The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock

The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred HitchcockThis book is as much a treatise of early film and television as it is a biography Hitchcock is revealed to be a learned visual artist inspired by his own perverse fears and masochism The film and television industry rewards his films financial success by allowing him to wield his vicious, carte blanche control over his writers producers and actors In the early days, actors did not have a union and were contracted to a production company for their unspecified use on whatever picture they desired of them Hitchcock fully abused this system and particularly abused his female leads on a deep level Hitchcock is no genius as the author may believe, but simply an unduly celebrated masochist puppeteer that played out his fantasies through his actors. On a recent flight to the US I sat and watched Toby Jones in The Girl , while next to me the other half fixed her attention on Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock Our side by side pursuit of the dark side of Alfred Hitchcock inspired me to get Donald Spoto s tome out of storage and read it again for the first time in 20 years The Dark Side of Genius is both an apt and unapt title Without a shadow of a doubt Spoto sees Hitchcock as a genius, being unstinting in his praise of his masterworks and even of his interesting failures , but the dark parts are what Spoto really wants to write about The problem is that the unsavoury elements don t become as apparent until the last 25 years of Sir Alf s long life so whereas the genius is on display throughout, there s a lot of book to get through before the dirt is dished It makes for a somewhat unbalanced biography Hitchcock s childhood in Leytonstone is something of a plod for the reader to get through Spoto a man who largely writes Hollywood biographies seems lost in the East End of London I could imagine poring over his Collected Works of Charles Dickens to try and see how one does it He finds himself on surer footing when Alf enters the British film industry and of course when he moves to Hollywood But the real bravura stuff comes when looking at his treatment of Tippi Hedren and earlier Vera Miles as well as other actresses , which is rivetingly disturbing However, as a Hitchcock fan, George Orwell s Benefit of Clergy came to mind as I read about the latter thwarted obsessions and drunken decline How much should our knowledge of an artist s life affect our appreciation of his or her works To use Orwell s example, what would we say about Shakespeare if we discovered that he was Elizabethan England s most ruthless serial killer In Hitchcock s case a lot of his darker urges were without a doubt transformed into entertainment for the masses there s the obsession with blondes throughout and in Vertigo the taking apart and remaking an individual While as he got older, Spoto tells us with a commendable absence of glee rape fantasies burst and to the surface, as can be seen in Marnie or Frenzy Spoto s narrative manages to combine feeling sorry for the man in his frustration and loneliness, with also being repulsed by him But does any of this dent my enjoyment of Rear Window Or Strangers On A Train Or Psycho It s an elegantly written and meticulously researched biography, but once those films start, I ll just got lost in them again and forget all about it. Absolutely Compulsory Reading The New York Times Book ReviewNo One But A Tortured Genius Could Have Created Such Brooding, Suspenseful, And Utterly Original Films As SPELLBOUND, PSYCHO, And THE BIRDS Now Alfred Hitchcock, The Intensely Private And Often Bizarre Creator Of These Masterpieces, Is Fully Revealed In A Masterful Biography That Traces The Roots Of His Obsessions Back To A Childhood In Which The Seeds Of His Future Films Were Sown A while back, while reading Mr Peanut, I was distracted by a small side story of two lovers who meet in a Hitchcock seminar Regardless of these characters and their roles in that story, I became increasingly jealous of their enrollment in such a course I never got to study Hitchcock in school But I want to I do Spoto s Hitchcock bio this one, I mean He s also written two was the perfect overview of Hitchcock s films and his at times creepy, pathetic, inspired and always melodramatic persona as genius director I was fascinated with Hitchcock s slow evolution from introspective new kid to generally respected director to legendary and untouchable commander of his realm It was a good lesson in how, as we grow older, we become concentrated caricatures of ourselves Hitchcock only became lugubrious, opinionated, and fat as he aged And, if Spoto is to be believed, viciously obsessed with his leading ladies the sexually abstinent he remained Also, here s the kind of stuff I just eat up like candy, and most of you probably already know already, and I probably knew, too, but promptly forgot, and can enjoy just as much the second time around Tippi Hedrin is Melanie Griffith s mom Melanie was four years old at the filming of the The Birds, and Hitchcock gave her a doll dressed as her mom green dress , nailed into a little doll sized box Anne Baxter is Frank Lloyd Wright s granddaughter Carole Lombard might have been Hitchcock s own first superstar, if she hadn t died in a plane crash at the age of 33 Of course I ve been watching a few Hitchcock films than usual lately I really recommend 39 Steps, and watch for all the sexual double entendres you wouldn t usually expect in a suspense drama of its era I watched The Trouble with Harry last night, and was really thrown by just how weird it was Shirley McLaine makes her film debut here Hitchcock discovered her on the stage , and she is justhigh I m pretty sure she s high the whole time Her later embrace of New Age really doesn t surprise me in the least This bio was long on a chronological study of Hitchcock s character, but short on film analysis Of course, that was Spoto s intention, so I can t fault that But I ll certainly be reading about the films themselves Talking about long, have you seen Spoto s backlist Enormous And he s still doing it his Joan Crawford just came out last week. One of the best biographies of Alfred Hitchcock Donald Spoto has produced a fascinating study of a very complex character Written back in 1983, a ground breaking book and better than most of the plethora of Hitchcock books out there And along with his The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, probably Spoto s best.Includes 27 pages of unusual, excellent photographs. How does one get inside the head of a major director In his films, he really places a lot of himself, and so it was in this biography of my favorite director ever Now I can go enjoy of his films I ve not yet seen armed with intricate commentary and critical review I am a cineaste in the pure form and always will value art above box office value But it is curious and interesting