Tracking Hitchcock’s contemporary influence, White is an enterprising tour guide. I was happy to be reminded of Cornelia Parker’s PsychoBarn,constructed in 2016 on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Parker considers the gloomy gabled Bates house to be “the most corrupt building you could find”, yet she made it look invitingly homey and healthy by splicing it on to an innocent agricultural barn and setting it to chasten the arrogant Manhattan skyscrapers that poked up in the distance. And thanks to White, I went on an excursion to Leytonstone, Hitchcock’s birthplace in east London: here, in a gallery of mosaics on the walls of a sooty tunnel in the tube station, the monochrome nightmares from his films glow and glisten like Byzantine jewels.
White apparently hits that point of wild-eyed fixation when he lists the contents of the cutlery drawer in Hitchcock’s Californian house: “Asparagus servers, grape scissors, cream ladles, and butter spreaders . . .” Yet as with the Beatles, another endlessly expanding universe for biographers, no detail about Hitchcock’s life seems trivial any more: everything has become a clue, a sign. (The asparagus servers are key in exploring Hitchcock’s dandyism.) Happily, White combines his interpretive zest with sensitivity, clarity and knife-sharp phrasing, smartly dedicating each of his 12 chapters to a different facet of the director’s personality: the voyeur, the entertainer, the womaniser, the family man.