Sketchbook's Reviews > The Dark Side Of Genius: The Life Of Alfred Hitchcock

The Dark Side Of Genius by Donald Spoto
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Mar 07, 2011

it was amazing

Cher maitre, Hitchcock. From his 5-decade career, I can cite at least 12 pix that are outstanding for me. Fr other giants - Hawks, Lang, Lubitsch,
Sturges, Wilder - I spot about 4-5 each. My favs: "Notorious." Sublime Bergman, s&m. Cary forces her to sleep w enemy agent who does nightly bedside reports to mummie as Hitch, Spoto notes, did w his own. This is his most visually sublime, too. Then, "Strangers on a Train." Ray Chandler, signed to sc, didn't connect w Hitch, said his work was 'erased.' Seeking the cinematic, Hitch made the 'good' guy a tennis player instead of architect as in Highsm's novel. R Walker ('boy next door') was damn brill as a psychotic. He was 31 and dead a year later. "Vertigo"...Kim Novak's insecurities, we learn, informed her performance. The story, adds Spoto, reveals Hs attraction-repulsion to an idealized blonde, along w his double-image fascination.

That H played infantile pranks and bullied the vulnerable shouldn't cause
alarmums. Nobody's perfect. In 2008 Tippi Hedren was still talking about his hurtful manipulation (London Times). "Psycho" made H vastly rich. Add Truffaut adoration, plus his age, and out popped the perv. (Even H might like to ignore 3 'clinkers' as Kael described the follow-ups). "Torn Curtain," 66, has one fresh element: the difficulty in killing someone, which came fr his writer.

Spoto describes his growth in the emerging film world of 20s: at UFA in Germany he learned consummate technique. He also learned the importance of telling a film visually. The sound could go off, he said, and you should understand what was happening. He never cadged sc credit as every squirt director does today.

A complicated man: his betrayal of Bernard Herrmann, to many, is defining. Studio newts, realizing "Torn Curtain" was embalmed, wanted a 'modern' score. After their 6 marvelous pix, Herrmann was booted by H - ending a long, creative friendship. He then used a faux-Herrmann score. Generously, Spoto doesn't focus on this. But I ask: what price Hollywood?

H chortled w naughty irreverence. So I jest: his one tryst w cineaste wife Alma evokes the British chestnut, "My dear, I know this is unbearable for both of us, but let's just close our eyes and think of England." They thought of the next Hitch pic.

Cher maitre!

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Reading Progress

March 7, 2011 – Started Reading
March 7, 2011 – Shelved
March 22, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-45 of 45) (45 new)

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message 1: by Jessica (new)

Jessica oh wow...let me know what you think!

Sketchbook I read yars ago, but it's time to revisit.

message 3: by Jessica (new)

Jessica not new then, the bio?

Sketchbook Hitch bio (Spoto), 1983. Pub to great acclaim, except in Sun NYT Review where all-around nitwit Richard Grenier sniffed. NYT wanted a sniff. Grenier always delivered what his masters sought...

message 5: by Jessica (new)

Jessica love your inside scoops...


message 6: by David (new)

David Ehrenstein A steaming pile of gossipy crap.

message 7: by Sketchbook (last edited Mar 08, 2011 07:37AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sketchbook Fierce words..crap, Spoto bio untrue? As for Grenier, he wuzza nit.

message 8: by David (new)

David Ehrenstein It's all unsubstantiated gossip. Especially about Tippi Hedren. I've spoken to Tippi and the whole thing annoys her in the extreme. She says Hitch was wonderful to her.

Sketchbook This is truly fascinating...Tx

Sketchbook Sunday Times of London, 2008, has Tippi intervu (online) hedlined 'Alfred Hitchcock tried to destroy my career.'

message 11: by Jessica (new)

Jessica maybe, boringly, a bit of both?
Certainly he helped build her career...but then, it's also possible that he was impossible with/to her, at times.

message 12: by Sketchbook (last edited Mar 08, 2011 10:44PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sketchbook This is what I'm thinking. Hitch was one of a kind, for sure. It's hard to name a favorite H pic.

message 13: by Jessica (new)

Jessica I love Vertigo.

