“Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” Folger’s Coffee, “Psycho,” The Supreme’s, a nuclear blast, twins, “The Birds,” Nixon and Krushev in the kitchen, Kennedy, Castro and those missiles, “Strangers on a Train” and, stranger still, a kaleidoscopic cornucopia of TV and film mages from the 1960s all coming together to create what in today’s “You Tube” terminology could be called an incredible “trailer mash-up.” What does it all mean? It is all part of the intriguing, simultaneously fascinating and frightening, free associative, 80-minute film, part documentary, part Rorschach Test, “Double Take” directed by Johan Grimonprez which will have its U.S. premiere at Film Forum from June 2 – 15.
I spoke with Grimonprez, by phone, from his home in Belgium. He is an intelligent, thoughtful, quick speaking student of American television whose mind abounds with interesting theories about how images from television have molded and continue to mold our perceptions of the reality of the world. Grimonprez brings a unique perspective to our recent history as sometimes only someone from outside a culture can. Although he lives in Belgium Grimonprez spends part of each year teaching at the New School in New York.
Regarding “Double Take” Grimonprez explained that the film encompasses events that were going on around the time that Alfred Hitchcock had his TV show in the 1960s. He explained that “In the early 60s…Hitchcock was already trying to re-imagine how a Hollywood film could be shot. Hollywood was in crises. Thirty to forty per cent of cinemas were closing down and television was on the rise so Hollywood had to redefine itself.” As a result Hitchcock, a shrewd marketer, got involved with television. Clips from his humorous TV show introductions combined with Hitchcock’s wonderful original trailers for “Psycho” and “The Birds” (great short films in their own rights) are juxtaposed against images of very serious issues that were going on in the world at the time.
Grimonprez elaborated explaining how “Double Take” is about selling fear as a commodity. For example “Double Take” uses imagery from Hitchcock’s film “The Birds” (1963). The film deals with birds turning on and attacking human beings. Grimonprez’s interpretation of “The Birds” is that “All of this is about this fear from the sky. It’s the birds that suddenly come to stand for that fear from Russia or satellite (TV) technology that brings (fear) culture into the home as television which becomes a member of the family and traps people in their homes as if birds in a cage.”
“Double Take” makes the point that fear was turned into a commodity in the 60s in contrast to the happy TV consumer images of the 50s and that “Cold War” fear was instigated with the rise of television. Suddenly people could see and hear doppelgangers, figures that were two sides of the same coin, selling the fear and perception of good guys vs. bad guys. As examples of the later “Double Take” includes Nixon and Kruschev, Kennedy and Kruschev and Kennedy and Castro.
Bringing his theory of doubles up to the present Grimonprez allowed that the post 9/11 world could be seen as a double take. “We knew already double takes from Hollywood because Hollywood was running ahead of reality (with, for example, disaster movies such as 1996’s “Independence Day” in which the White House was blown up by aliens) and made that design to come through whereas the real (the 9/11 attacks) is coming to haunt us as a look alike…The world is so abundant with images that suddenly reality comes to stand as a double take and it is reality that suffers from mistaken identity.”
“Double Take” director Johan Grimonprez, 2009,
Zap-o-Matic, 80 minutes