Throughout the years, Hitchcock maintained a very peculiar relationship with the press. Always a pleasure to talk to and extremely quotable, but at the same time often harshly criticized for his innovative ideas.
Hitchcock's attitude towards press
Shortly after Hitchcock's first highly successful picture "The Lodger" got released, there was a party organized by Adrian Brunel (another important silent movie director). Alfred attended and there he was confronted with a question:
for whom should movies be made?.
His answer surprised everyone listening.
For the press.
At the time, Hitch was just 27 years old and being widely covered in the press was a new experience for him. For compliments he had to wait longer than most.
While working under Graham Cutts he did much more than was credited for, and when he made it as director, he had to wait for praise - at the time, directors weren't credited with the film's success as much as they are today.
To make things worse, Gainsborough (studio for which he was working) was not interested in branding him as the up-and-coming sensation. Public was largely kept in the dark about the Master of Suspense.
The statement sounds like one made by a naive boy who had not had a pleasure yet of surviving a single 12-round fight with toxic reporters looking to land illegal blows and possibly even bite his ear off. It's easy to speak words of appreciation about a problematic entity when the trouble hasn't extended to someone's backyard yet.
However, that answer was more thought out than it appeared and traces of it resonated in Hitchcock's interviews in later life.
For him, the average moviegoer was not critical and conscious of the experience enough for his or her observations about the movie to hold great value. With critics, it was different. They decoded his sometimes elaborate schemes, when he put some extra touches to his products, critics picked up on them while most ordinary viewers did not.
Hitch also believed that they are a very important medium sitting between the movie authors and the viewers which can't just be removed - people rely on them to know what to go see in the theatre next.
However torn the director's relationship with the press may be, he or she is at their mercy anyway (at least most of the time).
After he became a star (and especially in America), the iconic director got in bed with the press more than most. He knew most popular critics personally and next to actors, producers and other directors, they were frequent guests at his parties.
He was always eager to build a relationship with each writer and it appeared that it was part of work for him - constructing himself a controlled environment where he could prosper.
After all, a friend will think twice before smearing a picture he didn't particularly enjoy. Sooner or later, he will meet his pal again and it might be awkward.
For a self-admittedly shy person, Alfred could be an absolute charmer and he used all his skills on the press. Armed with a great sensitivity to what sells, what makes headlines and moves heads, his interviews were filled with every journalist's dream content.
On top of that, the director had a great sense of humor which he wasn't afraid to use whenever he saw the opportunity appearing. With time, some trademark stories were repeated way too often, but even in his late years the man was in great form.
The press' attitude towards Hitchcock
When looking at the other side of the story, it's clear that the relationship wasn't all dandy. Despite his efforts with building a beneficial relationship with the press and maintaining a positive public image, he still got the short end of the stick on many occasions. At times, it even seemed like the reviewers are cruel to him just because.
Of all Hitchcock movies, Psycho probably brought the biggest disproportion between the reception among the critics and the general population.
In Time and Tide magazine, Clancy Sigal wrote:
This is more miserable than the most miserable peepshow I have ever seen and far more awful and suggestive than the most pornographic film I have ever seen. It wallows in the diseased urges of a homicidal pervert and actually romanticizes his pornographic brutality.
Famous film critic Leslie Halliwell wrote in his Halliwell's Film & Video Guide:
despite effective moments of fright, it has a childish plot and script, and its interest is that of a tremendously successful confidence trick, made for very little money by a TV crew.
The director's more mass-appeal pictures (To Catch a Thief, North by Northwest) were sometimes bashed for their straightforwardness, as if they were expected to be French avantgarde artistic statements.
Those that did experiment and break the mould were often either misunderstood, or accused of having perverse intentions because they were mostly dealing with dark themes.
National themes played some part in it too. Alfred left Britain to make a career in the United States and ultimately become an American director making American movies, for which some British critics held a grudge. Similarly, occasional moods across the Atlantic Ocean were that he is just a foreigner posing as an American, a fluke.
Francois Truffaut, French director and author of series of interviews with Hitch that ultimately became a book, had an opinion of his own on the subject:
[Hitch] had in the long run been victimized in American intellectual circles because of his facetious response to interviewers and his deliberate practice of deriding their questions.
This "facetious response" Truffaut refers to was probably a symptom of Alfred's attitude to intellectual circles in general. Anti-elitist almost by nature, the director frequently made fun of attempts to seek hidden symbolism and subconscious messages in his works.
It was probably a compromise to just have a laugh instead of saying upfront what he thinks about adding content that's not there purely because someone has a vivid imagination and wants to be perceived as an expert on everything cinema.
Still, that was already a faux pas for many. After all, Hitch was making fun of the main narration tool of many, and critics are often themselves particularly prone to criticism.
If not for his efforts to tame the lion, Hitchcock's reception by the press would surely be even worse. Many of his movies were groundbreaking and when something new arrives, there are always strong forces doubting that the change is for the good.
Complicated as the relationship was though, on his end everything always looked smooth. Throughout his entire life, he didn't have a single moment when he slipped and got furious over some absurd opinion during interviews.
And since he conducted many, there were plenty of opportunities for him to do so.
Hitchcock remained classy and in control and whatever filth was spilled on him usually quickly became of zero importance when it turned out how big of an impact on the cinema his ideas had in the long run.