in the late 1980s, I remember Film Threat magazine
publishing a cartoon image of Alfred Hitchcock, bloated, sweaty,
naked and small dicked, jerking off over his collection of platinum
blonde leading ladies of the 1950s and 60s. It was shocking, not
because of the content, but because this was something that had
remained undiscussed for so long – Hitchcock's dubious,
unsavoury obsession with the effectively interchangeable leading
ladies of his major films.. the most obvious of which was Tippi
Hedren, who starred in two of his most important films before
being left out to dry by a Hollywood system – and in this
we include critics – who cheerfully bought into the idea
that she was a bad actress, difficult to work with and generally
unsuitable for movie stardom. It's an attitude that has persisted
for decades, despite the stories of Hitchcock's obsessive and
perverted behaviour, because Hitchcock made some great films,
and apparently, it's impossible for writers or fellow filmmakers
to separate the talented artist from the awful individual (what
we might call the Roman Polanski syndrome). Thus we get online
critics who were not even born when The Birds
was made dismissing the memories of people who actually worked
on the film.
It's presumably for this reason that The Girl opens
with a statement that the story is based on interviews with the
cast and crew involved, though I suspect that will have little
impact on old Alfie's apologists. And of course, it doesn't mean
that the film isn't going to engage in speculation and conjecture
– clearly, the scenes between Hitchcock and wife Alma are
not based on anything other than writer Gwyneth Hughes' own imagination.
The film follows the story of the making of The Birds
and – though not mentioned anywhere on the sleeve –
Marnie, with Hitchcock selecting model Hedren,
who had never acted before, as his leading lady in a deliberate
attempt to create his perfect muse – a cool, icy blonde
who he could play out his sexual fantasies with. But he rapidly
becomes obsessed with her, and when his clumsy attempts at courtship
and his sexual assaults fail to win her over, he becomes increasingly
bitter and cruel.
film recreates some pivotal moments from the films with a degree
of success – the notorious attic attack scene from The
Birds, where Hedren was forced to endure live birds hurled
in her face for five days doesn't have the same visceral impact
– presumably because director Julian Jarrold wasn't willing
to subject his lead actress to the same levels of abuse –
but clever cutting and a good performance from Sienna Miller (her
best bit of the film) eventually manage to convey the horror,
humiliation and sheer nastiness of the shoot. The film also makes
sly references to other Hitchcock moments – Hedren recovering
in a the shower nods towards Psycho, for instance
– and birds are omnipresent even off set.
Toby Jones is remarkably sleazy as Hitchcock – you imagine
that no director as creepy as this could find work today. It's
a remarkable performance, given how well known Hitchcock is as
a figure, and how much film tries to make him a sympathetic, tragic
figure rather than the monster he would seem to have been.
Sadly, Sienna Miller is unconvincing as Hedren. In a way, she's
doomed from the start. Look at a photo of Tippi Hedren from the
1960 and try to find a woman who looks like that today. You can't
do it. And Miller seems too knowing, too normal, too downright
un-Sixties glamorous to pass as Hedren. She's too 2000's glamorous.
She simply doesn't have the chiselled, flawless features or the
curiously innocent style that Hedren projected, and it's a distraction.
Her performance is strong enough, however (wobbly accent aside)
and as the story progresses, it becomes a little easier to accept
her as the character, if not the person.
The Girl is impressively made, has an authentic
early 1960s feel and has a strong emotional charge. It's also
a long overdue apology to Tippi Hedren, who has been terribly
and unfairly maligned for years.
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