Who is Hitch?: Hitchcock (2012) and The Girl (2012)
Films about filmmakers are a tricky proposition for studios and audiences alike. They are inherently self-indulgent, full of tiresome in-references and many have an unfortunate tendency towards valorizing the unscrupulous behaviour usually involved in making a classic motion picture. There have been exceptional films which use the life of a filmmaker to address something more universal beyond the story of a career in show business: Ed Wood, Hugo, Gods and Monsters. But most of the time, movies about the movies are limited to a behind-the-scenes story about the troubled production of such and such, offering us all the artistic depth of an E! True Hollywood Story. Which brings us to Alfred Hitchcock and 2012. Last year, two films were released that dramatize events in the life of cinema’s master of suspense; The Girl starring Toby Jones as the iconic director as well as Hitchcock starring Anthony Hopkins in the title role. In both films, the filmmaker’s marriage to his creative collaborator Alma Reville is in crisis due to Hitchcock’s unhealthy obsession with the beautiful leading ladies in his employ. Nevertheless the differences between Hitchcock and The Girl are grave and serious. As their names denote, the former humorously relates the quiet desperation of being Alfred Hitchcock while the later is concerned with the agony and terror of working for Alfred Hitchcock.
In Hitchcock, Hitch is the slightly self-destructive hero who must, over the course of the film, reach down within himself and summon up the strength to simultaneously direct a masterpiece and save his troubled marriage. Maintaining an air of comedy throughout, the film begins and ends with Hitch addressing the audience as if hosting an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents complete with his famous theme music. The events of Hitchcock are set around the making of Psycho, when fears that his best work may be behind him led Hitch to take a professional risk on some truly horrific source material. Despite the unsettling sight of seeing two celebrities inhabit the same body, Hopkins’ performance is delightful and in many ways it is the whole point of the picture. In a scene where Hitch is interviewing Anthony Perkins for the role of Norman Bates, Hopkins gives a priceless look of restrained jubilation when Perkins comments that he is frightened of his mother. A welcome addition to any film, Helen Mirren plays Hitchcock’s long-suffering wife who is portrayed as grudgingly tolerating her husband’s infatuations with the blonde actresses in his films -confident, for the most part, that Hitch may fantasize about celebrity mistresses but, at the end of the day, he doesn’t have it in him to cheat on her. Some of Hitchcock’s fantasies are peppered into the film, so when we see the director using a peephole to spy on an undressing Janet Leigh (played by Scarlett Johansson), we are uncertain if this is really happening or if this is just the director finding his inner Norman Bates. Every so often, Hitchcock veers off course into a tangential scenario where Hitch witnesses the real-life crimes of Ed Gein (the murderer whose depravity inspired Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and elements of The Silence of the Lambs) but unfortunately these scenes do little else than clutter up the narrative.
In The Girl, Mr. Hitchcock is the narcissistic villain abusing his professional authority to psychologically terrorize industry newcomer Tippi Hedren (played by Sienna Miller) and, over the course of the film, comes to represent that certain kind of evil that can only be committed by a man against a woman. The Girl is an HBO/BBC coproduction that focuses on The Birds and Marnie and it is based on Hedren’s account of events as detailed in Donald Spoto’s book, Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies. As The Birds was filmed after Psycho, Hedren’s experience of continuous sexual harassment from her director cast serious doubts on the happy ending we see in Hitchcock. In the film, Hitchcock sees Hedren in a television commercial and decides to puck her out of obscurity by offering her an irresistible multi-picture contract before making her first movie. At first it’s all champagne lunches and golden broaches for Ms. Hedren but, after she rebuffs Hitchcock’s sexual advances in the backseat of his car, the director’s demeanor towards her changes drastically. In the scenes during the production of The Birds, it seems plausible that Hitchcock’s on-set cruelty is intended to elicit a convincingly fearful performance from Hedren. However, when we see Hitchcock arguing with screenwriter Evan Hunter about including a honeymoon rape scene in Marnie it becomes clear that the director is attempting to punish and humiliate Hedren for rejecting him. After a great deal of abusive behavior and inappropriate phone calls, Hitchcock drunkenly comments to Hunter that he has been impotent for quite some time. This is one of the most distressing lines of the entire films as it suggests that Hitchcock never wanted Hedren to yield to his lascivious advances, but rather he perversely enjoyed menacing her because it meant she viewed him as a sexual threat – which, if true, makes the director as much of a monster as any character from his film catalog.
What actually transpired between Hitchcock and Hedren is likely known only to them. Other actresses like Kim Novak, Doris Day and Eva Marie Saint have disputed Hedren’s characterization of Hitchcock as a sexual predator. The extremely negative portrayal of Hitchcock in The Girl generated strong criticism in both Great Britain and the United States. A website called SaveHitchcock.com was created by devotees as a forum to combat what they see as an unfair portrayal of Hitchcock in the media and, not surprisingly, the site objected to The Girl being nominated for eight BAFTA awards.
Comparing the two films, Hitchcock is an entertaining bit of fluff like To Catch A Thief, whereas The Girl is more in the region of Psycho: a troubling psychological horror probing the darkest regions of the human psyche. The key difference in the two films is the portrayal of Hitchcock’s wife, Alma Reville. In Hitchcock, Mirren portrays Alma as the extremely necessary stabilizing force in the director’s life. In The Girl Imelda Staunton plays Mrs. Hitchcock was a defeated woman, unwilling or unable to confront her husband about his hurtful behavior – even when she is implored to do so by Hedren. Hitchcock is obviously a more palatable experience because it depicts the master of suspense as we would like to imagine him being – even if the truth will always be less clear cut.
Image Gallery for Hitchcock (2012)
Image Gallery for The Girl (2012)