Thursday, June 16, 2011

Spellbound By Beauty - Donald Spoto

 Donald Spoto has forged a career out of writing celebrity biographies. His biography entitled Enchanctment on Audrey Hepburn I feel is one of the better Hepburn biographies written. But when it comes to Hitchcock Spoto comes a litle unstuck. He wrote a tome like biography entitled The Dark Side of Genius which has divided opinions deeply, and brought a heap of condemnation upon his head in the process. 

 Donald Spoto intially wrote a book on Hitchcock's movies which was highly praised when released, even by Hitchcock himself. The problem arose when he then published his biography three years after Hitchcock's death in which he seemed to viciously turn on Hitchcock. This in turn lead many to believe he had had knifed Hitchcock in the back after he had endorsed his book and provided Spoto with many private interviews of which Spoto made much light of. I have looked at the various reviews on amazon which overall appear favourable ( 4 out of 5 stars ), but still as a whole there is a lingering feeling of ill-will surrounding Spoto's biography.

 I am in the process of reading Alfred Hithcock : A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan who is not shy in pointing out some of Spoto's less convincing arguments. I haven't read Spoto's biography but so far McGilligan's book is very authoritive and  I cannot escape the feeling that some of the critisim directed towards Spoto's is very well founded. But in saying that if you have taken the time to read my previous biography reviews you will have seen that I state that biographies are a difficult genre to write as you will always encounter controversy and critisims. My own feeling is that overall Spoto is a quite good celebrity biographer and his books do get good reviews. If he writes one that isn't so good then he can be forgiven that in light of his better ones.

 The title to this particular book is fairly obvious in regards to its content. It is a look at the actresses Hithcock worked with on his films from his days in Britain through to Tippi Hedren in Marnie. The main emphasis being  Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, and Hedren. As a book it reads very much like Charlotte Chandler's in which the main protagonists have been interviewed and speak in their own words. As with all Spoto's works the writing is crisp and clear, with many anecdotes and snippets of interesting information.

 But I couldn't escape the feeling that as a work it is no more than the editings of his Hitchcock biography. The chapters are rather short and made up of very brief paragraphs. The overal feeling of it being a cobbled together left overs from another book is palpable. I think the length of only 197 pages tends to back up this view. There is nothing as such that Chandler in her book hasn't written, except that Spoto has gone somewhat deeper in Hitchcock's sexual harrassment of Tippi Hedren. Except for the chapter dealing with Hedren the rest of the book offers nothing new as such. It has two photo sections with some photos I haven't seen before and is well presented, but it still isn't a book I would willingly pay for and add to my collection.

 As a book it is worth reading if you have a rainy day in hand as it is quickly read and light in the process. But overall Spoto hasn't exactly added anything new to our knowledge of Hitchcock. Maybe only when it came to his treatment of Tippi Hedren has Spoto expanded on Hitchcock's less savoury aspects, but his bawdy, lewd schoolboy jokes told in front of his leading ladies is nothing new. In essence Spoto hasn't even come up wth any sort of new thesis for Hitchcock's attitudes towards women. Certainly it is common knowledge he was never happy with his physical apperance and was morbidly obese of which women were never going to be attracted to. But one feels his attitude ran deeper than just this.

  What I found interesting though is how Spoto puts forward the argument that Hitchcock lost interest in films after Tippi Hedren spurned his advances. He went through with his threats to ruin her career when she refused to have sex with him and many Hitchcock  partisans blame the quality of his susequent films decline on Hedren after Marnie!!! I think it is disgusting that these same partisans can blame Hedron for this alone as he also treated Diane Baker in the same way. By that stage of his life Hitchcock had clearly lost the ability to control himself and no woman is to blame for that. I can see why Melanie Griffith calls him a 'motherfucker'!!!

  Overall Donald Spoto has written a book that feels like the edited out bits from his 1983 biography of Hitchcock. It isn't a poor book but I can't exactly condone his motives for publishing it as it feels like nothing more than a money grab. The information and arguments he puts forward are nothing new and have been written about before in many preceding Hitchcock books. But as a light introductory read to Hitchcock then it is a good place to start. But for more seasoned readers and students of this film making genius with a flawed personality due to his looks and weight ( which he himself acknowledged ), then this book probably isn't worth your time.

 Not one of Spoto's best I'm afraid. Recommended for a day of really bad weather as you will be able to quickly whizz through it with too much effort. But certainly not a book for those with a serious knowledge of Alfred Hitchcock.

 Click here for a review from the New York Times:

 I also recommend a visit to amazon as it is a useful tool in gauging the quality of a book as there are many reviews avaliable. I think they give a fair indiction of this book with 2 1/2 stars out of 5.

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