Last Tuesday The Music Box Theater and Turner Classic Movies hosted a screening of The Birds with a special introductory conversation between Tippi Hedren and Ben Mankiewicz. The moment Tippi Hedren descended the stage my girlfriend turned to me and said “Jeez, I never knew Alfred Hitchcock was such a jerk.”
The story of Tippi Hedren and Alfred Hitchcock’s relationship is almost as engaging and horrific as the movies that they made together; so much so that the BBC is currently shooting a film on the subject titled The Girl (Hedren’s studio nickname for when she was in confrontation with the director). In fact Hedren spent nearly half her time on stage explaining their rocky relationship. Yet despite the emotional gravity of what she was discussing Hedren never became angry or upset. Rather Hedren seemed sad for all the projects that could’ve been but never were. “There were so many wonderful films we could have made together but it was all thrown away because of his mindless lust…I was a highly moral girl. I couldn’t submit to him no matter that he threatened and did ruin my career.”
What I found particularly interesting about the whole event was how Hedren was able to separate her love of Hitchcock films for the man who, as she put it, “ruined my career.” We’ve all been in these types of situations, where an artist we love does something so against our own morals that our disapproval of that action transforms into a disapproval of the art. After my dad found out The Who’s Pete Townshend got in trouble for accessing child pornography he vowed never to listen to the groups music again, “it just ruins it for me,” he’ll say. For those unable to separate themselves from the art they usually take up the phrase, hate the artist love the art. But Tippi, who was personally hurt by Hitchcock, didn’t even seem capable of that kind of animosity.
Especially now, in our age of interaction, we forge certain relationships with media though the ways we engage it. We like stuff on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, or reblog it on Tumblr all in an effort to support the media we love and to give it the voice we feel it deserves. So then when an artist does something that goes against our morals we feel betrayed and even somewhat complicit. We feel that by supporting a piece of art we are directly supporting the artist who made it, and that artist’s way of life. It’s an odd and fairly common perspective, but is it right?
One of the most wonderful anecdotes that Tippi Hedren shared with the audience was based around the scene where a group of seagulls attack a children’s party. Although some of the bird attack sequences were done with mechanical birds, or animation, this scene involved live birds that were trained to swoop and dive bomb the performers. As a safety precaution there was a wire that went around the bird’s beak to keep it from biting. During one of the takes though a camera-shy seagull decided to flee the set with his beak still wired shut. The bird trainer was wrecked with guilt at the thought of his bird starving to death, so he convinced Hitchcock to put the production on halt while he took a row boat out into Bodega Bay and managed to call the bird back. It was a story that spoke to the humanity of the people working on The Birds that they would take time out of their day to save an animal which they could’ve easily replaced.
The way Alfred Hitchcock acted towards Tippi Hedren is inexcusable and horrible, but that is not the only thing he did as a person and it is not what he did as an artist. In fact some critics view The Birds as a testament to strong women. Hedren’s character is a smart, compassionate, and strong woman who over the course of the film proves to the male character that she is more than just the diminutive stereotype he originally perceives her as. Hitchcock even reshot an entire scene because he was convinced by Jessica Tandy that the initial direction he gave to Hedren, “play it bitchy,” would cause audiences to dislike her. This all happened in post-production long after the sets had been de-constructed and stored away. So even though his awful actions eventually ruined his professional relationship with Tippi, the two did share some wonderful times as friends and artists all of which are celebrated when we celebrate the art.
What do you think? Have you ever sworn off an artist that you feel crossed a moral line? Do you still love the art, even though you hate the artist? Please leave some comments below so that we can continue our discussion on Tippi Hedren, Alfred Hitchcock, and celebrities like to call jerks behind their backs.