The director of a new Hollywood film about Sir Alfred Hitchcock has vigorously defended his acclaimed subject’s reputation, saying he was not the “sadistic monster” portrayed in rival accounts.
Hitchcock, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, is set to be released in UK cinemas early next month. Its director Sacha Gervasi told The Independent: “He was a brilliant, obsessed director and he would push people. I don’t think he was a sadistic monster. He was a popular entertainer, not Pol Pot.”
His remarks follow the broadcast of The Girl, starring Toby Jones as the British director, on BBC2 over Christmas. That account portrayed Hitchcock as an emotional and physical bully in his dealings with Tippi Hedren, the star of his movies The Birds and Marnie. Hedren recently said working with the director was like being in a “mental prison”.
Gervasi believes The Girl’s account was: “A little bit of an oversimplification. It seems a rare one-note portrayal of a man who was a little more complex than that. A lot of people, who were there, do not recognise this portrayal of him as this monster.”
While the director conceded there were “elements of manipulation” to Hitchcock’s character, he believes different sides to his subject, including an ironic sense of humour and mischief, have been overlooked. “To me it’s become a bit hyperbolic and sensationalist.” Gervasi said he found “this other human aspect to him that has been lost in this specific portrayal as a cold forbidding, aloof genius” adding: “For us it was about exploring different sides of Hitchcock we haven’t necessarily seen.”
A website called savehitchcock.com has been set up to discuss the director’s portrayal in the media. Most recently John Russell Taylor, who wrote Hitch with the director’s cooperation in 1978, criticised The Girl saying it was “totally absurd”.
Hitchcock, who was born in Leytonstone, enjoyed good relations with other leading ladies including Janet Leigh, Doris Day and Kim Novak, who recently spoke out in support of the director. Eva Marie Saint, who starred in North by Northwest, said: “Hitchcock was a gentleman, he was funny, he was so attentive to me.”
The forthcoming Hitchcock film explores the period he directed Psycho, one of cinema’s seminal horror movies, and the director’s struggle to get it made. It also shows the importance of his wife Alma to his career. It used a range of source materials, including Stephen Rebello’s 1990 book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.
“I knew Alma’s name but I did not know how important a part of the picture she was over the duration of his career,” Gervasi said. “She was very important to him; an integral part of his creative and professional and personal life.”
Gervasi called Hitchcock “one of the greatest film-makers of all time. There’s no doubt he’s brilliant” and backed the BFI’s call for his films to be on the curriculum alongside Shakespeare.
Last year, the BFI screened all 58 of his surviving films, including restored prints of his silent movies. In August, Vertigo replaced Citizen Kane as the greatest film of all time in Sight and Sound magazine’s once a decade poll.
“He has 10 or 12 masterworks,” Gervasi said. “He invented new techniques in visual storytelling. Anyone can be inspired and learn from that level of artistry and genius he displayed.”