In the last few years I have made a concentrated effort to watch a lot of Hitchcock movies and managed to see the vast majority of American films (Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest, Topaz, Torn Curtain, and the many, many more) he made and the ‘big ones’ he made in Britain (The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes) and then I have [still not watched] all the early silent films that are available (The Farmers Wife, The Ring and the others…). So, when I was reading the options for The 53rd London Film Festival this looked interesting… now there is only so much to say so i shall move on swiftly…
What I reckon …
First off, it is an art piece first and foremost. Would I call it ‘entertainment’ or, better still, a ‘yarn’ as Hitchcock himself would say? No. The majority of footage seems to have been prised from the archive of material from the Alfred Hitchcock Presents … series. A fair bit also from the fantastic trailer for Psycho as Hitchcock walks around the set, teasing us about what the film includes without showing us the footage itself.
For me, I haven’t seen much of Alfred Hitchcock Presents … but it does interest me as you do see a fair few of Hitchcock’s regular actors turns up – such as Joseph Cotton amongst others. In terms of Hitchcock, this film merely seemed to use his thriller style to set the scene for the real focus of the Cold War. By using a vast majority of footage from The Birds there is an indication of impending doom that shadows the film – and makes an interesting contrast to the possible doom that Nixon was entertaining with Khrushchev. Throughout the film, it often stopped and white text on black would pop up to inform us on the history of the cold war: “1969, Nixon signs … ” etc. The film shows all this historical footage alongside a carefully shot film explaining a situation whereby Hitchcock met himself on the set of The Birds. The parrallel again between these doubles – and Nixon and Khrushchev as doubles themselves – was made that much more sinister as we were constantly told that “If you meet your double, you should kill him” – a plan that Nixon and Khrushchev were attempting to do. Destroying the world in the process.
The film then moves on and, as Kennedy becomes president in the historical story, the film focuses on Topaz – a film set within the Cold War. The producer spoke in a Q&A after the screening and explained that the majority of footage used was taken from free-footage that is in the public domain – so the trailers for Hitchcock’s movies are in the public domain and we are then subjected to alot of trailer footage: “Shock, horror, beware of The Birds”.
It is simply a non-stop barrage of information. News footage, advertising footage, trailers – bam bam bam – and to top it off, there is a strong use of Herrman’s strings from Psycho which constantly forces you to be on edge. It happens so much, you eventually climbatize and the tension wears off. We also have these interspersed advertisements for coffee which adds a little relief before going straight back into footage of Nuclear bombs going off and Nixon and Khrushchev mocking each other and then Hitchcock: “Good Evening …” and then theres more – we meet Ron Burrage a Hitchcock lookalike whose birthday is the same as Hitchcock’s! Not to mention the story about Hitchcock meeting his double. The film is juggling all these different threads and, in the end, its just too much.
As discussed with Jo on the podcast, this would not be out of place in an Art Gallery whereby you can appreciate the mixture of media used – and people who love Cold War stuff and Hitchcock movies can stay for the duration. Hitchcock was an entertainer first I felt – and thats not to say there was no depth (as Vertigo shows) but he ultimately wanted people to enjoy and be entertained. Thing is, as much as Double Take might capture Hitchcock’s ‘tone’ of conversation and ethos towards life and how humour and horror go hand-in-hand, it is hardly a good contrast to his films themselves. I would rather watch a Hitchcock movie any day to this strange analysis on Hitchcock.