Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock (1960)

In Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense thriller, Psycho, Phoenix officeworker Marion Crane is fed up with the way life has treated her. She has to meet her lover Sam in lunch breaks and they cannot get married because Sam has to give most of his money away in alimony. One Friday Marion is trusted to bank $40,000 by her employer. Seeing the opportunity to take the money and start a new life, Marion leaves town and heads towards Sam’s California store. Tired after the long drive and caught in a storm, she gets off the main highway and pulls into The Bates Motel. The motel is managed by a quiet young man called Norman who seems to be dominated by his mother. (IMDb)

About Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born in Leytonstone, Essex, England. He was the son of Emma Jane (Whelan; 1863 – 1942) and East End greengrocer William Hitchcock (1862 – 1914). His parents were both of half English and half Irish ancestry. He had two older siblings, William Hitchcock (born 1890) and Eileen Hitchcock (born 1892). Raised as a strict Catholic and attending Saint Ignatius College, a school run by Jesuits, Hitch had very much of a regular upbringing. His first job outside of the family business was in 1915 as an estimator for the Henley Telegraph and Cable Company. His interest in movies began at around this time, frequently visiting the cinema and reading US trade journals.

It was around 1920 when Hitchcock joined the film industry. He started off drawing the sets (he was a very skilled artist). It was there that he met Alma Reville, though they never really spoke to each other. It was only after the director for Always Tell Your Wife(1923) fell ill and Hitchcock was named director to complete the film that he and Reville began to collaborate. Hitchcock had his first real crack at directing a film, start to finish, in 1923 when he was hired to direct the film Number 13 (1922), though the production wasn’t completed due to the studio’s closure (he later remade it as a sound film). Hitchcock didn’t give up then. He directed The Pleasure Garden (1925), a British/German production, which was very popular. Hitchcock made his first trademark film in 1927, The Lodger (1927) . In the same year, on the 2nd of December, Hitchcock married Alma Reville. They had one child, _Patricia Hitchcock_ who was born on July 7th, 1928. His success followed when he made a number of films in Britain such as The Lady Vanishes(1938) and Jamaica Inn (1939), some of which also gained him fame in the USA.

In 1940, the Hitchcock family moved to Hollywood, where the producer _David O. Selznick_had hired him to direct an adaptation of ‘Daphne du Maurier”s Rebecca (1940). After Saboteur (1942), as his fame as a director grew, film companies began to refer to his films as ‘Alfred Hitchcock’s’, for example Alfred Hitcock’s Psycho (1960), Alfred Hitchcock’s Family Plot (1976), Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972).

Hitchcock was a master of pure cinema who almost never failed to reconcile aesthetics with the demands of the box-office.

During the making of Frenzy (1972), Hitchcock’s wife Alma suffered a paralyzing stroke which made her unable to walk very well. On March 7, 1979, Hitchcock was awarded the AFI Life Achievement Award, where he said: “I beg permission to mention by name only four people who have given me the most affection, appreciation, and encouragement, and constant collaboration. The first of the four is a film editor, the second is a scriptwriter, the third is the mother of my daughter Pat, and the fourth is as fine a cook as ever performed miracles in a domestic kitchen and their names are Alma Reville.” By this time, he was ill with angina and his kidneys had already started to fail. He had started to write a screenplay with _Ernest Lehman_ called The Short Night but he fired Lehman and hired young writer David Freeman to rewrite the script. Due to Hitchcock’s failing health the film was never made, but Freeman published the script after Hitchcock’s death. In late 1979, Hitchcock was knighted, making him Sir Alfred Hitchcock. On the 29th April 1980, 9:17AM, he died peacefully in his sleep due to renal failure. His funeral was held in the Church of Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. Father Thomas Sullivan led the service with over 600 people attended the service, among them were Mel Brooks (director of High Anxiety (1977), a comedy tribute to Hitchcock and his films), Louis JourdanKarl MaldenTippi HedrenJanet Leigh and François Truffaut.

FILM | Betwixt and Between–“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby”

Eleanor_Rigby284With “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” first-time writer-director Ned Benson set himself a daunting task: depicting despair on screen. The film follows a couple, Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) and Conor (James McAvoy), who have separated after the death of their baby son. Writing in The New Yorker, David Denby implies that the subject matter itself is a fool’s errand: “Benson’s courage is impressive, his naiveté dismaying…moods of grief and depression are almost impossible to make exciting.”

It’s true that despair has a different quality than the many “negative” emotions actors generally dish out: anger, anxiety, betrayal, hatred. There’s a stillness to it. By definition, it’s the feeling that nothing will ever change, that change is no longer possible. That lack of movement is antithetical to the typical narrative arc. We expect action, development, growth.  And if Benson were going only for despair, I might agree with Denby. But in fact, the filmmaker tantalizes us with the hope, however slight, that despair might begin to lift, that even if the characters cannot recapture their happy past, they might find a future together. The problem is not the mood of despair, but how it is conveyed.

Early in the movie, Eleanor nonchalantly walks her bike along the Manhattan Bridge and just as nonchalantly throws herself into the water beneath. The life she imagined no longer exists and she has no interest in the one that’s on offer. When she’s fished out of the river, she does not return home to Conor, but to live with her parents (Isabelle Huppert and William Hurt), who are already housing Eleanor’s sister (Nina Arianda) and nephew (Wyatt Ralff). It turns out this is not Eleanor’s first disappearance; she is furious with Conor for trying to recreate some semblance of normal life and routinely abandons him, leaving him to stalk her through the streets and subway stations of Manhattan.

