We're always happy to review or mention publications sent to us.
The 'Hitchcock Annual'
#19, for 2014, is published by Columbia University Press. No book
reviews any more (sadly!), just six quality articles. Richard Combs
writes on Rear Window, David Greven on Torn Curtain, Brad Stevens on
Hitchcock's TV shows, Joe McElhaney on Tippi Hedren's screen tests for
Hitchcock, James Chapman on "Hitchcock and Bond", and John W. Roberts on
"Hitchcock's Ludic Style". Some of these will be discussed soon in
"Editor's Week" on our News & Comment page (link above).
'Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Writings and Interviews', Volume 2, edited by Sidney Gottlieb (University of California Press, hb and pb) - see also below (re forthcoming review by KM in 'Senses of Cinema').
Lesley L. Coffin's 'Hitchcock's Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System' (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014; 231 pp, hardback) examines the nature of star-performances in Hitchcock's American films. This engaging book was mentioned a couple of times in "Editor's Week" on our News & Comment page.
Eric San Juan and Jim McDevitt's 'Hitchcock's Villains: Murderers, Maniacs, and Mother Issues' (Scarecrow Press, 2013; 185pp, hardback and eBook formats) is reviewed below.
Tony Lee Moral's 'Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie' (Scarecrow Press, 2nd edition, 2013; 283 + 17pp, firm cover), which contains four more chapters than the 1st edition, as well as extensive revisions to those earlier chapters. It's reviewed by Adrian Schober below.
Tony Lee Moral's 'The Making of Hitchcock's The Birds' (kamerabooks.com, 2013, pb), described by 'Total Film' magazine as 'the definitive production history of The Birds'. Our review below.
The paperback 'Superbitch! Alfred Hitchcock's 50-Year Obsession With Jack the Ripper and the Eternal Prostitute' (New Discoveries, 2011), by Theodore Price, which is an expanded version of 'Hitchcock and Homosexuality', a remarkable Freudian study originally published in hardcover by Scarecrow Press (1992). Over 400 pages long, it is a serious argument for how, at some sub-conscious level, nearly every Hitchcock film refers to the misogynist Jack the Ripper and his vendetta against prostitutes. (The reference is more-or-less overt in Vertigo. There, Judy tells Scottie, 'You don't look much like Jack the Ripper'.) Emeritus Professor Price, a combat veteran from World War 2, who fought with General Patton in the Ruhr and Czechoslovakia, and was 88 when the paperback version of his book appeared, may have come as close as anyone to showing why Hitchcock's films feel the way they do. The neglect of the book by many scholars - and even by Amazon.com (whose website continues to describe 'Superbitch!' as 'currently unavailable') - presumably because of the 'lurid' title of the original edition, is disappointing. Fortunately, the book may be obtained by inquiring to .
Of interest to both general readers and Hitchcock scholars is a new paperback edition of the 1936 novel by Frank Baker, 'The Birds' (Valancourt Books). Baker wrote several fine novels, but this is his masterpiece, eerily prescient of Hitchcock's film of the same title (nominally based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier). This new edition is the first to incorporate revisions made by Baker himself in 1964. An Introduction by Ken Mogg (of this website) calls the book 'both a finely crafted suspense thriller that could show even Alfred Hitchcock a few things, and an authentic account of pre-War London'.
The 'Hitchcock Annual', 2011 edition (Volume 17). Highlights include: Thomas Leitch on "Notorious: Hitchcock's Pivotal Film"; Charles Barr on "'The Knock of Disapproval': Juno and the Paycock and its Irish Reception"; Erika Balsom on "Dial 'M' for Museum: The Hitchcock of Contemporary Art"; and James Naremore reviewing two new Hitchcock books.
Walter Raubicheck and Walter Srebnick (eds), 'Scripting Hitchcock: Psycho, The Birds, and Marnie' (pb, University of Illinois Press). It's reviewed below.
Thomas Leitch and Leland Poague (eds), 'A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock' (hb, Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). We quote the dustjacket: 'Thirty chapters by the world's leading [English-language] Hitchcock experts cover well-established approaches as well as cutting-edge scholarship and tackle the most puzzling and complex problems in Hitchcock's films and contemporary film studies.' Good news is that a paperback edition is due out in 2014.
Bill Krohn, 'Masters of Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock' (pb, Revised English Edition, Cahiers du cinéma Sarl, 2010). It's reviewed below.
'The Psycho File: A Comprehensive Guide to Hitchcock's Classic Shocker' is by Joseph W. Smith III and published by McFarland (our copy in paperback). It's an excellent account of the film and its successors (Psycho II onwards), only in part because it has ransacked all of the previous accounts of Psycho (by Durgnat, Rebello, Rothman, Skerry, Naremore, et al.). 2010 marked the 50th anniversary of Psycho, with several books on that film appearing - but none may equal this one. Note: Gary Giblin reviews David Thomson's 'The Moment of Psycho' below. Giblin's own observations on Psycho will be found in "We All Go a Little Mad Sometimes ...", published in 'Cinema Retro', Vol. 6, issue 18, 2010, and in his excellent book 'Alfred Hitchcock's London' (reviewed below).
'The Hitchcock Annual Anthology: Selected Essays from Volumes 10-15', from Wallflower.
'A Year of Hitchcock: 52 Weeks With the Master of Suspense' (Scarecrow Press) compiled by Jim McDevitt and Eric San Yuan.
The 'Hitchcock Annual'
#19, for 2014, is published by Columbia University Press. No book
reviews any more (sadly!), just six quality articles. Richard Combs
writes on Rear Window, David Greven on Torn Curtain, Brad Stevens on
Hitchcock's TV shows, Joe McElhaney on Tippi Hedren's screen tests for
Hitchcock, James Chapman on "Hitchcock and Bond", and John W. Roberts on
"Hitchcock's Ludic Style". Some of these will be discussed soon in
"Editor's Week" on our News & Comment page (link above).
Books and journals we're looking forward to or have heard about:
There are easily half-a-dozen of these, to be listed here in more detail shortly. (KM will be reviewing several of them for a forthcoming issue of 'Senses of Cinema'.) They notably include William Rothman's 'Must We Kill the Thing We Love? Emersonian Perfectionism and the Films of Alfred Hitchcock' (Columbia Univerity Press), 'Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Writings and Interviews', Volume 2, edited by Sidney Gottlieb (University of California Press), and 'Hitchcock Lost & Found: The Forgotten Films' by Alain Kerzonciuf and Charles Barr (University Press of Kentucky). Clouds Hill Books, New York, inform us that they 'can offer an archive of scripts showing successive rewrites of Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945), from the early treatments drafted by Angus MacPhail to the revised drafts of the script written by Ben Hecht. Additional details are available upon request.' Email: <email@example.com>. Philip J. Skerry's 'Dark Energy: Hitchcock's Absolute Camera and the Physics of Cinematic Spacetime' (Bloomsbury, pb and other formats) is now out. By drawing on theories from physics and cosmology, and terms like 'spacetime' and 'black holes', Skerry links the genius of Hitchcock to that of Albert Einstein. Skerry's aim is to illuminate Hitchcock's 'pure cinema' and to verify its remarkable power. (Two of our physicist friends, Dr Nandor Bokor and Dr Ulrich Ruedel, both film buffs, call the book 'thoroughly enjoyable' and 'a most engrossing read'.) Also published in 2013 is Murray Pomerance's latest book on Hitchcock, 'Alfred Hitchcock's America' (Polity, pb). Referring insightfully to many of the director's films, Professor Pomerance's intention 'in this small book' (352pp) is, he writes, 'to raise new questions and considerations ... and see in [Hitchcock's] work an illumination of American form and life'. Scarecrow Press continue to publish useful books on Hitchcock. One recent example is Raymond Foery's 'Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy: The Last Masterpiece', 2012. Also, coming from them in 2014 is 'Hitchcock and Adaptation', edited by Mark Osteen, with contributions from Osteen, Thomas Leitch, Tony Williams, Ken Mogg, Heath A. Diehl, Nicholas Andrew Miller, Dennis R. Perry and Carl H. Sederholm, and others. Next, we should probably mention that publications on Hitchcock are appearing exclusively in the Kindle format these days. They won't necessarily be of the highest standard, but sites such as Amazon.com list them and so you may want to check them out. Our thanks to friend CP who - sight unseen - informs us of two titles by Brian Hannan ('Hitchcock's Hollywood Hell' and 'Darkness Visible: Hitchcock's Greatest Film') and two by Dale Andrew White ('Psycho Analysis: an interpretation of Alfred Hitchcock's cinematic masterpiece' and 'A Field Guide to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds'), currently available. Now here are titles previously listed here, starting with two books on Vertigo. One is 'The San Francisco of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo: Place, Pilgrimage, and Commemoration' (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, cloth and electronic editions), edited by Douglas A. Cunningham. It incorporates 'provocative essays that examine the uniquely integrated relationship [of Vertigo] with the histories and cultural imaginations of California and, more specifically, the San Francisco Bay Area'. The other book is a a paperback in the Routledge 'Philosophers on Film' series, called simply 'Vertigo' and edited by Katalin Makkai. The publisher claims: 'This is the first book to explore the philosophical aspects of Hitchcock's film.' Hitchcock's relationship to music in his films is examined in 'Hitchcock's Ear: Music and the Director's Art' (Continuum, hardcover and pb), by David Schroeder. 'The author focuses on the way that music has infiltrated Hitchcock's thinking as a director, from his earliest silent films to his last works.' Many of the chapter titles are intriguing (e.g., "The Lodger: A London Symphony", "The Piano: Instrument of Seduction", "Mozart vs Wagner: Order and Ambiguity"). The book 'Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design' (Yale UP, hardback) is said to be the first on this great American graphic artist and title designer, whose films for Hitchcock included Vertigo and North by Northwest. It is designed by his daughter Jennifer Bass and the text is by distinguished design historian Professor Pat(ricia) Kirkham. Over 1,400 illustrations, many from the Bass archive and not previously published, are included. Published in French by the C.G. Jung Institute is the intriguingly titled 'Hitchcock et l'ennui'/'Hitchcock and Boredom', by Aimé Agnel - which we trust will be translated into English before too long. In 'Hitchcock and the Cinema of Sensations' (hb, Palgrave Macmillan), Paul Elliott contends that to understand a film we rely as much on non-visual senses as we do on sight. His book looks at the trope of nausea in
Frenzy, pollution and smell in Shadow of a Doubt, the physical sound of the Psycho shower scene, and corporeality and closeness in Rear Window.
Susan Griffin and Alan Nadel (eds), 'The Men Who Knew Too Much: Henry
James and Alfred Hitchcock' (pb, OUP, USA), features a wide range of
approaches from leading scholars. It will interest both students
of James and students of Hitchcock. Now out is R. Barton Palmer
and David Boyd, 'Hitchcock at the Source: The Auteur as Adapter' (SUNY
Press), available in pb, hb, and electronic versions. Its chapters
include "Hitchcock and The Manxman: A Victorian Bestseller on the Silent Screen" by Mary Hammond, "Unrecognizable Origins: 'The Song of the Dragon' and Notorious" by Matthew H. Bernstein, "The Author of This Claptrap: Cornell Woolrich, Alfred Hitchcock, and Rear Window" by Pamela Robertson Wojcik, and "Woman as Death: Vertigo as
Source" by Barbara Creed. Steven Jacobs, 'Framing Pictures: Film
and the Visual Arts' (Edinburgh University Press) includes two chapters
that deal extensively with Hitchcock: "Galleries of the Gaze: Museums in
Rossellini's Viaggio in Italia and Hitchcock's Vertigo"
and "The Video That Knew Too Much: Hitchcock, Contemporary Art and
Post-Cinema". Lucy Bolton, 'Film and Female Consciousness:
Irigaray, Cinema and Thinking Women' (Macmillan), analyses three
contemporary films and compares them with three well-known and
influential films that offer more familiar treatments of female
subjectivity: Pakula's Klute (1971), Wilder's The Seven Year Itch (1955), and Hitchcock's Marnie (1964).
Among books on Psycho appearing in 2010 is 'Alfred Hitchcock: The Icon Years' (Aplomb Publishing, pb) by John William Law of San Francisco. Law also covers other Hitchcock films and projects, including the Audrey Hepburn vehicle, No Bail for the Judge. Dr Phil Skerry's 'Psycho in the Shower: The History of Cinema's Most Famous Scene' (re-worked from an earlier hardcover book) has been published in paperback by Continuum. Donald Spoto's newest Hitchcock-related book, he tells us, is 'High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly'. It's out in the UK from Random House and from Harmony Books in the US. It's 'based on all the taped interviews she gave me over the years of our friendship, which I've never used before. ... I loved Grace dearly - she was a good and generous friend - and it was about time someone celebrated her truthfully.' (See later in this list for mention of Dr Spoto's other recent Hitchcock-related book, on Hitchcock's actresses.) Thomas Leitch's 'Find the Director and Other Hitchcock Games', originally published in 1991, has been reissued by University of Georgia Press. Barbara Straumann has written 'Figurations of Exile in Hitchcock and Nabokov' for Edinburgh University Press. Now, two books about Hitchcock's relationships with his actresses. Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto has written 'Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies' - the UK edition and the US editions are slightly different, we understand. Meanwhile, John Hamilton's 'Hitchcock's Blonde' (Hemlock Books, UK) is said to deal with Hitchcock's relationship with Grace Kelly. Paul Gordon's 'Dial "M" for Mother: A Freudian Hitchcock' (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press) has been published. Don't confuse the title of Laurence Simmons's 'Everything You Wanted to Know About Slavoj Zizek (But Were Afraid to Ask Alfred Hitchcock)' (Routledge, 2007) with a similar title by Zizek himself of a few years ago. Laurence Simmons teaches at the University of Auckland. His book devotes successive chapters to key concepts used by Zizek, and each chapter is keyed to a particular Hitchcock film. Now out in Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy series is 'Hitchcock and Philosophy' (pb) edited by David Baggett and William A. Drumin. Richard Allen's remarkable 'Hitchcock's Romantic Irony' (Columbia University Press; hb and pb) has been published. The recent book 'Looking for Alfred: The Hitchcock Castings' (Hatje Cantz, 2007; hb) has contributions by Patricia Allmer, Thomas Elsaesser, Tom McCarthy, and Johan Grimonprez. Another book by Marc Raymond Strauss (whose 'Alfred Hitchcock's Silent Films' is reviewed below) is now out; it's called 'Hitchcock Nonetheless: The Master's Touch in His Least Celebrated Films' (McFarland). (Other books are in the works, and we'll print details as we receive them. Note: further information on several of the above books may be obtained from the publishers' websites.)
Reviews of other Hitchcock-related books, journals, and articles that we (or our guest-reviewers) have read lately ...
• [Tony Lee Moral's 'Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie' (Scarecrow Press, 2nd edition, 2013; 283 + 17pp, firm cover) is guest-reviewed here by Adrian Schober of Melbourne. A longer version of Dr Schober's review will shortly appear online on the 'Screening the Past' website of La Trobe University.]
In 'Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie', first published in 2002 and now revised with additional material, Tony Lee Moral attributes Alfred Hitchcock’s obsession with order and control both on and off set to his Jesuit upbringing. For better or for worse, this control was reflected in Hitchcock's preference for the film studio/soundstage over location shooting, a practice which was already widely considered outdated at the time and would arguably mar the director's late-1960s output. Particularly maligned by critics was the painted backdrop of the looming ship near Marnie’s mother’s house in Baltimore. Hitchcock, more concerned with the overall effect than with technical perfection, ignored appeals from his production crew for re-takes. And, while critic Robin Wood famously championed the ship backdrop as well as other 'artificial' devices such as obvious back-projection in the horse-riding sequences - which he explained in terms of the eponymous heroine’s 'unreality' - this line of interpretation was later met with scepticism by critics such as Donald Spoto. In 1966 Peter Bogdanovich asked Hitchcock whether he intended the back-projection effect in the riding sequences, and Hitchcock replied, 'I think it's a very good idea' (236), eliciting laughter from both men. Hitchcock did admit to Bogdanovich that the ship backdrop 'wasn’t well done' (235). However, beyond these over-determined explanations where one wishes that Moral had taken a stronger editorial stand instead of confusing both himself and his readers, he ultimately agrees with Wood that Marnie's departures from reality were not accidental but integral to the director's overall vision, a vision influenced by his apprenticeship in German Expressionist cinema. Moral thus dismisses Spoto's claims that Hitchcock neglected the final product after his falling out with ingénue Tippi Hedren, since the 'technical blunders' (158) Spoto alleges or, rather, self-conscious expressionistic elements, 'were inherent in the overall design of the film and detailed during preproduction' (158). In making a case for Marnie as one of Hitchcock's most personal films, Moral adheres to a somewhat predictable films-as-autobiography understanding of auteur theory. There is an almost triumphant 'aha' moment from Moral when he declares that 'Hitchcock was Marnie' (253). Afterwards, he connects Marnie’s fear of being caught by the police with an incident which Hitchcock liked to tell about his father having him locked in a jail cell as a little boy, in order to teach him a 'lesson': 'This was long before the days of identified child abuse, and Hitchcock himself told the story to explain his lifelong fear of police. Certainly that trauma could have been more far-reaching and may have been in the director's mind when he made Marnie. With this film Hitchcock was on a quest for his own identity' (253-54). Certainly the incident is suggestive, but more work needs to be done to highlight both ruptures and continuities in that autobiographical vision. In other words, Moral's application of auteur theory is simplistic. One cannot deny that his book's additional material does advance our understanding of Marnie's writing, production and reception, but it is a pity that Moral didn't make more of an effort to merge this material with the text from the original edition. As it stands, there is much overlap in the new chapters (most distractingly, repeated quotes). Further, a chapter on Hitchcock’s obsession with filming J.M. Barrie's play 'Mary Rose' seems like a lengthy digression in a book on the making of Marnie. The idea that Hitchcock's Universal contract stipulated that he could make any film for under $3 million provided it wasn't 'Mary Rose' was probably not true, but over the years the unrealized project has attained an almost tragic status: as the film he dearly wanted to make but couldn't. At the beginning of the chapter, Moral asks, appositely, 'how is Mary Rose connected to Hitchcock’s masterpieces Vertigo and Marnie, two of his most intensely personal films?' (197). But, apart from offering historical and biographical data and a couple of passing statements about 'longing, regret, and yearning' (197), he doesn’t really answer his own question. Reprehensibly, he fails to analyse Jay Presson Allen’s drafts of the screenplay, surely a valuable resource apropos Hitchcock's approach to filming Barrie's play. Perhaps the highest compliment one can pay Moral's book is that one comes away with a greater appreciation for a previously marginalised film in the Hitchcock canon. Despite drawbacks in the selection and organisation of material, Moral's 'newly obtained access' to the Hitchcock Archives at the Margaret Herrick Library, Los Angeles, coupled with his interviews with actors, writers and crew, make this a valuable treatise on the making of Marnie. But for those seeking greater academic rigour, Moral will disappoint because of his seeming reluctance to bring the archival material and oral history to bear on the film itself, i.e., the film as text. Purely as film history Moral's book succeeds, but given the riches that he had to work with, it could have been much more: an illuminating work of both history and criticism. AS
• Reading 'Hitchcock's Villains: Murderers, Maniacs, and Mother Issues' (Scarecrow Press, 2013; 185pp, hardback and eBook formats), I was in two minds - and still am! Not because it's written by two authors - Eric San Juan and Jim McDevitt, who also co-wrote 'A Year of Hitchcock' (2011) - nor because it deals with how Hitchcock's films are 'obsessed with the duality of man' (p. 5) - a truism that is central to any study of Hitchcock's nominal villains and nominal heroes - but because I can't decide how good or how bad the book is! Certainly I found parts of it simplistic (it is part-aimed at Hitchcock beginners, clearly) and not particularly sophisticated (despite its quoting specialists on topics like how serial-killers may have had 'difficult' mothers). Typical is the authors' answer to their own question, 'Why does [Mrs Danvers in Rebecca] do ... nasty things?' Answer: 'like many Hitchcock villains, she's selfish'. (p. 156) Well, yes, and thank you, gentlemen, for that tautology! On the other hand, the authors survey nearly the whole corpus of Hitchcock's films (with a few exceptions, like The Trouble With Harry - whose Sheriff Calvin Wiggs cries out for treatment in this context), and they manage to say some palpably true things, such as: 'Perhaps rivalled only by greed and lust, revenge is arguably the dominant motivation for villainy in the world, and especially in literature.' (p. 91) But even then, the authors' level of insight is shallow, hardly going beyond enumeration. Example: 'Tony seeks revenge on Margot for her cheating ways in Dial M for Murder. The titular characters in Mr and Mrs Smith strive for petty revenge against each other over a marital misunderstanding ...' And when the authors attempt to apply their observation to the film immediately under discussion - Strangers on a Train - the tendency to cliché and name-calling returns. We're told that 'Bruno's desire for revenge ... is the fit of a spoiled child.' (p. 92) Eventually they elaborate: Bruno 'was a man outside of society. An adolescent in a man's body. A broken human.' (p. 93) That's better, definitely. It begins to catch something of Hitchcock's objective 'poetry'. But I never felt that anything like the full measure of Hitchcock's vision was given. In particular, the authors seem baffled by his detachment, his very English sense of what is humorous, and, above all, his insight concerning the inherent perversity of human nature - which invites a cultivated perversity of the artist himself. More than once, I wanted to refer the authors to that master of paradox, G.K. Chesterton, whose maverick judge, at the end of 'The Club of Queer Trades' (1905), tells the reader in a truly Hitchcockian voice: 'People were tried before me not for the practical trifles for which nobody cares, such as committing a murder, or keeping a dog without a licence. My criminals were tried for the faults which really make social life impossible.' (The judge lists some of those faults: selfishness, vanity, scandal-mongering, stinginess to one's guests.) Note that Chesterton is addressing two facts simultaneously: first, the fact, or actuality, of his audience - flawed, but aspiring to its own self-betterment (like the author himself, undoubtedly) - and, second, the fact that flaws, or worse, will occur, no matter how we seek to eradicate them (or deny them). No wonder that Chesterton's tale concludes like this: 'We had only a confused sense of everything having been put right, the sense men will have when they come into the presence of God.' With such a voice, Chesterton avoids hypocrisy and makes a humorous - yet compassionate - acknowledgement of human nature. (Remember, that Chesterton was also the creator of the Father Brown stories.) The authors of 'Hitchcock's Villains', on the other hand, often sound inadvertently self-righteous: at one point, their discussion of Shadow of a Doubt resembles a civics lesson! Also, they miss entirely - in my view - the Symbolist dimension that Hitchcock gave his films: meaning, those films' true statements about how the world goes. Nowhere is this better seen than in the authors' proud claim that Scottie in Vertigo 'becomes an object of loathing' (see p. viii). In describing him as a protagonist who turns into an antagonist, they ignore his 'Everyman' representativeness. We are all fallible, and Scottie's desire to overcome his vertigo is most human of him - as is his resort to a 'reculer pour mieux sauter' (retreat and return) strategy that tragically becomes an obsession, hurting others even more than it hurts him. Meanwhile, it carries the audience along too - but not blindly. Also, Hitchcock plays on our ambivalence in another way when we hardly worry that Judy is an accessory to murder (certainly Messrs San Juan and McDevitt never mention it). But that's hardly reprehensible on our part. Such transvaluation of values brings us closer to the needful generosity of Chesterton, which I believe is what Hitchcock intended. KM
• Tony Lee Moral's 'The Making of Hitchcock's The Birds' (kamerabooks.com, 2013, 223pp, pb) is workmanlike and self-effacing, putting few barriers in the way of a reader seeking information about the production-history and marketing of Hitchcock's 1963 film of Daphne du Maurier's short story, set in Cornwall. The main characters, though, were not found in the short story, but were originals worked out by Hitchcock and screenwriter Evan Hunter. First, both men 'had no doubt in their minds that the lead character should be female, because they firmly believed that women fear birds psychologically more than men do. And it seemed to Evan that a society woman would be a good fit.' (p. 39) '[Further,] a lawyer is the very notion of solidity and stolidity, so it seemed that a lawyer would be a good type also.' (p. 40) Welcome to Mr Hitchcock's film, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor)! Mind you, Hitchcock had already discussed with his art director, Robert Boyle, a broader resonance of birds as subject-matter. The pair discussed 'how birds were such an important part of human history and human mythology, constantly in man's conscious or subconscious, as Freud had mentioned.' (p. 71) In keeping with his minimal-barriers approach, Moral doesn't actually comment on this. Likewise, when he quotes Hitchcock as saying that Cary Grant should have been the lead actor - but was too expensive ('Why should I give Cary 50 per cent of the movie?', p. 39) - this has always struck me as just 'publicity' on Hitchcock's part. To me, casting Grant as Mitch Brenner sounds absurd (but maybe not to Moral?). Apart from the fact that the actor was now nearly 60, he was surely not the right 'type'. I'm reminded of an anecdote that Hitchcock told 'Movie' journal (UK). Thinking of making Flamingo Feather, he had run the old MGM film Trader Horn (1931), filmed on location in Africa. But when, in a general store, in the remotest part of the continent, suddenly C. Aubrey Smith popped up, Hitchcock said that the film lost all credibility for him right there. (Btw, other actors briefly considered for the Rod Taylor role in The Birds included James Garner, Jack Kelly, Stephen Boyd, and John Gabriel - p. 65.) It is Moral's 'silence' that does seem to me both a strength and a drawback of his book. Mentioning that in the 1930s Hitchcock had thought briefly about filming H.G. Wells's 'The War of the Worlds' (p.26), he neglects to mention that, just before making The Birds, Hitchcock had seriously considered Wells's 'Food of the Gods' as his next project (and indeed may have got ideas for The Birds from it). Or when, a couple of times, Evan Hunter is quoted making disparaging comments about eminent British man-of-letters, Sir V.S. Pritchett, whom Hitchcock called in to suggest modifications to the script (without telling Hunter), Moral doesn't try to balance things up (simply describing Pritchett as 'a short-story writer who was a book-review editor for the New Statesman' - p. 52). Or again, Moral gives two near-identical anecdotes (p. 74, p. 94) about how Hitchcock had to tell production artist Harold Michelson and matte artist Al Whitlock that certain illustrations they submitted, while excellent, were too dramatic for the early stage in the film where they were to be used. Moral never mentions how, in Hitchcock's office during the film's production, he kept an elaborate story chart showing exactly the degree of intensity that every stage and scene of the film required - incidentally, much as Joseph von Sternberg, another meticulous director, had done during the shooting of his (seemingly forgotten) masterpiece The Saga of Anatahan (1953). On the other hand, Moral does twice (p. 117, p. 146) break his seeming 'rule of silence' to record his opinion that a reason Hitchcock may not have wanted a large-scale or 'apocalyptic' ending to The Birds was that the director had typically favoured 'isolated' settings (e.g., Manderley in Rebecca or Minyago Yugilla in Under Capricorn - p. 86) and may have been reminded of this fact by local farmers telling him that birds had recently attacked their lambs, but only in 'isolated' instances. (I don't feel that this argument carries the weight that Moral thinks it does.) There are even occasional disparities in figures that Moral quotes: did the film use in the middle-distance 50 ducks (p. 104) or 500 ducks (p. 147)?! Okay, the important thing is that Moral's book covers a huge amount of ground, and does it well. I was grateful for his elaborate research on just why the scheduled MOMA premiere of The Birds in New York was cancelled at the last minute (for one thing, museum curator Richard Griffith, noted for writing a supplementary chapter updating Paul Rotha's reference book 'The Film Till Now', was evidently no huge admirer of Hitchcock; and although they spoke cordially to each other a few days before the scheduled screening - Hitchcock even recalling that Rotha's mistress had been jailed for attacking him with a knife - Griffith eventually cancelled the screening: see pp. 188-96). Moral's book nicely complements his earlier book on the making of Marnie, and it's good news that the latter book will soon be re-appearing in a new edition. KM
• Walter Raubicheck and Walter Srebnick (eds), 'Scripting Hitchcock: Psycho, The Birds, and Marnie' (pb, University of Illinois Press) is written with grace and sense. It's an extensive examination of the films, comparing their screenplays with the original works and drawing on interviews with the three screenwriters: Joseph Stefano, Evan Hunter, and Jay Presson Allen. I read the book with enjoyment and interest, my respect having been captured by its opening chapter ("The Triptych and the Screenplays") which sets the films in the period, noting how 'Hitchcock always strongly desired to connect the plots of his films to the contemporary culture' (p. 16). In particular, the developing 'therapeutic' culture of the late 1950s and early 1960s is pertinently described, a distinction being made between its new innovations and the more traditional 'know thyself' Freudian therapy. Abraham Maslow's concept of self-actualisation would crystalise 'the idea that finding positive role models, pursuing personal creativity, accepting responsibility for one's actions, and forming strong, healthy sexual relationships are just as important to personal psychic healing as the self-knowledge that comes from the classical analytic process' (pp. 18-19). In various ways, Marion and Sam in Psycho, Melanie and Mitch in The Birds, and Marnie and Mark in Marnie are protagonists attempting to realise or come to terms with the new ideas. Marnie is obviously a difficult 'case' but Mark is there to help out: the book suggests that he and the ruling elite to which he belongs are historically emblematic of the values of the young President Kennedy (p. 23). (Author Robert Schoen reminded me recently that shooting of Marnie was moved back a week at the time of Kennedy's assassination, 'so the whole production [you could say] was marked by this tragic historical event'. Incidentally, I'll discuss Robert's ideas about the Kennedy connection in "Editor's Week" soon.) Significantly, we're told that Evan Hunter interviewed psychiatrists about the character of Melanie in The Birds (p. 15). As for Psycho, the film is both linear and non-linear, almost as if the classic longitudinal way of thinking (cf a Freudian case history) is brought up against the new non-linear (latitudinal) concept of the need for self-actualisation - to tragic effect, for neither Marion nor Norman nor anyone else whom we meet (with the possible exception of the robust, church-going sheriff) seems to exemplify what Maslow spoke of. Actually, that idea of mine about Psycho could be related to the authors' description of Hitchcock's narrative paradigm as it evolved in his US films: 'integration of the tension and suspense of the mystery or [cross-country] adventure with the exploration of character and building of relationships that occur simultaneously' (p. 10). In other words, the film itself acts as therapy, putting the viewer, like Humpty-Dumpty, back together, i.e., back in touch with the fullness of life, with what self-actualisation feels like. What is missing in the characters' lives (even the small-town sheriff's) is rounded-out by the richness and excitement of the narrative itself. Like Goethe ('the mass is moved only by masses'), Hitchcock sought to narrate a hefty, up-to-the-minute plot and provide 'something for everyone'. In an interesting comment on Mark in Marnie, the authors note how he 'possesses the understanding, protective, and curatative [sic] qualities to appeal to contemporary liberals and the almost instinctive take-charge authority to impress conservatives' (p. 23). Yet they imply a criticism of the film when they note that the recent findings of Masters and Johnson that more American women than previously thought were sexually active, and very few of them frigid like Marnie, was a reason why contemporary reviewers found the film less than innovative (p. 23). Here I think the authors' logic is questionable. (What makes a film or other art-work truly innovative is less its statistical representativeness than the depth of insight it achieves!) I was never quite sure that the authors fully plumbed the film Marnie. For example, when the young Marnie kills the sailor in Allen's screenplay, they comment that this 'is not conducive to exemplifying Freudian theory but certainly throws the spotlight on the power of violent survival instincts in Marnie' (p. 110) - a strange and unfeeling remark with no mention of how Marnie innocently misunderstands what she sees (as a child viewing the primal scene may misunderstand the parents' lovemaking to be violence) nor how, later, in flashback, the adult Marnie, and the film audience, can at last see her innocence for what it was (which feels like being absolved of nothing less than Original Sin). But there are many instructive observations in these pages. The style of Marnie's first-person narration in the novel is accurately likened to that of the Angry Young Man novels and plays then appearing, for Marnie, too, 'is a working-class character who indulges in some social climbing' (p. 52). And did you know that the 'private island' reference in Psycho was originally more elaborate, in the script being introduced by Sam in the opening scene? But, revealed Joseph Stefano, it was one of the lines that John Gavin couldn't say effectively, so it was cut (p. 59). All in all, this is an engrossing read for admirers of Hitchcock's filmmaking and of these three great films in particular. KM
• Bill Krohn's 'Masters of Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock' (pb, Revised English Edition, Cahiers du cinéma Sarl, 2010) is a slim, informative survey of Hitchcock's career and films, originally published in French. (Don't confuse it with Krohn's remarkable 'Hitchcock at Work', which appeared a decade ago.) If you're looking for a quick appreciation of what Hitchcock achieved and how his filmmaking evolved, this will do nicely. Krohn admires the criticism of the late Jean Douchet, so, apropos Rear Window (1954), he is happy to follow him in suggesting that Hitchcock was a Gnostic: 'the Genesis of Hitchcock's cosmos occurs simultaneously with the Fall'. (p. 61) In other words, Hitchcock portrays a fundamentally flawed world. Likewise, Krohn quotes Douchet in support of the idea that '[e]very great filmmmaker who enjoys a long career will eventually theorize what he has been doing intuitively ...'. Thus the second The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) is superior to the 1934 version because, as Hitchcock himself said, he had 'learned to think of the audience'. Krohn lets Douchet explain: 'We [now] begin with the spectator, who has the motivations. We project them onto figures, props, relays that we'll call characters ... These characters are products of the collective mentality ... the filmmmaker has turned over the mise en scène' to the spectator. (p. 65) A running motif of Krohn's book is the influence on Hitchcock of a 'Good Father' (Cecil B. DeMille, who was idolised by Hitchcock in the silent days) and a 'Bad Father' (Fritz Lang, from whose films Hitchcock borrowed often, though apparently he was reluctant to acknowledge Lang personally). Practically every page of the book contains some 'insider' snippet of information that Hitchcock scholars and fans alike will be grateful for. Until I read it, for example, I didn't know that the reason regular Hitchcock cinematographer Robert Burks 'doesn't come back for Torn Curtain  [is that] Hitchcock wants to shoot more scenes than ever using back projection'. (p. 95) Unfortunately, there are signs that the book was prepared in haste, with some wrong captions and other slips (e.g., in Note 17 William Rothman's 'Hitchcock:The Murderous Gaze' is attributed to David Bordwell).