to note when those two coincide and when they diverge One could write a book about it This biography of Hitchcock reminds me of Stephen Crane A Life of Fire, in that Hitchcock and Crane were not really recognized in their time, but were thought highly of largely after they died It is true that both were very popular to their audiences and fans, and while one suffered horribly from financial debts and problems, the other was essentially very well compensated In its incisive gaze on the director, and its evolution of a psychology or character of mind over time, judging by the films, of course, but also having a dialogue with those who worked closely with Hitchcock, it really does a great deal to show how private fantasy is articulated into film, and thus, elevating film to high art form I was so pleased by the totality of the book, that I can recommend it to anyone who wants to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about this iconic filmmaker Five Stars I had a great time revisiting this book after 30 years Essential reading for fans of Hitchcock or movies in general I also highly recommend the Attaboy Clarence podcast which features the 3 part series An incredible look into the life and works of one of the worlds greatest filmmakers.It is easy to tell that huge amounts of research went into this detailed work of the life and movies of Alfred Hitchcock Each chapter represents a group of years listed chronologically Within a chapter you may jump forward or backward at the mention of a certain work, but overall you follow the timeline from his birth through his death However, this book is not so much a biography of Hitchcock s life as it is a commentary on how the author feels Hitchcock s films were representative of the inner demons he faced Too often was I told how Hitchcock felt, not in a quote from the man himself, but written as fact from the mind of the author At one point it is even pointed out that other Hitchcock biographers think opinion he was motivated by one particular thing or another, but they are wrong, because Hitchcock was fact motivated by this or that As the title of the book suggests, all of these motivations come from a dark side of his mind that plagues him with desires most foul Overall this book was a decent in depth look at the life and works of Alfred Hitchcock If you can wade through the haze that is the author s opinion, being presented as fact, you will acquire a large amount of knowledge about the man himself, his works, people he worked with, his rise, and finally his decline If, however, you would prefer something shorter to inform you about his works and allow the formation of your own opinions, I would suggest you look elsewhere. A very fine biography which spreads out Hitchcock s unhappy psychology like a banquet for us to dine on What was this fat ugly film director going to do but hire a succession of lovely blonde actresses and then sexually assault them by proxy in his movies culminating in Tippi Hedron s brutal rape by birds scene he insisted on take after take, it went on for days Well, this book fingers that scene as the nadir of Hitch s horribly creepy treatment of women because at the time he was also attempting to take over Tippi Hedron s entire life But the ultimate sadism is to be found in Frenzy, which is not for the squeamish This is the only book I ve yet come across which meditates on the fate of people who are ugly and know they re ugly It s kind of a taboo subject.Naturally that s not all what this book is about Hitchcock was a genius. HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION A tour de force, un put downable biography, and thus far the best Hollywood bio I ve ever read.When Donald Spoto s ambitious, daring and provocative biography on the master of suspense appeared in 1983, it blew all previous efforts out of the water It also engendered controversy Some fans of Hitch were outraged and scholars and critics were uncomfortable with the level of speculation, artistic license and psychoanalysis Spoto engaged in to match the bizarre content of the director s films with the life influences that may have given birth to them.The book seems to have spawned a cottage industry of authors eager and willing to rebut, refute or otherwise take down Spoto.But, having read the book, I see almost nothing out of line in Spoto s observations, certainly nothing outrageous or inconceivable In fact, I find Spoto very precise and consistent in how he matches the known and reasonably extrapolated factors of Hitchcock s life and statements with the obsessions, themes, and subject matter in the director s films And what makes the book a tour de force, in part, is how well Spoto knows the totality of the filmmaker s work, and how he traces similarities of themes and content over a canon that spanned half a century how quirky bits of business in Hitchcock s silent movies, for instance, still show up in his films decades later.Yes, Spoto does extrapolate how Hitch s devotion to his mother, his Catholic upbringing and Catholic guilt, the Cockney rebellious streak of his parents, his general Englishness , his social awkwardness and introversion, his late loss of his virginity, his tendency toward control and humiliation of people borne of a sense of social exclusion and lack of self confidence, and his unrequited desires for women he could never have, make their way into the celluloid art for all to see Spoto or less argues that Hitchcock s oeuvre is a coded biography of the secret desires and repressions of his life And I find it a very convincing argument.In addition to seeking links between the secretive Hitchcock s life and art, the book tries to explain or at least document the director s sometimes sociopathic and even cruel Svengali tendencies on and off the set, particularly toward his leading ladies, but also toward his writers and other associates.I had planned to pen a much longer review I have five pages of notes , but am choosing to keep it short.The book is one of the most memorable reading experiences I ve ever had, and no matter what side you come down on it, or whatever your opinion is of Hitchcock s films, the book is endlessly fascinating and compulsively readable And yes, I did learn a lot about movies I thought I knew well KR KY 2017

A prolific and respected biographer and theologian, Donald Spoto is the author of twenty published books, among them bestselling biographies of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Alfred Hitchcock, Tennessee Williams, and Ingrid Bergman His books have been translated into than twenty languages Donald Spoto earned his Ph.D in theology at Fordham University After years as a theology professor, he t

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  • Paperback
  • 665 pages
  • The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock
  • Donald Spoto
  • English
  • 09 October 2017
  • 9780345314628

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