Friday, November 9, 2012

Good Evening

There's been something of an Alfred Hitchcock renaissance as of late.  You could see it back in August, when the once-per-decade poll by Sight and Sound cited Vertigo as the best film as all time, unseating reigning champ Citizen Kane.  Further more by the HBO movie The Girl, which charted the relationship between Hitch and model-turned-actress\muse Tippi Hedren, and finally by the last minute decision by Fox Searchlight Pictures to unleash the film Hitchcock, featuring Anthony Hopkins as the rotund auteur, for 2012 awards consideration.  Just taking a look at the top banner, I'm certainly in a degree of glee by the recent saturation of interest in the Master of Suspense.  Personally speaking, he was the first filmmaker that piqued my cinematic spark.  Not merely by accident, as his approach and mastery and innovation of the medium is easy to admire, easy to spot and hard not to get spellbound by.  The figure behind the magic has long been something far more allusive, and as The Girl, and certainly Hitchcock (which earned decent reviews as the opener of AFI Fest this past week) try to create a more behind the scenes portrait of the genius, there's left some questions and a few grumblings.  First off, is that particularly necessary?  The films left behind paint a portrait of man with curious obsessions, a fascination with voyeurism, and an attraction to beautiful blonde women.  The films themselves are a testament to that, but also enriching, master plays of a time and period where the difference between art and commerce weren't quite so divided.  Remember, Hitchcock was a populist filmmaker at the time, and prime moneymaker; his artistry and mastery wasn't quite as well established until some time after.  And certainly there's curious sparks of near sadism on display in certain features, but there remains a deeper perspective of whether a film like New Girl (which I've seen) and Hitchcock (which I have not) might, at the very least, tamper with kismet, or worse, leave a bitter taste in the mouths of the audience most primed to watch them
The Girl especially is an interesting case.  The film which stars Toby Jones (Infamous) as Hitchcock and Sienna Miller as Tippi Hedren chronicles their turbulent relationship during the filming the two movies they made together-- The Birds and Marnie.  There's an old school adage that certainly rings true that Hitch discovered Hedren, a successful model, while watching a commercial featuring her.  He chose her to come in for The Birds.  He primped and trained the neophyte actress, molding her to become the next Grace Kelly.  That's certainly stuff that's been well documented and considering Hitch's longtime regard for the then Princess of Monaco, a certain high compliment for the newcomer Hedren.  The film, based on conjecture, stories told by Hedren, and who knows what else paint a tawdry portrait of Hitchcock.  One that not just feels false but particularly pathetic.  Jones, who matches the cadences and posture of filmmaker quite well is posited as a grotesque, nearly gargoyle-like creature.  He's filmed as nearly a demented, sadistic toad, obsessing on the women he certainly could never have-- Imelda Staunton provides her usual finesse as Hitch's long-suffering wife Alma.

After molding Hedren into a movie star, Hitchcock, as seen through the shallow, flat prism of The Girl, is seen a beast.  Whether through the telling of off-color limericks to Hedren, or falsely presenting scenes of The Birds.  There's an ugly re-telling of a famous attack scene where Hitchcock forced Hedren to endure five days of being bombarded by live birds, after being assured that only mechanical birds and post production special effects would be used to for the shooting.  There's certainly evidence that occurred, with the exception of the behind the scenes drama.  The question that The Girl fails to really respond to, is why Hedren put up with it the first place.  Why she continued work with a man who seemingly punished her for not accepting his sexual passes.  Why she stayed afloat, with a brave, victim-like expression on her face when she felt so unhappy and marginalized.  Whatever speculation of the Hitchcock\Hedren relationship will forever remain a mystery, since only one side can truly ever be explored, but The Girl seems to disingenuously present Hitch as such a loathsome cad, that it reeks of caricature, and is completely bereft of humanity on either side.  Hedren is presented rather dully, and Miller's nonchalant portrayal lacks clear definition or insight.  One wonders what counterpoints past Hitchcock blondes Kelly, Eva Marie Saint, Janet Leigh or Kim Novack might provide on the subject.

The Girl even fails on the seemingly easy-get on the fun it should have in recreating some of the classic moments of The Birds and Marnie, foregoing the simple revelry of old school Hollywood glee in favor of unsightly and broadly drawn melodrama.  F

I wonder about the fate of Hitchcock, Sacha Gervasi's (Anvil! The Story of Anvil) take on the filmmaker while shooting his seminal film, Psycho.   Written by John J. McLaughlin (Black Swan) and starring a cast with a larger pedigree than The Girl, with Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren as his wife, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, and featuring roles for Toni Collette and Danny Huston.  Will Hitchcock succumb to the easy deducing of mans talent to small fetish, or will it be able to grasp a deeper insight in the acclaimed filmmaker.  Whatever the fate, the film has done a hell of a job in marketing itself an art house diversion, making great, good-natured fun of the man himself while acknowledging his achievement and uncanny sense of self-promotion.  I wonder also, if the film itself does become apart of the deeper Oscar dialogue if the quality of the film will matter as much as the fact that the Academy was dismissive of his talent and failed to acknowledge him at the time.  Surely, he received five Best Director nominations over the course of his career (Psycho, Rear Window, Spellbound, Lifeboat and Rebecca) and received the Irving G. Thalberg Award in 1968-- where he famously said, "Thank you," before promptly leaving the stage-- but could that failure to reward his talent at the time resurface if Hitchcock is a success.  Again with the questions!!!

For what's it worth, for a filmmaker with such a mighty talent, and an inarguable story worthy of compelling entertainment, the fascination with the auteur, the provocateur, the Master of Suspense, in my book, always deserves a resurgence.  He also deserves a superior spotlight tale than The Girl provided.

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