• The 2010 'Hitchcock Annual' is available from Columbia University Press (details below). The tone of the essays is generally, of course, cautious-academic: some of them deliver the goods after a slow build-up (e.g., Michael Walker's), others offer intermittent insights (e.g., David Sterritt's beautifully written piece) - but none this time absolutely hits the mark. (Even a newly-rediscovered 1928 piece by Hitchcock himself, called "An Autocrat of the Film Studio", has mainly curiosity-value: English films, maintains Hitchcock, lack 'the incentive theme' to take its young-couple protagonists out of themselves, and audiences with them.) Walker has always been a solid critic - he wrote the indispensable if occasionally laboured book 'Hitchcock's Motifs' - but I felt his 'Annual' piece over-emphasises old-fashioned concepts like 'super-ego figures'; also, he infers too much from the fact that Roddy (Ivor Novello) in Downhill is seen performing in a dance-line where his 'bobbing at the back of the crowd ... looks silly' (p. 39). As Walker's principal argument is that the stage in Hitchcock 'is female space, and men venture there at their peril' (p. 52), his case is weakened by how the same observation made about Roddy could be made of Charlotte (Marlene Dietrich) in Stage Fright where a view from the wings during her "Laziest Gal in Town" number shows her cavorting on a couch in a manner that looks positively grotesque, i.e., 'silly'. As for Sterritt's learned piece arguing that Hitchcock was 'a lay atheodicist' (p. 104) - someone not convinced that God is just - I did feel he missed an important point, as when he claims of Psycho that 'there is not a trace of spiritual optimism in its blood-soaked black-and-white frames' (p. 112). (Cf Robin Wood, who once claimed in 'Film Comment' that 'there can be no Heaven [in Hitchcock] corresponding to Hitchcock's Hell'.) This is surely blind to the creative power of Hitchcock, who - an agent of God - always sought to give the spectator 'more life'. I think Sterritt might better have made his point about, say, William Castle's interesting but relatively minor Psycho rip-off, Homicidal (1962), which I watched recently. (Of course, the optic Sterritt uses may be simply irrelevant anyway!) To my mind, his essay spends too much time citing St Augustine and never once mentions St Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), whom Pope Leo XIII declared in 1879 to be the 'official' Catholic philosopher. It was Aquinas who argued that 'man participates in being, or the act of existing, to the extent that his humanity, or essence, permits' (reported in 'Encyclopaedia Britannica'). In endeavouring to give the spectator 'more life', Hitchcock caters to every spectator according to his/her capacity, and we should be duly grateful. I have argued elsewhere that Hitchcock is both a pessimist and - à la G.K. Chesterton - an anti-pessimist ... Perhaps the most enjoyable read in this issue of the 'Hitchcock Annual' is James M. Vest's compilation "Reflections on the Making of To Catch a Thief": for example, script-girl Sylvette Baudrot's striking reminiscence of Hitchcock on location. It appears that when he wasn't sitting with hands crossed over his belly, the director might stand up and walk around, 'stiff as a post, stretching to full height with his arms dancing about' (p. 60). For all orders of the 'Hitchcock Annual', including back issues, contact Columbia University Press, 61 West 62nd Street, New York, NY 10023: http://cup.columbia.edu/search?q=Hitchcock+annual&go.x=21&go.y=9. KM
• [David Thomson’s 'The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder' (Basic Books, 2009) is here reviewed by Hitchcock author and film enthusiast, Gary Giblin.]
The dust jacket for this book proclaims that David Thomson 'is, without doubt, the greatest living film historian' and that '[w]hat [he] does not know or feel about films is not worth knowing or feeling'. Heady praise, indeed. Yet I, for one, walked away from this slim volume feeling that Thomson offered little that was new or particularly insightful.
After some brief comments on the 1960s and a resumé of Hitchcock’s life and career, Thomson proceeds to a plot synopsis which occupies 70 of the book’s 167 pages (minus acknowledgments and index). Along the way, he makes a number of apt observations, such as: 'No country lives as blithely or as uneasily with the opposed ideals of orgy and restriction as America' (p. 55). Filmakers from De Mille to Hitchcock to Lynch have explored (and exploited) this tension, but Thomson hardly begins to discuss it (apropos, say, Psycho's shower scene). Against this, I was troubled by his perhaps excessive ruminations on the film's shots of near-nudity. I found Thomson's tone sexist if not downright misogynist. He several times likens Marion to a whore or a hooker, based in one instance on nothing more than that she 'knows' what Cassidy means when he says he never carries more money than he can afford to lose. The air of sexism is reinforced by references to how audiences want to see Marion naked, or just plain want her. Thomson himself ventures that Marion would be a 'good 36 D-cup'. Obviously this does convey an aspect of the film, but I can't forget that Hitchcock designed his films for audiences of both sexes and many different levels of sophistication. From reading Thomson, you would think that the fine actress Janet Leigh was cast just to satisfy the lusts of men.
Which brings me to Lila (Vera Miles), Marion's sister. In disparaging the film's second half as 'fabricated and spurious' (p. 61), Thomson can scarcely see anything in it worth commending, not even its shrewd judgement of narrative dynamics, which is, after all, what most thrillers largely consist of. I will single out Lila's role as a prototypical 'final girl' (to use Carol Clover's terminology). Hitchcock had always seen fit to give his female protagonists a good share of the action, but here, in 1960, he seems to have gone further. Thomson notes that Marion's boyfriend Sam 'remains a cold, rather unpleasant man' (p. 76), rather dull and incapable. What Thomson doesn't note is the subtle contrast with Lila. True, Sam finally saves Lila from Norman/Mother, but in the meantime Lila has been the one who takes charge, who investigates the old dark house, who begins to put the pieces together, and who makes the ultimate discovery.
Thomson proceeds to offer a brief list of some of the legatees of Psycho, including
which he uncharitably dismisses as a 'glaringly archaic' film whose
director is not so much a great artist as a 'stranded engineer' (p
125). Some of us might disagree. We would argue that Frenzy is
not archaic, but only seemingly so. In harkening back to a London
then rapidly receding from the scene, it points out all the more
brutally how the old values of comradeship and loyalty (vide Arthur La
Bern's novel) have for the time being yielded to a new currency of
cynicism and selfishness. Its iconic killings may be 'ugly and
brutalizing' (p. 125), but Frenzy in hindsight deserves better than Thomson’s cavalier dismissal. Has he actually viewed it lately?
I will note one gross misstatement. On p 149, Thomson claims that there are 'no black characters in [Hitchcock’s] films'. By saying this, he wants to suggest that the director ignored his times, specifically the turbulent 1960s, but in fact there are black performers - outstanding ones - in Hitchcock films, notably Canada Lee in Lifeboat and Roscoe Lee Browne in Topaz. Why, I wonder, is Hitchcock singled out for this imputation of racism? If one wanted to point out the obvious, one might equally, or rather more than that, cite the 'failure' of Ford, Hawks, Welles, Wilder and many other studio-era directors to provide significant roles for African Americans.
Personally, I felt that Thomson's most serious failing was this: nowhere did the book actually explain how Hitchcock 'taught America to love murder'. There are some musings on the humor and artifice employed in Psycho to keep audiences from taking it all too seriously, and about how cinematic 'sadism and slaughter … are now taken for granted' (p 67), but that’s about it. Indeed, the very premise of the book seems skewed. Moviegoers surely loved murder and melodrama long before Psycho. (They certainly did in Hitchcock's homeland where murder had been a staple of popular fiction and the stage since the 18th century.) What Thomson might have said, if he wished to focus on this aspect of the film, is that Psycho engendered an interest in the process of killing onscreen - vide the 'slasher' and new-style 'horror' films to come. In Hitchcock's case, though, that process might feel connected with the very essence of existence (Ken Mogg rightly invokes in this context Hitchcock's Symbolism and the cosmic Will of Schopenhauer). Such a process was what Hitchcock notably revisited in both Torn Curtain and Frenzy.
So, instead of a detailed examination of Psycho and its impact on cinema and culture, Thomson offers an inchoate collection of thoughts and observations, plus a loose delineation of what he sees as Hitchcock’s weaknesses as a filmmaker and ethicist. I read without conviction. GG
• [The following review of Steven Jacobs's 'The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock' (010 Publishers, Rotterdam; pb) is guest-written by Professor Tony Williams.]
The early interest of Alfred Hitchcock in set design, as well as his continuing expertise in this area throughout his life, have been known for some time by critics and enthusiasts. This recent book by art historian Steven Jacobs, who has published widely on the photographic and cinematic representations of architecture, cities, and landscapes, is a welcome addition to several works that have appeared lately dealing with this subject. Comprising 342 pages with many photos, blueprints for set design, thorough bibliography, and an appendix listing the names and achievements of the many art directors who worked with Hitchcock, this book promises to be an essential reference work for those interested in this aspect of the director’s work. Following an interesting introduction, it comprises five main sections: Space Fright; The Tourist Who Knew Too Much; Selected Works: Hitchcock’s Domestic Architecture; Country Houses and Mansions; and Modern Hide-0uts and Look-Outs, all containing fascinating information about the sets employed in many key silent and sound films. Jacobs makes a convincing case for Hitchcock as both auteur and architect working in collaboration with many different set designers to utilize the role of space and design as important components within his own distinctive cinema.
Several sections of this book open with simulated blueprints of the original set designs employed within each film, these accompanied by still sequences illustrating the very carefully thought-out mise-en-scene element. In this light, rather than expressionism, the Kammerspielfilm (filmed chamber plays), which also developed in German film culture of the 1920s, proved influential for Hitchcock’s entire career. (16-17) Like John Orr, Jacobs notes the particular organization of the Wendice apartment in Dial M for Murder (1954), seeing it as the most underrated of the Kammerspielfilms. (108) The director ‘often makes a special effort to give the audience the geography of the room, to orient them’ (25-26), but his mode of direction in several productions employs aspects of the uncanny such as the fetish object and the uncanny elements of the Gothic. At the same time, he is familiar with the suspense of urban modernity seen in Ruttmann’s Berlin (1927) and Vertov’s The Man with the Movie Camera (1929), as shown by his rhythmic depictions of street scenes in various films. While the Gothic interior of the Bates house and the nearby modern motel depict a type of ‘schizoid architecture’ in Psycho (1960) , the meticulously researched and designed Manderley of Rebecca (1941) is a perverse ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’ of a dark and dystopic environment enclosing both masters and servants. By contrast, the Keene house of The Paradine Case (1947) may appear ‘warm, cozy, and protective.’ But it also turns into a place of confinement paralleling Mrs. Paradine’s prison. ‘This is developed through the extensive use of imprisonment motifs within the mise-en-scene of the Keane home – most notably, the prominent bedroom ceiling, the prison-like bars of a door window, and the shadows of the banisters creating an enveloping cage effect.’ (246) The virtue of Jacobs’s architectural study is that it supports Hitchcock’s own idea of pure cinema where the visual elements are supreme and setting is a key element within this creative process. The ‘Tropical Classicism’ behind the creation of Minyagu Yugilla in Under Capricorn (1949) reveals a construction involving the employment of different architectural styles that complement the camera’s investigation of a sinister domestic space. Set design also plays a significant role in Strangers on a Train (1951) which Jacobs sees as a Gothic noir culminating in the Oedipal bedroom scene in the Anthony house between two symbiotic characters. Both Rear Window (1954) and North by Northwest (1959) receive extensive treatment, the first for its meticulous set design articulating the ‘architecture of the gaze’, while the second’s depiction of the Vandamn house as the ‘machine in the garden’ reveals both the role of contemporary architectural design and more immediate sinister associations. Created by MGM’s set designers, this house represents a ‘cinematic exaggeration of Wright’s architecture’ (311) as well as illustrating ‘how postwar modernism was commodified and how it became an inseparable part of the modern American way of life’. (312) Although connected to the sinister character of its owner, it is also a seductive example of postwar consumer culture.
The Wrong House is excellent. If we have now gone much further from asking why we should take Hitchcock seriously in the way Robin Wood originally framed the question more than forty years ago, there are still many avenues awaiting exploration to show the nature of the cinematic genius in this director’s work. The contrasts Jacobs sees between the Edgar House and the elegant Rutland mansion in Marnie are significant answers to oft-repeated criticisms of the supposed artificiality of this late film. He sees many parallels to the postwar European modernist art cinema of the period that Hitchcock was aware of and deliberately incorporated into a film that set designer Robert Boyle describes as ‘trying to get at something you couldn’t see’ (160), a film where architecture was extremely important. Jacobs’s book should help us see with new perceptions and understandings. TW
• I shan't attempt to summarise Yves Lavandier's huge (596 pp) 'Writing Drama: a comprehensive guide for playwrights and scriptwriters' (Le Clown & l'Enfant, France). (This is the 2005 English translation by Bernard Besserglik of the Third Edition. The book was originally published in 1994 as 'La Dramaturgie'.) Nor shall I list all of its principal sources, starting with Edward Mabley's 'Dramatic Construction' (1972), which Lavandier read when he was studying at the Columbia University film school, New York, in the 1980s. Sufficient to say that another influence was François Truffaut's famous interview book 'Hitchcock' (1966), and that references to Hitchcock films (including a structural analysis of North by Northwest) are frequent in Lavandier's text. Basically, what he does is cite examples from countless plays and films (and comic books) to suggest how a writer or dramatist may best construct a narrative that entertains its audience while aspiring to convey perennial human truths. Here are two or three key passages. (1) 'Some experiences have changed, true enough, so have some of the obstacles to the way we seek to achieve our goals, but the basic facts of life, the way these experiences impact on our inner selves, are no different now from what they have always been.' (p. 7) (2) 'I propose ... to demonstrate that there is only one model of dramatic narration (sometimes called the classic, or Aristotelian, model) and that every work that seeks to tell a story is a variation, worked out with greater or lesser success, of this model.' (p. 29) (3) 'As Alexandre Dumas Fils said, "A writer of drama with Honoré de Balzac's understanding of mankind and Eugène Scribe's knowledge of the theatre would be the greatest writer of all time."' (p. 236) Eugène Scribe (1791-1861) plus Victorien Sardou (1831-1908) were of course the two leading exponents of the so-called 'well-made play' - which Lavandier notes was actually often full of crude devices (e.g., mistaken identities and misunderstandings) and fortuitous surprises, and accordingly 'most of the classic works of drama are better made than they are' (p. 547). Nonetheless, he reminds us that later playwrights (including such masters as Ibsen and Oscar Wilde) often adapted the well-made play to their own purposes, while several European screenwriters and all Hollywood screenwriters made use of the basic form. Which brings us to two of Lavandier's favourite filmmakers, Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock. The splendid chapter on "Dramatic Irony" quotes Wilder thus: 'The spectator is smarter than the film's hero because the film has let him into its secrets. He derives pleasure from this superiority. But he's not as smart as the filmmaker who is always one step ahead, always with a surprise up his sleeve.' (p. 263) That's obviously true for films like Wilder's The Apartment and Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. Something that intrigued me was that it may even apply to a basically non-fiction film like Hitchcock's The Wrong Man. Let me explain. Lavandier's chapter does mention the latter film, in a section on "Wrongful accusations", but only by way of pointing out that stories of wrongfully accused persons suffer from a dramatic handicap - the spectator is tempted to simply 'wait patiently for the [so-called] obligatory scene to resolve the situation'. (p. 280) But near the end of his book, in discussing the spectator's need for meaning, Lavandier offers another of his down-to-earth insights: 'spectators enjoy a sense of causality in drama because they need to feel that there is meaning, linkage and order in the world'. (p. 530) Here he cites one of his favourite authorities, Paul Watzlawick, who in 'How Real is Real?' (1976) reminded readers that an ordering principle 'is embedded in the deepest layers of our perceptions' neurophysiology'. I see this as directly relevant to The Wrong Man. As I recently indicated on this website (in "Editor's Week"), the character Manny Balestrero in The Wrong Man simply can't grasp the time-space-causality nexus that might make sense of the bewildering events that have befallen him - so, admirably enough, he falls back on his religious faith. Hitchcock, though, comes close in this film to playing God. I mean that almost literally. (Lavandier admires American filmmakers for their capacity to exercise the Free Child in themselves, which includes a capacity for sophisticated playfulness.) Hitchcock actually manipulates the nature of cinema to use time, space, and causality to give us a sense of being 'smarter' than Manny, if only because we identify ourselves with Hitchcock's camera and microphone. For example (re spatial manipulation), in the opening scene a distant figure addresses us ('This is Alfred Hitchcock speaking') but the voice sounds close at hand, confiding. Already we are being given a privileged, 'insider' viewpoint. The effect is aesthetically pleasurable,. Moreover, under Hitchcock's direction, we may allow ourselves to experience a sense of incipient meaning (as also in the first half of Vertigo). And perhaps, as in Vertigo, we really do then glimpse what the philosophers mean when they say that beyond our inbuilt time-space-causality mode of perception lies ... 'reality'. The fact that Hitchcock still has a surprise of sorts up his sleeve at the end (hear that 'stinger chord' of Bernard Herrmann's!) is a salutary reminder that of course we don't yet have all the answers! Now back to Lavandier's book. In its own way, it is excellent. Although Lavandier and I have fundamentally different outlooks - for one thing he's an Aristotelian while I'm a Platonist! - and I sometimes found myself irritated with his seeming incapacity to 'read' a film as opposed to chop it into its structural components, we agree on many things, not least on how the cinema is (largely) about story-telling, and is often legitimately concerned more with rhetoric and entertainment than with abstract thought. True, I knew I was going to find myself at odds with the author at times when I checked his book's Bibliography and found no reference there to one of the great books on the theatre of ideas, namely, Eric Bentley's 'The Life of the Drama' (1964). Ditto, when I saw his text's many references to Peter Shaffer's 'Amadeus' (and Milos Foreman's excellent film version) but not one entry on Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece Barry Lyndon (which greatly excels even 'Amadeus'/Amadeus, in my opinion!). And ditto once more, when I read his praise of Stefan Sharff's books on Hitchcock, which I have found largely banal! But I have gleaned much useful information from Lavandier's book. Gentle reader, by all means seek it out. (Meanwhile, I'll have more to say about it in coming entries for "Editor's Week".) KM
• All power to the team at Northwestern University's Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art who have produced the splendid catalogue called 'Casting a Shadow: Creating the Alfred Hitchcock Film' (edited by Will Schmenner and Corinne Granof; 155pp; pb). Its parent exhibition travels this month to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, California, and will open from January 18 to April 20. Our Californian readers should not miss it. For the rest of us, though, the catalogue itself has reproduced about a third of the objects in the exhibition - drawings, sketches, storyboards, and documentation from archives in England and the United States - and contains stimulating introductory material as well as essays. The latter include Scott Curtis on "Images in Hitchcock's Working Method", Tom Gunning on "Paintings in Hitchcock", and Jan Olsson - punning prolifically - on "Hitchcock à la carte" (described as an 'irreverent' look at 'the intersection of the televisual and culinary realms in marketing and reception discourses'). But the standout essay is Bill Krohn's on "I Confess and Nos deux consciences". Krohn does two things. First, having tracked down the 1902 French play on which I Confess is based (or anyway having read it in the English translation Hitchcock commissioned for his own use), he speculates about its influence on Hitchcock's films starting with The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). As he notes, Hitchcock claimed to have first seen the play 'some time in the early '30s', and to have been 'haunted' by it. Krohn can therefore argue that the characteristic 'scapegoat' plot of several early Hitchcocks (e.g., Downhill and Blackmail, where a character is blamed for someone else's crime) now evolved into a more elaborate 'confession' plot. The Man Who Knew Too Much has Jill both carry the knowledge of a crime she dare not talk about (her daughter has been kidnapped to silence her) and then finally 'confess' it publicly by her scream in the Albert Hall. In due course, this plot would further evolve into the celebrated 'transference of guilt' motif in Hitchcock, whereby a character becomes in effect a Christ-figure. The other thing that Krohn accomplishes is to show how I Confess ingeniously reproduces, or improves on, many of the ideas in the original play: for example, the opposition of secular and sacred viewpoints (the 'two consciences') and the motif of hamartia or 'missed aim' as when Ruth Grandfort in the film attempts to alibi Father Logan but only succeeds in giving the police the motive they have been seeking. (It is surely significant, notes Krohn, that such a motif occurs in other Hitchcock films of this time, such as Under Capricorn.) Krohn's thoughtful essay is sufficient reason to obtain a copy of 'Casting a Shadow'. The catalogued sketches and storyboards, by various hands across the years, are numerous and beautifully reproduced - though it's true that similar material has already appeared in Dan Auiler's 'Hitchcock's Notebooks', 'Cinefantastique' magazine, and elsewhere. KM
• [The following review of 'Hitchcock and Art: Fatal Coincidences' (The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2000), pb, edited by Dominque Païni and Guy Cogeval, is guest-written by Professor Tony Williams. We understand that the book is currently back in print.]
Eighteen essays appear in this 486-page production, many by well-known people such as Henri Langlois, Donald Spoto, Jacques Aumont, Alain Bergala, and Gérard Genette along with others well versed in areas of art criticism. But the major highlight of this book is its collection of reproductions, black and white and color, that form half the book. These not only supplement the various essays but also suggest many art/film parallels for readers to explore after they finish the book.
Pierre Gras’s short essay “Hitchcock: Eating and Destruction” covers things we have all noticed in the director’s films. But Gras proceeds to suggest a significant opposition across the films between human waste and Platonic idealism. For example, Bab's's dead body amongst the potatoes in Frenzy opposes Scottie's idealized image of Madeleine in Vertigo. Hitchcock, of course, often spoke about his project to make a documentary showing 24 hours in the life of a city beginning with fresh food arriving at market and ending with effluent flowing down sewers. Roughly the other side of the coin was his abortive Mary Rose project in which the heroine escapes bodily corruption by disappearing from the human realm only to reappear in spiritual form and then vanish forever in a burst of light. Although no art reproductions accompany this essay, it does evoke Hitchcock’s lifelong interest in surrealism. Julia Tanski’s slightly longer essay, “The Symbolist Woman in Alfred Hitchcock’s Films”, also draws on known elements in order to reveal a significant dimension of the director’s work. Depicting the deepest colors of the human soul, the Symbolist movement in literature and art represented a humanistic response to industrialization and the rise of a complacent middle-class. Classical, spiritual, and everyday elements were combined in protest. 'Symbolism was an all-encompassing phenomenon in the years from 1886 through 1905. It was all-encompassing in the sense that, willfully Wagnerian, it touched on a number of artistic media, from literature to the decorative arts to painting to photography.' (148-149) 'It was art as the final bastion against loss of meaning, art for art’s sake as the ultimate response to the emptiness of appearances.' (149) Tanski includes several stills from The Lodger, The Paradine Case, and The Birds and refers to the influence on Hitchcock of Symbolist paintings such as Fernand Khnopff’s 1891 'Who Shall Deliver Me?' where the woman's empty gaze anticipates that of several women in the director's films. Tanski of course also notes relevant connections between Vertigo and Georges Rodenbach’s 1892 symbolist novella 'Bruges-la-Morte'. Nathalie Bondil-Poupard’s “Alfred Hitchcock: An Artist in Spite of Himself” complements her other essay in this book, “Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On: Hitchcock and Dali, Surrealism and Oneiricism.” In the former, she draws attention to Hitchcock’s lifelong interest in art both as a collector (of Paul Klee in particular) and as art lover. And her study of the surrealist influences on Spellbound not only places that film against its relevant art-history background but also examines the issue of Dali’s lost scenes for that film and contemporary questions about the sincerity of Dali and Cocteau to the surrealist cause. Importantly, Bondil-Poupard affirms Hitchcock’s formative role in attempting to make the first experimental art film in Hollywood in the face of producer Selznick’s interference. Spellbound's final dream sequence as we have it today only hints at what could have been. Nonetheless, Hitchcock continued his surrealist experiments in Vertigo and North by Northwest, the latter being possibly 'the most Dalian of Hitchcock’s films' (171). Hitchcock admitted that North by Northwest represented one long dream sequence for him and compared it to a painting by Christopher Nevinson. The film reaches an appropriate oneiric climax in its Mount Rushmore sequence.
The second part of the book contains abundant reproductions of paintings often juxtaposed with stills from Hitchcock’s films. The act of seeing here becomes paramount, and this book is essential towards exploring such an aspect of Hitchcock’s art. TW
• [The following review of 'Hitchcock: Past and Future' (Routledge, London and New York, 2004; pb, 284 pp), edited by Richard Allen and Sam Ishi-Gonzáles, is also guest-written by Professor Tony Williams.]
