Mark Cousins takes a stab at the most famous director in history... by bringing him back from the dead to explain his own work
“There’s more to say about me,” Alfred Hitchcock tells us, in a film that purports to be written and voiced by him in the opening credits. “Look closely at my pictures,” he says. Isn’t that what we’ve always been doing? Yet if the master himself insists we might have missed a few things – well, who better to trust on an otherwise crowded subject?
Prolific film critic and historian Mark Cousins, perhaps, who has returned to give that most studied and infamous of filmmakers some added agency from beyond the grave. Not revived by way of some arcane ritual, but through the mimicry of comic Alistair McGowan – an uncanny drawl of an impression, complete with Cockney inflections and regular pauses for breath, he narrates the way he directs: with a gleeful, macabre sense of toying with his audience.
The voice might be Hitch, of course, but the words are definitely Cousins. My Name is Alfred Hitchcock, more experimental but also more playful than his acclaimed, fifteen-part Story of Film, comes with a built-in awareness of its own audaciousness (and perhaps silliness). Like most of Cousins' film output – often described as “visual tone poems” – it comes down to the meticulous selection of clips and dreamy editing, paired with less obvious observations, all of which ask us to reconsider the works we’ve seen – and some we probably have not – on filmmaking and thematic levels.
Here, we're guided by the master filmmaker himself through classic works such as Vertigo and North by Northwest, to forgotten early ones like The Pleasure Garden and The Ring, as Cousins (sorry, Hitch) attempts to break down his remarkable, immortal canon – arguably the most influential in filmic history. At times the theories can seem stretched, or even obvious. Where does Hitch start, and Cousins begin? Of course, that's the joke: it is all Cousins. And that's also where the fun lies.
What is a Mark Cousins film unless we can actually hear Mark Cousins, though? That singular, Irish lilt is in short supply here – but not entirely absent. We hear him, now and again, as though conducting the interview: “Yes, Mr. Hitchcock.” As we move through clips strung together by way of topics such as Desire, Escape and Loneliness, Cousins' focus on the technique, the camera work, and the cutting regularly draws insight from moments we may have have previously dreamed our way through. To do so without revealing any spoilers about the chosen films is an achievement in itself.
For some, the overall conceit – and lie – of My Name is Alfred Hitchcock will prove too much. It's also on the long side at two hours (though, admittedly, it's short for this filmmaker). But as is always true of Cousins, to watch his work is to be struck by the monumental scope of cinema and to marvel at its endless possibilities – the power of looking laid at our feet, asking us to dig deeper, and dream bigger (and more often). In its most basic form, this is the sort of passionate, cine-obsessed survey of a director's canon that makes you want to go back and rewatch absolutely everything. As for the voice-over? Somehow I think Hitchcock would have approved.
My Name is Alfred Hitchcock is released in UK cinemas on 21 July.Where to watch