You Have a Double. It Wants to Kill You.

06/02/2010 4:00 AM |

Double Take
Directed by Johan Grimonprez

Experimental films rarely get mainstream play. But Johan Grimonprez’s Double Take, a found footage/new footage docuessay about paranoia, media, sinister mirror images and the Master of Suspense, places Alfred Hitchcock at its center and so it gets two weeks at Film Forum. A bona fide avant-gardist busting out of the Anthology ghetto, Grimonprez blends archival footage of Hitch’s comic television introductions with scenes from his films (especially The Birds), vintage Folger’s spots [], Nixon debating Kruschev, newsreels, and bits of Walter Cronkite; this assemblage is then weaved through a dreamily shot short, narrated by a Hitchcock soundalike, about the director in 1962, meeting a time-hopping version of himself from the year he would die, 1980. (Grimonprez also employs a Hitchcock lookalike, evoking his previous short, “Looking for Alfred”.)

All of these snippets, to some extent, involve dueling dualisms and/or cold war anxieties, examining economic systems hellbent on mutual annihilation or exploring how TV instigates such antagonism. (Media serve as the frames within which these us vs. them narratives take shape.) And all of it underscores how Hitchcock succeeded as a filmmaker: he manipulated his era’s cultural uneasiness better than anyone else; The Birds becomes the ultimate metaphor for the Invading Other that always seems to threaten post-television civilizations. (Obviously, the Cold War loggerheads are easily extrapolated to today—particularly insofar as the media stokes the flames of panic—to the conflict between Islamofascists and Freedom’s Defenders, or Obama and The Tea Partiers, or, whatever.)

Through belaboring, the Hitchcock parallels emerge as more gimmicky than informative, but the director manages to argue his way toward a persuasive finale. That Oceania is always at war with East Asia isn’t a particularly novel idea, but Grimonprez’s intellectual coup is to dub each force in the dialectic its opponent’s double: East and West, U.S. and U.S.S.R., Kennedy and Kruschev—each serves not only as its other’s adversary but as its doppelganger. (“Each of us was almost a caricature of the other,” the Hitchcock soundalike remarks of his fictional copy.) Double Take begins and ends with an exhortation: “if you meet your double, you should kill him.” Because, otherwise, he’ll kill you. It results in an uroboric perpetuation of antagonism: you can kill Kennedy, unseat Kruschev, but you can’t stop the symbiotic struggle. And so the film’s final image, not arbitrarily, is of Donald Rumsfeld. The struggle carries on, indeed.

Opens June 2 at Film Forum