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Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service

Anthony Hopkins stars in a scene from the movie "Hitchcock."
The Greek philosopher Aristotle observed, "There is not great genius without a mixture of madness." Case in point: "Hitchcock" (Fox Searchlight), an absorbing portrait of the legendary film director during the making of his biggest success, the 1960 horror classic "Psycho."

The "Master of Suspense" gets quite a dressing-down in this adaptation of Stephen Rebello's 1990 book "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho," directed by newcomer Sacha Gervasi. The famously corpulent director (Anthony Hopkins, unrecognizable under layers of prosthetics) was, apparently, a psychological mess—a compulsive voyeur who fantasized about his leading ladies and terrorized his staff.

Hitchcock was also, it seems, a control freak who suspected the motives of just about everyone, even his devoted wife, Alma (Helen Mirren).

Intriguingly, Alma seems to have been his muse—and the power behind the throne. A talented editor in her own right, this endlessly patient spouse knew how to sober "Hitch" up and save the day. The tender story of their tempestuous yet faithful marriage is a high point of the film.

In 1959, Hitchcock was the world's greatest director with a string of stylish thrillers to his name, most recently "Vertigo" and "North by Northwest." But he was always searching for his next hit, and Hollywood was changing fast.

"Audiences want to be shocked," Hitchcock observes. "They want something different."

To meet the challenge, he settles on "Psycho," a sensational novel by Robert Bloch, based on the real-life case of notorious serial killer Ed Gein. The lurid story is rejected by the studio, so Hitchcock opts to go it alone, financing the movie himself and crafting a sensational publicity campaign.

At one point, he orders this staff to purchase every copy of "Psycho" in the United States to prevent the public from knowing the plot—and the ending.

"Hitchcock" goes behind the scenes of the production, with stars playing stars, including Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, whose character was destined to die in that famous shower scene; and James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins, playing Norman Bates, the twisted motel owner who is dominated by his mother.

Even the ghost of Gein (Michael Wincott) pops up on set, to ask Hitchcock tauntingly why he would make such a shocking film.

Why indeed. Raised a Catholic and reconciled to his faith before his death in 1980, Hitchcock can be said to have done a great disservice with "Psycho." As this film shows, he battled the Hollywood censors to allow an unprecedented degree of explicitness: In addition to the infamous shower scene, "Psycho" was also the first mainstream movie to show an unmarried couple in bed together.

There were long-term implications to Hitchcock's "victory;" his triumph over the censors contributed to the breakdown of the long-standing production code that had regulated movie content since the 1930s.

The film contains graphic recreations of movie-making violence, a scene of implied adultery, sexual innuendo and some profane and rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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Francis of Assisi: Francis of Assisi was a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a sense of self-importance. 
<p>Serious illness brought the young Francis to see the emptiness of his frolicking life as leader of Assisi's youth. Prayer—lengthy and difficult—led him to a self-emptying like that of Christ, climaxed by embracing a leper he met on the road. It symbolized his complete obedience to what he had heard in prayer: "Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy." </p><p>From the cross in the neglected field-chapel of San Damiano, Christ told him, "Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down." Francis became the totally poor and humble workman. </p><p>He must have suspected a deeper meaning to "build up my house." But he would have been content to be for the rest of his life the poor "nothing" man actually putting brick on brick in abandoned chapels. He gave up all his possessions, piling even his clothes before his earthly father (who was demanding restitution for Francis' "gifts" to the poor) so that he would be totally free to say, "Our Father in heaven." He was, for a time, considered to be a religious fanatic, begging from door to door when he could not get money for his work, evokng sadness or disgust to the hearts of his former friends, ridicule from the unthinking. </p><p>But genuineness will tell. A few people began to realize that this man was actually trying to be Christian. He really believed what Jesus said: "Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff" (Luke 9:1-3). </p><p>Francis' first rule for his followers was a collection of texts from the Gospels. He had no idea of founding an order, but once it began he protected it and accepted all the legal structures needed to support it. His devotion and loyalty to the Church were absolute and highly exemplary at a time when various movements of reform tended to break the Church's unity. </p><p>He was torn between a life devoted entirely to prayer and a life of active preaching of the Good News. He decided in favor of the latter, but always returned to solitude when he could. He wanted to be a missionary in Syria or in Africa, but was prevented by shipwreck and illness in both cases. He did try to convert the sultan of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. </p><p>During the last years of his relatively short life (he died at 44), he was half blind and seriously ill. Two years before his death, he received the stigmata, the real and painful wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side. </p><p>On his deathbed, he said over and over again the last addition to his Canticle of the Sun, "Be praised, O Lord, for our Sister Death." He sang Psalm 141, and at the end asked his superior to have his clothes removed when the last hour came and for permission to expire lying naked on the earth, in imitation of his Lord.</p> American Catholic Blog The joy of the Gospel is not just any joy. It consists in knowing one is welcomed and loved by God…. And so we are able to open our eyes again, to overcome sadness and mourning to strike up a new song. And this true joy remains even amid trial, even amid suffering, for it is not a superficial joy: it permeates the depths of the person who entrusts himself to the Lord and confides in him.

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