Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hedren In the Right Direction

The screening to Alfred Hitchcock's film The Birds was sold out.  I don't know if this is the first sell-out at the 2012 Plaza Classic Film Festival, but it does show the power the last undisputed Hitchcock masterpiece has nearly fifty years since its debut. 

As with the last article involving a speaker at the PCFF, this won't be a review of The Birds.  Instead, I'll cover the pre-film talk that Tippi Hedren gave as well as my own observations and impressions of both the film and the chat. 

Even from the distance between myself (alleged non-member of the press) and Miss Hedren, she was still strikingly beautiful at 82.  She received a standing ovation (the first one I witnessed) and was thrilled not just at her reception, but at the announcement that her Roar Foundation was receiving a grant from the El Paso Community Foundation.  Miss Hedren has been a passionate supporter of large cats and their preservation for decades (and as someone whose high school mascot is a Tiger, I fully applaud her cause), so this is indeed joyful news. 

The popularity of The Birds is perhaps a puzzle to Hedren but a delightful one.  "The Birds has a life of its own," she said about the joy people take from this horror film. 

Hedren had been very happy to make commercials and continue being a model, but moving to California was not as fruitful as she had first hoped.  About to give up, she was contacted to test for a film.  "I'll be able to take care of my daughter," was Hedren's initial reaction to being offered film work...that daughter being Melanie Griffith.  She had three days of testing, and at last she learned it was for a film by Alfred Hitchcock.

At a dinner to celebrate, Hitch gave her a three-bird pin which, despite all the troubles Hedren would endure from Hitchcock, she treasures.  Hedren remembers that both she and Hitchcock's wife Alma cried at the pin.

Hedren was complimentary about Hitchcock as a director.  "The education he gave me was incredibly valuable," she recalls, but that he didn't give her much direction on-set save for her to lower her voice.

If memory serves correct, Eva Marie Saint was given similar direction for North By Northwest, though I can't recall if Horak brought that up with Hedren or Saint when the latter talked about On the Waterfront

Hedren made the sold-out audience laugh when she told us about when she asked Hitchcock why she would go upstairs alone at the climax of The Birds.  After a short pause, his reply was, "Because I tell you to."

Just like with Mary Badham's talk for To Kill A Mockingbird, Tippi Hedren's talk took a bit of a dark turn when recalling the difficulties she endured during The Birds.  One must remember this was her first feature film, so she comes to it as a novice being trained by a brilliant director, but a novice all the same. 

She had been told that mechanical birds were going to be used.  On the first day of the five-day shoot for this sequence, she tells that the assistant director came into her dressing room.  She asked him why he looked so concerned.  After some hesitancy, he said, "Mechanical birds don't work.  We'll have to use real ones," and away he sailed from the room.

In those five days Hedren stated the ravens were tied to her body, and that at the end of the fifth day she got up and on set she started to cry from exhaustion (I imagine both physical and emotional).  The week-long shutdown of The Birds due to the almost-sadist treatment of Hedren is well-known but not addressed at the pre-screening talk.

She did speak fondly of her co-star Jessica Tandy.  In particular, it regards the scene where Hedren's character brings Tandy tea after Tandy had discovered a body.  "I want you to play this very bitchy," Hitchcock directed Hendren.  Ever the trouper, Hedren played it very cold and uncaring.  Later, Tandy and Hitchcock saw the scene without Hedren, which was unusual since Hedren usually saw the rushes.  Tandy, after watching the scene, told Hitchcock, "Nobody's going to like that girl." 

The set had already been dismantled, but Hitchcock took this advice and had the scene reshot with Hedren in a more sympathetic performance. 

It was a wise decision, one that benefits the film and one for which Hedren is very grateful.

Tippi Hedren touched on the complicated relationship with Alfred Hitchcock, stating that his obsession with her began with him constantly staring at her (he would be speaking and/or listening to someone but be completely focused on her) and she stated that it became difficult for her as time went on.

Tippi Hedren's final comments about The Birds before the film began was that the ending of the film was not the one she liked.  The ending Hedren preferred (which I understand was written but not filmed due to the budget) had them leaving Bodega Bay and driving into San Francisco...where the Golden Gate Bridge was covered by birds, followed by shots of the Gateway Arch (aka the St. Louis Arch), the Statue of Liberty, and the Eiffel Tower all covered by birds.

I think it's a safe bet to say that everyone attending the screening of The Birds at the Plaza Classic Film Festival (including Horak and Hedren) all had a good time, both with her chat and with the film itself.  It's a positive sign of the growth of the PCFF and I hope for two things:

2.) I be granted a press pass as a member of the Online Film Critics Society.

The set-up outside the Plaza for the rescreening of The Birds wasn't anywhere near the elaborate nature of its initial screening back in 1963 (as seen here), but it still draws an audience and still has a powerful impact.  The Birds, which as I've stated and long argued is Hitchcock's last undisputed masterpiece, still holds up and will always be appreciated by people who both love cinema and who are casual viewers.

In short, The Birds will always thrill, shock, maybe cause giggles, but for the first-time viewer, they will always find simply a great film.

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