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Using Stephen Rebello’s heavily researched book about the making of Psycho and John J. McLaughlin’s screenplay as his foundation, director Sacha Gervasi set off on his own journey of research, scouring archives to ferret out everything he could – and intuit that which he could not -- about Hitchcock and Alma’s relationship.

Director Sacha Gervasi’s research led him to believe that in 1959, having just premiered their sleekest and highest grossing comic thriller yet, North By Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock and his wife (and collaborator) Alma were at a crossroads. “I think Hitchcock was ready to jolt himself awake. He didn’t want to do North By Northwest over and over again. He called these movies ‘pieces of cake’: incredibly lush, romantic films with dashing movie stars. He wanted to feel alive again, and that led him to Psycho.” 

"incredible, magnificent jewel of a woman"

But Alma was in a different place. “When we join her in the story, Alma is feeling a little underappreciated by her husband. His obsessive compulsive desire to complete this film against all the odds leads him to be a bit selfish,” the director explains. “But in the course of the story, Alfred realises he’s got this incredible, magnificent jewel of a woman, and a partner who he must acknowledge and rely on, even if in his own very restrained and unsentimental way.” 

For Gervasi, that’s what makes this such a very powerful love story. “I think we all have at certain times woken up and said of someone, ‘my God, this person has stood by me through all my rubbish and all my selfishness and how blind I’ve been.’ This story might involve a very famous filmmaker and a very famous film, but is very real and human.” 

To get to that real and human place, however, Gervasi eschewed the sentiment from which Hitchcock himself recoiled. He struck instead a coyly irreverent, playful tone that takes pleasure in the director’s notable foibles and in his imperturbable, but often revealing, repartee with Alma. 

“I think what I hooked into was having a sense of fun. The thing that I love about Hitchcock is the way he approached life, death, sex, mothers and murders all with a kind of drollness. So that was the spirit with which we approached this material,” he explains. “We had an opportunity to shine a light on the idea of partnership, on how hard it is to be married, on how hard it is to express yourself. But I think you don’t always have to be serious to be profound. And sometimes through comedy and lightness, you can really touch upon deeper things.”

"a film that ultimately impacted almost the entirety of pop culture"

Psycho - a film that ultimately impacted almost the entirety of pop culture - provided another fun piece of the puzzle for Gervasi. When Hitchcock set out to make the film, he had pretty much done it all in his 46 features that ran the gamut from light-hearted comedy to technical tour-de-force to haunting, seductive psycho-drama. He’d even had a top-rated television series with “Alfred Hitchcock Presents . . .” But he still insisted upon “recharging the batteries,” and doing something completely different. 

As Hitchcock put it, “style is self-plagiarism.” Hitchcock wanted to surprise and shock the audience in ways they didn’t see coming – and he wanted to shake up a film world that was now full of young up and coming directors. Psycho would take Hitchcock to the limit. It would push him to explore new depths of psychological terror, to self-finance, to fight the censors and to re-think the standard release patterns. And yet, with Alma’s help writing and editing, it would accomplish all that. 

"primal, preternatural things"

Says Gervasi of Psycho’s legacy: “The film deals with primal, preternatural things that exist in all human beings. We all have parent issues, we all struggle with good and bad, we all fear death. The film explores this darker side of human nature. Add into that Anthony Perkins stabbing people in a dress and you’ve got matinee idols, transvestitism, murder and mysterious hotels. All those things combined just make it a bloody entertaining film. And 52 years later, it’s still electrifying people.”

Published January 10, 2013

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Sacha Gervasi


Alfred & Alma

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