I’ve been quite entertained by the furious reaction to BBC2’s Hitchcock drama, The Girl. All sorts of articles and reviews have lined up to be outraged that anyone should dare to suggest that film making genius and British icon Alfred Hitchcock had some rather deep and worrying psychological problems, particularly in what medical professionals refer to as ‘The Trouser Department’.
No shit. Have you seen any of his films?
Hitchcock was a master of weaving dread, excitement and tension (and as his career progressed and censorship relaxed – a strain of dark sexual violence) into incredibly stylish, taut and mostly mainstream films.
Sit down and watch a triple bill of Psycho, Vertigo and Frenzy and you will probably be left with the impression of an artist who was working out a few issues.
This is nothing new of course, most great artists are quite troubled in some way and there are all sorts of tales of film directors behaving appallingly towards anyone who happened to be nearby at the time. In some cases, such as Stanley Kubrick’s terrible bullying of Shelley Duvall while making The Shining, there is claimed to be method to the madness. The treatment is intended to wring out just the right performance from the cast. This is known in the film trade as ‘Bullshit’.
Hitchcock was famous (or infamous) for allegedly classifying acting talent as cattle and treating them as such in the making of his films. In particular he seemed to enjoy punishing stunningly attractive blonde women both on and off screen, with former model Tippi Hedren being the most well known example.
The Girl charts the nature of their relationship from first meeting through the making of The Birds and subsequently, Marnie.
From the off it is clear that ‘Hitch’, played superbly by Toby Jones, has clammy and rather pervsome designs on Sienna Miller’s Hedren, designs that are somewhat hampered by his sexual inadequacies and self hatred. After having his affections rebuffed Hitchcock spends the next few years making his star’s life professionally and personally unpleasant.
He kicks things off with attempted groping in the back of his car, follows up with hellish film shoots involving attacks by live birds and rape scenes with Sean Connery, finally he delivers a contractual ultimatum that she has to be sexually available to him or he will ruin her career.
Some of this is recorded fact, some of it is based on individual recollection, but it all rings true when you consider that Hedren was held to a long term contract by Hitchcock and was unable to appear in any other films for the next five years.
The Girl was superbly acted and with the exception of some shonky montage moments, nicely shot and edited to give the creeping, uneasy feeling of a Hitchcock classic – a number of compositions seemingly lifted directly from his films.
However, it was one of the least enjoyable or fulfilling ways that I can imagine spending an hour and a half – and I’m a Coventry City fan. The ambiguity of Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife, the fact that all of his staff vaguely condoned his behaviour and his assertion that all this treatment was designed to make her a film star all created a profoundly depressing and queasy viewing experience
So in summary The Girl was brilliant study of profound unpleasantness, which seems incredibly apt.
What struck me was that it was yet another well made and immaculately acted drama which chose to dissect the life of a cultural icon with one and a half hours of abject misery focusing largely on sexual self-hatred and regret tinged depression. Hitchcock joins the likes of Kenneth Williams, Tony Hancock, Harry H Corbett and Frankie Howerd as candidates for inclusion on a BBC DVD box set which no one in their right mind would want to own.
On a slightly lighter note, Tippi Hedren can take solace in two important ways:
1. That if none of this had happened then the film Birdemic would not exist and the world would certainly be a poorer place for that.
2. That despite being pawed, abused, bullied and almost ruined by a tyrannical cinematic genius with all manor of profound sexual hangups, she never had to work with David O Russell.