I’ll never forget the moments after seeing “The Birds” (1963) for the first time in Loew Auditorium. The credits rolled to the grating sound of flapping and screeching as black bird silhouettes shot across the white screen. When lights slowly bathed the small theater, a remarkable silence reigned. Film students around me, notoriously blasé and often eager to get to dinner once the three-hour period finished, were completely silent, pinned back in their seats. Later, one girl in my class (who always appeared to have seen it all), professed to me, “that freaked me out.”
“The Birds” rarely receives credit as a contributor to Alfred Hitchcock’s designation as the “Master of Suspense.” However, as a desolate disaster film combining horror, romance, and even Western elements, it equals and may even surpass Psycho in resonance. Finally, in a year when Hitchcock has reemerged as a cultural icon — prompted, perhaps by “Vertigo” (1958) unseating “Citizen Kane” (1941) as Sight & Sound’s greatest film of all time — “The Birds” and “Psycho” (1960) are getting equal attention as seminal works in Hitchcock’s oeuvre. Two films, “Hitchcock” (2012), which will premiere on Nov. 23 and “The Girl” (2012) on Oct. 20 will explore the intricacies of those two chilling films this fall.
“Hitchcock,” the tale of the director’s struggle to bring “Psycho” to the screen (spoiler: the film was so low-budget he had to use his “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” television crew), is the more classic, awards-friendly of the two. Featuring the indomitable duo of Anthony Hopkins as Hitchock and Helen Mirren as his wife, Alma, the film appears to highlight Alma’s role in producing Hitchcock’s films. In the trailer, she suggests killing off Janet Leigh thirty minutes into the movie and has a wonderful monologue about being invisible in Hitchcock’s portly shadow. However, as critics have noted, the trailer suggests the film focuses on the production’s difficulties instead of character relationships or psyches. We’ve seen this type of underdog success story before — “The King’s Speech” (2010), “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008), “The Artist” (2011) — but it is not entirely believable or compelling given the fact that it features Alfred Hitchcock at the height of his power. He had just directed “North by Northwest” (1959), after all.
The more fascinating portrait of Hitchcock to anticipate is “The Girl,” a Home Box Office and British Broadcasting Corporation co-production film that will premiere on the television network on October 20th. The film chronicles Hitchcock’s dangerous obsession with “The Birds” and “Marnie” (1964) leading lady, Tippi Hedren (played by Sienna Miller), whom he personally pulled out of obscurity as a commercial actress and model. Though facts are thin on the ground, history suggests Hitchcock abused his power over her career onscreen and off, resulting in relentless sexual harassment. With the notable exception of biographer Donald Spoto, few Hitchcock scholars have delved into this dark time: his pedestal position as the most famous director of all time protects him from inquiry. But “The Girl” offers the rare chance to finally tell Hedren’s story (she participated in its production) and to see an unprecedented look into the dark side of why we love Hitchcock so much — his obsession.
It also promotes the genius of The Birds, of course. Though the premise may sound wacky, I promise you’ll never look at birds the same way again. Did you known crows can remember a human face for up to five years?
Tags: bbc, cinephile, films, hbo, hitchcock, Katie Kilkenny