Less than revelatory, yet far from inconsequential, Johan Gimonprez’s Double Take (2009) is an exquisite mesh-up of Alfred Hitchcock, Cold War, hot coffee, and a (redundant) semblance of a sociological lecture. Equally skillful with found footage as he is with found metaphors, Gimonprez thus made his own Atomic Café (1982), mixing real and imagined dread and their respective media representations to an effect that’s not as focused as Atomic Café was, but still manages to hold interest.
After the brief and telling introduction – in which Sir Alfred’s real voice, consecutively mimicked (to perfection) by actor Mark Perry is heard discussing the nature of McGuffin – we are introduced to a meandering structure that mixes four basic levels: (1) Hitchcock’s own showmanship, as recorded in numerous TV and movie-trailer appearances, (2) the Cold War, unraveling via TV coverage of its main events from 1957 to 1963, (3) an interview with an Alfred Hitchcock lookalike, (4) and a contrived fictional narrative – developed from Tom McCarthy’s story – of the 1962-Hitchcock meeting his 1980-double in a hotel room.
Close scrutiny of what J. Hoberman nicknamed the world’s dream life – as brought to life by TV coverage of news, which transformed politics into a cliffhanger-show, premiering each day on a screen near your couch – is what makes Gimonprez’s movie fun to watch. However versed may you be in Hitchcock, at some point or another you’re bound to mistake a clip from his movie for a piece of news coverage – or vice versa (it happened to me with the opening image of Topaz , which is used here to illustrate growing tensions between US and Cuba).
For a work that’s as overtly obsessed with doubles and duality, the film is rather single-minded in its narrative arc (fragments of literal-minded commentary popping up on screen don’t help). Still, at its best, Double Take is a fascinating work, paying homage to the man who defined screen fantasy in all its ambiguous – and lethal – whole.