But of course, I've other favorites of his as well.

Sketchbook It's so hard to select Numero Uno as Hitch competes with himself: I'd cite Vertigo, Notorious, Strangers on a Train as #1 fer me.

message 15: by David (new)

David Ehrenstein My fave is "Rope."

message 16: by Jessica (new)

Jessica all so good.

want to read Highsmith's 'Strangers on a Train.' Never have.

message 17: by David (new)

David Ehrenstein That was her first novel. Imagine -- a classic right out of the starting gate turned into a film classic by Hitch. Her reputation was made without her even breaking a sweat. A shame he didn't film another of her many brilliant novels.

message 18: by Jessica (new)

Jessica yes, he should have.
So many were made into films...some stories too.
The French seemed to have done it best (next to Hitch.)

Sketchbook Yes..Highsmith is so Hitch.

Sketchbook Hitch's own vision, damn reality. The great chase pic NXNW has Long Island scene in which Grant almost drives his car over a "cliff" and into the sea. Hitch was thinking of NoCal. Long Island is pancake >flat<. Poetic license?

message 21: by Jessica (new)

Jessica ha, that is funny.

Sketchbook Glad you apprech...I sleuthed reviews. One critic mentioned. Hitch did not countenance disagreements. In 50s, I doubt if he'd ever seen the Hamptons.

message 23: by Sketchbook (last edited Jul 25, 2012 11:13AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sketchbook Actually, NX drive starts at Glen Cove, L I, but no matter. Jackson Pollock was killed, 1956, by slamming into a tree (EHam). NXNW came 2 yrs later. I've been a passenger in L I car - at night - where you cant see a damn thing - no roadway lights. Since driver & I were both squiffed, I didnt think we'd reach Nirvana House. Anyway, Hitch's to-hell-w-reality (in this case) amuses.

message 24: by Jessica (new)

Jessica well it's not a doc. so further fiction seems fine--

message 25: by Sketchbook (last edited Jul 25, 2012 11:30AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sketchbook Yesss...I agree. Tho - may I jest - it's not unlike putting Mt Rushmore above a mammoth lake-.

message 26: by Mark (new)

Mark 'Strangers on a train' defo.

When i was on study leave back in 2003 i had a weekend up at a place called Duncan's Bay or Cove or somesuch. I went to mass, as is my wont as a good catholic boy, and there, behind the Church, is the very building used by Hitchcock as the school house in 'the Birds'. Truly thrilling. Almost did my Tippi Hedren impression but restrained myself you will no doubt be relieved to hear.

message 27: by Sketchbook (last edited Jul 26, 2012 12:06PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sketchbook This is curious. 2 years ago, in N California, near Bodega Bay, the schoolhse, allegedly fr "The Birds," was pointed out to me. ~ According to Spoto, the pic was all shot in NoCal with interiors in LA. ~~ Anyway, I'm looking forward to my weekend drive along the craggy cliffs of pancake flat Long Island !

message 28: by Mark (new)

Mark Bodega Bay that was the main place name but we stayed at a place called Duncan's Cove

Sketchbook AOK. I wuz confused, thinking you were referring to somepl in Brit Isles! Now, more about your US study -- eh?? -- This roadster may drive right into Shinnecock Bay. They say, Don't Go There, but, damnnit, one always does--.

message 30: by Mark (new)

Mark I bet you do, you little rebel..... Yep my study leave was in California; from Feb to May at Palo Alto, just outside San Francisco. Fabulous

Sketchbook Hey, v interesting. Sounds like a great time. (What was your study?) --- OMG: here come the Shinnecocks!

message 32: by Mark (new)

