marcus pinn

It’s the sinister little secret of The Pink Smoke that we don’t much care for Alfred “Master of Frills & Furbelows” Hitchcock. And while we certainly have zilch-o interest in debating the merits of a filmmaker that everyone can agree is “the greatest of all-time and you’d have to be some sort of malcontented and willful iconoclast to disagree,” we are interested in a strange phenomenon: while we don’t adore the man himself, we have a tendency to love Hitchcock knock-offs.

From William Castle’s lazy copy-catting to Francois Truffaut’s loving pastiches, there’s a chance that if a film shamelessly apes the master of suspense, we’re really going to enjoy it. Brian De Palma, Jonathan Demme, Stanely Donen; the list of great filmmakers who tried their hand at a Hitchcockian shtick is extensive and hugely appealing to explore – and honestly, we’ll take either “French Hitchcock” over the real thing any day, whether you consider the mantle to rightfully belong to H.G. Clouzot or Claude Chabrol.

In this series, we’ll look at parodies, assiduous imitators, and off-brand “Hitchcock-like Film Product” in order to dig into just what it is that we love so much about these movies. Sure, you’ll blanche at the suggestion,* but we think these films are Better Than Hitchcock.

previous entries in the series:

brian de palma, 2012.

I don't mean to ruffle the feathers of my fellow cinephiles but Alfred Hitchcock's movies are like the cinematic equivalent of homework to me. They're important & required viewing but I'd still rather be doing (er - watching) something else. There are some exceptions, but generally speaking his movies are more like historical artifacts than they are entertaining movie-watching experiences for me. But that's just me. I'm not trying to advocate or push this way of thought on anyone else (I'm curious to see if anyone will actually read & retain what I'm saying and not take it as an insult to Alfred Hitchcock). I know this comes off as blasphemous but just hear me out...

Even with my potentially provocative statements, I still recognize that he really influenced & pushed forward a few genres of film from noir to horror. And I'm not going to go in to how influential & important he was because we've heard it all before. And that's part of the problem for me. Universal praise of Alfred Hitchcock has become so redundant that I've become kind of numb (and a little bored) of film talk surrounding him & his work. He's still one of the most iconic & influential filmmakers of all time but if I had the choice between watching Psycho or something random like Deep Cover I'd go with the latter. It's like scrolling through Facebook. Sure I agree with 99% of the views expressed by my friends & family concerning Donald Trump & organic food but after a while I just get numb and blank reading & hearing the same thing over & over.

And what's even worse is that almost everything I've just said about Alfred Hitchcock kind of applies to Brian De Palma as well. How could I not feel the same way on some level? Brian De Palma is a student of Alfred Hitchcock. A direct heir to his throne. But how many times have we all heard the Hitchcock/De Palma comparisons? More times than we'd like to count. I don't mean to come off as an overly negative cynic but, like Alfred Hitchcock, there's nothing new or prolific to say when it comes to Alfred Hitchcock's influence on Brian De Palma. We get it. I feel the same way about a lot of legendary filmmakers. These days Stanley Kubrick is at the top of that list. But in an effort to not repeat myself on here, I recommend you read the second part of The Whole History Of My Life series (as well as my piece on Eyes Wide Shut) where I talk about my cynicism towards specific types of Stanley Kubrick fans.

This way of thinking applies to a few things in my life outside of just cinema. I love pro-wrestling but I was never a big Hulk Hogan fan as a kid (and this was before I knew he was a piece of shit). He had the same set of moves for over two decades. I was more of a Bret Hart Curt Hennig guy. I love rap music but I always found 2pac to be incredibly overrated (the same goes for Jay-Z, The Fugees and countless others). But even with all that being said, I still know what Hogan & 2pac did for their respective crafts. Their impacts on their crafts were more positive than negative in the grand scheme of things.

At this point in the piece I think I need to add a disclaimer so John & Chris don't catch any heat on my behalf (I know how sensitive & volatile some people can be about art that they love), so here goes...

The views expressed in this piece by Marcus Pinn do not necessarily represent the views of The Pink Smoke.*

I will say that Brian De Palma's earlier feature films are still quite interesting but outside of super hardcore De Palma fans, most folks only seem to be interested in his work from the late 70's/early 80's up until the 90's. I could be speaking out of my ass but when's the last time you've read something interesting on or had a thoughtful conversation about Hi, Mom or Dionysus in '69, in comparison to The Untouchables, Body Double or Blow-Out? While the latter films may very well be “better” than their predecessors, Brian De Palma had an understated experimental/radical vibe that got lost somewhere in the mid-70's that I would I have loved to see him maintain during his run as a mainstream studio filmmaker.

Passion is the first Brian De Palma film to get my attention in quite some time because it's incredibly flawed but also entertaining. Flawed yet entertaining and/or interesting movies are the most fun to talk about these days. Hitchcock's movies are too “perfect” for my taste. Where's the fun in discussing those kinds of films? You can only talk or write for so long about how great something is.

Passion, the story of a fatal inter-office love triangle, is an interesting case because it's a remake of something (Love Crime) that was kind of influenced by prime De Palma. So by making Passion, Brian De Palma remade a film that had already imitated his style to begin with. And I think we all know that when something is influenced by De Palma, chances are it was also indirectly influenced by Alfred Hitchcock by default. It's like when Kevin Smith made Zack & Miri Make A Porno. That movie is less Kevin Smith and more Kevin Smith imitating Judd Apatow imitating Kevin Smith (not only does Zack & Miri have an unspoken Apatow vibe, but it features quite a few of his regulars).

