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This excellent documentary interweaves the biographies of two highly
different but equally important characters of cinema history: David O.
Selznick, producer, and Alfred Hitchcock, director. Both stories are indeed
worth being told and where they meet and go on together, the film gets even
more interesting. Employees of Selznick and co-operators of Hitchcock
remember; biographers and historians present their expert comments and
archive photographs underline the history lesson. This film really helps to
convey a quite comprehensive understanding of the film industry around the
1940s, an idea who David Selznick was and how he used to work (all those
memos!) and maybe also a new view on genius Alfred Hitchcock.
One thing struck me a little strange and made me develop some doubts on whether everything said in the film was perfectly true: Hitchcock was portrayed in a positive manner throughout, whereas Selznick had to be the bad guy in most of the cases. It's not impossible that director and writer Michael Epstein had his particular sympathies. But on the other hand I can imagine that producers at this fairly early time in movie history really showed such obvious symptoms of megalomania.
This documentary, part of the once-excellent "American Masters" series,
details the conflict between Alfred Hitchcock, the greatest director of
suspense thrillers who has ever lived, and David O. Selznick, legendary
producer of many great films, and the man who brought Hitchcock to
Hollywood. It is one of the most biased pieces of film-making I have
Writer-director Michael Epstein seems intent on doing nothing better than portraying Hitchcock as a victim of the supposedly egomaniacal, compulsively meddling Selznick, who, according to Epstein, ruined numerous Hitchcock films while spending his career from 1940's onward trying to top his (Selznick's) monumental epic, "Gone With The Wind", and failing miserably at it. It then goes on to glorify Hitchcock as a creative genius (which he certainly was) who reached his full glory after breaking out of his association with Selznick.
Anyone who has read the excellent book "Memo from David O. Selznick", and seen the bulk of Selznick's films, will recognize that this notion is an amazingly idiotic one. Selznick may have been compulsive about writing memos, but anyone who reads them will realize that his films--notably "Gone With The Wind"-- would not have been as excellent as many of them were, had he not been so careful about every detail that went into them. (Selznick is also the man who gave the world the definitive films of "David Copperfield", "A Tale of Two Cities", "The Prisoner of Zenda", and "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer".)
In fact, in "Memo from David O. Selznick", there is a rather shocking memo which illustrates that Hitchcock's ideas were not always the ideas of an inspired genius--he was determined to deviate heavily from the plot line of "Rebecca" to insert his own dubious touches, such as a scene in which Maxim becomes seasick during his honeymoon with his new bride. Also dubious was Hitchcock's ill-judged attempt to try to name the nameless Joan Fontaine character Daphne, after Daphne du Maurier, author of the novel. (Maxim always calls her "darling", but never mentions her name, nor does anyone else.) Fortunately, Selznick wrote Hitchcock a blistering memo literally forcing him to stick as closely as possible to the original plot line of "Rebecca". In fact, those who see Selznick films adapted from literary works will notice that they are always meticulously faithful to their source.
Epstein writes about every post-1940 Selznick film as if it were a disaster, even such memorable ones as "Portrait of Jennie" and the vastly, vastly underrated Hitchcock film "The Paradine Case", a picture often criticized for being too "talky", and of not having any of Hitchcock's inventive visual touches, as if visual touches and unusual ideas were all there are to Hitchcock. And he barely mentions the fact that Selznick had a hand in the making of the excellent "The Third Man".
This documentary is not an objective, informative report--it is an attempt to glorify Hitchcock by taking the easy route of building him up at somebody else's expense.
I sincerely hope that "American Masters" begins to improve soon. It used to be one of the best, if not THE best, documentary series on the air. It seems as if making it a weekly series has compromised its quality.
The documentary takes the fight between director Hitchcock and producer
Selznick over the control of the films they're making
and uses it as a symbol of the end of Hollywood, meaning that during their
collaboration and after that, the power of the producer decreased on
of the director's, and 'great producing' as Selznick did on Gone with the
Wind was gone with the wind.
As far as I know producers and directors still fight during every stage of production, so I don't really see why Hollywood has 'ended' in that perspective.
End or no end, the documentary tries hard not to stick at the facts and gives us a psychological rapport of what those two men where thinking and what drove them. It is not bad done, but it's explained to us as we are a class full of stupid (really stupid) children.
Nevertheless, it has some interesting images of Hitchcock and Selznick you never saw before and you probably never will see again, and in the end that was the reason why I watched this anyway.
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