Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Hitchcock redux

From the Bright Lights Film journal, here’s an interesting take on the Vanity Fair spread that featured contemporary celebrities such as Jodie Foster, Naomi Watts and Javier Bardem in recreations of iconic stills from Hitchcock films. As John Calendo, the author of the piece, puts it:
...film moments I grew up on, eerie Hitchcockian mise-en-scenes whose hypnotic power can still grab me today, even after a lifetime of multiple viewings, [have been] reimagined into something rich and strange, a Mashup for the ReMix Generation, a sort of race-record cover version, with very pretty, very clean personnel — and no soul.
Though Calendo’s love for Hitchcock’s cinema comes across in the piece, I can’t really agree with his central thesis that from the mid-1950s onwards, Hitch’s heroines were (intentionally) vacuous, “soulless” characters – and in particular, with his description of Janet Leigh’s intelligent performance as Marion in Psycho as “numb starey”. If Marion were indeed an "automaton", it would seriously compromise the effect of the film, which depends on the viewer sympathising with (or at least getting deeply involved with) her predicament at the outset. There is also at least one major factual error here: Calendo claims that we don’t learn about Leigh’s motivation for stealing the money until late in the movie, when in fact it is made obvious almost from the first scene, where Marion and her married boyfriend discuss their financial problems.

I liked Calendo’s eccentric theory about the bird attacks in The Birds, though – it’s just the kind of personal, passionate over-analysis I enjoy – and he’s also right about the Strangers on a Train recreation being dreadful: James McAvoy looks like a 10-year-old school bully trying to imitate Robert Walker and being unable to conceal his merriment about doing it.

At any rate, the piece was useful for giving me a pretext to look at the VF spread in its entirety again: here it is. Don't miss Robert Downey Jr trying to be Cary Grant!


  1. The Downey Jr. is actually one of the least successful ones. He should have done the NNW one. *sigh*

  2. Remember the film Arizona Dream, with Vincent Gallo doing a deadpan imitation of Grant in the crop-dusting scene? In a nightclub, no less (or some such enclosed space). Really funny.

  3. Seth Rogen as Cary Grant in North By Northwest is dreadful too. I thought the best one was Zellwegger as Kim Novak in Vertigo simply because Zellwegger looks so completely different.

  4. Seth Rogen could not shed the goofy expression even when recreating the North By Northwest scene. Maybe it was to divert our eyes from his bulging belly...:P

    Thanks Jai, enjoyed the link.

  5. scritic: yes, there's definitely something to be said about a Renee Zellweger who doesn't look like Renee Zellweger.

    Ankur: it must be quite a nightmare for anyone to have to pretend to be Cary Grant. Even Archie Leach found it difficult to pull off.

  6. These recreations hard to digest mainly because of the enormous differences in the milieu in which these artists were brought up.

    I mean it is equally hard to imagine Cary Grant in a Tarantino or a Guy Ritchie movie as it is for any modern star to replace CG in a Hitchcock film.

    Just about everything has changed including accents. The other day I read in Megan McArdle's blog that Katherine Hepburn's accent is pretty much extinct in the eastern states of US today.