This collection of essays contains material from the 1999 Alfred Hitchcock Centenary Conference, complementing 'Alfred Hitchcock: Centenary Essays' (1999) published by the BFI. At this point of time, Robin Wood’s original question, 'Why should we take Hitchcock seriously?', has seemingly been abundantly answered by the academic world. But forty years later, issues remain, namely a danger of Hitchcock’s confinement within too-rigid definitions or, in Allen’s terms, threats 'by certain contemporary scholars who seem intent on reducing the study of film to an analysis of how they are received by audiences, circulate in culture, and reflect or resonate with other kinds of cultural forms and social processes'. (2) This collection attempts to counter contemporary skepticism 'about textual meaning, about the objectivity of value judgments, indeed about the possibility of human agreement itself that underlies the denigration of the study of cinema in the university just as it threatens human understanding in general...' (2) It provides different evaluative approaches. Not all are entirely successful but they equally attempt to celebrate Hitchcock’s cinematic achievements in the light of new contemporary approaches.
Four essays in this collection show innovative approaches to understanding Hitchcock's vital legacy. Others have their own plusses and minuses: my intention is less to slight them than to highlight those most approximating Allen’s goal in his cogent introduction. These four essays combine valuable close readings with relevant philosophical, musical, political, and psychoanalytic approaches to the director’s films. Sam Ishi-González’s “Hitchcock with Delueuze” reminds us that Deleuze places Hitchcock at the juncture between classical and modern cinema as noted in 'Cinema I: The Movement Image'. Ishi-González develops this idea in terms of innovative close readings of Hitchcock films such as Rear Window and the mostly neglected The Wrong Man that represent the director’s idea of 'pure cinema' involving not just emotions 'but also the mechanisms of thought.' (136) Defining the latter film as part of a trilogy also including Vertigo, Ishi-Gonzáles specifically sees this group as spanning classical and modern cinema. But Ishi-Gonzáles emphasizes their modernity, noting how they exhibit elements of interrogation and lack of closure. Such devices are often exclusively associated with the European art films of Antonioni and others. This is a remarkable essay combining close reading with the stimulating implications of the work of Deleuze. Daniel Antonio Srebnick’s “Music and Identity: The Struggle for Harmony in Vertigo” provides another rigorous example of close analysis but this time in musical terms: Herrmann’s score, we're told, represents a contest between harmony and dissonance echoing those within the film’s characters. James Morrison’s “Hitchcock’s Ireland: the performance of Irish Identity in Juno and the Paycock and Under Capricorn” opposes apolitical interpretations of Hitchcock’s work by examining these two neglected films. He sees them as much more intellectually challenging than usually thought: the first film is no mere stage adaptation and the second is not just a costume period drama. Juno and the Paycock and Under Capricorn really reflect 'national identity as a form of performance that undermines essentialist notions of nationality and therefore implicitly … subjects the colonial discourses of British imperialism to critique'. (195) Rather than focusing on distracting notions of stereotypes, Morrison sees the presence of folk culture and convict labor in these films as contradicting the dominant idea of nation state. The final essay, “Is There a Proper Way to Remake a Hitchcock Film?”, by Slavoj Zizek, is the gem of this collection. Its implications extend far beyond its title subject matter in responding to Allen’s contemporary aim of taking Hitchcock seriously. Zizek asks: what gives Hitchcock films their unique flair? He finds this in their meaningful innovations. Zizek sees Hitchcock’s artistic strategy according to ideas contained in Jacques Lacan’s final seminar. It involves the creation of a pattern of flowing meanings that invite constant reinterpretation rather than being confined to one particular concept. Zizek's use of Lacanian concepts necessitates some effort on the part of the reader. But the effort is worth it since Zizek provides several new theoretical approaches towards understanding Hitchcock and his legacy. This is a stimulating conclusion to a diverse body of essays. TW
• I have beside me two books by friends. I shan't review them in the normal way. Both are tours de force of a kind. Joe McElhaney's 'The Death of Classical Cinema: Hitchcock, Lang, Minnelli' (State University of New York Press, 2006; pb; 255pp) looks at three 1960s films by 'classical' directors whose respective careers had by then entered their 'late afternoon' phase and, in the eyes of many critics, been overtaken by modernist filmmaking trends in both Europe and America. The films are Fritz Lang's The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse (1960), Vincente Minnelli's Two Weeks in Another Town (1962), and Hitchcock's Marnie (1964). McElhaney's broad position is that these directors still had a few expressive things to show audiences and colleagues, and in particular that their work was integral to the current European film scene whose touted directors included Godard, Fellini, Antonioni, and Resnais. Overall, it's a sustained high-wire act from McElhaney - few big moments perhaps, but rather a succession of insights and hypotheses and summations - and he is tremendously passionate and well-informed about cinema and writings on it in journals and scholarly books. And don't misunderstand me: there are splendid descriptions, as when McElhaney notes of Marnie (pp. 116-17) how its resolution has 'a constant on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand structure' (meaning both optimistic and pessimistic inflections, in profuse and quick succession). I concluded that the book is very suitable for a film course called specifically 'The Death of Classical Cinema: Hitchcock, Lang, Minnelli'! I'll let you decide, gentle reader, if you're comfortable with that. Now to Wiliam Hare's 'Hitchcock and the Methods of Suspense' (McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, and London, 2007; pb; 351pp). To be perfectly honest, this is Raymond Durgnat's 'Plain Man's Hitchcock' (the subtitle of Durgnat's 1974 book, 'The Strange Case of Alfred Hitchcock') told straight - this really is a (very) plain man's guide to fifteen Hitchcock films, and a prolix one at that. I'm sorry, Bill, but I personally found it rather predictable, what with your seeming conviction that paraphrases of the films, plus extensive asides about the actors and other matters of doubtful relevance, is any sort of coverage of the topic of 'Hitchcock'. Towards the end, though, it was nice to have film writer Robert Kendall's account of the 1975 press conference via television hook-up that Hitchcock gave to launch Family Plot. (It included Hitchcock's answer to the question, 'What's your favorite reading?': 'Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, John Buchan and Agatha Christie.') KM
• Jack Sullivan's 'Hitchcock's Music' (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2006; hb, 354 pp) contains many stimulating passages of musical description and analysis, and has worthwhile things to say, historical and analytic, about most of Hitchcock's sound films, often at length. (However, Under Capricorn regrettably gets only a couple of pages.) One of the stand-out chapters is on Notorious, in which Sullivan praises Roy Webb's self-effacing score keyed to Brazilian rhythms and 'imperceptible suspensions in the syncopation' (p. 127). This, with 'no south-of-the-border clichés' (p. 126)! Sullivan is a cultured fellow, who studied with revered man-of-letters Jacques Barzun and is director of American Studies at Rider University, New Jersey. I've long admired 'The Penguin Encyclopedia of Magic and the Supernatural' (1986) which Sullivan edited and to which Jacques Barzun was a principal contributor. Now, after reading 'Hitchcock's Music', I'm happy to report that my ears respond to the films' soundtracks in ways that were, at best, intermittent before: to Hitchcock's obsession with waltzes, for example, to his frequent use of chimes, drum solos, ambiguous chords, characters singing or humming or whistling a film's leitmotiv, 'jazz as an emblem of life's precariousness' (p. 320), not to mention all forms of ambient sounds for effect - Hitchcock told Truffaut that he imagined every sound as possible dialogue, even the deadly avian cries in The Birds (p. 315). Here's a revealing instruction that Hitchcock gave composer Ron Goodwin for the climax of Frenzy as a vengeful Blaney (Jon Finch), wrench in hand, climbs the stairs to Rusk's apartment: '[I]n an abstract way ... we don't want the music to be loud enought to awaken his intended victim' (p. 306). This of course is Hitchcock being 'subjective': we're very much with Blaney in his ascent. But as Sullivan notes, there's also a dreamlike, irrational logic at work here that runs deeper than a particular character's viewpoint (p. 307). Further, the historical material that Sullivan provides is often fresh. Roy Webb was probably the real composer of Mr and Mrs Smith (rather than Edward Ward, whom the film itself credits); he also worked uncredited on Spellbound. However, Hitchcock hadn't initially wanted him for Notorious, and only hired him after Bernard Herrmann proved unavailable. (This wasn't the first time Hitchcock had tried to get Herrmann. But not until The Trouble With Harry would the fruitful Hitchcock-Herrmann collaboration begin.) Also, most of us know of Hitchcock's treasured memories of the original stage production of J.M. Barrie's 'Mary Rose' which he had seen in London in 1920. But did you know that he tried at the time of Rebecca to unearth the play's original music? In particular, he specified "The Call" connected with the heroine's disappearance and which he remembered as 'celestial voices, like Debussy's "Sirènes"' (p. 66). Unsuccessful at the time, he had only marginally more success seventeen years later, during preproduction of Vertigo, when Paramount found for him a couple of old recordings, 'scratchy and ghastly', containing two excerpts (p. 225). Meanwhile, Hitchcock had employed a 'celestial voice' effect in I Confess, and would do so again in Family Plot (at which time he sent out for a recording of 'Sirènes' - p. 312). And he would undoubtedly have heard and admired Dimitri Tiomkin and Bernard Herrmann's use of Debussy in William Dieterle's Portrait of Jennie (1948), an exquisite film which certainly influenced Vertigo. Unfortunately, Sullivan never mentions Portrait of Jennie, and that must bring me to the remainder of this review. Sullivan's excellent book would have been better if he were more of a film buff. (I have made a similar criticism of Christopher Morris's book on Hitchcock, with its stuffy academic horizons, and although Sullivan is a better writer than Morris, my readers are welcome to extrapolate from my earlier review!) Sometimes Sullivan appears merely ignorant: for example, that Waltzes From Vienna derived ultimately from an original story in German which in turn yielded German and French films (both directed by Ludwig Berger) as well as the British stage musical, written by Guy Bolton, on which Hitchcock's film was directly based. (The German film was called Walzerkrieg . Critic David Shipman considers it 'infinitely superior' to Waltzes From Vienna!) Sometimes, too, Sullivan appears unresponsive to the film's nitty-gritty whose accompanying music he is describing. About Rope, it is all very well to tell us that it opens with a warm "Pastorale" (though Sullivan is mistaken in thinking that Hitchcock appears soon afterwards, walking along the street) followed by an orchestral rendering of Poulenc's minimalist "Mouvement Perpétual No. 1" (but no mention by Sullivan of Poulenc's gayness, which would surely have been relevant) followed by a tense 16-second cue called "Mood" followed by a scream - which cuts off the music (p. 145). I feel that this musical enumeration needs keying more closely to the no-less interesting visuals. For example, "Pastorale" accompanies a high-shot of what is obviously an exclusive residential area, seen in early morning sunlight which a nanny is enjoying as she wheels a pram. But then, with the onset of "Mouvement Perpétual No. 1", something strange happens: (practically) all movement ceases! This serves both as an implied time lapse (as the main credits unwind) and as a prolepsis of the eerie world we're about to enter. Many Hitchcock title-sequences are like this: suggesting an unseen power or force, and not necessarily that of just the director. So there is a dreamlike, irrational quality to Hitchcock's films. Sullivan's best attempt to define it comes at the end of the book, when he mentions 'pure cinema': 'In a Hitchcock picture, sound and image conspire to create an alternate reality beyond words.' (p. 319) Sullivan had earlier quoted Poe on the 'supernal' force represented by music (p. 307). (My own regular readers know that I would indeed take matters beyondmusic - unfortunately, Sullivan never once references Schopenhauer whose ideas on music, not least Wagner's, have always been admired ...) Likewise, when Sullivan quotes Poe and Melville apropos the 'whiteness' motif in Spellbound, and associates it mainly with terror (p. 112), I think that this professor of English is being remiss for the sake of his American Studies bias (not the only time in the book)! The 'whiteness' in Spellbound, a film which at one point makes fun of 'the poets' and their glorifying of love, is in fact keyed to an English poetic tradition encompassing Milton and Henry Vaughan but notably including Shelley with his 'white radiance of eternity'. The motif also picks up on associations of white in various religions. And then there's 'pure cinema' ... KM
• [Eighteen years ago, the final chapter of David Bordwell's 'Making Meaning' (Harvard University Press, 1989) printed a cross-section of critical interpretations of Hitchcock's Psycho. More recently, 'Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho: A Casebook' (Oxford University Press, 2004, hb, 272pp), edited by Robert Kolker, re-visited similar territory. This latter collection is guest-reviewed for us by Gary Giblin. I have allowed myself one small editorial intrusion towards the end. KM]
The groundbreaking Psycho fused elements of the 'old dark house' and serial-killer genres to create a radical new 'pornography of death.' By now, Hitchcock's film has been (psycho-)analyzed nearly out of existence. So how can one craft a new critical take on the style, themes, tropes and smashed taboos of this masterpiece? The answer, in the case of Robert Kolker’s 'Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho: A Casebook', appears to be that you can’t. For rather than offering us his own 'long hard look' at the film, à la Durgnat's 2002 book on it, Kolker has provided what might be described as a Psycho primer - an anthology that takes the curious but not yet jaded film student on a chronological journey from the inception of the film to some of its more recent scholarly exegeses. Along the way, Kolker introduces each excerpt/essay - explaining the perspective of each author and helping the reader out with some of the more arcane terminology (but more on that below) - then wraps it all up with his own balanced synthesis. The first excerpt is from Truffaut’s 'Hitchcock' (1984), in which the director explains that in Psycho he was really directing the audience itself, 'playing them like an organ.' Hitchcock’s manipulation of the audience proves to be one of the central concerns of the anthology. After the obligatory 'behind-the-scenes' excerpt from Stephen Rebello’s indispensable 'Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho' (1990), Kolker gets down to critical business. Lucidly-chosen excerpts from Robin Wood’s 'Hitchcock’s Films' (1965) and Raymond Durgnat’s 'The Strange Case of Alfred Hitchcock' (1974) exemplify insightful film analysis. Here's Wood, apropos Marion’s flight to California, discussing how she forfeits 'her powers of conscious will': 'Hitchcock uses every means to enforce audience-identification - the staging of each scene, the use of subjective technique, [and] the way in which each subsidiary character is presented to us through Marion’s eyes….' The result is that, '[l]ike her we resent, with fear and impatience, everything … that impedes or interferes with her obsessive flight, despite the fact that only interference can help her…. As Marion drives on … we share her hopelessness and weariness. The film conveys a sense of endless journey leading to nowhere, or into darkness: as the imagined voices become more menacing, darkness gathers.' Wood (as does Durgnat) rightly marvels at the way Hitchcock then manipulates us into identification with the man who covers up for Marion’s ostensible murderer. By the time we finally know the truth, we are complicit with Norman, having come to accept him 'as a potential extension of ourselves. …[T]hat we all share in a common guilt, may be, intellectually, a truism; the greatness of Psycho lies in its ability, not merely to tell us this, but to make us experience it.' More often than not with authors of this caliber, one finds oneself marveling at both their insights and the prose with which they elucidate them. Whether one agrees with them - as when Linda Williams (“Discipline and Fun: Psycho and Postmodern Cinema”) claims that Psycho 'needs to be seen … as an important turning point in the pleasurable destabilizing of sexual identity within what would become the genre of slasher horror,' or disagrees - as when (the 1974) Durgnat describes the shower drain simply as an eye, when it is so much more (e.g., the actualization of a metaphor - a life down the drain) - there is ample reward. Far less rewarding are the psychoanalytic essays of Jean Douchet and Robert Samuels. These writers follow Freud himself (and I dare say Lacan) in making pronouncements without evidence (e.g., Samuels's claim that Norman is so-named because he represents a 'normal man') and pollute their prose with exclusionary jargon. For example, in “Epilogue: Psycho and the Horror of the Bi-Textual Unconscious,” Samuels writes of the film’s putative MacGuffin: 'Hitchcock highlights the way that this object is the material residue of all Symbolic exchanges by having the letter [sic] full of money always sticking out of Marion’s purse. Like the object (a), this part of the Real that has been submitted to the Symbolic order refuses to be completely negated.' Perhaps, or perhaps not. Where's the proof? And where does such commentary get us? Shouldn't we rather remember that Hitchcock, like any good trickster/showman, may simply have wanted us to keep our eye on the stolen money so that he could shock the hell out of us when the thief, Marion, is abruptly and brutally murdered? Ultimately, what it comes down to with writers like these is that you either buy Freud and his heirs or you don’t - and I don’t. Theirs are faith-based (as opposed to empirically-based) propositions, and I gave those up years ago. To me, there is little value or validity in proclaiming that Norman = normal man, then proceeding from that premise as though it had been established by something other than fiat. It’s not argument or reasoned discourse; it’s just wishful thinking. And while it’s hard for me to fault Kolker for including these pieces (they do, after all, represent a common - and often comical - strain of film analysis, a particularly virulent form of which has attached itself to Hitchcock), their omission might have allowed him to expand on some of the more intriguing themes elsewhere alluded to. One, in particular, suggests itself, namely, the nature of the unseen 'force' that seems to shape the destinies of the film’s central characters. [But aren't Samuels & Co., however clumsily, or unconvincingly, trying to show that? - Ed.] Everyday logic, the logic that conforms to natural law, dictates that Marion should have stayed in the safety of her home while Norman should have run like hell from his. Yet, like characters in an H. P. Lovecraft story, neither behaves rationally. One character is compelled to remain in darkness, the other impelled to confront that very darkness. The fact that source novelist Robert Bloch was both a student and protégé of Lovecraft suggests an interesting line of future inquiry. Otherwise, I only regret Kolker's inclusion of Royal Brown’s piece on the film’s score, which will be incomprehensible to any but music specialists. In sum: this 'Casebook' is a more than worthy 'start-up' guide to Psycho, all the more so if it inspires readers to acquire the by-now classic works of Rebello, Wood and the early Durgnat. GG
• I read Gary Giblin's 'Alfred Hitchcock's London: A Reference Guide to Locations' (Midnight Marquee Press, Baltimore, pb, 326pp) from cover to cover, though that's not necessarily how the author intended it to be read. Note the subtitle, 'A Reference Guide'. The various entries proceed systematically from Bayswater, Belgravia, and Bloomsbury in Central London through to Outer London (starting with Battersea and Brixton) and then to Outside London (Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, etc.); and for every locale the nearest railway station is given. Care to go and see HM Prison, Brixton? (Giblin adduces a couple of Hitchcockian reasons for doing so, one of them being that the title character in No Bail for the Judge was going to be remanded there.) Then simply follow these thoughtful instructions: 'Exit L [from Brixton station] into Brixton Hill - and walk till you drop. Or better, take a bus - [the prison] is nearly a mile from the station, on the R.' You can't miss it, I should add, because the book includes a suitably moody b/w photograph of the establishment - and indeed on nearly every page there's at least one b/w photograph (theatres, hotels, shops, government buildings, schools, film studios, et al.), each in some way Hitchcock-connected. The text itself is very informative - Anglophile Giblin is also the author of 'James Bond's London' (2002) and he knows both Hitchcock's movies and the books on which they were based. Plus he visited such places as the Margaret Herrick Library, Beverly Hills, where he consulted screenplays and production notes, and he interviewed people who worked with Hitchcock or were close to him. This is a valuable book for fans and scholars alike, with insights into all of the relevant films. Frenzy is especially illuminated. Hitchcock called the Porters (Johnny and Hettie) 'a couple of shits' for letting down fugitive Dick Blaney, who had been a comrade of Johnny's in the Air Force. (Note, by the way, a rough parallel with buddies Jefferies and Doyle in Rear Window.) Giblin explains astutely that such a betrayal of a wartime pal would be unthinkable in the novel by Arthur La Bern, 'Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square', where the war in question had been World War Two and La Bern 'esteems the old order and its values and repudiates the new'. Hitchcock, by contrast, in pre-production moved further and further away from the novel, introducing the Covent Garden setting that he knew from his boyhood and making London something of an anachronism (traditional pubs and references to Jack the Ripper, for example). 'Thus, since he has no axe to grind with the modern age (which, for all intents and purposes, does not exist), Hitchcock has no "old order" to uphold ... and can thus engineer Porter's abandonment of his old comrade [from Suez days].' (p. 128, with accompanying photo of the Royal Air Force Club in Piccadilly) Another highlight of the book is certainly Giblin's uncovering of the real-life murder case behind the memorable AHP episode called "Arthur" (in which Laurence Harvey plays a New Zealand chicken farmer who has fed his would-be bride to his birds). The case was that of Norman Holmes Thorne, who lived in Sussex - to confuse matters further, the short story version is set in South Africa. (Here let me allay another potential confusion. Norman Holmes Thorne is not the same person as Fred Thorn, resident of New York, who murdered his girlfriend's husband, cut up his body in the bath-tub, and then distributed the pieces around town, including in the Harlem River - the likely inspiration, you might say, for the murderer Thorwald in Rear Window.) But if what you want is actual information about shots on the screen, then Giblin delivers the goods with his entries on the Cumberland (Cumbria) exteriors in The Paradine Case. With diligence and care, he has found the location of just about every shot brought back by a second unit and used in the film. As he says, the shots are 'literally all over the map', 50 miles apart in some cases, but convincingly edited together for the continuity Hitchcock required. Some shots are of Keane's train coming and going. On one occasion, however, a shot was repeated in reverse to show the train's departure from the same station where we had earlier seen it arrive (only now a framing tree, specified by Hitchcock, was on the right of screen when previously it had been on the left). Keane's buggy ride to 'Hindley Hall' (which was actually, and is still, the Langdale Chase hotel) incorporated several picturesque landmarks, such as the Yew Tree Farm (you can rent a cottage there for £18 per day). This is a book that you should own if you are serious about Hitchcock's films. And if you can make the trips to the locations themselves, so much the better! Giblin and I don't have many disagreements, but here's one, perhaps. He thinks that a possible precedent for the giant head (of Ramses II) we see in the British Museum in Blackmail comes from G.K. Chesterton's novel 'The Man Who Was Thursday' (1908) in which the hero, Mr Syme, remembers 'that as a child he would not look at the mask of Memnon in the British Museum, because it was ... so large.' (Giblin, p. 35) I think it's more likely that Hitchcock was remembering a scene from the end of Mrs Belloc Lowndes's novel 'The Lodger' (1913) in which the hounded Mr Sleuth is suddenly afrighted upstairs in Madame Tussaud's by 'those curious, still, waxen figures which suggest so strangely death in life'. (Giblin has an entry on Madame Tussaud's, on pp. 104-05) But I'll allow him the last word, which he so richly deserves. Did you know that James Bond's creator Ian Fleming was a casual acquaintance of Hitchcock's and gave North by Northwest a plug in 'Thunderball'? For that and related facts, see Giblin, p. 200. KM
• Lesley Brill's 'Crowds, Power, and Transformation in Cinema' (Wayne State University Press, pb, 279pp) applies the theories of Elias Canetti (1905-94) concerning crowds, packs, mass emotions, and rulers' strategies of power to eight key films, including Hitchcock's North by Northwest. Besides Hitchcock, the filmmakers whose work Brill discusses are Griffith, Eisenstein, Preston Sturges, Kurosawa, Welles, Charles Burnett, and Jonathan Demme. Like Canetti himself, Brill omits discussion of Canetti's (arguable) predecessors such as Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931), as well as various philosophic or literary inveighers against 'the masses' such as Friedrich Nietzche, José Ortega y Gasset, and the poet Ezra Pound (the latter thought humanity, apart from its artists, to be one 'mass of dolts'). Such a limitation of Brill's field allows for a more purely academic exercise, and in the case of several, perhaps most, of the filmmakers discussed by Brill, perhaps this hardly matters. He does, after all, write with admirable precision and clarity. (Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, we're told, 'is precisely organized around the formation of a crowd and its subsequent tranformations. ... The isolation afflicting seekers of power is at the heart of Kurosawa's Throne of Blood. ... Burnett's Killer of Sheep exemplifies predation, packs, thwarted transformation, and melancholia' - p. ix. And so on.) Brill even appends a 50-page synopsis of Canetti's 1960 'Mass und Macht'/'Crowds and Power' the better for the reader unacquainted with Canetti's magnum opus not to lose the theoretical thread. However, it's precisely when he's dealing with North by Northwest that Brill's use of Canetti to explicate the film's text does seem somewhat dry and humourless and - I have to say - beside the point. Various critics were only half right when they spoke of Hitchcock's 'contempt for his audience' but nonetheless what is most central to North by Northwest, it seems to me, is its simultaneous critiquing and acknowledging of an 'admass' society. Significantly, that term - which Brill never mentions - had been coined just a few years earlier by the English playwright, novelist, and occasional scenarist (additional dialogue for Jamaica Inn, for example), J.B. Priestley, in his 1955 novel 'Journey Down a Rainbow'. Hitchcock could not have been unaware of the term - and its implications. Its reference to the proliferation of commercial advertising and high-pressure salesmanship then occurring everywhere in the Western world, but especially in the USA, struck a chord with social analysts and the public alike. (Recall the line in Psycho: 'That's the first time I ever heard of the customer high-pressuring the salesman.') According to 'Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable' the term, which is now dated, 'came to denote the vast mass of the general public to which advertisers addressed their publicity'. It was this 'vast mass' that North by Northwest targeted. But I've not yet fully made my point. If you are going to understand what Hitchcock's mindset in making North by Northwest was, it simply won't do to 'go abstract' and consider the film in terms of, for example, the voracious 'gullets' that Brill sees as represented by the film's 'cars, jails [what jails?], elevators, and an ambulance' - this by way of invoking '[t]he human terror of being consumed [which] is connected, according to Canetti, with traditional tales of adventure' (p. 126). Yes, I know that North by Northwest is an adventure tale roughly in the tradition of Rider Haggard, Kipling, et al., and that Thornhill has hitherto been selling consumption goods to others - so it's high time he found himself on the other end of that particular 'gag' (to paraphrase The Birds). But 'terror of being consumed'? Like, where? More to the point - the point I want to make - is this. The real influences on North by Northwest, and probably on J.B. Priestley coining his term 'admass' in 1955, were certainly some of those inveighers against 'the masses' whom Brill ignores and who were particularly strong in England in the early decades of the 20th Century. There's a whole book about them - John Carey's remarkable 'The Intellectuals and the Masses' (1992) - which will tell you, by implication, exactly why Hitchcock coined his phrase 'the moron masses' and why, for example, both T.S. Eliot and D.H. Lawrence took inspiration from Nietzsche to believe that '[t]he mass of mankind is soulless ... Most people are dead, and scurrying and talking in the sleep of death.' (Carey, pp. 10-11.) Heck, Lawrence even wanted to gas them in a vast lethal chamber the size of the Crystal Palace ('with a miltary band playing softly, and a Cinematograph working brightly') - Carey, p. 12 - which gives special point, does it not, to Brandon's line addressed to Rupert in Rope (based, remember, on a 1929 English play), in which Brandon might almost be Hitler addressing those very same English intellectuals: 'I have done what you only talked about.' Gentle reader, can you now see why North by Northwest begins by depicting its swarming masses - the scurrying New York crowds - as a ghostly reflection in a glass-fronted skyscraper (this preceded by a sinister, deathly-green titles sequence) whose allusion to lines in Eliot's 'The Waste Land', referencing Dante ('I had not thought death had undone so many'), is unmistakeable - though Brill does overlook it? And why Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), singled out from this mortal crowd to be saved (late in the film he'll say, 'I never felt more alive'), is like a redeemer figure for us, the mass audience? (So Leonard's reference to Roger's bourbon as 'a libation' has a special point.) To Brill's credit, he does several times use Canetti to highlight audience dynamics in the films he discusses, and he offers much informative reading besides. KM
• As a single, succinct text to introduce Hitchcock and his films to university students, Nicholas Haeffner's 'Alfred Hitchcock' (Pearson Education Limited, Harlow, Essex, 2005, pb, 125pp) stands out. With admirable objectivity, it draws on the vast literature about, and by, Hitchcock, to inform the reader of the way the director thought and worked and how his films are now generally seen - with some corrective perspectives provided by Haeffner. As the author says: 'This study ... takes issue with [Donald] Spoto's interpretation [of Hitchcock as 'tormented and woman-hating'] and, to a lesser extent, with the work of critics who have used psychoanalysis to investigate the man and his films.' (p. 1) Chapter titles include: "Hitchcock's heritage: class, culture and cosmopolitanism", "Fascinating design: image, nothingness, sound and silence", "Hitchcock and women", and "Hitchcock's legacy: Psycho and after". Apart from Psycho, only one film gets extended analysis in Haeffner's book. That chapter is called "Realism and The Wrong Man". It focusses on Hitchcock's concern with 'ultra-realism', identified by the director with film melodrama (p. 57 - and see an article by Hitchcock on this website). Haeffner astutely links The Wrong Man to earlier Warners 'social problem' films such as I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) 'which also dealt with the ordeal undergone by a wrongfully accused man' (p. 61). Citing research by both David Sterritt and Marshall Deutelbaum, he notes that Hitchcock several times departed from the actual events of the Balestrero case. (p. 62) I suspect that the director wanted to point up the 'chancey' nature of justice, as he had done as far back as Downhill (1927) and Murder! (1930). Further, and stimulatingly, we're told that the film 'has strong literary and mythical associations' with, for example, the Book of Job ('for the drawn-out sufferings of its hero which test his faith') and 'Bleak House' (1853) by Charles Dickens ('for the interminable miscarriage of justice suffered by humble folk'). (p. 62) Excellent! Also, Haeffner provides evidence for the film's affinity with Italian Neo-Realism: Henry Fonda as Manny resembles the actor, Lamberto Maggiorani, who played the lead character in Bicycle Thieves (1948), both 'being tall, gaunt, down at heel and sad-eyed'. (p. 64) (At this point, allow me to make another observation of my own, extending one of Haeffner's. On p. 62 he notes the gashed wall in the police station and observes that both the building and, by implication, the justice system, are run down. That's essentially correct, I think. Such 'entropy' fits a broader motif of the film: think, for example, of Manny's repeatedly dashed hopes. But also, I wonder if Hitchcock wasn't alert to the hint of past violence in the room! I think of literally scarred characters in such films as The Man Who Knew Too Much, Foreign Correspondent, and Torn Curtain, whose damaged faces Hitchcock suddenly and mischievously catches in close-up for us to ponder how the scars were come by!) Finally, Haeffner notes how The Wrong Man is Hitchcockian in suggesting 'that perception and truth are not always co-extensive' (p. 65). Later in the book (e.g., p. 86), he'll cite both Freud and Schopenhauer as having pioneered such an insight, but for now he simply compares the way Hitchcock depicts unreliable witnesses to an event in The Wrong Man and in the episode of the 'Alfred Hitchcock Hour' called "I Saw the Whole Thing", starring John Forsythe. Haeffner has come late to Hitchcock studies but he has already grasped its essentials better than most. This is a first-class teaching text. KM