It makes sense that I would like a remake of a knock-off - which is essentially what Passion is. I have a fascination with influences, copycats, ripoffs, homages, etc. Just go to my website. Two thirds of the content is dedicated to movies with visual similarities.

Now... Passion certainly has its flaws. First of all - the main roles played by Rachel McAdams & Noomi Rapace should have been reversed (a point that was originally made by this site's founders, John & Chris, after we all saw it together at TIFF in 2012).

I know McAdams is known for her antagonistic role in Mean Girls (she was also quite nasty in The Family Stone) but she isn't that believable as a femme fatale. At least not in the case of Passion. It's also incredibly tough to reprise a role that was originally played (and owned) by a better actress (Kristin Scott Thomas). Rachel McAdams is too sweet in my opinion. Passion and To The Wonder came out at almost the same time: anyone who knows me well knows that the latter film had a much deeper impact on me and I associate Rachel McAdams with it more than anything else. Say what you want about To The Wonder (I know it's probably something mean-spirited & negative) but I can't dissociate Rachel McAdams from that visual standing of her in that field of wheat being sad & moody. She needed a hug and I wanted to be the guy to give her that hug. Most movie cameras don't do her beauty justice in my opinion and that's saying something because it's not like she's ever looked unattractive in anything. There's just a natural beauty she has that no film outside of To The Wonder has come close to capturing in my opinion.

I know I come off like a misogynistic bro to at least one person reading this right now. I guess it isn't cool to comment on an actress' looks before commenting on her acting ability, and I get that - but in all honesty, who are we kidding? Look at the movie we're talking about. I'm convinced one of Brian De Palma's motivations for making Passion was to make a sexy film with sexy/attractive women doing sexy things (outside of McAdams & Noomi Rapace, Passion costar Karoline Herfurth is also quite attractive). Passion is shot & edited beautifully but at the end of the day this movie serves men and their desires more than it does women. That's not to say women can't be aroused by the sexual tension in Passion but I find it hard to believe that an old-school white male director like Brian De Palma put the concerns of women at the top of his list when developing this movie.

Noomi Rapace, who plays the role of the victimized protagonist, has a much darker side in my opinion. She really should have been cast in the role of the villain that was originally portrayed by Kristin Scott Thomas. But in true Brian De Palma fashion he pulls a switcharoo and instead of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed character representing "good", like in the case of Love Crime, he makes the attractive "Hitchcock blonde" the villain. From Body Double (the cheating girlfriend in the beginning) to Rebecca Romijn in Femme Fatale, you usually have to watch the blonde haired women (wig or not) in the De Palma cinematic universe. They usually can't be trusted (I know there are exceptions but generally speaking I don't trust women with blonde hair in the films of Brian De Palma).

But switching the roles wouldn't necessarily have fixed the little kinks that made Passion tough to sit through at times. Chemistry is important and McAdams & Rapace didn't always mesh. I actually wouldn't have been opposed to Kristin Scott Thomas reprising her role alongside McAdams.

But I'm willing to let that all go because what I believe to be the true motivation behind Passion is pretty respectable.

Brian De Palma knew Love Crime was influenced by him (and Hitchcock) and he felt like he could have done a better job so he made Passion as a way of saying "this is how it's done." Basically, he made a power move in the form of a feature film. Passion isn't so much a movie but rather a statement that reads: “Don't try and copy me.” He even went a step further and changed the ending. Or rather – he added a second, super De Palma-esque, ending involving killer evil twins sisters. Maybe it's the hip-hop fan in me but I like the idea of one filmmaker firing shots at another.

The sexuality & sexual tension in Passion is also a lot more thick than in Love Crime. On one hand you could look at that as a flaw. It's a very American thing to be lascivious with nothing left up to the imagination. Love Crime is a lot more mature in its teasing & sexual tension while Passion has wonderful close-ups of butts in tight jeans and far more scenes of male fantasy girl-on-girl kissing. But Passion doesn't take itself as serious as Love Crime does. I find it funny that Passion was a critical & commercial “flop” yet the original, De Palma-influenced Love Crime did better at the box office and with critics. Love Crime is certainly aware of itself but Passion comes off like a late night Cinemax movie with a tad bit more class and better known actors. Brian De Palma cut out what he felt was the “fat” from Love Crime and tried to give us a guilty pleasure movie that didn't require a whole lot of thought or emotional investment. We need movies like that from time to time. Everytihng that cant be a classic. Passion is by no means a masterpiece. It hasn't even stood the test of time in the five years since its release. But it is a fun little trashy film that's more interesting for me to discuss rather than a masterful Hitchcock film that's been praised to the point of redundancy.

~ AUGUST 15, 2017 ~
* This is your opportunity to tweet something coolly dismissive of the very concept! Do it! You’ll be an internet hero for your brave defense of the much-maligned Alfred Hitchcock! Take this bold stance now - sneer, snark and shrug in a gesture of dismissive superiority! "People write some crazy stuff on the internet," you'll tweet and you'll put a little whattayagunnado emoticon next to it and everyone will think "Well there's a guy who knows movies. Not like those guys who think Stagefright and Suspicion are terrible." I just hope someone out there has the courage, integrity and intelligence to take this stance. Our willfully provocatively iconoclasm would be empty without an establishment orthodoxy to stick it to!
Or just, like, accept that not everyone likes the exact same films and filmmakers that you do, even ones as endlessly venerated as "The Master of Distracting Cameos" (that was his nickname, right?) It happens. The fact of the matter is, we know our opinion on Hitchcock will be unpopular and we'd just like to move past it. If you think our assessment of him is indefensible, just know we have no desire to defend it.
* Editor's note: This is true. For starters, we vastly prefer Alain Corneau's stripped down and unpretentious Love Crime to Passion.