Mark Theology and Spirituality. It was facinating and I had the opportunity to explore a little afterwards. Including a three day camp on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Really hot during the day whilst i hiked up and down in t shirt and shorts but had foolishly left most of my clothes in my car which another friend was using cos he had opted for a hotel instead of tent. Temperature, obviously, crashed through the floor at night since I was sleeping at 7,000 feet above sea level. I was frozen for the first two nights until i met up with my mate and retreived my bag. As a result, the third night i could sleep so long as I didn't want to roll over or move as i ended up lying like a beached whale, weighed down by every stitich of clothing I could find

message 33: by Sketchbook (last edited Jul 27, 2012 07:11AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sketchbook It sounds like a dandy adventure -- Grand Canyon. As a teen I explored the Sierras in CA (summer camp), but now I scout hotels. The freedom of comfort.

message 34: by Sketchbook (last edited Aug 02, 2012 05:53PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sketchbook BFI just named "Vertigo" top film made, dislodging "Citizen Kane," which held slot for 50 yrs.

message 35: by Lynne (last edited Aug 16, 2013 12:35PM) (new)

Lynne King Sketchbook,

I love your review.

Hitchcock was a strange individual. If I recall, he decided to go to the US in 1939 and there was a lot of criticism there, escaping the war effort and all that good stuff. He was a brilliant director but he had odd quirks. He evidently adored Tippi Hendren and his wife knew about it. Strange really but then I guess we all do strange things with our men and put up with odd things but then that's the male character, odd at times to say the least.

Sketchbook The perv in Hitchcock emerged in the 60s after he received adulation fr the French "New Wave" critics-directors, having been treated lightly by US critics. In 60s he became staggeringly rich...this po lad, son of a green grocer in London...I do recommend the Spoto's fair on him personally and very smart on his films.

message 37: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Schirmer Another great Sketch review. Merci!

message 38: by David (new)

David Ehrenstein Hitchcock created this SPOILER because he knew the film' third act wouldn't work without it.

message 39: by David (new)

David Ehrenstein Because we wouldn't have learned the truth until the last few seconds of the film. Knowing it increased the suspense re. "what will happen when Stewart finds out?"

message 40: by David (new)

David Ehrenstein Nothing is "Spoiled" in "Vertigo"

message 41: by David (new)

David Ehrenstein Movies are not "Surprise Parties"

message 42: by Sketchbook (last edited Dec 01, 2014 01:23PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sketchbook It seems like abt six months have passed, more or less, when Stewart runs into the Novak character again (after her alleged death). And, one thinks, he doesn't recognize her? In the book, WW2 is on -- he sees her many years later. This makes better sense.

In "The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock," a fine monograph Peter Bogdanovich published w the Museum of Modern Art, NYC, 1963, Hitchcock explains - in great detail - why he gives her ID away at this point. The book keeps the suspense/surprise until The End.

H argued, "What is the rest of our story [then] until we do reveal the truth?" Bogdan quotes H as saying the writer "was shocked by his decision...."

message 43: by Sketchbook (last edited Dec 01, 2014 02:39PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sketchbook Hitchcock stayed away fr Agatha Christie tricks/surprise parties -- the sort you get in "Witness for the Prosecution" (dir x Billy Wilder). Usually he let us know who the "bad guy" is. "Stage Fright" - 1950 - had some tricks and flopped. "A lot of people complained to me because the opening flashback was a lie," he said later.

"Vertigo" is pretty swell - but, for me, flawed. The starter exposition scene (bet Stewart-Helmore) goes on and on and ON. ~~ H knew audiences wouldn't wonder how Stewart survived his dangling fr the sky (at opening) and they didn't. Except I did. No matter.

We'll never know how the story might have gone if the revelation abt the girl came at end. What grabbed French critics and their "I'm-with-you" US copycats was the long silent sequence when Stewart just drives around and around. It's damn good. (Mien gott, so visual! )

Mohsen Amiri Is there another book which surveys hitchcock as Spoto surveys? Focusing on dark and negative aspects of his life?

Sketchbook I dont know...I found Spoto so complete that I didnt feel the need to read another bio, though there are a couple.

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