• The 2004-05 'Hitchcock Annual' is perhaps the best issue yet, and Richard Allen's piece on Murder! ("Sir John and the Half-Caste") and Robin Wood's on Lifeboat ("Hitchcock and Fascism") outstanding. Also, very useful indeed is James Vest's "Metamorphoses of Downhill: From Stage Play to Cinematic Treatment and Film". Vest has located both the original play by Ivor Novello and Constance Collier (it remains unpublished to this day, but a copy is held in the British Library) and a preliminary screen treatment (by an apparently unknown hand - perhaps Ivor Montagu's? Eliot Stannard's? - archived at the BFI). Vest inadvertently discloses a couple of things. First, Patrick McGilligan's claim in his Hitchcock biography that Roddy (Ivor Novello) becomes a racing driver is now seen to emanate from the preliminary treatment (Vest, p. 73) and to have been discarded both by the final screenplay (Vest, p. 76) and, of course, by the film itself. (I'm not sure that McGilligan ever watched the film. Vest, on p. 87, has his own stinging criticism of McGilligan, who calls the film 'a straight-line adaptation' of the stage play, when it's very far from that, as Vest demonstrates.) Second, although Vest doesn't seem aware of the fact, we can now see that Novello and Hitchcock's film was initially conceived as a follow-up to the succesful stage play by Noel Coward, 'The Vortex' (1926), in which the leading character succumbs to drugs. (Coward's play was filmed by Adrian Brunel in the same year as Downhill, starring Ivor Novello. For more on the film, click here: britmovie.co.uk/studios/gains/filmography/1927/001.html.) Vest shows how the original play of 'Down Hill' has Roddy in Marseilles become someone that 'privation and drugs have turned into some half-witted animal' (p. 69) but how by the final screenplay 'overt references to drugs' have been omitted (p.76). (The only thing that lets down Vest's piece is his idle speculation on p. 84 that Hitchcock may have played the mulatto woman in the Marseilles scenes!) Now I come to the Robin Wood piece, which I have called 'outstanding'. Let me qualify that. The first two-thirds of Wood's piece (largely on 'gender fascism') are actually less than definitive, despite Wood's patent attempts to be otherwise. (Wood is something of a fascist himself, and likes to make ex cathedra judgements: for example, he still calls the Vertigo novel, by Boileau and Narcejac, a 'nasty little novel' - p. 45 - when in fact, showing a clear influence of Simenon, on whom Narcejac was an authority, it's quite excellent: Wood used to dismiss Daphne du Maurier's rich and poetic 'Rebecca' in similar terms until he owned up that he'd never read it!) It simply won't do to read the last part of Vertigo, as Wood does, on pp. 44-45, largely in terms of 'gender fascism' alone, the oppression of a woman by a man, when so much more is at stake: by dint of all of Scottie's implicit yearnings, to be free and to transcend - rise above - the everyday world, and to liberate Judy at the same time, Scottie is nothing less than a Faust figure and Judy/Madeleine is his Helen of Troy (à la Goethe's 'Faust', Part 2). But Wood is impervious to such Symbolist connotations - the Symbolists, as Hitchcock disclosed to Charlotte Chandler, were a major influence on the director - as is even apparent in Wood's reading of Lifeboat in the last part of his piece. (Read on.) Nonetheless, the notes that Wood provides on Lifeboat's characters, as in the wonderful paragraph on pp. 54-55 in which he observes how Kovak, 'supported by an alternative and adversarial political ideology', is the only character who 'is able to see through Willy from the outset', are invaluable: Wood hasn't forgotten that character depiction is central to Hitchcock's art (including the Hitchcock TV shows, I might add). On the other hand, I believe that a deeper reading of Lifeboat (and Vertigo) than in terms of 'gender fascism' alone might be had by paying attention to its analogues in Schopenhauer's and Nietzche's concept of Will, as I have done in my book: it is no accident that Willy is so named, of course. (Schopenhauer, we now know, was the principal philosophic influence on the French and Belgian Symbolists.) Finally, I come to Richard Allen's piece on Murder! Allen has markedly progressed, as a Hitchcock exegetist, from the dry, theoretical analyst of The Birds a few years ago! He has learned to immerse himself in the social period and its background texts that enabled the arch-synthesiser, and wise observer, Hitchcock, to imply so much about British patriarchal society in Murder!, which is adapted from the novel by lesbian writer 'Clemence Dane' (Winifred Ashton) and Helen Simpson. Allen is absolutely correct to write of the film's ending: 'Is the triumph of heterosexual romantic love being asserted here or undercut? It is inadequate to interpret the scene either one way or another.' (p. 110) My only reservation: Allen, like John Orr writing in 'Hitchcock and Twentieth-Century Cinema' (review below), doesn't appear to have yet fully grasped how the 'bi-textuality' evinced by Hitchcock in 1930 carried over into his rendering of the tragic situations seen in such films as The Paradine Case, I Confess, and Psycho. More deeply yet, the capacity to imply, meaningfully, a message of 'There but for the grace of God, go I' (putting it succinctly, if crudely) was never a prerogative of Hitchcock alone, and needs to be recognised in the work of other socially-alert artists and thinkers of recent centuries. For example, the ending of Polanski's Oliver Twist (2005), showing Fagin visited in the condemned cell by Oliver (a scene based on both the Dickens novel and Cruikshank's famous engraving for it) is making similar humanist points to those of Murder!, I believe. (Allen's repeated invoking of Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc is a start, though he never adduces evidence that Hitchcock had seen and was remembering that film when he showed Nora in her cell in Murder!) The 'Annual' also has a nice article on "Topaz and Cold War Politics" by Michael Walker and a finally too pedantic reading of "Alfred Hitchcock's Carnival" in terms of the far-from-irrelevant literary theories of Mikhail Bakhtin, by Mark M. Hennelly, Jr. And Charles Barr contributes "Deserter or Honored Exile? Views of Hitchcock from Wartime Britain". (Subscription details for the 'Annual' are on our News & Comment page.) KM
• John Orr's 'Hitchcock and Twentieth-Century Cinema' (Wallflower Press, London & New York, hb and pb, 207pp) covers mainly familiar ground (e.g., the bisexual subtexts of several Hitchcock films), but often with a sharp eye and a fresh comment. Orr is Professor Emeritus in the School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh. He has written several books and articles on film, including 'Cinema and Modernity' (1993) and the concluding essay for 'Screening the City' (2003), edited by Mark Shiel and Tony Fitzmaurice, an essay called "The City Reborn: Cinema at the Turn of the Century". His latest book, 'The Cinema of Roman Polanski', comes out this year. As you might expect, he can be superficial, waving us towards a vista that he thinks (or hopes) is relevant to Hitchcock, then retreating into a show of little more than general knowledge of the topic and its texts/films. For example, he notes (pp. 96-97) that Grahame Greene's 'Brighton Rock' (1938) has its own take on the double chase pattern used by Hitchcock in The 39 Steps (1935), but Orr's ensuing description of Greene's novel is essentially just that: description. Our appreciation of either Greene or Hitchcock stays much as it was previously. (Orr's Bibliography is illuminating as much for its omissions as for its inclusions. Books by Gene D. Phillips, S.J., on Greene and on Hitchcock respectively - 1974, 1984 - are not listed there. I happen to think that Phillips's book on 'Grahame Greene: The Films of his Fiction' is rather good, more so than his Hitchcock book. As for Orr's bibliographical omissions, I'll return to those shortly.) But equally, you'd expect Orr to be adept with generalisations, and so it often proves. One I particularly liked was this formulation: 'In any key transaction [in a Hitchcock film] everything is clear and ambiguous at the same time.' (p. 40) Orr makes good use of that insight when he comes to explicate I Confess (1953) at the end of his book. The formulation itself, though, comes in the chapter called "Lost Identities: Hitchcock and David Hume". So too does the neat observation that characters played by James Stewart in the actor's four films for Hitchcock, starting with Rupert in Rope (1948) and ending with Scottie in Vertigo (1958), effectively represent a movement from Enlightenment rationality to post-Enlightenment romantic nemesis. (p. 50) Unfortunately, the chapter on Hume is a big disappointment overall. Per se, I have no quarrel with Orr's citing of Hume apropos Hitchcock's very British 'empiricist' (non-abstract) filmmaking, nor with the adducing of James Stewart's Scottish-Irish lineage and the fact that the names of two of the characters played by Stewart for Hitchcock (Dr Ben McKenna in the 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much, Scottie/John Ferguson in Vertigo) have Scottish names. 'The MacGuffin' has often pointed these things out! Hitchcock himself told Truffaut: 'Directors who lose control are concerned with the abstract.' In 'The MacGuffin' #29 we quoted from Peter Ackroyd's 'Albion' (2002): 'The history of English philosophy is also the history of empiricism ...' (Ackroyd, p. 384). In turn, we made Ackroyd's further point: 'The empirical temper [is] no less prominent in the art and music of England.' (Ackroyd, p. 392) Further, we have noted more than once that Hitchcock had many Scottish friends, not least the fine screenwriter Angus MacPhail. Back in 'The MacGuffin' #11 (February-May 1994), we noted the passing of another friend, Dr Charles Oakley, the Scottish author of 'Where We Came In: The Story of the British Cinematograph Industry' (1964), and the likelihood that, in a Hitchcock joke, Oakley had given his name to the villainous Uncle Charlie (Oakley) in Shadow of a Doubt (1943). (Cf Hitchcock's joke in Rear Window  of making the villainous Lars Thorwald physically resemble David Selznick.) Above all, apropos Scottie in Vertigo, we have had occasion (e.g., 'The MacGuffin' #1) to quote the Scottish art historian Sir Kenneth Clark (someone, incidentally, referred to in two Hitchcock films): 'The Scottish character ... shows an extraordinary combination of realism and reckless sentiment. The sentiment has passed into popular legend. ... But it's the realism that counts and that made eighteenth-century Scotland ... a force in European civilisation. ... [For example,] Hume, in his Treatise of Human Nature, succeeded in proving that experience and reason have no necessary connection with one another. There is no such thing as a rational belief.' ('Civilisation' , pp. 258-59) After reading that, we could infer that Scottie's quest in Vertigo for philosophical certainty ('If I could just find the key ...') is doomed from the outset! What is so disappointing about Orr's chapter on Hitchcock and Hume is its sprawling nature, and, ultimately, lack of philosophical overview. Naturally, I'm only grateful when Orr quotes from the 'Treatise' - 'It appears that the belief or assent, which always attends the memory and senses, is nothing but the vivacity of those perceptions they present' (my italics) - and observes that 'Hitchcock makes the vivacity of those perceptions that induce belief the fount of his moving image ...' (p. 27) But Orr struggles to convincingly show how his observation applies to such films as Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo. Moreover, he never mentions, apropos 'vivacity', what is surely the seminal Hitchcock text in this context, The 39 Steps (1935), based on the 'shocker' novel by Scottish author John Buchan, albeit the novel is much changed by the film. I apologise if I again advise the reader to consult what 'The MacGuffin' has already said about the matter, including on this website (and also on the 'Screening the Past' website of Latrobe University). In essence, we have shown how The 39 Steps is about a 'quickening', or vivifying, of the audience's mind and senses, whereby the audience comes to feel more alive. Of course, there's a deal of the philosopher Henri Bergson in this: in the 1920s and 1930s, Bergson was very much 'in the air'. Orr's book does refer to Bergson, with perfect orthodoxy, apropos Alain Resnais in the chapter about Hitchcock's influence on the French New Wave. (p. 134) But Orr makes no connection to Hitchcock's films themselves. Moreover, my point has always been that Hitchcock's essentially Schopenhauerian position, so evident in the Symbolist-influenced Vertigo, subsumes cultural influences from earlier thinkers, such as Hume, while opening the director to key vitalist ideas, including ones of Nietzsche and Bergson. Schopenhauer admired Hume, and the German philosopher's valuation of percepts above concepts may be attributed to his reading of his predecessor. Meanwhile, Hitchcock was always a Romantic-eclectic filmmaker. Okay. I've only space left to mention one more matter. Orr provides some useful cross-references to other films that may have influenced Hitchcock's (e.g., the likely influence of Cavalcanti's They Made Me a Fugitive  on Frenzy ), but characteristically overlooks many more. (Apropos Frenzy, et al., Orr should definitely check out the page on Lawrence Huntington's Wanted for Murder  on this website.) Equally, his thoughts on the French New Wave and on the bisexual subtexts of films from The Manxman (1929) to I Confess, and beyond, are somewhat vitiated by his evidently not having read works by James Vest and Theodore Price, respectively. More on Orr's book in "Editor's Week" soon. KM
• An enjoyable read, '"It's Only a Movie": Alfred Hitchcock - A Personal Biography' (Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books, 2005/2006, hb and pb, 349pp), by Charlotte Chandler, has the definite virtue of being informative for those who haven't read much else about the director except in the press. It's biography, not criticism, though each film gets a mention and a synopsis, typically with comments by Hitchcock himself and by stars or writers or crew who had been involved. It seems to have begun when Chandler once dined in Paris with two over-sized gentlemen, viz., Hitchcock and Henri Langlois, founder and curator of the Cinémathèque Française. Also present was Alma Hitchcock. Following that occasion, written up in the book's Introduction - including mention that Hitchcock much admired Visconti's Death in Venice (p. 6) - Chandler kept in touch with the Hitchcocks, more than once visiting them at home in California. Always her tape-recorder came with her. As well, Chandler, a professional 'friend of the stars', spoke over the years with scores of top Hollywood people about working with Hitch. I'm going to be generous and say that 10% of Chandler's book is new - but that is certainly worth reading. For example, we get Jay Presson Allen's assessment of Alma as 'very, very, very bright' (p. 274). Alma hadn't found the novel of The Trouble With Harry amusing, yet Hitch went ahead and filmed it anyway (p. 225); then, when he proposed making The Birds, from Daphne du Maurier's short story, again Alma was against it. As Hitchcock told Chandler: 'She didn't think there was enough story there.' And he added: 'Well, she was right. Not enough story, too many birds.' (p. 272) Arguably, Alma was right both times; however, in the first case, Hitch had ignored her misgivings because, as he remarked (in Alma's presence), one of the few things he didn't share with his wife was a similar sense of humour (p. 226). Afterwards he blamed the film's poor box-office on the film's distributors and exhibitors - 'my natural enemies' - who hadn't liked it either (p. 225). As for The Birds, Chandler notes that although it received mixed reviews and was disappointing at the box office, 'later it came to be held in much higher esteem' (no doubt helped by repeated screenings on television); nonetheless, it does seem to some of us to be lacking something 'authentic' for the individual viewer - sending Melanie up to the attic doesn't quite save the day! Marnie fared even worse on first release, yet may indeed have the 'authentic' note. Jay Presson Allen, though she calls her script for that film 'not ... terribly accomplished' (p. 275), reminds us that Hitch 'was a very Edwardian fellow ... possibly a little carried away by Tippi [Hedren]' (p.276). (She feels that there was no more to the reported rift with Tippi than that, though others quoted in the book see it differently - to this day Tippi's actress daughter, Melanie Griffith, calls Hitch 'a motherfucker': p. 272.) Diane Baker, who played Lil, provides a valuable account of the close attention Hitch gave the shot of her listening at the window, of how he positioned exactly both the curtain and her hair (p. 279). But Hitchcock's own words throughout the book are typically most insightful of all, and there are plenty of them. I value this formula, from the Langlois occasion, and almost worthy of another Henri, the philosopher Bergson: 'The experiencing of passion, as with fear, makes you feel alive. In the film, you can experience these very extreme feelings without paying the bill.' (p. 7) Mind you, Hitchcock, in speaking about psychiatry, told Chandler revealingly that he could not imagine telling anyone his own innermost fears and desires, 'not even ... myself' (pp. 157-58). Which is undoubtedly why he was, in every way, such a masterful filmmaker, and such an imaginative one. Because the house in Rebecca 'was dying', he had a chill wind blow Joan Fontaine's hair (p. 129) - something that later runs like a leitmotiv through a succession of Hitchcock films from Psycho to Torn Curtain and beyond. Hitchcock readily admits to Chandler his debt to the Symbolists: 'Very early, I was immensely struck by the Symbolists. For a time, I had Symbolist dreams.' (p. 19) And, speaking of influences, a valuable observation comes from Bryan Langley, who had been an assistant camera operator on both Murder! and its back-to-back German version, Mary, in 1930. Of Hitchcock's often-criticised fondness for practical jokes, he notes that such joking was very popular in England from the end of the Victorian era, and that its continuing popularity there after the First World War was 'really a reaction from' recent events (pp. 115-16). Unfortunately, the book has little slips throughout (e.g., that After the Verdict, in 1927, for Henrik Galeen, was Alma's last screenplay for a director other than her husband [p. 69] - actually, such a distinction goes to The Passing of the Third Floor Back, in 1936, for Berthold Viertel; that Hitchcock directed the student short An Elastic Affair made at BIP in 1930 [p. 76] - in fact he only supervised it; that Robert Donat was scheduled to play Verloc in Sabotage [p.105] - he was of course scheduled to play Ted, the character eventually portrayed rather boringly by John Loder). Still, I'm only gratified by Chandler's conviction that the character Tisdall in Young and Innocent had been one of Christine's lovers (p. 107): the film couldn't actually say that, and Tisdall denies it to the police, but the accusation by Christine's husband - before he murders her - that he's tired of Christine's 'boys' always hanging around lingers on ... KM
• [Here's a guest-review by Bill Krohn, the Los Angeles correspondent for 'Cahiers du Cinéma, of Murray Pomerance's 'An Eye for Hitchcock' (Rutgers University Press, 2004, pb and hb, 307 pp). Publisher's website: Rutgers University Press.]
Like other notable Canadian intellectuals, Murray Pomerance is no follower of the intellectual fashions. His introduction to 'An Eye for Hitchcock', a blast of chill northern air, blows away the cobwebs festooning the Hitchcock Memorial that has been erected in the US in recent years, garlands spun by spiders in whom the radioactive rays emitted by a few French geniuses have induced bizarre mutations. At the same time, Pomerance's habit of breaking off communication every now and then to assume the mien of an oracle reminds one more of Marshall McLuhan than it does of Northrop Frye and Donald Harman Akenson, whose recent history of the Bible and the Talmud, 'Surpassing Wonder', is a wonder itself because of its commitment to reason, which carries over to its style. The orphic flights in 'An Eye for Hitchcock' pose an occasional problem for the reader, but not an insurmountable one. And they are a small price to pay for the riches the book contains. Continuing the Canadian comparisons for a moment: Akenson is a Professor of Irish History at Queen's University; Pomerance is chair of the department of sociology at Ryerson University. Nothing in their academic job descriptions promised major contributions to biblical scholarship and Hitchcock criticism, yet that's what they have produced. Blame it on Canada. In ways that mystify us bumpkins to the south, many things are done better there than they are here. Murray Pomerance is the first sociologist to write on Hitchcock, and his knowledge of this little-understood discipline yields stunning revelations in every chapter. (There are six: one each on North by Northwest, Spellbound, Torn Curtain, Marnie, I Confess and Vertigo.) Hitchcock, Jay Presson Allen told the author, was always observing what went on around him. Pomerance believes that this position of the observer, coupled to the director's previous experience of English class society, gave him more than a layman's understanding of the world to which he transplanted himself in 1939, and this book convinces us that it was so. Pomerance's step-by-step analysis/appreciation of Roger Thornhill's campaign of calculated boorishness during the auction in North By Northwest - four pages as funny as what they describe - is one of many passages where his trained eye (portrayed on the book's cover) explores scenes and leitmotifs that critics have neglected: the scene leading up to the first kiss between Constance Peterson and 'Dr. Edwardes' in Spellbound; the scene at the blackboard in Torn Curtain; the leitmotifs of bathroom and automat in Marnie (which were going to come together in one shot before Hitchcock decided to loop different off-screen dialogue); the 'play within the play' when Keller announces Villette's death in I Confess while Father Logan is perched on a ladder, painting the sitting room of the rectory. In the North By Northwest chapter, Pomerance tracks the riddles of identity propounded by the 'George Kaplan' MacGuffin through many surprising examples of how 'Roger isn't himself,' coming finally to the paradoxical conclusion that 'he is quite wrong about not being George Kaplan' (author's italics). Roger's existential crisis comes upon him in Room 796 of the Plaza, when he begins to realize 'that he is at least the sort of person who could easily be mistaken for Kaplan by everyone in the hotel: he is Kaplanesque.' This delightful word means, among other things, 'rank consumer,' a role that Roger, the master of marketing, has always considered himself to be above. Leading us back through the film, Pomerance then demonstrates that Roger is defined by his charming pretense that he is a bit above being a consumer, one of the suckers. Films about the advertising business were a genre in the late 50s, the American version of the European art films made in conformity to what Jean-Pierre Oudart calls 'the Bresson model' ('Cahiers du cinéma' 232), in which the hero, no revolutionary, is sympathetically 'out of it,' refusing participation in society's rituals of exchange (economic, sexual or linguistic). Here, however, the Man in the Gray Silk Suit is himself seen as suffering from a form of alienation that is finally nothing but an ideological feint (to use a term that Pomerance wouldn't). The turning point for Roger comes when he haughtily refuses the wise (and free!) advice of the farmer to get on the bus, is strafed by the crop-duster and escapes in a stolen pickup. Once he steals the pickup, Roger is finally 'in the world' - on the way to a hopeful outcome that is, ironically, not unlike that of Robert Bresson's Pickpocket (also released in 1959), in which the hero is saved by love and rejoins the human race. In a groundbreaking article on North By Northwest, Raymond Bellour argued that the mechanism by which Thornhill is obliged to identify with Kaplan, a fiction created by the CIA, exposes in an exemplary way the mechanisms of seduction used by what was then known as 'classical cinema.' Pomerance turns this reading on its head by arguing that Thornhill, by becoming Kaplan, becomes authentic, beginning to give 'a live performance that until this moment has been nothing but a hollow rehearsal and a game.' The demonstration of this idea is compelling enough to remind us that Roberto Rossellini made yet another film that was released in 1959 with the same theme: General della Rovere, in which a no-good becomes a hero by being obliged to play one. A little sociology (Erving Goffman's 'The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life', which also appeared in 1959, was one of the main sources of inspiration for this chapter) does indeed seem to go a long way in illuminating Hitchcock. Each chapter has a different focus: The brief one on Spellbound offers fresh perspectives on Hitchcock and Freud; the discussion of Torn Curtain peels back the spy thriller façade to expose a study of hierarchy and rituals of interaction in academia; Marnie turns out to be a film about class, not hysteria; I Confess is illuminated by historical considerations concerning the conflict between Church and State in Quebec in 1953; and the chapter on Vertigo leaves social commentary behind for a difficult but rewarding investigation of vertigo and verticality, past and present, sight and sound (and their synesthetic exchange) in a film whose mysteries lie in another realm altogether. Rereading individual chapters with the whole in mind is, of course, quite rewarding: The terrible moment when Roger and Eve discover that they are on top of the Monument, for example, exemplifies Pomerance's definition of vertigo, developed at greater length in its own chapter, as the discovery that one is higher up than one thought - an experience that the spectator of Hitchcock's cinema, where ideas of verticality are viscerally important, constantly risks encountering. My favorite chapter is the one on Marnie, where Pomerance, a fan of Stanley Cavell, implicitly reinterprets the film as a variant on Cavell's famous schema for comedies of remarriage without ever alluding to his predecessor, and in the process greatly improves on his performance as a Hitchcock exegete. The much-maligned Mark Rutland is rehabilitated as a class-bound sexual predator who drops his blinders enough to finally be a friend to Marnie; she in turn is revealed to be another character like Roger Thornhill, radically displaced in childhood and chasing after an ever receding, ever beckoning phantom. In a final pirouette, Pomerance demonstrates that Marnie is not only a revolutionary at odds with a society dominated by men and money, but 'an avenger from below the Mason-Dixon line, redeeming its losses by single-handedly and with the greatest of dignity pilfering the vaults of the great northern cities and businessmen.' This surprising conclusion suggests another cinematic analogy, this time to a film made a decade later: John Cassavetes' A Woman Under the Influence, whose feuding couple, as novelist Pierre Rottenberg commented in 1974 ('Cahiers du cinéma' 273), seem to be re-fighting the Civil War in their living-room. Throughout 'An Eye for Hitchcock' Pomerance demonstrates an understanding of people that is anything but clinical. He is at his most un-clinical whenever he is putting paid to stereotypical ideas about Hitchcock, as when he questions Evan Hunter's testy piety about refusing to write the honeymoon rape scene in Marnie, which led to his dismissal. 'I suspect Hunter's middle-classness could not bear to write the officially-sanctioned husband as a rapist,' Pomerance observes, 'yet had no problem countenancing Bernice Edgar's violation (since, unmarried to her attacker, she was fair game).' The most important sentence in the book is an aside about the techniques used to make the spectator identify with little Marnie's own interpretation (and not the cliché Freudian one) of her primal scene: 'all of Hitch's work is about sympathy.' It is no accident that at this point Pomerance, a canny observer of the signals by which Hitchcock's characters read and write one another, permits himself for the only time in the book to use the nickname 'Hitch.' BK
• 'The Shower Scene in Hitchcock's Psycho: Creating Cinematic Suspense and Terror' (Edward Mellen Press, hb, 409pp) is authored/compiled by Dr Phil Skerry. As well as background and analysis, Skerry includes interviews with star Janet Leigh, scriptwriter Joseph Stefano, assistant director Hilton Green, sound designer Danny Greene, assistant editor Terry Williams, and with the editor of the Gus Van Sant remake of Psycho, Amy Duddleston. The book culminates with first-person accounts of the initial viewing of Psycho and its shower scene - including reminiscences by several readers of this website. Okay. Phil Skerry is a genial, conscientous lecturer from Kirtland, Ohio, whose first book - if I'm not mistaken - this is. (He has, however, 'written numerous articles on film for scholarly journals and for anthologies'.) Regrettably, his book needed a good editor but evidently got none. And that's a comment that I would extend even more strongly to the other Hitchcock volume so far in Mellen's expensively-priced series 'Studies in the History and Criticism of Film', namely, William A. Drumin's 'Thematic and Methodological Foundations of Alfred Hitchcock's Artistic Vision'. (I'll include a link to the publisher's website below.) Dr Skerry's book is a mix of occasional perceptive passages by himself and his guests and a lot of quite ordinary, and dull, writing. Though nearly always sensible, it should have been drastically cut. But at one point director Wes Craven injects a lively note: 'I didn't see Psycho when it first came out. I was a Baptist in a conservative church that forbid [sic] moviegoing. [But eventually] I caught the movie in an art house theater in New York. ... [The shower scene is] simply overwhelming, and ... I realized one of the great truths to making frightening movies: that the first monster the audience must fear ... is the film maker himself. Hitchcock's sophistication, humor, storyboarded shots, all give the sense that you're watching a finely constructed watch move through its cycles. But then there's this scene - and the watch shatters, the humor vanishes, and one is left in utter isolation with the victim ... [and] your most deeply hidden fears. A sense of disorientation sets in ... [but eventually you get off the rollercoaster]. Dizzy, shaky, giddy and laughing. Glad to be alive.' (pp. 360-61) Nothing in the book tops that - though it's complemented by film buff Nathan Phillips's emphasis on the importance of the deceptive 'morality play' leading up to the shower scene (p. 374) and by Dr Skerry's insight that the shower scene creates 'an abstract space of terror' (p. 78). Of the interviews, I most liked the ones with Janet Leigh, Joseph Stefano, and Hilton Green. None of these was merely trivial, and Hilton Green stuck to his guns that the brief shot of a knife appearing to penetrate flesh may have been 'put in later by somebody, after the fact'. (p. 154) If that's true, it makes me wonder about some other moments, notably the death-gurgle of Arbogast. After not seeing Psycho for many years, I couldn't believe my ears when I heard that execrable, cheap sound in a television print. I certainly didn't remember it from earlier viewings - yet as an undergraduate I'd run the film many, many times - and I still can't accept that Hitch, a man of exquisite taste, could have stooped to putting it in his film. But to come back to that shot of the knife: Skerry gets it wrong. He refers to 'a few drops of blood' (p. 290) around the knife when, in fact, we see only bruising - and, below that, the pubic area covered by just-detectable moleskin (though Skerry doesn't mention this). Now, such a matter may indeed be trivial, but it's also symptomatic of (a) the sort of thing Skerry frequently lights on (cf his excitement when told that the sound of the knife entering flesh wasn't done with melons but with an animal carcase) and (b) other errors he makes (e.g., claiming, on p. 222, that the chair seen in the rain when Marion drives up to the Bates Motel figures later as the chair in which Mrs Bates is seated in the cellar - in fact the two chairs are quite different). I was appalled by how much this supposedly comprehensive book leaves out (e.g., no reference to Norman's double-entendre re 'stuffing things') - and by the mundane level on which it largely stays. It even misses how the shower murder itself has a precise rhythm and force centred on successive - five, I think - downward thrusts of the knife, each stronger and more exactly-focussed than the last. (The screenplay refers to the knife 'tearing at the very screen', which seems to be the idea here.) Finally, I really don't think that Skerry appreciates something else that is strongly present in this film, namely, its director's mature grasp of the irony of life, as Friedrich Schlegel defined that term: 'recognition of the fact that the world in its essence is paradoxical and that an ambivalent attitude alone can grasp its contradictory totality'. (I know I need to demonstrate that, and shall do so elswhere.) True, he quotes Dennis Perry ('Hitchcock and Poe') to the effect that a spectator's feeling fear while experiencing safety is 'the paradox of the sublime' (p. 349), but as so often when Skerry cites someone, he doesn't sound convincing: the quote feels skimped. Typically, Skerry's quotes are bland ones, lacking inspiration. (Raymond Durgnat would have rolled his eyes.) Nonetheless, I'm confident that writing 'The Shower Scene in Hitchcock's Psycho' was a learning experience for its author, and that, with his next book, Dr Phil will both entertain and instruct us - succinctly! KM (For more information about books from Edward Mellen Press, click here: mellenpress.com.)
