The hottest directors in Hollywood right now have been dead for decades. Yesterday it was announced that two different filmmakers are currently developing projects based on the lives of two other (and slightly more unalive) filmmakers. First, the Los Angeles Times reported that Sacha Gervasi, the director of the hilarious rock doc “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” is in discussions to write and direct a biopic about The Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock. The film would be based on Stephen Rebello’s book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho,'” and focus primarily on Hitchcock’s work on that production. According to The Times Steven Zeitchik:
“Among Rebello’s many insights is that the 1960 hit ‘Psycho’ was a departure for the ‘North by Northwest’ director, a more explicitly shocking film that was meant to compete with other low-budget horror pictures — ‘The Blair Witch Project’ of its day.”
That’s all absolutely true: after “North by Northwest,” Hitchcock decided to switch up his usual working routine and make a small horror film with the crew of his television series, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” I read Rebello’s book as a teenager — actually I read it several times because it was one of only a handful of film books I owned — and it’s a good read. In my memory, the best stuff in it were all the details about the battles over the film’s then-taboo subject matter: seeing star Janet Leigh in her (GASP!) bra and slip, for example. Presumably, if Gervasi wanted to, he could play a lot of that stuff for comedy: showing how this incredibly tame material was so absolutely scandalous back in 1960.
The other directorial biopic in the works comes from “The Usual Suspects” and “Superman Returns” director Bryan Singer, who, according to The Hollywood Reporter, is attached to direct an adaptation of “Bye, Bye Life: The Loves and Deaths of Bob Fosse” by historian Sam Wasson. Fosse directed his own interpretation of his life back in 1979, and the film that sprung from it “All That Jazz” is one of the most interesting biopics (or maybe autobiopics) of all time. Roy Scheider played Fosse (named Joe Gideon in the film) as a guy with a lot of creativity and a lot more flaws. The film is heavily stylized and deeply hallucinatory (Fosse imagines himself dying, then actually is dying, then is watching himself dying on a soundstage in the middle of a tap dance) and it gets stranger and stranger as it goes along; the title of Wasson’s book comes the film’s final showstopping musical number in which the Fosse character (SPOILER ALERT!) dies and ascends to musical theater heaven (or simply gets zipped up in a body bag). Singer’s biopic will certainly be compared to Fosse’s own version, so it will be interesting to see where he goes with the material.
So is this a new trend in Hollywood? Almost; the unwritten rule is you need three movies before you can write a trend piece. And these films aren’t exactly trailblazers; there have been other biopics and docudramas about filmmakers. Robert Downey Jr. played Chaplin and at least seven different men have played Orson Welles, most recently Christian McKay in Richard Linklater’s 2009 film “Me and Orson Welles.”
Hitchcock and Fosse are both fine subjects for movies, but the number one guy I’d like to see a directorial biopic about? Werner Herzog. Kinski, “Fitzcarraldo,” saving Joaquin Phoenix from a near-fatal car crash. It would be the greatest movie of all time.