Saturday, October 20, 2012

HBO Hitchcock portrait is for the birds

It was odd at press tour last August when HBO paneled back-to-back sessions on Ethel Kennedy and Alfred Hitchcock.
Ethel premiered Thursday and is a loving scrapbook, a daughter's valentine to her famous parents. Both Ethel, now 84, and Rory, the director and youngest of the Kennedy's 11 children, were at press tour, treated like royalty by HBO executives.
There were no members of Hitchcock's family anywhere near the HBO session for The Girl, a damning portrait of the late master of suspense. Instead, the focus of the session was on Tippi Hedren, the actress who starred in two of Hitchcock's later features, The Birds and Marnie.
Toby Jones (The Hunger Games), who  played Hitchcock, and Sienna Miller (via satellite), who played Hedren, were also at the press conference.
Hedren--who looks well preserved at 82--did not mince words about her experience in the early '60s with Hitch: "He ruined my career, but he didn't ruin my life," she told critics.
Hedren alleges that the director had a creepy obsession with her and subjected her to all kinds of torment on the set. There has been speculation about this for years, that Hitchcock had some kind of blond fetish, but The Girl makes him out to be, well, a psycho.
There are scenes of the director trying to make a grab for the actress in the back of a car and sadistically subjecting her to real danger on the set. Some say it was all calculated to scare a performance out of Hedren. Anyone who could come up with this quote--"Blonds make the best victims. They're like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints"--had to be a bit twisted.
"People have said, 'Was he in love with you?'" said Hedren. "No, he wasn't.  When you love someone, you treat them well. I think we're dealing with a mind here that is incomprehensible, and I certainly am not capable of discerning what was going through his mind or why. I certainly gave no indication that I would ever be interested in any kind of a relationship with him."
Whatever Hitchcock's shortcomings there was certainly nobody there to defend him at the HBO session. No family members had seen the documentary at that time.
I remember another press tour session, maybe 15 years ago, when a network rounded together the "ladies of Hitchcock." Hedren was also at that gathering, as was Suzanne Pleshette (also in The Birds) and I believe Janet Leigh and possibly Vera Miles. Maybe Kim Novak too, I can't recall for sure.
None of them blew the whistle on him on that occasion.
Hedren  and Jones and friend at the HBO TCA press session
Hedren was asked if she knew of other Hitchcock actresses who were mistreated or harassed.
"I know Kim Novak, and she never said a word about anything wrong," Hedren said. "I really didn't talk about this issue for such a very, very long time. While we were doing The Birds--because this manifestation happened during the latter part of filming The Birds, and I remember Suzanne Pleshette saying to me--because I was a newcomer in the business--she said, 'It isn't always like this.' And as far as I know, Vera Miles had a terrible time with Hitchcock, and she wanted to get out of the contract.  He didn't let her. She did Psycho, and I believe, if you look at Psycho, there isn't one close‑up of Vera, not one.  And she, after that, would never even speak about him to anyone." 
Pleshette and Leigh have both passed away and Miles refuses to do interviews so only Novak could confirm or contradict the stories today.
As for The Girl, it might have worked if it had been directed by Hitchcock. Based on the book Spellbound by Beauty by Donald Spoto, it is directed without panache by Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots). A big distraction is the casting of Jones, who in makeup and prosthetics looks more like a padded up Paul Williams. There are attempts to give the film some of the master's edge, but I found the film to be plodding and dull, two words not generally associated with Hitchcock. 
Hedren says that she screened The Girl for her actress/daughter Melanie Griffith. Her reaction? "Now I have to go back into therapy."
The Girl premieres Saturday night at 9 p.m. on HBO and HBO Canada.
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