• Michael Walker's 'Hitchcock's Motifs' (Amsterdam University Press, pb and hb, 490pp) describes some forty motifs, themes and clusters from Hitchcock's work including both all of the extant feature films and several of the Hitchcock-directed episodes from his TV series. If the book has a single great virtue it's Walker's dedication to avoiding rash generalisations and to detailing, for example, just how Patrick McGilligan gets 'spectacularly wrong' (p. 207) his claim that when Hitchcock's villains die they do so contritely: 'Far from confessing, as McGilligan maintains, what most Hitchcock villains do is evade guilt, deny it, blame someone else, try to kill the person who knows that they are guilty.' (p. 209) Of the motifs in general, Walker says that they 'reveal a much bleaker world than is usual in mainstream culture' (p. 52); discussing "Public Disturbances" in Hitchcock, Walker notes how - in showing responses of 'fear, shock, panic, excitement, anger, outrage, amusement, embarrassment, confusion, sympathy, distress' - the director reaffirms 'his mastery of "the cinema of emotions"' (p. 343). Walker is a punctilious writer and one who cares about being understood by his readers (contra, say, 'postmodernist' Tom Cohen, whose execrable 'Hitchcock's Cryptonymies' we've reviewed here), and so I'm grateful for many particular things from this book. Here are just a few instances of those. The public disturbances may be classified as either 'centripetal' or 'centrifugal' - p. 336; Willi (Walter Slezak) in Lifeboat 'seems to emerge out of the sea itself' - p 391; Slezak was probably first seen by Hitchcock in Carl Dreyer's Mikaël (1924) which seems to have influenced the Hitchcock-scripted The Blackguard (1925) - pp. 329-30; a salient line from the latter film is St Peter's advice to the hero: 'You will be the greatest violinist in the world, as long as you love only your art [and aren't distracted by the flesh]' - p. 352; bromides, which feature in Spellbound, had been used during the recent war to reduce male libido - p. 187; Hitchcock enjoyed exploring 'the elasticity of food as a metaphor: [that is,] the sheer range of possible associations' - p. 193; etc., etc. Just how Walker treats a particular motif, that of "Confined Spaces", you may judge for yourself (before, hopefully, ordering the book) by visiting the EXCERPTS feature on this website. Also, I intend to discuss several of Walker's points in special items for "Editor's Day" soon. But I have some criticisms of the book, both in its conception and its execution, and I'll try to at least suggest their nature here. The book is slow to hit its stride, something exacerbated by the inclusion of two superfluous diagrams (pp. 47-48) whose only point seems to be, pace George Orwell, that all the motifs are connected though some are more connected than others. But with the entry on "Blondes and Brunettes" (pp. 69-86), things liven up; for instance, it's nice to see Walker quoting from Marina Warner's 'From the Beast to the Blonde' (1995) which we once discussed in "Editor's Day" and which notes the paradox that traditionally blondes could symbolise either fertility or virginity. Both traits are seen in Hitchcock's blondes, even in the same character, perhaps because 'fertility' (that is, active sexuality!) must usually only be implied! (Not so implicit, it's true, is the case of Grace Kelly's desperate Lisa in Rear Window who announces she's literally prepared to stay overnight in bachelor Jeff's apartment - of course, his broken leg serves to appease the Hays Office.) Nonetheless I suspect that blondes for Hitchcock, from The Lodger onwards, were often as much markers - visual counterpoint to darkness (compare Hitchcock's fondness for neon signs) - as fetish-figures, which isn't something Walker considers. Indeed, he repeats approvingly John Russell Taylor's suggestion that in Vertigo Scottie's make-over of the brunette Judy into the blonde 'Madeleine' (both characters played by Kim Novak) meant something 'extremely personal to Hitchcock'. Questioned about this by Charles Thomas Samuels ('Encountering Directors', 1972), Hitchcock said explicitly, 'No, there's nothing in that.' (Walker's Bibliography shows that he hasn't read Samuels. Nor, in particular, has he read Dominique Païni and Guy Cogeval's 'Hitchcock and Art: Fatal Coincidences'  whose pictorial emphasis is a corrective to much over-speculative Hitchcock criticism.) Which brings me to the lesson I would draw - it's my major criticism of Walker's approach. Committed, consciously or unconsciously, to a variant of his mentor Robin Wood's thematic way of 'taking Hitchcock seriously', Walker follows an old-fashioned line and never appreciates what I see as Hitchcock's detached and protean - not to say pragmatic - relation to his work and to his audience. Most certainly, Hitchcock wouldn't have gone as far as Louis MacNeice who asserted, 'A poem [read: film] should not mean but be', but I nonetheless commend to Walker the Prologue in the Theatre of Goethe's 'Faust' with its significantly three-way dialogue between The Poet, The Producer, and The Clown. I have to say that Walker seldom shows appreciation of the sheer showman's brilliance and gestalt achievement of the films' many set-pieces, nor of those films' sensuous qualities (in this respect, Walker's "Water and Rain" entry is one of lost opportunities), nor of Hitchcock's wit and playfulness. In turn, Walker's otherwise often splendid book is full of little absurdities, especially when he attributes whole gay subtexts where some of us see only fleeting shadings or humorous inversions or even just inadvertent nuances. Twice (pp. 110, 163) Walker asks what Ted (John Loder) and young Stevie in Sabotage are up to back of Mr Verloc's cinema; and apropos the "One More Mile to Go" episode of the TV series, he speculates (pp. 412-13) why the cop trailing the David Wayne character is seemingly so keen to insert his 'nifty crowbar' into the car's trunk. 99% of the time Walker covers himself by saying things like 'a case could [at least] be made' (p. 413) or 'there are always exceptions, variations, complications' (pp. 234-35) to what he wants to assert. But my case is much more than I've been able to set down here, and so I'll take it up this coming week in "Editor's Day", probably over several days. A final point for now. Asked who 'Hitchcock's Motifs' is directed to, I would say: to undergraduates and to their instructors taking a Major course in the director's films (and, of course, to Walker's fellow authors writing on Hitchcock who can now quickly remind themselves of all the permutations of a particular motif). KM
• Prof. Tom Cohen's 'Hitchcock's Cryptonymies' (University of Minnesota Press, pb and hb) is a two-volume expansion of his earlier 30-page essay called "Hitchcock and the death of (Mr.) Memory (technology of the visible)" (1994). As such, it includes the tenet (derived ultimately from Friedrich Nietzsche, Walter Benjamin, and no doubt Jacques Derrida, another notable influence on Cohen) that 'memory' is a trap that Hitchcock's films 'mark' and 'efface' and warn us against. Well, something like that! It's hard to know! A favourite term of Cohen's is 'deauratic' (roughly 'de-mystifying'), referencing Benjamin's notion of aura/auratic, applicable to art and tradition and the mystiques attaching to them. For his part, Nietzsche warned us against being seduced by a belief in a hereafter - that is, a form of the future rather than the past, but amounting to much the same thing - instead of being strong enough to embrace each successive instant, this actual life, in all its fullness, whatever the pain and suffering it might inflict. (Note: Vol. 1 of Cohen's book includes a chapter "The Zarathustrian Hitchcock".) Cohen's book is as dense, as difficult, and as inconclusive as his earlier essay. And, I'm going to insist, as wilful. Bill Routt, for many years the head of Cinema Studies at Latrobe University, Melbourne, once reviewed William Rothman's 'Hitchcock - the Murderous Gaze' (1982) by calling it the most arrogant film book he'd ever encountered. But now that mantle of arrogance passes to Cohen! Citing Rothman's identification of Hitchcock's supposed 'signature' in the recurrent 'bar series' found in all the films - a visual pattern of black and white bars, which Rothman represents on the page as //// - Cohen excitedly claims that this 'pattern of parallel bars is without any possible mimetic value' (Vol. 1, p. xvi); in other words, he implies that Rothman's insight (such as it is - see following) shows Hitchcock's concern to avoid the auratic trap. (This, after alleging, with some truth, that Rothman himself had been 'unable to assign a content, proper role, or function to it' - Vol. 2, p. 4.) First, such a claim about what Hitchcock intended is typical of Cohen, being both dubious and unprovable, not to say infinitely more likely (an an intention) to have originated in Cohen's head than in Hitchcock's. Second, to say that the //// series is without any possible mimetic value is patently untrue: in Waltzes From Vienna (1933) as a flickering alternation of light and shadow high up on a basement wall it conveniently represents (or 'mimes') the 'passing parade' of pedestrians and carriages adjoining Ebezedar's bakery; in The 39 Steps (1935) as the uprights in the back of a chair when the police approach the crofter's cottage it represents (or 'mimes') the threat of arrest and imprisonment that Hannay faces at that moment. Third, the very claim that this convenient (in a finite range of possibilities) visual motif, or way of doing things (registering movement, lending depth to a composition, giving texture to a surface, making a symbolic point), is Hitchcock's signature, is an over-statement, and rather trivial. As a recurring figure, it crops up in the films much less often than, say, the 'rule of thirds' in composition (two illustrations on facing pages of Cohen - Vol. 2, pp. 4-5 - one of which, showing the lines on a bedspread in Spellbound , is included to illustrate the //// motif, both demonstrate the rule of thirds working, but this receives no comment from Cohen!). Much less trivial, I suggest, is one of the earliest things I learnt about Hitchcock's films - pointed out to me by Australian filmmaker Brian Davies - namely, that they nearly all include neon signs. (Ah, but such signs can be given symbolic or 'normative' readings, which Cohen tends to shun: his thesis is essentially monolithic as well as wilful! Yet, by that very fact, I suggest, it is un-Hitchcockian, given the director's propensity, akin to that of Keats or Shakespeare, to recognise and allow 'the protean nature of all concepts' - the phrase is Germaine Greer's in her 1986 monograph on Shakespeare. I'm reminded of what Guy tells Bruno in the novel 'Strangers on a Train': 'That everything has its opposite close beside it.') Now, I've alleged Cohen's wilfulness several times, and I've just referred to 'the protean nature of all concepts'. I'll try to sum up, and focus, this review by, first, giving a couple more instances of Cohen's wilfulness, and then, second, invoking my favourite philosopher! In order to present aspects of his thesis that, since Blackmail (1929), 'Hitchcock's oeuvre [is] an event without a transition from a bibliocentric culture to one of telemedia' (Vol. 2, p. xiii), Cohen is constantly making assertions (and proceeding from them) as if they were proven facts (such as how Rothman's 'bar series' permits, or extends to, scenes set in actual bars/saloons: vide, say, the Globe public house in Frenzy ) and telling us that such scenes are to be 'marked': Hitchcock's own concern with 'marking', we're told, is indicated by the fact that the second The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) opens in Marrakesh. There are fundamental insights and close observations in these two volumes - though they're not always as original as Cohen seems to think - but the whole edifice strikes me as based on wanton, wilful thought, which is exactly what Schopenhauer warned all theorisers against. He distinguished between percepts and concepts. The former are relatively trustworthy because they must all the time - by definition - be tested against observable reality; but concepts may prove treacherous because they can become just an unbroken chain of concepts linked to other concepts, on and on, while testable reality (as opposed to mere logic, or theorising) is excluded. Also, concepts are capable of turning into their opposites! If ever a book showed how right Schopenhauer was, it may be this one of Cohen's, which I find short on impressive, eureka-type percepts and the work of a kind of 'idiot savant' playing a music which is all very fine (for those who like it) but which relates mainly, as I say, to the inside of Cohen's head. Accordingly, I think of Thornhill's remark in North by Northwest, 'What a performance!' KM [Volume I of Cohen's book has the title 'Secret Agents'; Volume II is called 'War Machines'. For more information, click the publisher's URL: Hitchcock’s Cryptonymies (II).]
• [Here's a guest-review by Prof. Tony Williams of 'Alfred Hitchcock's Silent Films' (McFarland & Co., 2004, pb and hb, 223 pages) by Marc Raymond Strauss. The publishers have a website at mcfarlandpub.com.]
A study exclusively devoted to the silent films of Alfred Hitchcock is long overdue especially after the pioneering work of Charles Barr, Maurice Yacowar, and others, despite the fact that these authors are
collectively 'a hard act to follow'. This study attempts to develop Hitchcock's remarks to Truffaut concerning the importance of silent film in general and the director's own work in this field. It intends to reveal the 'mature artistry' contained within ten films directed between 1925 and 1929 in terms of close readings, shot-by-shot descriptions, technical information, and interpretation. Unfortunately, this book does not live up to its promise. Instead, it resembles a badly written series of class teaching notes which ought to have led to a more polished and professional final version. Although Mario Falsetto's 'Stanley Kubrick: a Narrative and Stylistic Analysis' (2001) often uses sentences beginning 'Cut to', Strauss's entire book uses this term ad nauseum without any other redeeming features of engaging prose style. I found the book drudgery to read in its entirety. Strauss does know about his predecessors and often cites them. Unfortunately, he delivers no material of any great interest to this area. Despite its claim to close reading of individual films, the book tells us little that is not already known and leaves out several sequences that ought to have received comment. Although meticulously documenting particular shots as well as reverse cutting in editing, his overwhelming and ponderous descriptive examples resemble a skeleton on the anatomy table deprived of the relevant elements of flesh, blood, and breath that made the subject 'alive' in the first place. The book never delivers the excitement of discovering why we 'should take Hitchcock seriously' as Robin Wood stated four decades ago. Neither does it supply the relevant cultural and historical background features that Ken Mogg has meticulously supplied in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' and his informative "Editor's Day" columns on this website. Although Strauss claims to have visited archives in London and Dallas, his explorations furnish little new material. He mentions the arrest of the suspect in the silent version of Blackmail but then weakly remarks that he cannot remember 'such a detailed search and arrest in the sound version'. (202) While repeating what William Rothman has noted concerning The Lodger (1927) in 'Hitchcock - The Murderous Gaze' (1982), Strauss overlooks the Nosferatu associations contained within Novello's theatrical entrance into the film. He also makes poor attempts at humor such as his pun on the surname of Malcolm Keen. (30) Strauss has some perverse fondness for using the term 'snurd' for cigarette. 'He fires up her snurd without so much as a body pivot.' (38) This refers to Novello lighting up a girl's cigarette when watching Daisy at the fashion show. I have searched in vain for 'snurd' in the Webster and Oxford English Dictionaries and have just consulted my Creative Writing colleagues who are equally mystified. Strauss has a fondness for the term as pp. 71 and
93 also show. But it appears to be another example of the weak humor appearing in his book on the level of 'Why Hitch, you naughty, naughty prankster, you!' (51) Errors also appear. Isabel Jeans died in 1985 not 1965. (44) Strauss is more generous to Downhill (1927) than Charles Barr and even notes some interesting camera movements concerning the scene in the headmaster's study. (46) But such isolated instances are not enough to overcome the bad scholarship in this dreadful book. Differences between the stage and film versions of The Farmer's Wife (1928) remain unexplored and The Manxman receives five pages of generally redundant comment. Strauss also unnecessarily repeats himself as in mentioning twice (100, 121) that Carl Brisson was a trained boxer. Despite some good descriptive examples concerning The Ring (1929), these are not enough to save a book which should have been rewritten, given that it was accepted for publication in the first place. After seeing Otto Preminger's Exodus (1960) American humorist Mort Sahl exclaimed, 'Let my people go!' Since Strauss states on p. 108 that he has written another book (unmentioned in his bibliography) titled Hitchcock's Worst Films (and Why They Are So Good!)', I can only cry, 'Let Hitchcock Go!' Strauss has made several key Hitchcock silent films appear simply boring. TW
• [A new novel, 'Saddling Mahmoud', by Sebastian Bell, is published in the UK by The Book Publishing Company. It's reviewed here by film scholar Michael Walker.]
'Saddling Mahmoud' is a first-person novel about a journalist researching a magazine piece on ‘what has happened to film on celluloid?’ which transforms into a quest centred on Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (1935). The narrator (Seb) tries to track down a 16 or 35 mm copy of the film and any interesting artefacts pertaining to its production. He is staggeringly inept; everyone he approaches is monumentally unhelpful. The quest is interspersed with (1) ‘flashbacks’ to childhood and to his troubled relationship with his girlfriend Beth and their disabled daughter Charlie and (2) ruminations on a number of scenes from The 39 Steps, mainly along the lines of how improbable the events in the film are when you think about them. The novel is also illustrated with little photographs: some suggesting places or objects mentioned in the text, some actual frame stills from The 39 Steps. The incidents in the novel – past and present – are not just described, but mused over in great detail, so that each goes on for a very long time – and is usually inconclusive. Seb also spends time periodically with his male friends, who are all remarkably irritating or boring or both. The novel is not devoid of perceptive observations, but is overlong and pretty hard going. I did not finish it, deciding on page 216 (of 350) that I’d had enough. Mahmoud had by this stage been introduced as a horse running in the 1936 Derby (a reference to a question asked of Mr Memory in the movie). Jumping ahead to p 251, I read that he was in fact the winner. ‘Saddling Mahmoud’ is then identified (pp 343-44) as ... but, no, that would be giving away too much. The passages on The 39 Steps are usually if not always accurate, and Bell wastes quite a lot of time trying to work out where in the East End Hitchcock filmed the exterior outside The Music Hall, when any film buff could have told him at once it was in the studio. The comments about the film are not terribly interesting. MW
• Irving Singer's 'Three Philosophical Filmmakers: Hitchcock, Welles, Renoir' (MIT Press; hb and pb, 279pp) devotes equal space to its three chosen directors - relying mainly on their published articles and interviews - then further honours them with a valedictory chapter ('A Family Portrait') that attempts to draw crucial distinctions and homogeneities. Although this review will concentrate on what Singer says of Hitchcock, I was grateful for such things as the singling out for particular discussion of Welles's The Immortal Story (1968). I once made that film a cornerstone of a course on the iconography of 'the lost paradise', so-titled from a phrase of Welles (describing 'the principal theme of Western art') and assimilable to another phrase of his, one used by Singer, about the 'myth of the past'; but the 'lost paradise' notion can be almost equally applied to imagery and structures found in Hitchcock and Renoir - for example, Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972) and Renoir's The Golden Coach (1953). Singer has previously written a book on film ('Reality Transformed') and seems to be related to film historian Ben Singer (whose most recent book was the richly-researched 'Melodrama and modernity'). But his specialities are the thought of philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952) and the 'nature and pursuit of love' (the title of an anthology of Singer's work). Accordingly, he writes in the broad style of a humanist essayist - and doesn't always skirt shallowness and platitude. For all of his protestations of disinterest and lack of judgemental outlook, Singer repeatedly characterises Hitchcock as merely the arch-manipulator and aesthete: he gives the show away when he admits (pp. 43-44) that he has always 'hated' Bernard Herrmann's scores for Hitchcock - 'not ... a model of good film music' - yet has always 'liked' Herrmann's contributions to the first two Welles features. (He backs up his position with an awkward analogy whereby Herrmann's scores for Hitchcock are seen as the equivalent of turning up the cinema's heating to make us more sympathetic to the suffering characters onscreen. Bang goes any appreciation of, for example, the mellifluous and variegated score of The Trouble With Harry , the profound and achingly suggestive nature of every note and chord heard in Vertigo , the sardonic wit and Khachaturian vigour of the music for North by Northwest .) Of course, there is one passage in the book, however tentatively expressed, that I can only be grateful for: the analogy Singer draws (pp. 230-31) between what drives Hitchcock's characters and the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer's concept of 'will'. Singer writes: 'We identify with these characters because we all feel that, regardless of what others may assume, we ourselves are fundamentally innocent and not infrequently unjustifiable casualties in life. Schopenhauer believed that merely in being alive each of us is a victim of the metaphysical force he called the will to live.' And Singer continues: 'Hitchcock might very well agree. [...] To some degree we even identify with Hitchcock's beguiling villains. They manifest the selfish, even ruthless assertiveness that we too might like to have.' Nonetheless, this passage of Singer's fudges the difference between 'the will to live' and Schopenhauer's still broader concept of the cosmic 'Will' (cf. the 'Brahman' of Hinduism) which is, after all, what is most analogous to 'pure cinema' (not for nothing are so many of Hitchcock's credits sequences about an impersonal 'force' at work) - and which inspired Hitchcock's favourite composer Richard Wagner when, after reading Schopenhauer, he devised such musical effects as the technique of 'the suspension'. In sum, though Singer's always fluent book is not as informed about cinema as Peter Conrad's books on Hitchcock and Welles, I will tweak what I once wrote here about Conrad's 'The Hitchcock Murders': ultimately, 'Three Philosophical Filmmakers' makes good reading, but mainly for the belles-lettres set. KM
• Here follows a review of a chapter by Melissa Zinkin called "FILM AND THE TRANSCENDENTAL IMAGINATION: Kant and Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes". (It is Chapter 14 in Matthew Kiernan and Dominic McIver Lopes [eds], 'Imagination, Philosophy and the Arts' [Routledge, 2003], pp. 245-258.) I was attracted to it because of the huge influence of Kant's idea of the transcendental imagination on Schopenhauer, whose philosophy I see as closely approximating the underlying view of the world - and the nature of 'pure cinema' - one encounters in Hitchcock's films. (In a recent email, Melissa Zinkin told me that what I say about the life-force apropos Hitchcock 'seems right'. Thanks for that, Melissa!) Now, basic to the chapter is Kant's distinction between two modes of 'imagination'. The 'transcendental imagination' is simply the a priori faculty of the mind that makes cognition possible, giving raw sensory input a sense of time passing, for example. On the other hand, Kant believed that aesthetic experience is only possible when the basic rules of perception are, so to speak, waived or overridden. 'According to Kant, only when the imagination is free from guidance by rules and is at play, does it have an aesthetic relation to an object.' (p. 249) In relation to this 'progressive' (as I'll call it) mode of imagination, Kant had nothing to say concerning matters of time. But, notes Zinkin, Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938) 'is [in fact] about memory and time'. (p. 251) Accordingly, Zinkin detects in the film a virtual critique of the inadequacy of Kant's primary theory of the imagination alone (call it 'the objectivity of the sciences' - cf. p. 258) in favour of a different form of imagination 'that could articulate the subject's experience of the world' - ditto). Zinkin notes that Hitchcock repeatedly helps us remember things in his films by giving them special emphasis: e.g., by endowing ordinary objects 'with vital importance ... often by means of visual tricks, such as illuminating the glass of milk in Suspicion , but also by means of having the camera actually linger just a second longer on such objects, as with ... the playing of the tune in The Lady Vanishes'. (p. 253) The trouble with this observation for Hitchcockians, though, is that there's nothing remarkable about it, making one question the need for Kant to be introduced at all! Nor does it help when Zinkin's argument produces this cumbersome definition of suspense: 'Suspense is what happens when the imagination tries to create a form of time in which an event can happen sooner, by imagining a future object or event and trying to connect it with the present one.' (p. 254) I much prefer Ian Cameron's succinct definition (which surely says everything needful): 'anxious waiting'! But Zinkin hasn't quite finished. 'Another form of time that is presented in film', she notes, 'is historical time.' (p. 255) The Lady Vanishes appears to allude to then-recent events in Munich. For a Kantian like Zinkin, this produces thoughts about how the 'progressive' mode of imagination constructs forms of time that 'can differ from culture to culture'. (p. 257) Her conclusion? 'Kant's theory of the imagination ... can provide the basis for an approach to film that gives us general rules for explaining what makes film meaningful as an art form and also helps us to understand the particular meaning (or range of meanings) of a film with regard to its historical context.' (pp. 257-58) Hmm. This reviewer may be biased but isn't convinced - especially in regard to Kant's surely quite limited investigation of subjectivity - that he needs to be invoked at all for such a task. Personally, I prefer, rather than general rules, the idea of the-right-philosopher-for-the-particular-filmmaker approach! KM
• Dennis Perry's 'Hitchcock and Poe: The Legacy of Delight and Terror' (Scarecrow Press; 223 pp, hb) won me over initially with its frank, open-minded declaration of the facts: 'Poe [1809-49] did not influence Hitchcock in any materially traceable way in any particular film' (p. xiii); '[o]ther important literary influences on Hitchcock include Dickens, Buchan, and Priestley' (p. 3); 'Hitchcock himself is ambivalent: "Was I influenced by Edgar Allan Poe? To be frank, I couldn't affirm it with certainty."' (p. 6). A modest declaration of the book's intent was also fair-enough: 'While some aspects of Hitchcock are not Poe-esque, many aspects clearly are. Such is perhaps the major assertion this book seeks to demonstrate.' (p. 6) Other formulations in these early pages seemed to me just as true, if not particularly contentious: 'I assert that Hitchcock is in every sense a romantic' (p. xv); '[studying] Poe makes us more aware of the dimensions of Hitchcock's eclectic creative style' (p. 12). Above all, there was this helpful reminder: 'In essence, [the] paradox of the sublime [the enjoyment of fear, combining terror and delight], this double vision that pervades all of Hitchcock, seems to derive from his experiences reading Poe.' (p. 4) Even Perry's earnest description of Poe's long metaphysical treatise called 'Eureka: A Prose Poem' (1848), with its very modern-sounding concept of a continually expanding and then contracting universe, and its notion of the One and the Many (cf. pp. 8-9), hardly posed a problem. Perry was simply contending that 'Eureka' is reflected - or refracted - in Poe's other work, especially the stories, some of which we know that Hitchcock read. Still, what might, in hindsight, have given me pause (when about to embark on reading some 200 pages of text) was this: '[t]his study will not radically alter specific interpretations of Hitchcock's films.' (p. xv) That claim, I have to report, proved all too true. I can really point to just one or two moments in the whole book that made me sit up, grateful for a new or extended insight into Hitchcock (that's in addition to the already-mentioned point about the applied sublime). Undoubtedly the main one concerns the double nature of Poe's 'imp of the perverse' (as seen in the tale of that name and also "The Black Cat" and "The Tell-Tale Heart") - how not only might several of Poe's characters prove self-destructive in an almost manic way but Poe himself, exalting in the ingenuity of a tale's structure and telling, might effectively double the effect by his own authorial voice, heard informing us of his cleverness (cf. p. 117 ff.). As Perry notes, there is something of this in Hitchcock's Rope (1948) - the swing-door shot as Brandon daintily drops the incriminating piece of cord in a kitchen drawer (a double-effect first noted, I believe, by Victor Perkins in 'Movie' 7, 1963, p. 11, though the reference is not given by Perry). Here, I told myself, is something in Hitchcock whose likely provenance is definitely more Poe than Dickens! (But then I remembered Dickens's vivid depiction of several self-destructive characters, not least the schoolmaster Bradley Headstone in 'Our Mutual Friend' , which Hitchcock read at school, and I was no longer so sure.) In general, the book runs literary analysis (of Poe) in parallel with filmic analysis (of Hitchcock), and the supposed connections - when made at all - are not always convincing, or illuminating. Inevitably, I was reminded of every teacher's bane: marking exam papers in which the average student, rather than answer the set question, merely regurgitates everything she has learnt about the topic. (In fairness to Prof. Perry, his knowledge of Poe, and Poe scholarship, is deep and exhaustive.) As for Perry's use of 'Eureka', I have to say that it confirmed for me the aptness of this website's frequent referring of Hitchcockian effects, or insights, to that great Romantic-era philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860): Poe's impressionistic observations in 'Eureka' are clearly trumped by Schopenhauer's philosophically rigorous, and empirically based, descriptions, in 'The World as Will and Representation', of how the world (and cosmos) goes. (For an analysis of Hitchcock's The Birds  in terms of Schopenhauer's theories, including an understanding of the One [Will] vs the Many [Representation], see Ken Mogg's 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' [UK, 1999], pp. 162-65. The reference isn't cited by Perry.) Optional reading, I'd say. KM
