Night Listener, The rating:
Content written by Tony Macklin. Originally published on August 4, 2006 on FYLMZ.com.
Every year Alfred Hitchcock's name is used in vain as reviewers use it to pimp for some new quasi-suspense release. But the new release never has Hitch's touch, style, originality, or sensibility.
It's like GW being called Lincoln.
The latest movie to be shoved on the shelf with the Master is The Night Listener, directed by Patrick Stettner. Move over, Alfred; Pat is on the way.
Hitch once told me, "Logic is dull." But that doesn't mean that contrivance is interesting. The Night Listener shamelessly jerks its audence this way and that, until it arrives at its lacklustre anti-climactic conclusion. Hitch would never fumble his suspense and allow his ending to lose potency as this labored camp follower does.
Hitch knew how to build suspense, how to manipulate his audience, while he was keeping credibility alive. Psycho, The Birds, and North by Northwest (there is no such direction) all were outlandish, but believable in their wonderful absurdity.
HItch invented; he didn't falsify. Hitch didn't cheat; his effects were earned. In Psycho, Hitch didn't show us a real live mother. That would be a cheat. But his emulators do. (See The Night Listener for evidence of this.)
We want some logical explanation at the end of The Birds, and we want to know what will happen next, but Hitch leaves us wondering and anxious. (See The Night Listener for a logical resolution that stumbles at the end.) Hitch built; his emulators dissemble.
Hitch never lost his way. Even when the names in Psycho were Marion Crane (birds were stuffed) and young master Norman Bates (onanism), they had a playful relevance. In The Night Listener, when Stettner, who added material in the screenplay, introduces the name of P. Dickens outside a hospital room, it simply is contrivance.
Hitch salted his movies with red herrings, false clues that caused us to wander into vain cul de sacs, but they were not just gimmicks. Hitch counted on our suspension of disbelief, but he also counted on our intelligence to follow his tricks and manuevers. In The Night Listener, Stettner's red herrings just smell.
We live in an age of extreme hype and deceit. It is the age of hoaxes -- from political to literary. The Night Listener is based on one of these hoaxes. The movie is from a novel by Armistead Maupin, which he himself based on his experiences with Anthony Godby Johnson.
Maupin was one of many -- including Mr. Rogers and Keith Olbermann -- who fell under the entrancing spell of Johnson who told horror stories about being abused as a child, getting AIDS, and growing up stricken but triumphant. He wrote an auobiography about his experiences, A Rock and a Hard Place (1993).
All of Maupin's communications with the boy were never face to face; they were always by phone, mail, and email. But Armistead in his novel, while finally having a jot of skepticism about the young Job, is still trying to rationalize being duped.
Hitchcock did not suffer fools gladly. That's a big difference between an artist such as Hitch and mediocre craftsmen such as writer Maupin and director/writer Stettner.
Granted the unholy trinity of sham -- Jason Blair, Stephen Glass, and James Frey -- had not yet been exposed, but an artist should have skepticism. When Johnson praised him, Maupin swooned. Big fat dupe.
At least Olbermann seems to have learned. His swoon for Anthony Godby Johnson has taught Olbermann to be a bit skeptical of the bony patriotism of Ann Coulter, a woman of little human flesh.
In the present Age of Acquiescence, we have misplaced skepticism. Reality shows on television have shredded reality. Instant gratification has replaced evolution.
The Night Listener crows that it is "inspired by a true story." But the emulators are just dupes.
Hitch was inspired.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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