Films We’ve Watched: The Girl (2012)

11 Dec

Perhaps one of the toughest challenges faced by a true lover of film is the separation of admiration for a writer, director, or actor’s talent at their craft and their personal character. The rare and wonderful meeting of a brilliant creative mind and an admirable character is so often a mirage on the cinematic landscape. How then to fully understand and appreciate a work, without accepting the off-putting flaws of its creator?

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Anyone who spends an evening with me is likely to come away from it having learned this much: Alfred Hitchcock is my favorite director of all time. I cannot even count his films among my favorites, because every single one of them belongs on that list. (Well, except for Frenzy. I did not care for Frenzy.) Each film so meticulously planned and flawlessly executed! Name any Hitchcock movie and I can tell you why it was significant and a handful of anecdotes about the innovation and atmosphere on set. My bookshelves are lined with pages upon pages espousing the grandeur of Hitchcock’s vision and the tenacity of his approach. Truly a master of suspense, in every way that a person can achieve mastery.

But the reality is this: Alfred Hitchcock was a lecherous, controlling man who abused his actors (beautiful blondes in particular) and was willing to go to any length for his creative vision. He took things personally. He did things his way. And the very same attitude towards human weakness and fear that made his films so spectacular, plagued his personal relationships (and I would argue mental health) throughout his life.

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That brings us to HBO’s recent original release, The Girl. This film catalogues the notorious relationship between Hitchcock and the actress he so infamously created and destroyed before our eyes: Tippi Hedren. Hedren was a model for much of her life, never achieving any great fame for her work but always exuding a certain pull. It was this draw that led Alfred and Alma Hitchcock to contact her for an interview, upon noticing her in a television commercial they liked. And so the film begins…

I cannot say that HBO’s version of the story made for a very great film. It did not. The performances were spot on, but the narrative itself was sloppily told, the pacing arbitrary and ineffective, and the message as one-sided and incriminating as can be. To anyone watching this film without prior knowledge of the relationship, or Hitchcock’s manner of working, he was an unprovoked menace filthy with unjustified methods. But as a staunch lover of his work, and an amateur scholar in my own right, I felt deeply defensive of the man. The human mind and its complex loyalties know no bounds!

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It is true that Hitchcock had an unsavory affection for the poor girl. It is also true that he unleashed a flock of live birds on her during the expressly chilling “attic scene” in The Birds, without her prior knowledge or consent. He even cast her in a dreadful rape scene in his masterpiece Marnie, an action which many feel was a sort of psychological vengeance for her refusal to return his favor. These are not the actions of an admirable man. They are the actions of one quite detestable.

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The Girl did a great job of showcasing the nightmare that a naive Tippi found herself in, and rightfully so! She was trapped in a seven-year contract with no hope of getting work beyond Hitch’s powerful grasp. But what the film failed to do was express the motivation behind his deplorable actions. It made very clear that he desired her for her beauty, but his intentions ran deeper than that. His manipulation was fueled by an ability and strong desire to control every aspect of his productions. This capability enabled him to bring to life some of the most frighteningly human concepts and performances the silver screen has ever seen.

– Laura Yates

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