• James M. Vest's 'Hitchcock and France: The Forging of an Auteur' (Praeger; 223 pp, hb) provides a remarkably detailed account of the turbulent years in the 1950s when French film criticism first formulated and attempted to come to grips with 'le cas Hitchcock' - the notion that a commercial director named Alfred Hitchcock could be a Catholic metaphysician and an artist of the first order - and thereby radically changed the way much film criticism and filmmaking would be practised thereafter. Of course, even Hitchcock's keenest young admirers such as François Truffaut, based at 'Cahiers du Cinéma' (and opposed, notably, by the rival journal 'Positif'), several of whom would shortly become filmmakers themselves, were feeling their way as critics and could be myopic. Jonathan Rosenbaum put it well in 1999 when he noted that such critics tended to see 'directors as if they were priests' (quoted by Vest, p. 52). Hitchcock himself, while not unsympathetic to the 'metaphysical' observations about his work coming out of France, was wary and tried in interviews to broaden appreciation of his intentions. For example, he told Claude Chabrol that a screenplay's individual details were subordinate to form, 'that he [Hitchcock] made the film conform to the holistic impression in his head'. (p. 82). To Chabrol and Truffaut he remarked in 1955 'that his recent films exhibited more character and were maturer works than his British films'. (p. 96) However, his disdain for Cartesian logic as 'stupid' (p. 129) tended to go over the heads of his French admirers, steeped in that very tradition. Now, a problem I have in reviewing this book is that it is written in that same tradition. It may finally be too 'French' for its own good. I mean no offence, but pages of detail of critical infighting, or what may seem pedantic description of every passing Gallic allusion or phrase in Hitchcock's films, will cause some readers to wonder about the point of so much 'discourse'. And where is a broad authorial overview and perspective? Vest translates part of the interview with Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci (a pity he consistently misspells her name!) in which Hitchcock lambasts Cartesian logic, thus: '"Descartes can go soak his head."' (p. 129). More usually it is rendered as 'Descartes can go boil his head.' The latter has the advantage, it seems to me, of at least keeping some of the Dickensian outlandishness whose origin is surely Mr Grimwig's vow in 'Oliver Twist' that if he should prove to be mistaken (about Oliver's intentions), 'I'll eat my head!' So Vest is sometimes blind to Hitchcock's true affinities and shades of meaning. He may be right to suggest that Hitchcock's sight-gag with the corpse's feet in The Trouble With Harry (1955) was inspired by a 1953 Ionesco play about another troublesome corpse (p. 109), though mightn't Ionesco himself have got his inspiration from Englishman Jack Trevor Story's 1949 novel (in which Harry's feet are repeatedly used like wheelbarrow handles to haul or carry him)? Less defensible, though, is Vest's claim (p. 195) that the fly on Norman Bates's hand at the end of Psycho (1960) is a Sartrean touch (a reference by Vest to Sartre's 1943 play 'Les Mouches'). That particular detail comes straight from the novel by Robert Bloch. (Mind you, the auteurist critics themselves could be equally mistaken. Vest, p. 84, notes that Truffaut praised Hitchcock for the idea of Adare's improvised mirror in Under Capricorn , and that is indeed a fine piece of invention but by the writer Helen Simpson in her 1937 novel set in her native Australia.) Nor, on the other hand, does Vest pick up on a likely allusion in The Birds (1963) to Albert Camus's 'La Peste'/'The Plague' (1948), nor one in the cropdusting scene of North by Northwest (1959) to Samuel Beckett's 'En attendant Godot'/'Waiting for Godot' (1952) - while still providing plenty of evidence (e.g., p. 28, p. 145) for Hitchcock's awareness of these authors and their works. There is a wealth of incidental detail in this book. I'm grateful to Vest for quoting an anonymous reviewer from 'Radio-Cinéma-Télévision' who noted about the set of Rear Window (1954) that its side alley shows a likely influence from Dutch painting (p. 117-18); and I liked Hitchcock's own observation (quoted on p. 145) about how both Rear Window and To Catch a Thief (1955) are 'Stravinsky-like in terms of their abrupt changes of rhythm'. Perhaps the two best things about this book are its unflagging energy and its graceful writing. It's a real labour of love. Definitely recommended to specialised users. KM
• A 16-page monograph called "Greene and Hitchcock" ('Occasional Paper Number Eight'), by Mike Hill, is published by the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust, Berkhamsted, England. It's compact yet informative, and (as far as this reviewer can tell) acceptably accurate as to facts. Thus Hill carefully words a claim about possible influence of Greene's novel 'Stamboul Train' (1932) on Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938) like this: '[S]ince the Greene novel produced a Hollywood film in 1933, Orient Express, it may be that Hitchcock's ... film was following a fashion partly begun by the novel.' (p. 5) Hill is certainly correct about the Hitchcock film following a fashion. At least two obvious film predecessors, besides the one Hill mentions, are the excellent British films Rome Express (1932) and Seven Sinners (1936), both of them part-scripted by Sidney Gilliat who also scripted The Lady Vanishes. Indeed, one wonders why Hill stresses the American film of Greene's novel at all - I imagine that it's quite possible that Gilliat read Greene's novel off his own bat, so to speak. Which raises my next point. Hill speculates that the 'cricket-mad clergyman' Mr Opie in 'Stamboul Express' paved the way for Charters and Caldicott in The Lady Vanishes (p. 5) - which sounds very possible. However, I wondered why I hadn't noticed this myself when I read 'Stamboul Train' about five years ago, and so I went back to the novel. Mr Opie proves, on re-acquaintance, to be rather more of a bookish 'all-rounder' (!) than just the cricketing fanatic that Hill describes. He is compiling a 'spiritual anthology' which he wants to make more attuned to 'the circumstances of everyday life' than similar Roman books. That's a significance of cricket to him - its everyday-ness! (Do I detect Greene being barbed at this Protestant clergman's expense?!) A few moments later, he drives away his interlocutor, Dr Czinner (a predecessor of Dr Hartz in The Lady Vanishes?), by appearing to launch into a disquisition on the role of confession in 'Hamlet' ('Stamboul Express', Part III, Chapter 3). To weightier matters now. After noting that 'Catholicism is evident in both [Greene and Hitchcock's] work, even in surface detail', Hill seeks to illustrate that it went deeper than that, and turns first to Greene's 'Brighton Rock' (1938). There, Hill says, 'Greene explores "the ... appalling ... strangeness of the mercy of God", and suggests that, evil and vicious gangster though he may be, Pinkie may yet be shown God's forgiveness and granted eternal salvation' (p. 8). Hill goes on to say that 'Hitchcock showed a similar interest in the technicalities of Catholicism in his film I Confess' (p. 9) - but what most struck me on reading Hill's description of 'Brighton Rock' was how it parallels the sort of reading that I would give the death of thief Marion Crane in Hitchcock's Psycho, albeit that Hitchcock may well have been ironical in likening Marion to an angel (as I believe he does). I refer the reader to my review of the article "The Catholic Vision in Hollywood" below, including its point about the communion of saints. (More on this whole matter another time, though.) Several of Hill's points about similarity, possible influence, and even a certain rivalry between Greene and Hitchcock have already been made in 'The MacGuffin' and in my book 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' (1999). (For example, 'The MacGuffin' #4, August 1991, p. 6, noted how the business with a ladies razor in North by Northwest  was taken, almost holus-bolus, from Greene's 'The Confidential Agent' !) But that's not altogether surprising: some of my stimulation and a source of information was Neil Sinyard's excellent book 'Filming Literature' (1986) - and Sinyard is cited favourably by Hill more than once, including a couple of Sinyard's own contributions to this series of Occasional Papers (Nos 2 and 4). Anyone wanting to obtain copies of any of these papers, then, is invited to contact the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust, whose website is located at grahamgreenebt.org and whose email address for correspondence is <firstname.lastname@example.org>. KM
• "The Catholic Vision in Hollywood: Ford, Capra, Borzage and Hitchcock", by María Elena de las Carreras Kuntz, is published in 'Film History', Vol. 14, No. 2, 2002, pp. 121-35. The author is a film critic and Fulbright scholar from Argentina, living in Los Angeles. Dr Kuntz's article is earnest, carefully researched (using the standard biographies, mostly), clearly written, but ultimately simple-minded. Forgive me, but Hitchcock, for one, is bigger and more cosmopolitan-eclectic than this article can take the measure of. Nonetheless, it provides a good introduction to these four directors' work. The tone is impressive from the outset: 'Notions of love, sin, redemption and communion - as taught and lived in the Catholic tradition - are central to understand the worldview of [these] four filmmakers who were raised in the Catholic faith.' (p. 121) In Hitchcock's case, we're reminded that '[h]e was a parishioner of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverley Hills, where he [regularly? irregularly?] attended Mass with his wife Alma Reville'. However, when questioned by Truffaut whether he considered himself a Catholic artist, he replied cryptically: 'I am definitely not antireligious; perhaps I'm sometimes neglectful.' (p. 122) Here, I'd like to note my conviction that Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) not only contains an allusion to the Milton sonnet "On His Blindness" (with its references to the parable of the talents, to angels, to waiting on God, as well as to blindness) but that the poem's imagery is subtly incorporated into parts of the film. (I wrote this up in an essay for the recent book 'Dark Thoughts: Philosophic Reflections on Cinematic Horror', edited by Steven Schneider and Daniel Shaw; incidentally, I suspect that Hitchcock may have carried the sonnet in his head from his schooldays - it's the sort of classic by a top English poet that a London Jesuit school would have had its students learn by rote!) So I was struck by the anecdote about Frank Capra, cited by Kuntz, in which that director, hitherto a self-described 'Christmas Catholic', had his attitude transformed. One day an anonymous little man told Capra that his talents were not his own, but God-given for use in His cause - and that when such talents were not being so used, or used at all, 'you are an offence to God - and to humanity.' (pp. 121-22) That comes very close to one of the central ideas of Milton's sonnet. The relevance to Hitchcock, the dedicated filmmaker, is readily apparent. But it does not, per se, make him a religious filmmaker, let alone (again per se) a Catholic one. Next, on the crucial notion of 'communion', Kuntz writes: 'In theological terms, communion is the belief that our relationship with God does not excuse us from our responsibility towards our neighbour, for whom we should care, especially for one in need. We have been created in God's image and resemblance and by virtue of this filiation we are all, the living and the dead, part of the same body - the communion of saints [a communion that includes souls in Purgatory and the faithful on Earth - additional information supplied by Dr Kuntz] - held together by the redeeming power of love.' (p. 123) I see this idea at work in Torn Curtain (1966), for example, but would note that it is not essentially different from the philosopher Schopenhauer's notions of our common oneness in Will and the need for compassion in the face of Will's 'blind' depredations. (Nonetheless, Kuntz's description of 'the communion of saints' does seem to me to inform, very possibly, both "On His Blindness" and Psycho.) Another important concept is 'sacramentality'. Kuntz explains: 'Distinctively Catholic, sacramentality is the capacity of material things - people, objects, places, the cosmos - to carry, so to speak, the presence of God. To see God in and through His Creation.' (p. 128) Actually, this sounds to me precisely Schopenhauer's notion of Will (that is, shorn of the reference to the Deity) - and suitably, if fortuitously, cinematic! Lastly, I'll quote this further Kuntz passage, another key one: 'Shaping the design of a Hitchcock character is the belief in man's fallen nature, or what British critic Robin Wood discusses as the "inextricability of good and evil", one way of referring to the doctrine of original sin. This intertwining does not mean that good and evil are interchangeable factors in a universe of moral relativism. On the contrary, what comes across so forcefully in Hitchcock's work is the unshakeable presence of moral absolutes, rooted not surprisingly in a Judeo-Christian worldview' (p. 131). I do agree about Hitchcock's sense of moral absolutes (see the forthcoming 'MacGuffin' #29, where I detect a continuity in evil from the smooth-talking Levet in The Pleasure Garden  to Adamson in Family Plot ). But of course the doctrine of original sin was perfectly congenial to Schopenhauer, who readily accommodated it to his own 'pessimistic' worldview (citing Calderón, et al.). Crucially, the later Hitchcock does encourage us, I think, to feel an inkling that his 'melodramas' must finally simplify how things really are. In other words, moral absolutes are working tools; the truth lies beyond. And the universe, in any case, as Schopenhauer the empiricist knew, is more, and other, than just morality. The best philosophers, and artists, take over where doctrine and dogma leave off. KM
• Just when Alfred Hitchcock was experimenting in Rope (1948) and Under Capricorn (1949) with a would-be revolutionary way of shooting scenes or even whole films in (essentially) one take, his fellow-director in Britain, Michael Powell, was endorsing a parallel experiment known as the Independent Frame process. The latter, reveals Sidney Gottlieb in his Editor's Introduction to 'Alfred Hitchcock Interviews' (University of Mississippi Press; 218 pp, pb), involved streamlining certain aspects of filmmaking whose overall aim was 'innovative, efficient, and flexible preproduction and production' (p. xix). Slightly more detail is given by Hitchcock himself, to a forum of filmmakers, whose proceedings were originally published in 'The Cine-Technician', when he says that he gathers 'that it as though you had made a picture and took all the cuts apart and set them up individually' (Gottlieb, p. 27) - but that's still not very illuminating. One wishes, therefore, that Gottlieb's Introduction had been more expansive about the Independent Frame process. (For what it's worth, I found out that Michael Powell's production partner, scriptwriter Emeric Pressburger, was much less keen on it. Even less keen, apparently, were many of the actors involved. One actor remembered it as a 'terrifying system ... It had no atmosphere at all'. The difficulty in performing in front of huge back-projection plates and absent sets led him to suggest: 'you've got to send a film crew out to film the backplates - you might as well just take the actors with you'.) But Gottlieb has plenty of other things to say (the Introduction is 13 pages long), both succinct and well-informed, by way of summarising and contextualising the 20 interviews that follow, spanning Hitchcock's career from a variety of viewpoints - technical, journalistic, critical. Thus I was pleased to re-visit Hitchcock's interview with two editors of the British journal 'Movie' - Ian Cameron and Victor Perkins - who in 1963 asked him such questions as 'What would you say was the theme of [The Birds]?' (answer: '... complacency ... [how] people are unaware that catastrophe surrounds us all') and 'Why is The Trouble With Harry a comedy rather than a thriller?' (answer: 'I think it was a nice little pastorale, you know') - both answers, incidentally, that I had long ago got by heart but had then forgotten where they came from! Well, perhaps not altogether incidentally. Though there may be few great surprises here, Gottlieb has done us all a service by assembling in one volume these Hitchcock riches (for example, the interviews with, respectively, Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci - who disliked Hitchcock intensely - with Huw Wheldon of the BBC - who showed respect and was rewarded with thoughtful answers - and the dogged Charles Thomas Samuels, who extracted illuminating comments on particular films, such as the fact that the Laraine Day character in Foreign Correspondent is a Quaker). Occasionally, too, Hitchcock's sense of fun is given rein, as when he recites his entire nonsense alphabet: 'A for ism, B for brooks, C for islander, D for dumb ...', etc. (Too bad his American interviewer, from the 'Cleveland Plain Dealer', doesn't understand some of the references - for example, the interviewer somehow hasn't heard of the 'father' of the popular press in Britain, the Canadian-born Baron Beaverbrook, whose 'Daily Express' - founded in 1913 - became the most widely read daily in Britain ... and was presumably inherited by his family, hence 'B for brooks' - plural. Mind you, Hitchcock's nonsense alphabet is fairly sophisticated. My dad's version began slightly differently: 'A for 'orses, B for mutton ...', though it then deviated into Hitchcock's version with 'C for islander' - Seaforth Highlander.) More seriously, I value Hitchcock's remark (to Claude Chabrol, who, incredibly, seems disparaging) that 'the devil is in each of us', his comment (to Cameron and Perkins) that 'everything's perverted in a different way', and his feeling (confided to the interviewer from Cleveland) 'that nothing about art could really be good and at the same time without foundation' - all evidence, I take it, for my contention that Hitchcock's films are, in the last analysis, about the fundamental, empirical fact of a single 'Will' (life-force) informing everything, inside and outside ourselves - even the very process of the film's making, distribution, screening, and reception. And, speaking of Hitchcock's 'pure cinema', there's a wonderful illustration of his cinematic thinking when (to a British interviewer in 1938) he describes how he would photograph an actress standing with her arms resting on a mantelpiece, who stoops to poke a fire. It would involve three separate still photographs, Hitchcock says. 'First when she was standing up against the mantelpiece - I would have to see that her profile was outlined becomingly, that lighting caught the back of her hair prettily and that there was firelight on her skirt. Then as she stooped down I would have to be careful to light her so that during the movement she was not plunged into darkness. [Finally,] when she reached her stooping position, I would have to get the effect of the firelight full on her face.' (In later years, he might have additionally sought to make an emotional and/or symbolic point - as when firelight in the Brenners' house in The Birds seems to give the family and Melanie a brief respite, and unites them visually.) The book also explodes a few misconceptions. I value this remark to critic Gerald Pratley, circa 1950: 'I prefer shooting on location because it enables you to utilize atmosphere.' Basic stuff, nearly all of the way. KM
• Paul Duncan's 'Alfred Hitchcock: The Complete Films' (Taschen, 2003; 192pp, pb) was physically designed by its author, and its flexi-covers are a plus, as are some 20-25 photos that I hadn't seen before. (The one of Alfred and Alma Hitchcock's wedding, at Brompton Oratory, London, on Thursday morning, 2 December, 1926, is quite splendid.) The text contains much basic information, even occasionally a tidbit of analysis (for example, in
 'the adults act like children and the children act like adults' - p. 75 - which would seem to also apply to the later The Trouble With Harry ) or an expression of critical opinion (for example, 'for many years [the 1934 The Man Who Knew Too Much]
had a higher reputation than it deserved' - p. 58). I detected
few outright errors (though Hitchcock's story "Gas" is certainly set in a
seedy Montmartre, not London - p. 20; and if Uncle Charlie's childhood
accident with a bicycle referred to in Shadow of a Doubt
 actually happened to Hitchcock himself - p. 98 - then I don't
remember reading about it elsewhere - whereas I do know that such an
accident happened to a true-life serial murderer, Earle Nelson, on whom
the character is clearly part-based). Many pages feature short
quotes by or about Hitchcock. One that struck me was this
observation by David Rodowick: 'Perhaps [the common denominator of his
films] lies in Hitchcock's fundamental distrust of the Law - not that
the representatives of the Law are incapable of serving it, but that the
letter of the Law itself is incapable of meeting the complex demands of
justice and morality.' (p. 129) That's a reason why
Hitchcock's films are so full of Romantic Irony (as Richard Allen has
lately been researching), and I'm grateful to this book for pointing the
matter out. KM
• Highlights of the 2002-03 'Hitchcock Annual' include Bill Krohn's article on Suspicion (worked up from material first published on this website and then in the French journal 'Trafic') and some of the book reviews (some others are perhaps over-respectful towards 'name' authors!). But for the purposes of the present review, I'll concentrate mainly on Richard Allen's "Hitchcock After Bellour", a critique of 'The Analysis of Film' by noted French scholar Raymond Bellour (editor of 'Trafic'). At the end of the review we find an obligatory obeisance to the book's author. Allen writes: '[T]here is [...] much to contest in the pages of Bellour's book [...] Nevertheless, "The Analysis of Film" is a foundational book for film study because it was one of the first to treat works of film [seriously ...] Read carefully and with a critical eye, [it] remains as important today as when it was first compiled [in French] twenty-four years ago.' Etc., etc. (pp. 144-45) Well, yes! To some of us, though, the exact status of Bellour's book, and in particular its core essay on North by Northwest ("Symbolic Blockage"), has become literally an academic matter. Distinctly deja vu, in fact. (I expressed a similar view here a while ago - it's in the review of 'Cineaste' Vol. 23, No. 1, near the bottom of this page.) For many years, a mimeographed BFI translation of Bellour's analysis of a sequence from The Birds, and an unofficial 20-page synopsis in English of his North by Northwest essay - that's about one-sixth of the essay's actual length - circulated among scholars; in addition, we dutifully read the articles and controversy concerning Bellour in 'Camera Obscura', circa 1979, written by Janet Bergstrom and others, with Bellour himself joining in. Then, in 1983, Bellour and Robin Wood came as invited guests to a symposium held at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. Both guests were charming. But right there Wood voiced his doubts about the reductive nature of Bellour's concept of 'the classical Hollywood film' in which 'the couple' is manufactured, the end of the film 'answers' the beginning, and the film typically concludes with the couple getting married (e.g., North by Northwest). Further, some of us (including, I think, Wood) felt that elements of Bellour's Lacanianism, used to 'explain' the ultimate 'Oedipal' meaning of such a classical plot, were self-fulfilling (if not arbitrary), thereby vitiating a free and open appreciation of particular films. Reading Richard Allen's review of Bellour's book has brought all of this back for me. In general, I would say that Allen has re-stated familiar arguments, but done it with great facility. He succinctly describes how Bellour trusts in certain 'codes' that structure film narrative, and how these may be detected in local 'patterns of alternation' (e.g., the opposition between near and far, movement and non-movement of the camera, seeing and being seen) (p. 120), while a progressive 'resolution' of these elements and of associated 'narrative enigmas' leads eventually to 'closure' (the end of the film) (p. 121). Almost dutifully, Allen informs us: 'Bellour's code of alternation is a deep structure or principle underlying the construction of the textual system that is unknown to the ordinary viewer or critic, in the way that underlying properties of a material object may be unknown to the average observer.' (p. 122) But he also notes that such a theory is 'not scientific but scientistic; it operates within a scientific "imaginary" and conceives of its activity as if it were scientific even though it is not.' (p. 122) Exactly. As Schopenhauer could have pointed out, what we're dealing with here are mere concepts (about concepts about concepts about ...) rather than verifiable percepts. So Allen is happy to simultaneously expose some of the arbitrariness of Bellour's practice (e.g., in his Birds and North by Northwest pieces) and to keep pretending that everything's all right (as my selection of quotes above may serve to indicate). He never examines the relative value of Bellour's enterprise. For example, is it any more - or less - valuable (perhaps it's more pernicious?) than Francis Fergusson's marvellous concept of 'tragic rhythm' (purpose>passion>perception), whose prototype operates in 'Oedipus Rex' and which structures both the play as a whole and individual scenes? Is it any more valuable (perhaps it's more arid?) than Carl Jung's and Joseph Campbell's concept of archetypes, operating both in myth and narrative and in individual psychic function? KM
• ['The Alfred Hitchcock Companion', by Martin Grams, Jr., and Patrik Wikström (OTR Publishing, P.O. Box 252, Churchville, MD, 21028, $29.95 paper) has already been reviewed on this page, by Thomas Leitch - see below. Now here's a second opinion, contributed by Gary Giblin whose 'Hitchcock's London' is forthcoming.] A comprehensive look at Hitchcock’s television work has long been overdue. The McCarty-Kelleher volume of 1985 simply didn’t provide enough information, and a fair amount of what it did provide was inaccurate. Now, Martin Grams, Jr. and Patrick Wikström have compiled a 650-page opus that has received a number of generous, even glowing, reviews (e.g., 'Filmfax' April/May 2003) — a truly astounding feat given the number of grammatical, factual, and stylistic errors in this poorly-executed mishmash. At its best, the prose is awful: '[Hitchcock’s] personal opinion thought that the best future of the industry lied in documentaries, news and special events.' At its worst, it is incomprehensible: 'The opening scene of this episode is interesting, if not at least worth mentioning.' And then, ironically, there's this: 'Saboteur … has all the Hitchcock clichés of hair-breathing escapes, piled on nerve-tingling adventures....' But the authors' mangling of the English language is merely the tip of an iceberg. They say that Psycho was a Universal release, when it was actually a Paramount production filmed at Universal. Stage Fright, they claim, was based on two Selwyn Jepson stories, 'Man Running' and 'Outrun the Constable.' In fact, the former is the British title of a full-length novel, and the latter is its American title; an abridged version of the novel was also serialized in the U.S. under the British title. Both Revue Studios and Universal Studios are mentioned as the 'base' for the television production, but the authors never indicate that Revue (and thus Hitchcock) was originally located at Republic Studios, switching to Universal in 1959, the fifth year of the series. A contributor claims that 'with the "possible" exception of [the pilot shows] "Once Upon a Midnight" and "The Alfred Hitchcock Show," Hitchcock never directed any radio productions.' Yet the 1940 CBS radio production of 'The Lodger,' starring Herbert Marshall, twice credits Hitchcock with the direction. Earlier, Wikström and Grams had stated that Hitchcock was not present during the 'Lodger' production and that actor Joseph Kearns played Hitchcock's part in a 'discussion' held at the end of the broadcast. Now, it cannot be that Hitchcock both directed and did not direct the production, but the authors never address the contradiction. [Possibly the tape that exists of the broadcast was of a rehearsal - Ed.] As for the episode guide, which constitutes the bulk of the text, the authors claim to have gone to extraordinary lengths to document the credits for every television production. Yet, the most cursory glance shows that character names have been omitted and descriptions of Hitchcock’s introductions are inadequate. Under "Ride the Nightmare," for example, the authors quote Hitchcock’s words accurately enough, but fail to mention that the director, peering from a manhole, is splashed with water by a passing (but unseen) car — a truly startling image. They claim that the source for the Hitchcock-directed episode "I Saw the Whole Thing" was a 'story' by Henry Cecil, when, in fact, it was a radio play that Cecil himself expanded into a novel, 'Independent Witness.' And how could anyone write about Judge Henry Cecil Leon and not mention that Hitchcock had planned to film the author’s novel 'No Bail for the Judge' in 1959? As for the synopses themselves, they are badly written, poorly constructed, short on detail, and, perhaps not surprisingly, frequently inaccurate (that of the AHH episode "House Guest" is quite egregious). In the area of style and layout, one should note that titles of novels and films are sometimes italicized, sometimes placed within double quotes (apparently on a random basis), and page numbers are lacking as often as not. The illustrations look like photocopies of photocopies - among the worst I have ever seen in a mainstream publication. Did I learn a few things from this book? Yes. I learned that Hitchcock was not the first on-air personality to kid his sponsors (radio comedian Ed Wynn, in the 1930s, apparently was), that novelist-screenwriter A. I. Bezzerides (Kiss Me Deadly) polished a number of the scripts without credit, and that Hitchcock filmed new color introductions for some of the original TV episodes after the series went off the air. But given the crowded field of Hitchcock scholarship (albeit of mixed quality), even as I try to say something nice like, 'These guys really put a lot of work into this thing,' one simply cannot put out something this amateurish and expect to be taken seriously, notwithstanding the generous reviews in 'Filmfax' and elsewhere. (I suspect that those reviews reflect both a lack of Hitchcock scholarship and a general lowering of standards with respect to 'fan' writing.) In their introduction, the authors state: 'We know this book is not perfect, but we feel it’s pretty darn close.' Sadly, they are wrong. They have a lot further than 'one more mile to go' to achieve that.
• William 'Herb' Coleman's 'The Hollywood I Knew - A Memoir: 1916-1988' (Scarecrow Press Filmmakers Series #93; hb) recounts the experiences of a lad from West Virginia, the son of ordinary, God-respecting folk (his father was a fireman for the Norfolk and Western Railroad; sadly, his mother died when 'Herb' was 10), who tells you exactly what he thinks of people, from Cary Grant circa 1934 ('arrogant, egotistical, pompous, ever complaining' - p. 42) to Donald Spoto (less than trustworthy - p. 169). Mind you, it's likely that Coleman was always someone who knows only one sort of learning trajectory - the sort that must follow prescribed, decent norms (I can't imagine him having time for those who take almost the opposite path of learning - Jean Genet, let's say). The fact remains that Spoto seems charged in these pages with being the single most compelling reason why they were written: 'Donald Spoto's numerous misquotes, mistakes, and outright inventions damaged and destroyed many close friendships. [...] I knew I had to place before the public the true facts about Alfred Hitchcock, for Spoto certainly did not.' (p. 170) In particular, Coleman mentions how Spoto contrives, in 'The Life of Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius' (1983), to give the impression that John Michael Hayes wrote the screenplay for Rear Window off his own bat, after just 'a few preliminary meetings' with Hitchcock. 'Preliminary meetings, indeed! Hayes typing for days as Hitch dictated the entire screenplay is "preliminary meetings"?' (p. 170) Actually, only the second half of Coleman's very readable book is about the years he spent as assistant director, associate producer, and right-hand man for Hitchcock. Coleman had landed his first job with Paramount in 1925 after a lucky break, just as he was preparing to give up and go back to West Virginia. That job, as a truck driver, eventually led to better things (his keenness seems to have impressed Gary Cooper, who took him aside and encouraged him). Always a steadying influence was his wife Mary Belle, whom he married in 1931. Before turning to the Hitchcock years, Coleman tells the reader many interesting facts about working with such directors as William Wellman, Cecil B. DeMille, William Wyler, and Billy Wilder, and such personalities as Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Erich von Stroheim (on Wilder's Five Graves to Cairo ), and Alan Ladd. Now here are just a couple of instances where Coleman shows an astute assessment of Hitchcock - at least the part of Hitchcock concerned with being a popular entertainer. First, it was Coleman, apparently, who helped make up Hitchcock's mind not to do The Wreck of the Mary Deare (and to do North by Northwest instead). Apart from the discomfort of spending three months on the cold Atlantic aboard a rusting, battered old freighter (the 'Mary Deare'), and then having to spend more time in the studio tank, Coleman had these objections to the project: '"There are no beautiful people, or beautiful scenery, and the love-interest is missing for two-thirds of the story. When the love interest does enter the scene, the loving is strictly lukewarm. And it's the mystery story to end all mystery stories. I think Sam [Taylor] would run like hell the other way if we asked him to write the screenplay."' (p. 276) Second, though Coleman did not work on the films from Psycho through Torn Curtain, he told Hitchcock this about The Birds: 'You had me, Hitch [...] And then you allowed Hedren, a woman who would scream at the slightest sound, to hear in the dead of night a faint, mysterious, incomprehensible sound; leave Rod Taylor sleeping; climb a long flight of stairs; open a closed door; go inside; and close the door behind herself. [...] It was the closing of the door that was most disturbing."' (pp. 323-24) Quite so! When Melanie stupidly steps into the bird-filled attic, the moment is implausible and/or cheap ... And, believe me, there is much more in this book to stimulate the earnest Hitchcock fan or scholar! KM.
