My Name Is Alfred Hitchcock: A rigorous commentary for Hitch enthusiasts and a useful primer for newcomers

An unseen Alistair McGowan impersonates the great man as he talks us through themes in his work

My Name Is Alfred Hitchcock
My Name Is Alfred Hitchcock
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Director: Mark Cousins
Cert: None
Starring: Alfred Hitchcock, Alistair McGowan
Running Time: 2 hrs

On paper, the latest documentary from the extraordinarily prolific Mark Cousins – the Belfast man currently has another three films on the go – reads like a deviation from his most frequent strategy. My Name Is Alfred Hitchcock asks an unseen Alistair McGowan to impersonate the great man as he talks us through themes in his work. The first chapter, “Escape”, explains that film offers us a holiday from our own lives. Part two, “Desire”, touches upon the director’s gift for “chaste arousal”. And so on through “Time” and “Fulfilment”. The voice is convincing. A few photographs of Hitchcock press home his looming bulk. It is an act of ventriloquism that, using the director’s characteristically formal syntax, often verges on the uncanny (appropriately enough).

And yet. My Name Is Alfred Hitchcock would be recognisable as a Mark Cousins joint even if you hadn’t seen his name on the publicity material. From beyond the grave, Hitch is offering just the sort of inciteful, eccentric commentary we have enjoyed from Cousins in The Story of Film and A Story of Children and Film. Interrupted by a few, puzzling contemporary inserts, he, as ever, delights in having you wonder how you failed to see the apparently obvious before. Early on, for instance, he notes Hitchcock’s habit of following the character through a door that is never closed. Elsewhere, biographical details are worked cunningly into the commentary. The pacemaker Hitchcock had installed in later life gives this version new insight into, well, pace-making. “When your character is in a hurry, slow it down,” he says. True enough. Think how often he tortures his racing anti-heroes with infuriating impediments.

As well as familiar clips from Psycho and Marnie, we hear discussion of silent work such as Downhill and – a particular favourite of Cousins – The Farmer’s Wife. The quasi-fictional Hitch notes, as footage of Barry Fitzgerald appears on screen, that only his greatest fans will have seen his 1930 take on Juno and the Paycock. True enough.

What we end up with is both a rigorous commentary for the Hitch enthusiast and a useful primer for the newcomer. And we also get a character study. But of whom? The real man or the persona he invented for the public? Hitchcock would be delighted we are still asking that question.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist