Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Johan Grimonprez's documentary DOUBLE TAKE explores Hitchcock and the "other"

Wow: a doc devoted to the master of suspense, "doubles," doppelgangers, doodling and... Donald Rumsfeld? Sure, why not? And while we're at it, Hitch's TV shows, their Folger commercials, birds, identity, paranoia, the Cold War and film-making itself. Sounds delectable, enticing? Don't get your hopes up.

For awhile DOUBLE TAKE functions as intelligent fun, forcing us to make connections fast and furiously, verbally and visually. It's all about twosomes in Hitchcock's work. Similar motifs in different movies. Birds airborne in The Birds and on the wall in Psycho. East meets west, and Soviet/U.S. competition. What has the Nixon/Kruschev "Kitchen debate" to do with those Folger coffee commercials (above) from Hitch's old TV series? You'll find out. (Seeing snippets of his fabulous introductions to those shows make one long once again for his humor, wit, and nonpareil presentation.)

And through it all runs this really rather nitwit story of the tale that Hitch is supposed to have told about meeting his own double and realizing that he would have to kill him -- or be killed. This is so silly and finally so tiresome that it's hard to imagine Mr. Hitchcock himself putting up with anything like this in his own films for more than maybe twenty second of screen time. Yet the filmmaker here, one Johan Grimonprez, at right, insists on returning to it again and again, as though he had discovered some Holy Grail.  Worse, he films it all in a manner that is boring and pretentious. TrustMovies can only imagine what Hitch himself would have had to say about that.

Grimonprez is intent on putting it all together for us -- while making sure that we do the heavy lifting. What he has done is to stick the puzzle pieces in front of us and ask us to do the jigsaw. But gosh, a number of those pieces are either missing or don't fit -- or don't matter: There may be a lot of extra pieces on the table, too, prob-
ably from some other puzzle he plans to make use of some day. Whatever.

The movie is full of double takes: from Hitch and Kruschev (both jocular, rotund and balding), to a portly fellow (above) who really does resemble Alfred, to 9/11 and an earlier airplane crash into the Empire State Building. For awhile all of this appears endlessly fascinating until you finally say, So what? Then it all begins to seem endlessly repetitive. M. Grimonprez is best, it turns out, at trying our patience. But, gosh it's good to see Hitch once again. And if this documentary sends anyone back to the master's films themselves, so much the better.

Double Take opens Wednesday, June 2, at Film Forum for a two-week run. Bring your own double (if you can find her or him).  But don't expect twice the fun.

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