• [Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell's 'Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man' (Berkeley Publishing Group) is reviewed here by Gary Giblin.] It is no secret that Alma Reville played an enormous role in both the personal and professional lives of her husband, Alfred Hitchcock. That she herself had a career in films (as editor, screenwriter, assistant director) both before and after her 1928 marriage to Hitchcock is also known, if not thoroughly appreciated. Therefore, a book about her life and work, as well as the nature and extent of her collaboration with her husband, seems an obvious undertaking. One written by the Hitchcocks’ only child, Pat Hitchcock O’Connell, would seem especially worthwhile. Like many celebrities, Mrs O’Connell has chosen a co-author: French documentary producer Laurent Bouzereau, best known for his crisp, clean 'making of' featurettes on the Hitchcock DVDs. Unfortunately, these two talented co-authors have compiled little more than a 225-page rehash of well-known facts and stories about Pat’s famous parents (as well as her own life and career), padded out with a further 50 pages of Alma’s favorite recipes and menus. There is some information about the films on which Alma worked but none of it seems new or particularly insightful. Of course, what we really want to know is precisely what and how much Alma contributed to her husband’s work. We already know that he consulted her on virtually all aspects of the production of his films. Yet, again, there is little here that couldn’t have been written by an ardent fan with access to Spoto's or Taylor's biographies and certainly nothing that elicits an 'Aha! So that’s what made Hitch and Alma tick!' One might argue that Mrs O’Connell was simply too close to her subjects to provide a deeper, more meaningful perspective on their work. Yet, the task is not an impossible one. Victoria Price’s recent biography of her father, Vincent, is revealing, insightful, and even inspiring - one of the best show-biz bios I’ve read in quite a while. Pat’s book engages through its many previously unpublished family photos, which certainly reinforce the image of Hitchcock as a happy, devoted family man. It disengages through an astonishing number of grammatical and factual errors, omissions, and otherwise dubious statements. For example, a film in which Alma had a small part, The Life Story of David Lloyd George (191?), 'was confiscated under mysterious and questionable reasons [sic]'; the climactic chase of Number Seventeen (1932) was 'completely done with miniatures' (it was not); Murder! (1930) was 'based on a play' (in fact, a novel) called 'Enter Sir John'; Saboteur (1942) was reportedly released in 1944 while its follow-up, Shadow of a Doubt (1943), is said to have appeared in 1939; and it's claimed that the two wartime shorts, Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache (misspelled Aventures in the text), were both shown in occupied France when, in fact, we still do not know for sure whether one, both or neither were ever exhibited as originally planned. Furthermore, in the worst tradition of Martin Grams and Patrick Wikström’s appalling 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion', we are subjected to such floundering pronouncements as: 'Born to the film business was not as glamorous as it became when we moved to Hollywood,' and 'Alma liked to say that Hitch actually hated suspense but in real life.' I take no pleasure in criticizing Mrs O’Connell’s efforts. She seems to be a fine woman, always willing to assist those who write about her famous parents, including the present author in researching his book 'Alfred Hitchcock’s London'. No, the responsibility for the book’s failure rests squarely on the shoulders of M. Bouzereau. As someone who has researched and written about Hitchcock for years, he must surely have known what would be expected of such a book and - as importantly - what would not. We do not need one more retelling of how Carol Lombard brought cattle to the set of Mr and Mrs Smith (1941), how Tallulah Bankhead chose to reveal her private parts on the set of Lifeboat (1944), or how Hitchcock 'always loathed going on location for any film' (even though he did, in fact, undertake an enormous amount of location work on his films, right up to the very end). What we need is a competent, properly edited book delving deeper into the lives and psyches of two extraordinary English filmmakers, and on that score Bouzereau and O'Connell have surely failed.
• Mark Glancy is a lecturer in Film and History at Queen Mary College, University of London. His short monograph (119 pp., pb) on Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935) is one of an ongoing series of 'British Film Guides' being published by I.B. Taurus, London and New York. It isn't essentially a critical work (Robin Wood, say, need not fear for his pedestal) but more of an historical introduction to the film and its period, with some mention of how it was received by public and critics both at the time of its release and subsequently. Included, too, are a few more set-design and storyboard illustrations for the film than appeared in Dan Auiler's 'Hitchcock's Notebooks' (1999). On the whole, this is a sensible little book that isn't afraid to attempt some mild revisionism of accepted views - though very often I wanted to either add to or qualify or correct what Glancy says. Something I liked was how he challenges the superficial view that Hitchcock was a misogynist. Certainly, says Glancy, 'the roughness of the scenes on the moors was meant to strip [Madeleine] Carroll of her poise and dignity, and to establish a more modern and less class-bound character than she had played in the past. Yet [...] what seems to be forgotten [...] is that the indignities are a part of a story that puts both of its characters, male and female, through the wringer. Moreover, no one has suggested that Carroll was seriously hurt.' (p. 38 - Glancy here follows up with some delightful anecdotal evidence.) Exactly! I once advanced similar views to my friend, Sid Gottleib, partly drawing on observations about Madeleine Carroll in Michael Powell's 'A Life in Movies' (1986) but also suggesting that Hitchcock may actually have sought to liberate British middle-class women, including actresses, who in those days were certainly much less 'spontaneous', as a class, than, say, their American counterparts or, for that matter, lower-class British women. Glancy's wording above would seem to support all of this. But Sid felt that 'authorities' like Laura Mulvey and Tania Modleski who had argued otherwise couldn't be ignored. (It will be interesting to see what Patrick McGilligan has to say in his forthcoming biography of Hitchcock!). Subsequently, and, I think, relevantly, I've developed my 'Bergsonian' reading of The 39 Steps whereby both Hannay and Pamela undergo a 'quickening' process and thereby attain the intuitive grasp of 'life' that the spies would deny them. ('These men move quickly', the doomed Annabella warns Hannay at the outset. Hannay's opposite number is Mr Memory, used by the spies, who sadly knows only 'facts'. Note: at the end of the film, as Mr Memory lies dying, the chorus-line in the background kicks up its legs to the tune of "Tinkle, Tinkle, Tinkle" from Victor Saville's Evergreen  - while Hannay and Pamela now spontaneously hold hands ...) Mind you, Glancy's research has been less than thorough. He doesn't note the Victor Saville reference, for example, and how appropriate it is. And I wonder what he would have made of something Madeleine Carroll once told fellow Hitchcock-actor Googie Withers who in turn told it to Dr Brian McFarlane (who quoted it in the Melbourne 'Sunday Age' a few years ago) to the effect that Hitchcock, to get a reaction he needed, 'exposed himself' to her (i.e., Carroll)?! For my part, I think this only supports the case I've been making here! I appreciated Glancy's citing of such films as Lang's Spione (1928), W.S. Van Dyke's The Thin Man (1934), and Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (1934) as very probable influences (p. 27 and passim). True, I might have added William Wellman's The Public Enemy (1931) to that list for the celebrated scene where James Cagney thrusts a grapefruit in Mae Clarke's face. (Directors may liberate other directors, let's note!) Also, one supposed influence from Spione given by Glancy - a book that stops a bullet - is, at the least, not basic. There was a real-life precedent in which a French soldier in the First World War was saved from a bullet fired by a German sniper when the bullet buried itself in a copy of Kipling's 'Kim' in the Frenchman's breast pocket. In The 39 Steps, of course, the book becomes a hymnbook over Hannay's heart. (For more on this, see item on our 'Selections' page.) Again, Glancy is unaware that the film's celebrated handcuffs scene is heavily indebted to Chapter VI of the comic-adventure novel 'Mr Priestley's Problem' (1927) by Anthony Berkeley (Cox) - who later wrote the novel on which Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941) was based. Nor does he seem to know that a full shooting script of The 39 Steps exists - a source to buy it is listed on this website - and complains that only two dialogue-scripts are extant (p. 26, pp. 109-10).To sum up: this is a useful, though not indispensable, book. KM
• 'Camera Obscura, Camera Lucida: Essays in Honor of Annette Michelson' (Amsterdam University Press, pb), edited by Richard Allen and Malcolm Turvey, pays tribute to a person who made major contributions to art and film criticism and who co-founded the avant-garde journal 'October'. (I still always browse the contents list of the latest issue whenever I visit Melbourne's Arts Bookshop or Readings Bookshop.) Hitchcock aficionados may want to read several essays in this book, such as Edward Dimendberg's "Transfiguring the Urban Gray" (on the 'city-symphony' films of the 1920s) and Peter Wollen's "Knight's Moves" (on aspects of experimental and avant-garde cinema - Hitchcock, notes Wollen on p. 160, worked with Salvador Dali and Saul Bass and planned to work with Len Lye). But most all they will want to look at Richard Allen's paper, "Hitchcock and Narrative Suspense: Theory and Practice". It is, as befits the book in which it appears, strongly theoretical: Allen states his intention to contest two aspects of Noël Carroll's theory of suspense, which itself opposes theories of suspense advanced by Roland Barthes and François Truffaut. (p. 163) (Perhaps, though, Hitchcock had out-seen them all. In 1945 he introduced an anthology, '14 Suspense Stories to Play Russian Roulette By' - the title no doubt very timely - with a piece on "The Quality of Suspense". Narrative suspense, he noted, goes back at least as far as Scheherazade and the 'Arabian Nights'. Next he commented that his own films, such as The 39 Steps  and Suspicion , invariably dealt in an element of danger. But finally he allowed that '[n]o stereotype formula restricts the ingenuity of plot of our favourite [suspense] stories'. Such catholicity!) Concentrating on Hitchcock's own films, Allen notes this broad principle: 'By combining the elements of the thriller and the romance in his "wrong-man" and, sometimes, "wrong-woman" narratives of the 1930s and after, Hitchcock augments the parameters of suspense, as they are outlined by Carroll, and intensifies our emotional investment in the narrative outcome.' (p. 164) Specifically, the viewer wishes more intensely for a happy ending; so, other things being equal, there is more suspense. Allen next notes how the middle sections of the films invariably get very complicated; and moral co-ordinates, distinguishing hero and villain, are 'systematically undercut' (p. 165). For a time anyway, 'the situation itself rather than the narrative outcome becomes the object of fascination' (p. 166). Allen suggests that Rope (1948) and Psycho (1960), having little heterosexual romance, remain morally ambiguous to the end (p. 167). (So, is there less suspense? Allen doesn't say. Personally, I don't think so. Our fascination with the working of 'Will', absolutely amoral, takes over.) Soon Allen is talking of 'the aestheticization of the moral question, where murder is turned into a fine art or a joke, as in [...] Rope.' (p. 169) Round about here, I started to wonder why morality as a factor is still being discussed at all - except that it came with Carroll's theory, of course. Time to turn to Barthes's theory! 'For Barthes, suspense involves a temporal retardation or delay in narrative resolution.' (p. 171) Allen suggests the need for 'an enigma that the narrative situation demands us to resolve' (p. 172). (Cf what Hitchcock himself suggested in 1945: the element of danger should be 'mysterious and unknown, if possible. Or, if the danger is known - then as inexorable or as insurmountable peril as may be imagined.') Now Allen is ready to sum up the argument to this point: 'Carroll is right, I think, in identifying the contours of pure or objective suspense but he fails to recognize the distinctive character of impure or subjective suspense or suspenseful mystery.' (p. 174) Nonetheless, much about suspense still seems unaccounted for (to this reader, at least). But Allen retains an eye for Hitchcock's narrative complications, and the last few pages of the essay save it from a charge of being excessively reductive. Here's one passage, referring to a film like Rebecca (1940): 'The position that Hitchcock invites the [audience] to occupy is one in which they are forever at the threshold of something forbidden, that is just out of reach, and one in which they entrust themselves to Hitchcock the narrator to orchestrate their access to the forbidden fruit whose content must remain elusive for the suspense to be maintained.' (p. 180) That sort of formulation makes reading this essay very worthwhile. KM
• Tony Lee Moral's 'Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie' (hb) is published by Scarecrow Press in the US and by Manchester University Press in the UK. Generally speaking, it's excellent - intelligent and balanced. Let's start by saying that Moral doesn't flatter Donald Spoto's account of events apropos Marnie in 'Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius' (1983). Moral writes: 'Spoto quotes from [just] two sources: interviews with Tippi Hedren and [screenwriter] Jay Presson Allen, conducted shortly after Hitchcock's death. The presentation of facts is suggestively biased, and much of the production history, dates, and assumptions that Spoto cites are challenged in this book.' (pp. 177-78) Of Spoto's claim that Hitchcock suddenly lost interest in the film after a falling-out with Ms Hedren, leading to 'technical blunders' such as the painted ship backdrop and too-obvious rear-projection, Moral notes: 'Since these elements were inherent in the overall design of the film and detailed during preproduction, Spoto's accusations are unfounded.' (p. 178) Quite so. The latter point had already been made by Ken Mogg in "Defending Marnie - and Hitchcock" in the 'Hitchcock Annual', 1999-2000 - to which I'll come back. Meanwhile, to stay on Spoto for a moment, let's note that we've heard of several other cases where his research was faulty. The Marnie matter may be only the tip of an iceberg. Hence we greatly look forward to reading Patrick McGilligan's forthcoming, suggestively-titled 'Alfred Hitchcock: A Life Lived in Light and Darkness'. Marnie, of course, is about both of those things. Indeed, in keeping with how Marnie herself (Hedren) effectively represents the life-force (as stated on Australian TV recently by critic Peter Thompson) - a life-force that is also a death-force, and hence at war with itself - Moral's book is full of valuable quotes from people like Jay Presson Allen. She made Mark (Sean Connery) a zoologist so that he would be credentialled to conduct the free-association game with his wife. But in turn such an occupation goes to the heart of the film. (Moral, trained in both zoology and psychology, and now a film and TV producer, suggests on p. 48 that 'the crux of the film' is Mark's allusion during the honeymoon sequence to flattid bugs. Again I'll come back to this.) Allen is quoted thus: 'I wanted Mark to be very knowledgeable about animal emotions. Animals have the same emotions as we do; they're all from the same lower part of the brain. Pride, rage, all of those things are derived from other animals.' (p. 46) Further, Hitchcock's direction gives Mark an ambivalence matching Marnie's. Allen had followed Winston Graham's novel in making Mark an unequivocal 'hero'; but Hitchcock imbued Mark with a 'dark streak'. (p. 43) (Throughout his career, it was typical of Hitchcock to add such 'shading' to his principal characters.) For ideas, Hitchcock and/or Allen watched such films as John Huston's Freud: The Secret Passion (1962) and Serge Bourguignon's Les Dimanches de ville d'Avray/ Sundays and Cybele (1962). (Technical advisor on Freud was Dr David Stafford-Clark, with whom Hitchcock had lunch - p. 34. I was gratified to read this because I quoted from Stafford-Clark's 'What Freud Really Said'  when analysing Hitchcock's Spellbound in 'The MacGuffin', #15, a few years ago!) Bourguignon's film of trauma, partial amnesia, healing, misunderstood innocence, and tragic finalé (cf. p. 47) would have greatly appealed to Hitchcock's sensibilities and worldview, I'm sure. At this point, I need to return to the above-mentioned 1999-2000 'Hitchcock Annual'. Clearly, Moral has not read the issue, containing three pieces on Marnie, and that's a pity. Emil Stern's "Hitchcock's Marnie: Dreams, Surrealism, and the Sublime" is particularly fine. But it's my own essay, "Defending Marnie ...", that might have extended several of Moral's points in his book. First, the essay, though brief, argues more fully than Moral does for why internal evidence concerning Hitchcock's intentions shows the film's detractors to have been, frankly, blind. Second, Jay Presson Allen's explanation of the 'fattid bugs' reference shows, when analysed, a confusion. Moral quotes her on how she 'wanted to convey "that in any aspect of beauty there may be extremely ugly elements, but the overall thing is beautiful. Marnie had terrible problems, but [Mark] saw her as a beautiful thing."' (p. 48) The first part of that statement fits well with how, in Sundays and Cybele, the returned soldier's innocent love for a young girl is certainly a beautiful thing in itself but is rendered ugly by being misinterpreted. Hitchcock may have been reminded of, say, his own Easy Virtue (1927) and the power of scandal to crush innocent victims. But Allen's 'explanation' of the image of the fattid bugs is trite. There is far more to it than that. As my essay notes, the 'image ... of ... bugs that elude predatory birds by living and dying in the shape of a flower, i.e., by mimicking their surroundings, thereby leading a less than "authentic" existence ... is ... positively Nietzschean' - Mark's words are 'critiquing joyless living and false values'. ('Annual', p. 79) (Here, we're back with the ambivalence of the life-force, or, rather, call it Schopenhauerian nay-saying to life versus Nietzschean yea-saying.) Finally, my essay shows, I think, that several more films by other directors directly influenced parts of Marnie - among them Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Suddenly Last Summer ('the flashback climax of Marnie is clearly patterned after the one in Mankiewicz's 1959 film' - 'Annual', p. 80) and, fairly obviously, Tony Richardson's Tom Jones (1963) with its hunt scene in which Squire Weston speaks with relish of 'the kill' ('Annual', p. 76). All of this notwithstanding, Moral's 'making of' book rates at least as highly as its two excellent predecessors, Stephen Rebello's 'Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho' (1991) and Dan Auiler's 'Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic' (1998). KM
• 'The Hanging Figure: On Suspense and the Films of Alfred Hitchcock' (Praeger, Westport, Conn., & London, 2002; hb), by Christopher Morris, is daunting. Prof. Morris reads only publications from academic presses - you won't find Bill Krohn's award-winning 'Hitchcock au travail'/'Hitchcock at Work (published by 'Cahiers du Cinéma' and Phaidon Press respectively), or any Hitchcock website, or a DVD documentary, mentioned in Morris's book. I found parts of it all but unreadable and/or highly repetitive. (That is, you slog to make a reasonable fist of mastering chapters of dubious theory - see below - and are rewarded with several more chapters of ... tedium.) Okay, I hear doubters. But I have studied some Jacques Derrida, if not Paul de Man, over several years now. Morris's whole approach, you see, is to explicate successive films using the teachings of Derrida and de Man whereby whatever a person says (after a while, Morris starts referring specifically to 'the critics') can't be pinned down. This, in spite of how, as early as the Introduction, Morris is conceding 'de Man's inability to establish the definition of reading he is proposing'. But he continues: 'On the other hand, this book accepts the prospect of the groundlessness of all analogies and seeks to derive whatever new knowledge is possible merely from the tracing of parallel figures.' (n.35, p. 266) Note: such a 'parallel figure' is the one of the book's title. For every Hitchcock film he analyses, Morris includes a photographic image of a person (allegedly) 'suspended' (e.g., Alicia leaning on Devlin's shoulder as they descend the staircase at the end of Notorious ) and proceeds to 'read' the film as if that image were its key. For reasons that still elude this reviewer, Morris believes that such arbitrariness (based on little more than a homophone) is the best way of explicating the function of Hitchcockian suspense that avoids the trap of 'Cartesian' and 'hermeneutic' interpretation, i.e., approaches that 'assume the presence of a cognitive or emotive subject representatable in language' or assume 'that the meaning of a work's themes are readable in its endings'. Instead, Morris speaks of 'the advantages of my figurative and deconstructive approach'. (p. 19) Hmm. To review this book honestly, but compactly, I'm going to be cheeky. Bear with me. Like many of his over-read professorial kind, Morris is 'slow'. (Speaking of 'hanging figures': Arthur Schopenhauer wrote scathingly of the effect of excessive reading, likening it to the effect of a heavy weight on a spring that gradually loses its tension and begins to sag ...) In this case, to justify chapters of theory, Morris conveniently forgets how the notion that life is but a dream isn't some post-modern discovery but goes back millennia. So, do we really need his chapter-long survey of 'hanging figures' in world art and culture (these often wilfully and unconvincingly described: e.g., the analysis, emphasising 'unknowability', of Winslow Homer's painting of a ship-to-shore rescue, "The Life-Line" , on pp. 73-77), when he ends up, despite himself, stating the obvious anyway - or else, never getting around to stating what may seem obvious to everyone else? (For example, "The Life-Line" surely dramatises, and is 'about', the fine line between life and death, a subject which remains basic in human experience whatever Morris may say - and is integral to Hitchcock's films.) In sum, I find Morris a snobbish, non-incisive writer. Naturally he professes admiration for Frederic Jameson's essay about "Spatial Systems in North by Northwest", which I once characterised as constructing an elaborate theoretical scaffolding whose removal (by incisive thought) shows to have little underneath. He approves Jameson's condemning a reading of North by Northwest (1959) in terms of its 'trivial "pop-psychological" message of "maturity"' (n.1, p. 299) - thereby turning his back on a leading theme of nearly all of Hitchcock's films (not to mention much Romantic art and literature) and specifically Eve Kendall's line to Roger, 'You're a big boy now' (echoing a similar line in Vertigo ). Though it has some good insights along the way, I (quote, unquote) condemn this book. KM
• Two avid film fans from San Francisco, Jeff Kraft and Aaron Leventhal, have combined to write the richly illustrated 'Footsteps in the Fog: Alfred Hitchcock's San Francisco' (288 pp, pb), published by Santa Monica Press. Films discussed include - naturally - Shadow of a Doubt, Vertigo, and The Birds, plus several others, such as Psycho and Family Plot, that availed themselves of Northern California locations or were inspired by settings and events there. Northern California seems to have always reminded Hitchcock of England. According to production designer Robert Boyle, 'There was something about the weather ... It was a moody strange area ... I believe that's what intrigued him. It had a kind of mystical quality.' (p. 223) One wonders how much of Mary Rose (based on the James Barrie play part-set in the Hebrides) would have been filmed in (or off) Northern California. Probably all of it! As this remarkable book shows, the area is rich in resources, both geographical/topographical and human/cultural - not to mention gastronomical, of which Hitchcock, a regular weekend resident at his Scotts Valley ranch, near Santa Cruz, often availed himself. It was not uncommon, apparently, for the Hitchcocks to travel by chaffeur-driven car, or by plane, to San Francisco for dinner at, say, Ernie's or Ondine. But we were speaking of things mystical. I'm grateful for this quote which the authors have taken from the documentary 'Plotting Family Plot': 'One of the things [Hitchcock] did at the very last minute, which was quite unusual for Hitchcock, was to [change the film's locale to an unspecified, composite city]'. According to assistant director Howard Kazanjian, Hitchcock said, 'I want it no city.' (p. 251) Here, surely, is further indication of a fantastical and teasing element that Hitchcock decided would suit his film (cf. its publicity tag, 'There's no body in the Family Plot!'). I'm reminded, a little, of the island in Shakespeare's last play, 'The Tempest'. In truth, besides the incredibly detailed, often sequence-by-sequence, re-tracing in words and photographs of the on-location production of Shadow of a Doubt, Vertigo, and The Birds (including hundreds of 'contemporary', i.e., present-day, match-up photos), it's the incidental pieces of information that reward the inquiring reader of this book. Here are some instances. Hitchcock was driven around San Francisco for days as he sought the house in which Family Plot's kidnappers, Arthur and Fran, would live; he finally chose it because of such things as a juniper tree beside the front door which would cast interesting and sinister shadows during the nighttime scene where Blanche comes calling (p. 256). According to Patricia Hitchcock, who supplies the book's Foreword, Hitchcock was a novice at gin rummy when introduced to it by the crew of Shadow of a Doubt - yet he managed to win a tournament which the crew organised! (p. 11) (Hence, no doubt, the director's cameo in that film, in which he is seen holding a flush in Spades!) A storyboard sketch of Santa Rosa for the same film shows the town as seen from a nearby hill (p. 25) - and was almost certainly inspired by a moment in Thornton Wilder's 'Our Town'. In Vertigo, Gavin Elster's shipyard is inaccurately - and thus atypically for Hitchcock - said to have an address in the area known as The Mission (p. 82), very possibly just because Hitchcock wanted the word 'Mission'. (That area is actually some distance from the waterfront.) In similar vein, when Scottie and Madeleine go driving in the Presidio, they use the 'least likely' entrance/exit (p. 119) - probably because of the tunnel-like trees that start just inside (thus connecting the shot with other 'tunnel' imagery - and light-dark-light movement - in the film). So fully illustrated is the book that it allows you to see how several scenes (Ernie's, the McKittrick Hotel, Elster's club, the stables, the Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel, et al.) all contain chandeliers or other hanging or vertical objects such as wall drapes and tall columns. The present owner of the Argonaut Book Shop in San Francisco says that Hitchcock visited his father's shop and is convinced that Hitchcock gave some of his father's mannerisms (such as his way of smoking a cigarette) to Pop Leibel, proprietor of Vertigo's Argosy Book Shop. (p. 113) (This accords rather well with how I'm convinced that Hitchcock looked at such earlier San Francisco movies as I Remember Mama, starring Barbara Bel Geddes, and so had the actress, playing Midge, repeat some of her mannerisms from that film - see article on Vertigo elsewhere on this website.) This excellently laid-out and subtly designed large-format paperback isn't perfect - I think I detected a spelling error or two. But, if you're even half of a Hitchcock fan, especially if you live in America, or have been/will be a visitor there, buy it. KM
• From the BFI comes the late Raymond Durgnat's 'A Long Hard Look at Psycho' (pb). After Hitchcock's film first appeared, Durgnat penned one of the best of all essays on it, "Inside Norman Bates", which became a chapter in 'The Strange Case of Alfred Hitchcock' (1974). Durgnat wrote then: "Hitchcock may have had a Jesuit education, but surely Psycho isn't a Christian film; it has a Dionysiac force and ruthlessness, one might call it a Greek tragi-comedy.' Compare that with his 2002 view: 'Hitchcock's primary interest [apropos the cleaning-up scene] is not Norman's "inner" psychology, but Norman's practical thinking and actions and their strange relation to the "heart of darkness" that runs through all things.' (p. 130) In other words, Durgnat's account of Psycho now sounds less 'early Nietzschean' (à la 'The Birth of Tragedy') than 'mature Schopenhauerian' (à la 'The World as Will and Representation', which in turn influenced Joseph Conrad's tale called 'Heart of Darkness'). So far so good. Nor would I much want to quarrel with a couple of observations at the end of the book, where Durgnat speculates on Psycho's (other) 'literary equivalents': after 'free-associating' to such 'spiritual journeys' as 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' and Books 1 and 2 of 'Paradise Lost', he suggests '[a]nother possibility: much as D.H. Lawrence was a "vitalist" of eroticism, whose "genius" moments stem from his lyrical sense of Eros as a driving force, Hitchcock's best films achieve a "vitalism" of fearfulness, and of "petty bourgeois prudence", as a "transcendent" human drive.' (pp. 229-30) Note that the cagey Durgnat is dealing here only in 'possibilities' (one of his 'ploys' that won't please all readers, but that's a point for later) and, moreover, seems to be having an each-way bet: there may indeed be a 'lyrical sense of Eros as a driving force' in both Lawrence (another Schopenhauerian, incidentally) and Hitchcock - e.g., The Farmer's Wife, The Trouble With Harry - but in Hitchcock it invariably runs up against commercial constraints personified, so to speak, in repressed characters with whom we're more-or-less invited to identify yet at whom we're invited to laugh - overtly or covertly. (There's a bit of that about Psycho's Marion Crane whose audacious theft of $40,000 might have been comic - in, say, a film by Billy Wilder - except that we're immediately and constantly manoeuvred by Hitchcock to be on her side against the prudent Sam, the mousy Caroline, the stingy Lowery, the repugnant Cassidy, et al. The same goes for the heroine of Marnie.) Further, Durgnat can turn an impressive-sounding phrase - or clause, or sentence, or paragraph, or page (though not, perhaps, in my view, a whole chapter or a whole book). Constantly pushing the lyrical aspect of Psycho, he writes such excellent observations as this (about the first part of the film): '[Hitchcock] pre-mobilises your dread, by Marion's nervousness, working on "minimal" threats, which are magnified by lyrical Stimmung'. (p. 74) That's a third of the film perfectly summed up in less than twenty words! I have no doubt, by the way, that the reference to Stimmung (moody lighting) is apt. I once noted its use in the credits-sequence of The Ring (1927) to carry intimations of destiny, and now here it is again, being used for similar - if more drastic - purpose during Marion's drive to the Bates Motel. Okay, so Durgnat is a superior film critic. Is there a down-side? I would say: yes, and (literally) plenty of it. Durgnat irritates - and exhausts - me, by his constant parading of a knowledge of cultural movements, and films, that I consider less than first-rate (the parading, that is). For instance, give me Camille Paglia's 'Sexual Personae' any day - a book that's a model of erudition and masterful insights into art and literature. Durgnat is erratic and slapdash where Paglia is consistently brilliant, astute, precise, accurate, and breath-takingly well-informed. In 'The Strange Case of Alfred Hitchcock', Durgnat thought that Vertigo was set in Los Angeles. Now here he is again mixing interesting tidbits of information, dull passages, inspired passages, questionable or irrelevant speculation, genuine insights, some useful (even highly useful) inductions, and plain carelessness. On p. 14 he notes that, '[i]ronically, Mrs Bates is never Perkins', being represented by 'a variety of doubles, including a female "Lilliputian" (jumping onto Arbogast)'; speculates that some British prints have a black band across the lower part of the image, when Marion is in the shower, for censorship reasons (something projectionists have always known, I think!); and descends to plain misinformation, lackadaisically offered: 'As usual with wide-screen, Psycho uses mostly a 28mm lens, or thereabouts.' Sounds great - except that Stephen Rebello's 'Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho' (1991), which Durgnat draws on at several points, quotes script supervisor Marshall Schlom on how, throughout the film's shooting, Hitchcock insisted that a 50mm lens be used so as to approximate the normal field of human vision. ('He wanted the camera, being the audience all the time, to see as if ... with their own eyes.') I don't trust Durgnat. I'll be reviewing his book again on the Web, on the 'Senses of Cinema' website, and shall elaborate there. KM
