One viewing merely scratches the surface of this dazzling montage-based film from Belgian media artist Johan Grimonprez, which uses Alfred Hitchcock’s fascination with doubles as a springboard to re-examine the socio-political anxieties of Cold War era America. Zapping between past and present, fiction and ‘reality’, cinema and television, the filmmaker interweaves a trio of narrative strands.
Firstly he considers Hitchcock’s mischievous screen persona through the latter’s comic introductions to his television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, several of which contained a doppelganger figure. Secondly, using archival newsreel footage Grimonprez chronicles the escalating tension between USA and USSR during the late 1950s and early 1960s, which included the launch of Sputnik, the heated ‘Kitchen Debate’ between President Khrushchev (something of a ringer for Hitchcock) and Vice-President Nixon, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Thirdly there’s a fictional strand, based on a Jorge Luis Borges story, in which the ‘Master of Suspense’ (voiced by sound-alike Mark Perry) encounters an older version of himself during the shooting of The Birds in August 1962, when superpower tensions over Cuba were at their peak.
Spaced throughout the deliberately fragmented Double Take are a series of adverts for Folgers Coffee, which cleverly remind us of how even the American television commercial breaks in that era were heightening the climate of catastrophe embodied by The Birds. Through coincidences, juxtapositions and allusions, Grimonprez conjures up his own creative doubling – Double Take may be ‘about’ Hitchcock and a specific historical period, but it also illuminates our own fearful times in which supposed Weapons of Mass Destruction trigger wars.
GFT, Glasgow, Fri 9–Sun 11 Apr.