Jessica Chastain does delicate yet tough as well as any actress now working. With her nearly translucent skin and steely eyes, she gives the impression of a fairy toting a machine gun. (Maybe that’s just a flashback from “Zero Dark Thirty.”) Here, she may be almost too tough. For much of the movie, she seems directionless more than tormented. With nothing else to do, Eleanor begins taking a sociology class at her father’s university, ultimately befriending her world-weary professor (Viola Davis). The two women eat burgers and make cracks about staying hard, while their husbands went soft. But does hard convey the full agony of a mother who has lost her baby? We see Eleanor’s anger, even her pain, but it always feels tightly controlled, without the humanizing flash of panic or desperation.

James McAvoy’s Conor is in many ways the more sympathetic partner, openly wounded, still grasping for his wife. Yet even when the film focuses on Conor, it is hard to feel what has been lost. Part of the difficulty may come from the movie’s structure. Originally produced as two separate films, one from his perspective, another from hers, the footage has now been combined into a single film, with the subtitle “Them.” The concept is clever: the loss has cleaved such a cavern between husband and wife that their points of view are too disparate to be contained in one movie. Yet, it leaves a hole for the viewer as well.

There are flashbacks to an early date, complete with rolling around in the car, post-coital Twizzlers and Slurpees, and dancing by the side of the road. There’s certainly fun and chemistry here, but what else? Beyond the headiness of first love or lust, we don’t see who these people were, or who they were to each other. Though the movie is framed by the loss of a child, to the viewer, the baby is only a concept. (We do not see even a photo until the end.) The real focus is the loss of love, the loss of self. Several times, Eleanor asks, do I seem different? We can’t answer that question because we never really saw her beforehand.

During the flashbacks, as the couple romps on a deserted road, Conor asks, where are we? And Eleanor replies, somewhere good. It becomes the film’s refrain. Near the end of the movie (no spoiler alert needed –it’s in the previews), Eleanor says, we’ll never get back to where we were. When Conor asks where that was and she replies, wistfully, somewhere good, we have to take her word for it. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby could have made us feel the loss so much more acutely had we been there with them.


Emily Turner is an editor at Island Press, where she acquires books on food, health, and sustainability. She has also worked at NYU Press and Academy Chicago Publishers. She earned a BA in English literature from the University of Virginia and is pursuing a MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. She lives in Los Angeles, CA.


FILM | Millennials Chilled

Sarah, Aubrey Plaza; Alex, Jason Ritter. Photographer: Andre Lascaris

“About Alex” is not a perfect film, but it is a near perfect relief from the summer blockbusters. There are no explosions, no car chases, no teenage vampires or comic book characters. And there’s just a little blood: stains from the titular character’s half-hearted suicide attempt run down the tub onto the bathroom floor. But mostly, as Alex’s college friends gather in his old farmhouse to offer support when he returns from the hospital, there is talking.

With its brooding nostalgia, it’s easy to see why “About Alex” is often referred to as “The Big Chill” for Millennials. Ben Kenigsberg of The New York Times calls the echo “distorted,” while Robert Abele of The Los Angeles Times quips, “‘The Big Chill’ it isn’t.”  Even the characters acknowledge the tribute. Sarah (Audrey Plaza), an aspiring chef who is convinced that what Alex needs is mothering, remarks that the gathering is like an old eighties film and suggests naming a stray dog Jeff Goldblum, who starred in the original movie. While the set-ups are nearly identical—a half dozen old friends reunited by the suicide / attempted suicide of a character named Alex—Writer / Director Jesse Zwick puts a contemporary stamp on his characters’ tangled lives.

Most of the social commentary comes from the caustic mouth of Josh (Max Greenfield of “The New Girl”), a perpetually outraged Ph.D. candidate who would rather rail at the world than live in it. He’s angry that his generation came into the job market just as the bubble burst. He’s angry that every moment must be captured on an iPhone and instantly uploaded to Facebook and Instagram. Most of all, he’s angry that his friends are pussyfooting around the reason for their gathering, hiding in politeness rather than thrashing out why Alex was Tweeting about death and why the rest of them failed to notice. Greenfield walks a smart line between idealism and cynicism, making Josh simultaneously callous and sincere.

While Josh’s counterpart in the “The Big Chill” was a drug dealer (albeit a high-end variety), most of the eighties gang was professionally successful, if unfulfilled: doctors, lawyers, T.V. stars, businessmen. They had sold out and were reaping the rewards of furs, fast cars, and summer houses. The friends in “About Alex” are instead struggling with student loans and wobbly job prospects, with the exception of Isaac (Max Minghella), the quiet, sensible type with obscenely expensive shoes, big-money investments, and a Republican voting history. While the times and finances have changed, the theme remains eternal: lives that aren’t turning out quite the way they were planned.

“About Alex” has one important element that its predecessor did not: namely, Alex (Jason Ritter). It’s a smart twist that lends emotional punch to the film’s underlying structure. Alex isn’t simply a device to bring long-lost friends together; he’s a person and, like the characters, we want to know why he did what he did. Ritter plays the role with the gentle charm he is known for on “Parenthood,” but undergirding the sweetness is a near frantic vulnerability. When Ritter’s doe eyes start darting and his voice trembling, the movie takes a jump from casual Mumblecore entertainment to something more striking and vital.

“About Alex” does not maintain its resonance throughout. Lines and character arcs dance perilously close to cliché. And making the gang a decade younger (twenties rather than thirties) undercuts the weight of their regrets. But as Alex chases his best friend’s car, close to distraction and despair with the thought of losing the person who matters most to him, we get a glimpse of what drove him into that bathtub. That moment is worth the price of admission, as it gives its audience something both classic and atypical, something sharp and poignant, that “The Big Chill” could not.


Emily Turner is an editor at Island Press, where she acquires books on food, health, and sustainability. She has also worked at NYU Press and Academy Chicago Publishers. She earned a BA in English literature from the University of Virginia and is pursuing a MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. She lives in Los Angeles, CA.