'The Girl': Hitchcock's Horrors on the Set

It's helpful that Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller) is so articulate when she describes her relationship with Alfred Hitchcock (Toby Jones). But it's also acutely disconcerting.

"He wants to get inside me, in awful ways, to squeeze me out until there's nothing left inside." I suppose it's helpful that Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller) is so articulate -- so poetic and so precise -- when she describes her relationship with her director, Alfred Hitchcock (Toby Jones). But it's also acutely disconcerting, that she is so able to maintain her self-awareness amid a series of abuses and threats during the two films she makes with him, The Birds and Marnie. You always knew there was something dreadful about these two movies -- the aggressions against her, by all manner of fowl and Sean Connery -- and HBO's The Girl offers some detail (based on Donald Spoto's Hitchock books, including Spellbound By Beauty: Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies (2008). In this version of Hitch (as he invites his new mentee to call him), he is calculating and also unnervingly out-of-control, admired and cruel. He torments Hedren on the set in front of everyone, has her endure attacks by real birds for five days in order to obtain the genuine terror on her face in the notorious Birds attic scene. He also leans in too close, pesters her with stories about cocks, invites her to touch his, paws her and bullies her, all, he says, to make her a great movie star. "There's only so much I can teach you through kindness," he explains.

She knows better, but she also finishes The Birds and then signs on for Marnie, believing her career is at stake. The HBO version, directed by Julian Jarrold (as opposed to HItchcock, directed by Sacha Gervasi, starring Anthony Hopkins, and the object of Weinstein's latest Oscar campaign), makes extra clear what you're supposed to think, as Hedren says it out loud: "I'll make you so proud of me," she says when he first casts her, "I'll be putty in your hands." Oh dear, you sigh. By the end of the film, when Hitchcock is lying to her yet again about his intentions, to turn her frosty no-talent into passion on screen, Hedren tells him he has it backwards: "You took a living breathing woman and you turned her into a statue."

Such neat diagnosis hardly makes it necessary for the movie to include its own Hitchockian flourishes, in the Bernard Herrmannish score and lofty crane shots, in the emphasis on Hedren's responses to her emotional and physical battering, her alternating collapsing and resisting. Hedren's utter anguish takes up most of the film, though it offers a glimpse of Alma Hitchcock's (Imelda Staunton) grim frustration and also Hitchcock's own self-awareness, as when he echoes the speech made by Peter Lorre at the end of M, declaring, "Every night I lock myself in my room, there's a madman on the other side waiting to slit my throat." This just before he heads out to abuse "the girl again."

If it's not likely you'll feel sorry for him, you might at least begin to guess at what's made him so monstrous. And then the movie shifts gears again, returning its own discomforting gaze to Hedren. Surrounded by women who go along -- from Alma to the assistant Peggy (Penelope Wilton) -- she understands limits. When she wonders why Melanie, her character in The Birds, goes into the attic alone, Hitchcock explains, "Because I want her to." That's about right, though he adds that he thinks she's looking for punishment, feeling guilty because the birds came to Bodega bay with her. "Everything's ruined and it's all my fault, sure," Hedren says ,"I'm a woman. I can do that standing on my head." Indeed.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.