Review

Double Take

Director    Johan Grimonprez
Starring    Alfred Hitchcock
Release    2 JUN (US) 2 APR (UK)    Certificate 12A
2 stars

Christopher

11th April 2010

Double Take is a collage of four distinct narrative strands, some real, some imagined, but all supposedly interlinked with one another.It's probably easier to unpick these strands first, in order to figure out what the heck they're all meant to be doing here together.

Number One: Authentic footage of Alfred Hitchcock, mostly taken from the knowingly hilarious trailers for his films, and the wry introductions to his own television programme, Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Brilliant. There is no other director worth studying more than Hitchcock and none more charismatic. I could happily watch hours of footage of this great man at work. He was a genius in every genuine sense: crowd-pleasing yet artful, a gluttonous cineaste that never took himself too seriously. The man and his craft are both fascinating in equal measure.
The footage is edited in a particularly satirical manner, and through careful montage these scenes ironically comment on the remaining strands

Number Two: Documentary and news-reel footage retelling the history of the Cold War, in particular the relationship between opposing world leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon. It also takes in the arms race, the space race and touches briefly on the Cuban Missile crisis.

Okay. Everyone needs a good history lesson from time to time, especially on one of the most extendedly frightening periods of recent history. These events still resonate in our current political climate and it should never be underestimated how close the world came to destruction. It should also be noted that the last vital age of Hollywood played out during the Cold War years, and Hitchcock himself made his greatest films in this period, particularly North By Northwest, Psycho, Vertigo and The Birds.

Initially these two threads seem indistinctly related, the only tangible connection being that Hitchcock made works containing tremendous suspense and his films commented directly on the human condition under extreme threat, during a time when humanity itself was threatened with extinction by a hitherto unknown force, communism, and a powerfully terrifying weapon, the nuclear bomb.However to further complicate matters is...

Number Three: A fictional dramatisation of a seemingly impossible meeting between two Hitchcocks; one from the future (1980, the year of his death) and one from the present (1962, on the set of The Birds).

Great, this is fascinating stuff. Like the novel 54 by Wu Ming which sees a fictional Cary Grant hired by the MI6 to thwart communism, it uses the vaguely sci-fi backdrop of an alternate secret history, and plays a tale of straight Hitchcockian intrigue starring the master himself. Espionage, alternate histories, real life legends of Hollywood: I'm in film nerd heaven.Although I am now losing the point of the first two narrative threads, so perhaps the fourth will shed some light.

Number Four: Contemporary footage of Ron Burrage, famed Alfred Hitchcock lookalike, interviewed by the director and attending various Hitchcock themed events and commercial shoots.

Right, okay, fine. We're peering behind the curtain now. Much like Hitchcock in his trailers, Director Johan Grimonprez is treating us to glimpses behind the camera and at the artifice of film-making. How the false can be made legitimate through the careful positioning of a camera lens. The use of Burrage legitimises the fictional plot, humanises the legendary figure of Hitchcock, and proves how an audience can be skilfully manipulated.

This is getting really complicated, but at least the theme of duality is becoming clear. Past Hitchcock meeting Future Hitchcock is the equivalent of two superpowers meeting on the world stage. Both stubborn, both unwilling to back down. They both know that, to paraphrase Hitchcock, in order to survive one must destroy the other. However in doing so, this will lead to one's own self-destruction. In the USA and USSR's case this would mean the mutually assured destruction of nuclear war. In the Hitchcocks' case this would lead to a Back To The Future style rip in the space/time continuum meaning that neither could exist without the other, and I would get a headache from thinking about it any longer.

Sounds great right? Entertaining, complex and intriguing? Well no, not really. It actually ends up being none of these things.Hitchcock was a largely apolitical film maker who offered escape. The history of two superpowers playing a deadly game of brinkmanship has little to do with the director. Grimonprez often forgets that Hitchcock is the main subject of his film, especially towards the end, getting lost in the rambling and rather patronising history lesson, clearly where the director's true interests' lie. The fictional story of Hitchcock's double is given short-shrift and too often feels underwritten. This is a major disappointment for Hitchcock fans, which surely make up the core audience.

Regular tongue-in-cheek advert breaks also prove to be an annoyance, constantly hampering the suspense; however this does prove to be the point. Hitchcock often decried the evils of advertising during his television show, and here they're used to compare the threat of Communism on the west to the threat of television on cinema.

Double Take's major flaw is that it thinks it's way more intelligent than it actually is. Ultimately nothing really gels. There are four very interesting films here, but together they form an incoherent, painfully repetitive and unsatisfying mess.On the plus side, you do get to see Alfred Hitchcock do that twiddly-fingers thing that Homer Simpson does, which earns it an immediate extra star.

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