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‘My Name is Alfred Hitchcock’: The master himself tells us our weaknesses — in the first person — in a new film

Mark Cousins’s documentary is revealing and playful, funny and somber, tricky and artistic, all at once

Alfred Hitchcock, in an image from the documentary by Mark Cousins.
Javier Ocaña
Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock in an image from Mark Cousins's documentary.

The last credit to appear in the first minute of My Name is Alfred Hitchcock, a new documentary by Northern Irish filmmaker Mark Cousins, reads “written and voiced by Alfred Hitchcock.” A little later, that refined and fascinating voice-over, with continuous inflections in tone, shortness of breath, sarcasm in every sentence, confesses he is only going to tell one lie in the film and invites the viewers to figure it out. Naturally, he is not referring to the (obvious) fact that the master did not write or narrate the documentary. Here’s Cousins’s first game, very much done in the sarcastic style of the legendary director and his introductions on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series... That voice is an impressive impersonation by British actor Alistair McGowan, and it is the first great virtue of a work that more closely resembles a virtual essay or film class than a documentary in the typical sense of the word, as is usually the case in Cousins’s work.

While it is true that Cousins is taking on an incomprehensible figure and oeuvre, today it is incredibly difficult for a work on the renowned director of Vertigo, Psycho, Rear Window and Rebecca to seem novel or, at least, touch on never-before-seen aspects and formal particularities. The tone and calmness, as well as a certain poetry, of some of Cousins’s magnificent works (The Story of Film, Women Make Film, The Story of Looking...), are present in this film as well. But here, Hitch’s imitator takes the lead, saying things the director actually said, others that he could have said, and even a few things he might have said today if he were alive, if he saw our times, our cinema and our societies, which is seductive in its own right.

In fact, the narration’s monotone cadence may even be detrimental to its rhythm, but only those viewers who are not interested in the art of filmmaking will feel such weariness. And there will be few of those viewers in the audience. The documentary is divided into six parts; some of which are clearly connected to other studies of the master, while others are Cousins’ original contributions: evasion, desire, solitude, time, plenitude and height. This is fed by continuous Hitchcock film sequences, in which Cousins explains his theories (and those of Hitchcock himself) about the specifics of the mise-en-scène, color, sound and other formal and background plots.

“I was an artist, a daredevil, a carny,” says the false (true) master in the narration: “There are many who have opined on my films. They have analyzed my narrative style, my way of capturing guilt and Catholic morality. They have examined my visual fantasies, my furtive way of observing people and beauty [...], but they have missed things.” The objective here is nothing less than a sort of time travel in which the spectators’ weaknesses end up being identified: both those from before and those of the present, that which remains.

Alongside all that, Cousins adds photographs, some of which are animated with elegant effects, and a handful of his own shots, the most debatable part of his work. They are supposed to show the present gaze, that of the current viewer, but in the end, they do not quite fit together or understand each other.

My Name is Alfred Hitchcock is a work that is revealing and playful, funny and somber, tricky and artistic, all at once. Such was the cinema of the director who made The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Cousins’s wit is the latest one to confirm it.

'My Name is Alfred Hitchcock'

Director: Mark Cousins.

Cast: Alistair McGowan (voice). 

Genre: Documentary. United Kingdom, 2023.

Running time: 120 minutes.

Release: August 18.

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