Reporting from the 2022 Telluride Film Festival.
His name and visage might be the most recognizable in all of movie history. Thanks to his cameos, his TV shows, and his copious appearances on talk shows, he’s practically a household name worldwide—even though he died 42 years ago. From 1922 to 1976, he made one film a year and rewrote cinematic grammar as he went. Martin Scorsese once described him as a franchise onto himself, but the world will always remember Alfred Hitchcock as the Master of Suspense.
I can’t think of another filmmaker who’s been more influential or studied. Ask anyone who’s devoted their life to making or understanding movies about the filmmaker who first got their cinephilic blood flowing, and more often than not, the name will come back Hitchcock. For me, it was Vertigo. My friend brought a VHS over on New Year’s Eve 1998, and it was unlike anything I had ever seen. I still feel that way about Vertigo. I imagine this is a typical story among cinephiles.
Hence the question behind My Name is Alfred Hitchcock: What more can possibly be said about this man and these movies? For Mark Cousins, plenty. The Northern Irish filmmaker and writer is a fount of knowledge and enthusiasm—he arrived at the Telluride Film Festival with two docs in tow: this one and The March on Rome, an exploration of the rise and persistence of fascism. He’s made diary movies, city symphonies, and two TV series but is probably best known for his sweeping cinematic essays, The Story of Film and Women Make Film.
Cousins’ approach is as playful as it is idiosyncratic. For My Name is Alfred Hitchcock, Cousins enlists Alistair McGowen to mimic Hitchcock’s speaking and breathing pattern—a blubbery kind of sucking noise—as if Hitchcock is explaining his movies to Cousins. Cousins pulls clips from every last surviving Hitchcock film to illustrate his key topics: Treaties on escape, desire, loneliness, time, fulfillment, and height. These clips are punctuated by a handful of stills of Hitch that Cousins holds on while McGowen talks. The stills are remarkable. The more you stare at them, the more you notice all the different kinds of Hitchcock behind that one face.
The beauty of Cousins’ work lies in his ability to focus on that which others gloss over. In recent years, Cousins’ interests have taken him to the far corners of cinematic discovery, championing films and filmmakers and filmmaking countries many have overlooked. My Name is Alfred Hitchcock seems an odd choice in this context. Pedestrian, even. As the story goes, producer John Archer approached Cousins about making a movie about Hitchcock in honor of the centenary of Hitch’s first feature film (Number 13). The idea interested Cousins, but he wasn’t sure about the how. So he plowed through all 50-plus movies and made notes of what he saw. A documentary was born.
My Name is Alfred Hitchcock is not your standard filmmaker biography. There are no experts beyond Cousins, no information beyond what’s in the frame and what McGowen tells us. Cousins hopscotches between movies, stitching together images by theme, not chronology, and makes new that which feels so familiar. It also made me wonder if I dismissed Torn Curtain a little too casually when I did my Hitchcock watch all those years ago (damn near 40 Hitchcock films in one summer—another right of passage for cinephiles). This documentary makes me want to discover them all over again. I can only imagine what manna this will be for those who have yet to enjoy the masters’ oeuvre.
My Name is Alfred Hitchcock does not yet have a release date.