Saturday, March 14, 2009

Book Review: WRITING WITH HITCHCOCK : THE COLLABORATIONS OF ALFRED HITCHCOCK AND JOHN MICHAEL HAYES

For all those wondering what it was like to work as a writer with arguably the most famous film director of all time, Steven De Rosa’s book will be a godsend. He provides us with an amazingly detailed account of the collaboration of Hitch and John Michael Hayes, which resulted in Rear Window, To Catch A Thief, The Trouble With Harry and The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Combining biography, cinema history and screenplay analysis in one book, De Rosa truly leaves no stone unturned - every step in the writing process, from source material to shooting draft is discussed. DeRosa has interviewed Hayes and had access to his private papers, so the writer’s own views are very well represented. He also goes beyond the writing process, recounting the trials, tribulations and humorous anecdotes which punctuated the filming of each script.

This book might have been a very dry, academic study, but DeRosa, a screenwriter and editor, avoids this trap deftly. His style is very accessible, and he provides a biographical framework of the two protagonists which puts their collaboration into perspective.

Hayes was Hitchcock’s last ‘regular’ screenwriter (they fell out when Hayes wanted to be credited as the sole writer of The Man Who Knew Too Much, whereas Hitch felt that his English friend Angus McPhail deserved co-credit) but in general both men suffered for it - Hayes never again reaching the creative heights he scaled with Hitchcock, and the latter becoming increasingly erratic in his subject matter choices as time went on.

DeRosa rounds off the book with a lengthy analysis chapter in which he goes through each script in detail, pointing out thematic material, narrative construction and occasional flaws. This part of the book is true gold for screenwriters in particular.

The book was released in 2001, but Steven De Rosa has his very own Writing with Hitchcock website, where he keeps updating the book as well as adding other brilliant information about Hitchcock's screenwriting collaborations. There are even a few unproduced scripts posted there, with promises of more to come. The perfect complement to a extremely impressive and well-written book, and a must for all screenwriters and Hitchcock aficionados.

If you want to read the book, you can get it here:

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