Hitchcock Director Sacha Gervasi Explains What Anvil And Mrs. Hitchcock Have In Common
From Anvil to Alma, you seem compelled to draw attention to artists whose influence goes unrecognized by the public. Is there anything in particular that you want people to know about Alma?
I think as a woman at the time. We're talking about a particular period where women had a specific role: stay in the kitchen, cook a brilliant dinner, be the wife, you're there to serve the husband sort of thing. And I think that she was a fucking genius in her own way! You know, with editing, with script, with all these things. And I think that what I wanted to say was, here was a woman who was the perfect wife, who did do all these things—she loved doing the entertaining—but yet don't be fooled! You know what I mean? There's always more to people than meets the eye. Just like with Anvil, where you might write them off as sad losers from Toronto but their story is pretty fucking inspirational. And I think that if you take a minute and peel away the layers, there's often more there than you think at first.
What's interesting is for her as a woman at the time, the ways she contributes to his films are the ways that—like you said—don't detract from his grandeur, and ways in which women were able to get involved in the industry in editing, in screenwriting—
Correct, and obviously that's why so many women at the time were editors because it was a very easy [industry job to be considered for] and were often the best editors, like an example of Scorsese and Schoonmaker today. You've got great women editors. I had a great woman editor editing my movie, Pamela Martin who [also] edited The Fighter and Little Miss Sunshine. I totally agree with you. But at the same time, this is not to underestimate their contribution. And I think Alma's contribution—even in so far as the Psycho music is concerned—is really huge, where she insisted that Hitchcock listen to Bernie's cue.
It's impossible to imagine the shower scene without that music!
That's what I'm saying, and Alma was a huge part of the decision to put it in because Hitchcock was adamant, "It's the sound of screams, it's the sound of running water. It's a montage. No music." And they had this drag down all out fight for a week! And Alma was the referee, and finally she said—Hermann's first cue was sort of jazzy—she said go do something new. And he came back with the now landmark cue. And she made Hitchcock listen to it; he had already decided that there wasn't going to be music [there].
It's really fascinating to imagine that our image of Hitchcock is not just him. Of course it's a front and an image, but it's also something the two of them built together. I'm wondering how much this will impact how we think about other filmmakers, like people who favor the auteur theory like to think of a filmmaker's style as deriving from just this one person—
But I want to be really clear. Let's take nothing away from Hitchcock. He was the genius; she knew that. What I'm saying is often with a great artist or a great genius, there's somewhere lurking in the shadows sometimes a great partner, whose able to really say the right thing, do the right thing, and sometimes who can make the critical difference between something being okay and something being great. It's not to say his work was just about his collaboration with Alma, his work was about Alfred Hitchcock, but the collaboration with Alma in addition to that I think was significant. We're just shining a light on that. And yeah, hopefully there is some debate. But look, Hitchcock is such and emotive, controversial subject because people have specific relationships to him. Certain critics for example, they are very invested in him being a certain way because they have very strong feelings about it. And what I'm saying, I'm challenging that, and I'm saying, "He wasn't a cinematic god whose every thing that he did was brilliant." That's not the case! And neither was he this evil monster who just destroyed actresses and attacked women regularly. I mean, who knows what happened but what I will say is that the picture is a lot more complicated. It's an oversimplification to say, "he's a god" or "he's a monster," or whatever. He's just a filmmaker. To me, looking into the life of the genius filmmaker enriches the work. It makes you see things differently. And the reason there is this conversation is because the work is so darn good! I mean, we're not talking about two or three masterworks. We're talking about 10 or 12! That's very rare. We're talking about Kubrick, Hitchcock—you know there's very few directors who are able to produce this level of genius as consistently and this range of films! You know, he makes a drama in a lifeboat, he makes a drama with one shot. He does "the first Bond film" as it was called recently, North by Northwest. He makes a lush Riviera epic. He makes psychological thrillers, he makes Psycho. You know what I mean?
Yeah, and yet he's written off at the time as a genre guy.
Absolutely! And the point being that Psycho was dismissed as a flimsy piece of trash, it was killed [by critics initially] and now it's a masterwork! And I think it's sort of important for people to not put anyone up on a pedestal so it blinds them to the truth that this guy is brilliant but not in quite the way you thought.
Basically making this movie revealed to you the complexities of Hitchcock.
Absolutely! The complexities, the nuance, the contradiction. And people want to rush to he's good, he's bad. He's both! Like why do people have a problem with that? I don’t understand why people can't [accept that] those two things live side by side. Because that's the truth. I think that when people are invested in him being a certain way they just get incredibly inflexible. They get angry if anything challenges their point of view.
It's almost like Santa Claus, where everybody has their idea of him. And how dare you defy—
How dare define it! Well, we're not defining it, that's the whole point! We're just saying there's more there. There's warmth and tenderness. You look at a film like Vertigo, that's such a tender, romantic film. I mean, it's tragic too, but you feel the heart of the man who made it. And I'm saying that's part of the picture too! The obsession, the neuroses, the meanness, the kind of bullying of actresses. We're saying all that happened. Let's say it's all true. But what I'm saying is there's also this crucial component of the man himself. And somehow people just don't want to see that.
I was really impressed by that because there's certainly an attempt to pay homage to Hitchcock's style, but then your film has a really definite sense of warmth. Like the scene where he is like comfort food eating. I mean, we can connect to Hitchcock.
Absolutely, it's a universal thing. I mean, he's upset and he's pounding the foie gras.
We all do that! Who doesn't?
(Smiling) Who doesn't pound the foie gras? I mean obviously, I do it less expensively. I might go to Starbucks and get some donuts.
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