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Hitch’s pitch

The Master of Suspense loved to mix high art and low-down promo; Cannes was perfect

Cinephiles may lament the presence of such pics as “X Men: The Last Stand” and “The Da Vinci Code” at Cannes, even out of competition, but questions about artistic integrity are nothing new for the festival. Even as Alfred Hitchcock was gaining popularity in France as one of the foremost examples of the auteur theory, he faced criticism that his movie “The Birds” was a bit too commercial as the opener of the 1963 festival. Robert F. Hawkins of the New York Times wrote that “one may question the artistic (but not the commercial) wisdom” presenting the pic at the fest. Hitchcock had been a regular at Cannes since 1946, when “Notorious” was in the very first festival. He milked the festival both for its prestige and its publicity, such as when he and star Tippi Hedren released several hundred pigeons in front of the festival palace. Even more extraordinary was the pic’s gala Cannes premiere, where Hitchcock escorted Hedren down the steps of the theater and under a canopy of swords held by the French army. “It was so surreal for me it was just hard to believe it,” says Hedren, who wore a specially designed Edith Head white satin gown with opera-length leather gloves. With Hitchcock already lionized by Francois Truffaut and others, the French adulation drowned out festival critics’ lackluster reviews for “The Birds,” which went on to achieve cult status. As the director famously remarked, “My films seem to go from being ‘failures’ to ‘classics’ without ever being ‘successes.’ ”

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