Monday, May 23, 2016

Bird Attacks and Casual Mid-Century Sexism, or Thoughts on Toby Jones as Alfred Hitchcock in The Girl

Toby Jones who you know as the voice of Dobby, and from Wayward Pines and the highly recommended Detectorists, also played Alfred Hitchcock in The Girl a BBC production released in the USA by HBO in 2012, though his performance was eclipsed by Anthony Hopkins’ comparatively affectionate portrayal in Hitchcock (also 2012).  The Girl refers to Tippi Hedren, as played by Sienna Miller from Layer Cake (2004) and The Baroness from GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009).
In The Girl we have Toby Jones in a fat suit, with the proper accent and correct jowls, though the production suffers from being filmed in the UK; the light’s far too soft to recreate the harsh LA exterior scenes.  And I also imagine that Brits with American accents must sound as odd and off to us in the States as Americans with British accents in the UK.  The Girl does have an excellent screenplay by Gwyneth Hughes, based on the book Spellbound by Beauty by Donald Spoto, and is more focused on Tippi Hedren’s experience rather than HItch’s.  There’s also a jazzy soundtrack that perfectly compliment the mood and tone of the film.
Toby Jones’ Hitch is a star maker, taking an unknown, untested aspiring actress/model and raising her up into fame.  Sienna Miller does her best effort in becoming an icy Hitchcock Blonde, echoing Tippi Hedren’s struggle during the filming of The Birds (1963).  Hitch never forgave Grace Kelly for turning her back on Hollywood and becoming an actual princess, and spent the rest of his career trying to replace her. 
This is a far less sentimental than Hitchcock (2012) and Toby Jones’ performance is more bitter and even sadistic, although one could argue from an artistic perspective that Hitch wanted to capture real emotions and reactions onscreen.  Hitch is portrayed as leering, voyeuristic and predatory; traumatizing her on film for the perfect take, and sexually assaulting her when the camera isn't watching.  The Girl even does it’s own version of the shower scene to show Sienna Miller’s emotional journey.
Imelda Staunton, aka Dolores Umbridge, plays Hitch’s wife Alma and Penelope Wilton, who you remember as Harriet Jones from Doctor Who, portrays Peggy Robertson, Hitch’s loyal assistant.
This is a darker vision of Alfred Hitchcock’s already dark life, applying 21st Century morals to a man that was born in 1899.  Was he a megalomaniacal director with an obsessive and singular artistic vision?  Did he have a morbid sense of humor?  Was he prone to bawdy limericks in a male dominated work place?  These facts are undisputed and in public record.  The real question this movie raises is does the casual sexism of the 60’s and the allegations of Tippi Hedren lessen the impact or the cultural and artistic value of the original movie?  What’s the value in tearing down idols and making 50 year old movies conform to modern social mores?  That’s a question for the philosophers, I just like old movies, and all I can tell you is people will still be watching The Birds 50 years from now, and nobody’s going to be making a remake of The Girl in 2062.

Coincidentally, Toby Jones encountered a similar situation where his performance playing a famous character was overshadowed by a more famous actor playing the same character when he portrayed Truman Capote in Infamous (2006), one year after Phillip Seymour Hoffman had won an Oscar for his performance as the author in Capote (2005).  Those two movies also cover the same subject, the process of writing In Cold Blood, and the deleterious effect it had on the author’s career.


my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.