made that in seeking to be its own thing, My Name Is Alfred Hitchcock becomes lessened by the narrow limits it imposes upon itself, even as ironically, its framing device should open up the film to a blossoming of possibilities. However, Hitchcock buffs will surely enjoy its exceedingly well-crafted analysis and having ‘Hitchcock’s’ spectral presence looming over us and whispering in our ear throughout the entirety of the feature undoubtedly adds the kind of dramatic flourish that the man himself prized so highly.
My Name is Alfred Hitchcock comes to cinemas and on demand on the 21st of July.
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