• 'The A-Z of Hitchcock: The Ultimate Reference Guide', authored by Howard Maxford, is published by B.T. Batsford of London. Our copy is in pb (303pp.). Hitherto. I've known the publisher Batsford mainly for chess books, and maybe that's what they should stick with. Coming to this book straight after reading Robin Wood's brilliant 'Hitchcock's Films Revisited' quite boggled my mind. The experience was pure bathos. I respect the author's liking for what he calls two of Hitchcock's 'underdog' films, The Paradine Case (1947) and Torn Curtain (1966), which I agree are generally underrated. (But Mr Maxford adduces no good reasons for why we should reconsider them, instead employing banalities: e.g., the stars of The Paradine Case, 'though for the most part miscast, certainly give their all to the proceedings' - p. 189.) And I dare say that he deserves points for assembling in one volume what has hitherto required the Hitchcock buff to forage in several different works to obtain the same information (e.g., Spoto's 'Dark Side of Genius', Halliwell's 'Filmgoer's Companion', Katz's 'Film Encyclopedia' - though these are basic texts anyway, which you won't want to pass up just because 'The A-Z of Hitchcock' has appeared). Lastly, a couple of longer entries, such as one on "UNFILMED HITCHCOCK", may actually yield some points of interest that you didn't already know, or anyway had forgotten. (Equally, you may now be confused where you weren't before. Surely John Van Druten's play that Hitchcock thought of filming in 1931 was always called 'London Wall' - that's the name of the real place, after all - and not 'The Wall', as we're repeatedly told was the name of both the play and the film project - p. 271, p. 10. Certainly my copy of the play, in an edition of the time, is entitled 'London Wall'.) For the rest, my impressions of the book are less than favourable. Some basic Hitchcock texts haven't been consulted, perhaps most strikingly Charles Barr's 'English Hitchcock' (1999). The book's general tone is anti-intellectual to excess (yet, Heaven knows, I'm against a too-intellectual approach to Hitchcock myself), as signalled by the Introduction when it refers to 'overly interpretational reviews of [Hitchcock's] work' as 'navel-gazing' (p. 7). Every Hitchcock feature receives two or three pages of synopsis and secondhand factual information - but never once did I exclaim in delight at something insightful or unfamiliar in these entries, with the possible exception of a rather meaningless observation about Torn Curtain. (Did you know - and do you care? - that when Professor Armstrong [Paul Newman] is interviewed by members of the faculty at Leipzig University, 'a halo of chalk dust' is visible on the blackboard behind him [p.266]? My own interest in this was occasioned by how Hitchcock uses ironic halo-symbolism in Psycho to characterise both Marion and Lila as [presumably fallen] angels. But I see no connection to Torn Curtain in this respect. I would have thought it incumbent on Mr Maxford, having noticed the thing, to explain what it is doing. But no such luck!) Now, I haven't yet encountered 'The Encyclopedia of Alfred Hitchcock', reviewed lower down this page by Gary Giblin, which is obviously an American competitor to 'The A-Z of Hitchcock'. But struck by Gary's point about the informative entry there on actor Raymond Bailey (the doctor in Vertigo), I checked out the corresponding entry in Mr Maxford's book. The result wasn't reassuring. Gary had been pleasantly startled to learn that Raymond Bailey 'appeared in a total of nine episodes of AHP and one of AHH'. Yet according to Mr Maxford, the figure is just four episodes of AHP - with no mention of the AHH appearance (p. 33). Hmm. I thank Mr Maxford for a glowing entry about this website, on p. 285, but can really only recommend his book to relative newcomers to Hitchcock studies, and not very demanding ones at that. KM
• Robin Wood's classic 'Hitchcock's Films' was first published in England in 1965, and subsequently was issued in a revised edition as 'Hitchcock's Films Revisited' (1989). Now Columbia University Press have brought out a further 'revised and updated' edition in paperback with a new Preface (33 pages) and a new essay on Marnie (18 pages). For Hitchcock scholars and serious film students, it's a must-read book. All of the original content is here, including seminal essays on Strangers on a Train (defining the fundamental Hitchcock theme of 'order' vs 'chaos'), Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and Marnie (all reprinted from the first edition), Torn Curtain, Shadow of a Doubt, the Ingrid Bergman films, Hitchcock's alleged 'homophobia', Hitchcock's equivocal attitude to women, and more. The new essay on Marnie is, as always with Wood, both reasoned and reasonable (and this reviewer accepts Wood's estimation of the film as a masterpiece), without really breaking new ground. No matter. A main reason to read Wood is for the overviews he invariably attempts - there's seldom a sense of psycho-babble or pointless analysis in his work - plus his often brilliant insights (especially in the earlier and middle-period essays in this book) and his persistent striving to be fair and balanced. Typical of the latter trait is the penultimate paragraph of the Strangers on a Train essay. '[T]he film leaves one unsatisfied (not merely disturbed)', notes Wood, after having shown much that is impressive in the film. 'The fault may lie partly with the players: Farley Granger, a perfect foil to John Dall in Rope, is too slight a personality to carry much moral weight, so that we feel that Guy's propensity for good or evil is too trivial: Ann (Ruth Roman) is a cold, formal woman, so that there is little sense, at the end, that Guy has won through to a worthwhile relationship. [...] Consequently, the effect seems at times two-dimensional, or like watching the working out of a theorem rather than of a human drama, and the film, if not exactly a failure, strikes me as something less than a masterpiece.' (p. 99) You can hardly quarrel with that - even if the explanation for the film's lack of total success may also lie in some localised failures of realisation or effect (note Wood's phrase, 'at times'). However, being a follower of the fine literary critic F.R. Leavis, Wood knows more than most critics how to attempt 'local analysis' or 'practical criticism'. And, like Leavis, Wood believes in evoking moral values (broadly understood) as his touchstone for whether a film is speaking meaningfully to its audience; if, these days, he also attempts an ideological evaluation (again, broadly understood) of a given work, at the least, he leaves you in no doubt where he is coming from. His opinions are often challenging and invariably thought-provoking. For Wood, 'ideology' means what some of us think of as 'subjectivity' - that way of viewing the world that is finally circumscribed (non-'objective'), and which in most cultures today is bound up with 'patriarchy'. Accordingly, Wood is a left-wing critic with broad humanist concerns. He's a bird with crystal plumage. A precious rarity. Not a formal philosopher, he may not quite grasp ideology/subjectivity in the fundamental sense that a reading of Kant and Schopenhauer would have given him, and so his 'ideological' rhetoric becomes strident and opinionated at times. 'Bourgeois' marriage is a particular bugbear of the gay Wood. And he can be irritating in several ways, as when he restricts his critical cross-reference largely to the work of 'friends', at least two of whom happen to be lovers or ex-lovers of his. His new essay on Marnie isn't ground-breaking - merely eminently sensible - and is spoilt by the sort of things I've indicated. In particular, I wish that Wood had read the 'Hitchcock Annual', 1999-2000 edition, where there's a particularly good essay on Marnie by Emil Stern. Shame on Wood for not mentioning it. KM
• There are now two solid and perceptive books in English on the masterly Rear Window (1954), starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly, and Thelma Ritter. The first, a collection of essays edited by John Belton, we reviewed here some time ago (see below). The other is John Fawell's 'Hitchcock's Rear Window: The Well-Made Film' (Southern Illinois University Press, hb). Perhaps the first thing to say about the latter is that its Introduction is essential reading, not just to get oneself a roadmap for what is to follow but also because the 15-page Introduction really contains the best of the book in a nutshell. I'll explain. So much of what is good about the book is its sensible tone and carefully demonstrated insights. Of the latter, there are naturally only a limited number. Here's one (from Chapter 2, "Rear Window's Unity"): 'Hitchcock liked to approach his sounds imaginatively, sometimes giving them personalities, envisioning them as small characters in his films. For example, the distant, mournful sound of a ship's horn sounds out now and then in Rear Window, usually at quiet and poignant moments when we are watching the windows across the way, suggesting nothing so much as the sad exhale of a distant god watching the pathetic struggle of humans.' (p. 29) Excellent, but the general idea here will be repeated with variations many times in the book. The Introduction alone refers to Hitchcock's 'pessimism' and how his film 'registers, in sounds and images, the feel of human loneliness and alienation' (p. 5); to how the film leaves 'us feeling more aware of the way in which people suffer in close proximity to one another, more sensitive to the sights and sounds of loneliness in our own world' (p. 6); to how 'Hitchcock is really eloquent in communicating the sadness of the modern urban situation [namely in] ... his sounds and images of the apartments across the way' (p. 12); to how the 'muffled sounds of the neighbors' suffering - the Thorwalds' fights, Miss Lonelyhearts's tears - are often conjoined to the sounds of nearby celebrations or to the quotidian sounds of children playing or a drainpipe leaking' (p. 13). All very true and perceptive - and, incidentally, providing further illustration of Hitchcock's Schopenhauerian worldview (which distinguishes between perception and reality, and emphasises how the life-force causes endless suffering, not least because of our inability to truly see) - but repetitious, as I say. The sensible tone is everywhere too, and it is established in the Introduction. There, Fawell writes particularly evocatively - and learnedly - about Hitchcockian ambiguity: 'Hitchcock strove for an overarching ambiguity in his films ... [and] that trait that even André Bazin marveled at in Hitchcock's cinema, its equilibrium. Hitchcock's goal was not so much to trap us into a single consciousness but to make us feel, viscerally, a consciousness with which we are distinctly uncomfortable. His goal was not so much to manipulate us but to ... make us think.' (p. 10) This is also true, I think, but in so profound a way that finally Fawell falls short of heeding his own words! His book becomes almost a panegyric to Grace Kelly's Lisa - who in Fawell's eyes can do no wrong - and a put-down of James Stewart's Jeff, and it ends up reading the film as a clear-cut piece of propaganda for marriage-come-what-may. This, despite Fawell's noting of ambiguities over the way, such as the situation of the newly-weds, who, by the film's end, seem headed for strife. Fawell hardly notices that Jeff represents one of the world's greatest and most daring itinerant news photographers (based on Robert Capa, who died in action in Indo-China the year the film was made), significantly working for 'Life' magazine. Like Lisa, Fawell wants Jeff to give up his career and become a New York fashion photographer. Bully! Unfortunately, in all kinds of ways, I simply don't see the film as cut-and-dried as Fawell describes it. I wish that he had read my book and also the issue of 'The MacGuffin' (#23) devoted to an analysis of Rear Window. (In addition, Fawell seems unaware both of Theodore Price's highly stimulating 'Hitchcock and Homosexuality' and Bill Krohn's splendid 'Hitchcock at Work', neither of which were published by university presses!) Nonetheless, this is a good, 'well-made' book. Grab a copy, read the Introduction, and decide where you want to go from there. KM
• ['The Encyclopedia of Alfred Hitchcock' by Thomas Leitch ('Find the Director, and Other Hitchcock Games') is reviewed here by Gary Giblin ...] Professor Leitch has written the book that should have been published long ago. He has been researching and writing about Hitchcock for years and is obviously a good choice for the assignment, a part of Checkmark Books' 'Great Filmmakers' series. The book’s subtitle explains that it comprises everything 'From "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" to Vertigo,' meaning that Leitch has not confined himself to a consideration of Hitchcock’s feature films alone. Indeed, Leitch has not even confined himself to the films that Hitchcock directed, including entries for all the known films on which Hitchcock worked (as art director, writer, assistant director, etc.). He thus seeks a level of comprehensiveness that is laudable in theory, if perhaps not always so in execution. But first the good news, of which there is plenty. Leitch has listed virtually every major and minor actor to appear in the works of Alfred Hitchcock, from 'radiant' Ingrid Bergman and 'irresistibly debonair' Cary Grant to 'patrician' C. V. France (The Skin Game) and 'blustering' Victor Killian (Spellbound). (One can almost make a game out of trying to guess what archly apt adjective - 'booming-voiced,' 'indefatigable,' 'strong-willed' - Leitch will bestow upon a given performer.)1 The Cary Grants of this world are, of course, well known and well accounted for in numerous volumes on one aspect or another of the cinema. But, ah, those supporting players - there’s where the fun lies. Take Raymond Bailey, for instance, an actor best known for his nine-year stint as The Beverly Hillbillies’ manic banker, Milburn Drysdale. I could have told you without stopping to think that Bailey played Scottie’s doctor in Vertigo and also popped up in the AHP episode “Breakdown.” But I was literally taken aback by Leitch’s revelation that 'Mr. Drysdale' had appeared in a total of nine episodes of AHP and one of AHH - as many appearances as venerable Hitchcock stalwart John Williams. And Leitch not only lists the actor's or technician’s relevant Hitchcock credits, but also includes a brief but useful summary of the collaborator’s entire career, reminding us, for example, that Foreign Correspondent art director William Cameron Menzies is perhaps best known for designing Gone with the Wind, as well as directing the 1936 sci-fi classic Things to Come.
Notwithstanding, I should point out that the Encyclopedia does contain its share of largely minor flaws. Leitch makes a number of factual errors, such as misspelling Shirley MacLaine’s original name (Shirley MacLaine Beatty for Shirley MacLean Beaty, p 192); referring to the 'Shuftan,' as opposed to Schüfftan, shots in Blackmail (p 347); describing British-born South African author Peter Barry Way (“Being a Murderer Myself,” whence the teleplay “Arthur”) as American (p 370); and claiming that 'hard-faced' Charles McGraw prophesied the end of the world in The Birds (p 207), when, in fact, it was Karl Swenson (whom Leitch correctly credits as the doomsayer on pages 32 and 327). Some of the book’s entries could arguably be deemed too obscure or unimportant for inclusion, e.g., William Hedgecock, the sound technician on Saboteur. Conversely, there are some notable omissions, e.g., Edmund Crispin, the British crime novelist (and composer) from whose works Hitchcock is known to have borrowed climaxes for both Stage Fright and Strangers on a Train. But these, as I say, are comparatively minor faults. Leitch should be commended for the enormous amount of work he undertook for this book, synthesizing data from numerous sources and presenting it in a highly-readable, laudably agenda-free format. Add it to your shelves, Hitchcock devotees, and consult it often and profitably.
Footnote 1. Those adjectives describe, respectively, Ralph Meeker ("Revenge"), Karen Black (Family Plot), and Billie Whitelaw (Frenzy).
• [The following review - a condensed version - is by Danny Nissim. The full text is published on the 'MacGuffin' Yahoo Group's site.] 'Vertigo' (pb, 88pp; £8.99) is the latest in the BFI's Film Classics series: an excellent series of short books which eventually aims to cover 360 classics of world cinema. This is the third we've had on Hitchcock, following Tom Ryall's 'Blackmail' and Camille Paglia's 'The Birds'. Charles Barr is a well established British film critic who wrote for 'Movie' magazine back in the 1960s together with the likes of Robin Wood and V.F.Perkins. Barr acknowledges the importance of Wood's seminal work on Hitchcock, and his writing is in the same tradition of pragmatic analysis and interpretation strongly centered on what we actually see and experience on the screen and mercifully free of theoretical jargon and critical point scoring. Barr is also generous in his acknowledgement of the contribution of Dan Auiler's book on the making of Vertigo, and rather than cover much of the same ground, urges his readers to read Auiler's work alongside his own. Barr has written extensively on British Cinema (including the definitive 'Ealing Studios') and a couple of years ago gave us the highly readable 'English Hitchcock'. Having several times heard him lecture on Hitchcock, this was a book I awaited eagerly. Happily it doesn't disappoint. There's plenty of meat crammed into its 88 pages: more in fact than in many a weightier tome. We are given detailed shot by shot analysis of several key scenes. This sort of analysis has become so much easier to follow with DVD's freeze frame and slo-mo features. I followed much of the text with book in one hand and DVD remote in the other. Scenes analysed include Madeleine's first appearance at Ernie's, the car trailing sequence, the first art gallery scene and the bedroom scene following the Golden Gate 'rescue'. Barr is particularly good at examining Hitchcock's use of multiple points of view, which can be that of the character, the audience or the director himself. I was happy to see plenty of material linking Hitchcock to Michael Powell (my favourite director after Hitchcock). Powell worked with Hitchcock briefly in the 20s, but the parallels continue up to 1960 with the strikingly similar critical reactions to Psycho and Peeping Tom, films which share several other elements in common, as Barr points out. But as he also shows there are less obvious but just as striking parallels between Peeping Tom and Vertigo (e.g., both open with a large close-up of an eye). Barr cites several Powell/Pressburger films which feature falls from a great height, not least among them A Matter of Life and Death (though I think it's also worth noting Hitchcock's own earlier 'falls from a great height' scenes in Blackmail, Foreign Correspondent and Saboteur). I particularly like the connection Barr points out between A Matter of Life and Death and Vertigo, where both heroes suffer a fall from which death seems inevitable, but both survive (or after all there would be no film). I'd like to add my own favourite Powell/Hitchcock parallel, between The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and Vertigo. In Powell's film Roger Livesey falls in love with a girl (Deborah Kerr). She marries someone else, and he falls in love with her double (also played by Kerr). Of course in this case they are definitely different women, but the idea of a man having an idealised image of a lost woman in his mind is a striking feature of both films. In the Powell film, Deborah Kerr in fact re-appears as a third look-alike woman, giving a recurring dream feel to the film. And this takes us to another point which Barr has examined before in 'English Hitchcock' [and 'The MacGuffin' - Ed.]: the idea of whole sections of a film being dreamed by the protagonist, with actions springing from his/her subconscious/unconscious. It certainly is striking how many Hitchcock films show the central character asleep or unconscious: The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes and Rear Window have all been cited by Barr here or in the earlier book. To stress this point Barr gives us a fascinting new literary source: Ambrose Bierce's 'Incident at Owl Creek', which also features a miraculous seeming escape from death. In that case the entire story does turn out to have been in the hero's mind and the escape is illusory. Following this line of thought in Vertigo leads to a giddying piling on of illusion upon illusion (Orson Welles' F for Fake also springs to mind). Here we have Kim Novak, the actress, directed by Hitchcock, becoming Judy, herself directed by Elster to become Madeleine - the entire fabrication possibly in the mind of Stewart 'metaphorically suspended over a great abyss' in Robin Wood's words, quoted by Barr. You certainly have to stop and catch your breath at that one! There's plenty more to the book, as there will always be plenty more to say about Vertigo itself. A final word about the illustrations: some illustrate points in the text, but I particularly like the ones which make separate and new points simply by juxtaposing images (John Berger's book 'Ways of Seeing' came immediately to mind): three images of Novak coming through a door, placed opposite Stewart's gazing reaction shot, and three images of Scottie looking on death from three different points in the film - these trigger off all sorts of thoughts about the film's expressive use of imagery.
• Adrian Martin has sent us his 'two cents worth' (as he calls it) describing the new issue, #41 (Printemps 2002), of the French journal 'Trafic' - titled "Hitchcock/Lang". Adrian says it's great. (The following titles of individual articles are translated by him from the French, and the comments are also his. Thanks, Adrian.)
The Hitchcock section contains a translation from Sid Gottlieb's 'Hitchcock on Hitchcock' ("Conference at Columbia University, Class of '39"), Peter Wollen's "Hitch: The Tale of Two Cities" (this refers to London and Los Angeles), Laura Laufer's very provocative "Ariel's Song", our mate Bill Krohn's "Ambivalence" (on Suspicion), filmmaker Mark Rappaport's passionate "Under Capricorn's 50th Birthday (and Hitchcock's 100th)", and a piece by jolly Slavoj Zizek called "The Splinter in Your Eye: For a Hitchcockian Ontology". After that there's a Lang section with pieces by Lang himself, Georges Sturm ("The X Form"), yours truly (on Lang's "sound design"), Tom Gunning (the YOU AND ME chapter from his big book), Henri Foucault ("Fritz Lang Sculptor?") and Bernard Eisenschitz ("The End"). There are three 'hinging' pieces bringing out the Hitchcock/Lang comparison: as a prologue, Jean-Claude Biette's "History of a Duel", a memoir of his changing tastes for the two directors throughout the 50s and 60s; in the middle, between the two sections, Marie Anne Guerin's fascinating "The Day and the Night", comparing Marnie with Clash by Night; and finally, as an epilogue, 'Trafic' chief editor Raymond Bellour's exciting "Why Lang Might Become Preferable to Hitchcock" - fighting words !!!
For information about ordering 'Trafic', click here: P.O.L Editeur
• Now here's a guest-review, by Thomas M. Leitch, of 'The Hitchcock Murders' by Peter Conrad, which has just come out in paperback in the UK. (An earlier review of Conrad's book will be found lower on this page.)
By my informal count, Peter Conrad’s 'The Hitchcock Murders' (Faber and Faber, hb and pb) is the 66th book on Hitchcock to appear in English, and its single most remarkable feature is how little use it has for the other 65. Conrad, an Oxford historian of literature and culture whose many other books have often treated their scholarly progenitors with similar indifference, makes no bones about his impatience with academic criticism that uses Hitchcock’s films to advance ideological agendas, overlooking how 'deliriously beautiful and achingly sad' Vertigo is in order to note its sexism, its attacks on the construction of masculinity, or its cinematic self-reflexiveness. It gradually becomes clear that Conrad has done his homework. He is armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of Hitchcock’s literary sources, and he usefully draws attention to discrepancies between the transcripts of François Truffaut’s interviews with Hitchcock and the edited version that found its way into print. Even so, reading him is a bit like paying the proprietor of a private shrine for admittance to the sacred mysteries. Conrad’s Hitchcock is very much his own, introduced by his autobiographical reminiscence of sneaking into Psycho as a child of 13 and proceeding through what seem to be successive unmaskings of the director as a master of “The Art of Murder,” “The Technique of Murder,” and “The Religion of Murder.” Although the air of penetration to a thematic core - the unholy fascination with the taboos of death, mystery and the macabre Hitchcock managed more successfully than any Establishment artists of his century to communicate to the public - turns out to be largely illusory, Conrad is never less than an entertaining and well-informed guide to the films, which he tours with insouciant arbitrariness. Like God, Hitchcock arranged miracles in The 39 Steps, Shadow of a Doubt, and The Wrong Man. His technical tricks - the dream sequence of Spellbound, the long takes of Rope, the red suffusions in Marnie - invariably correspond to neurotic quirks that 'force us to share his surrealized vision of the world.' His facetious remark to Truffaut, 'I practice absurdity quite religiously,' was philosophically rigorous and literally true. Trying to follow Conrad’s larger argument is like driving down Broadway and hitting every red light for ten miles. But his gift for writing a nonstop series of provocative paragraphs may make 'The Hitchcock Murders' the one book on Hitchcock you’d most want to take to a desert island - especially if, like Conrad, you were willing to dispense with all the others.
• Guest-review by Thomas M. Leitch of 'The Alfred Hitchcock Companion', by Martin Grams, Jr., and Patrik Wikström (OTR Publishing).
Hitchcock’s work for television, from the hundreds of episodes of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' and 'The Alfred Hitchcock Hour' he introduced to the twenty television segments he directed himself, has always gotten short shrift from critics. Now comes a book that goes a long way toward redressing that neglect. 'The Alfred Hitchcock Companion', a profusely illustrated, doorstop-sized guide by Martin Grams, Jr., and Patrik Wikström, makes thousands of details about Hitchcock’s television programs public for the first time. Grams and Wikström have produced a prodigiously informative volume, vastly more comprehensive than its predecessor, John McCarty and Brian Kelleher’s 1985 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents'. A series of essays detailing Hitchcock’s abortive attempts to host his own radio program, his relationships with AHP/AHH producers Joan Harrison and Norman Lloyd, his working habits, and the critical and financial fortunes of the two programs set the stage for the main course: detailed synopses, complete cast credits, and transcriptions of each of Hitchcock’s classic introductions and conclusions (including alternate versions that were recorded but not aired) for every episode, interspersed with interviews with technicians and stars of particular episodes. For the first time, fans can trace Hitchcock’s facetious running battle with his unnamed sponsor or consult a 31-page index that will direct them, for example, to every one of the ten roles Patricia Hitchcock (who also contributes a brief introduction) played in her father’s television series. Nobody would want to read these closely-printed 658 pages straight through; it’s as a reference, not a critical study, that Grams and Wikström are most useful. And their volume has some surprising flaws for a reference book. The many photographic illustrations - studio portraits, stills from the series, backstage shots, and images of Hitchcock delivering his incomparably deadpan introductions - are fascinating, but poorly reproduced. There’s a shower of typos: names and obscure words are too often misspelled, and some of the index’s page references turn out to be inaccurate. And many pages are missing their numbers - a lack that can make tracking down particular items frustrating. The main limitation of the book, however, is its title, which doesn’t begin to do justice to the wide range of material on display here, from Ken Kaffke’s essay on the connection between Hitchcock and 'Mad' magazine to Grams and Wikström’s comprehensive list of Hitchcock anthologies. Their volume, which immediately becomes the point of departure for future studies of Hitchcock’s television work, should go a long way toward bringing that work out of the closet.
• The following review of 'The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations' (Titan Books, London, pb) is adapted from an item that first appeared on our News and Comment page. The book is by Tony Reeves, who has done a superb job in text and photographs of informing the reader about exactly where thousands of movies, listed alphabetically, were shot. The blurb on the back cover says: 'If you've ever wanted to have Breakfast at Tiffany's, follow in the footsteps of James Bond, visit the far-flung worlds of Star Wars or live La Dolce Vita, then this is the book for you.' Hitchcock fans will be delighted by what the book discloses about many of our favourite films. The first film I looked up was The Trouble With Harry (1955). The entry notes the splendid photography by Robert Burks 'of the autumnal New England location of East Craftsbury, 30 miles north of Montpelier, northern Vermont. It adds: 'Interior sets were built inside a school gym in Morrisville, some fifteen miles away.' Then I turned to the entry on To Catch a Thief. After noting that Grace Kelly's character stays at the Carlton Hotel, 58 la Croisette, Cannes, it informs us that unfortunately 'the terrace restaurant on the bay is long gone. Cary Grant's villa is just below the huge rocky outcrop of Baou de St Jeannet. The flower market is on cours Saleya, in the old town of Nice. The bridge is at Éze. The chase was shot on the Grande Corniche, above Monte Carlo.' Naturally I looked up Vertigo (1958), and I wasn't disappointed. Not only is there a very comprehensive, illustrated (7 b/w photos), double-page entry - I bet you didn't know that the sanitarium where Scottie (James Stewart) recuperates after his breakdown is at 351 Buena Vista Avenue East - but there's also a page devoted to "Vertigo's San Francisco" consisting of 6 colour photos and a map of the city. Next I remembered how I've never been quite sure (but have often been asked) where the Prairie Stop scene in North by Northwest (1959) was shot. Tony Reeves has found out. 'Far from Indiana', he writes, 'the crop fields are actually at Wasco, near Bakersfield on Route 99, in the desert 80 miles north of LA. A favourite road of Hitchcock's - it links Hollywood to the vineyards of Northern California - it's the same stretch of road on which James Dean met his fate.' Finally, how does the book fare with its entries on some of the earlier films? Well, now I know that the address of Gregory Peck's house in The Paradine Case (1947) is 60 Portland Place at Weymouth Street, W1, that the inn where he stays in Cumberland (Cumbria) is the Drunken Duck Inn, Barngate, and that the nearby Paradine manor called 'Hindley Hall' is actually 'a mock-Elizabethan manor house built in 1891, now the Langdale Chase Hotel, on the A591 between Brockhole and Ambleside on the north shore of Lake Windermere, Cumbria (telephone 015394.32201)'. And did you know that Simpson's Restaurant, seen in Sabotage (1936), was one of Hitchcock's favourite eating places and was where he entertained the press to publicise that film? Well, although the scene was actually mocked up in the studio, 'you can see the real thing in Howard's End [James Ivory, 1992]'. (Note: italics indicate locations that still stand.)
• Guest-review by Gary Giblin of 'Writing with Hitchcock: The Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes' (Faber and Faber, New York and London, 2001, pb) by Steven DeRosa.
Having consulted the files of the Margaret Herrick Library’s famous 'Alfred Hitchcock Collection' for my own book, 'Alfred Hitchcock’s London' (forthcoming), I can aver that synthesizing a coherent, let alone entertaining, narrative from the myriad letters, memos, files, production documents, research notes, transcriptions, clippings, scripts and stills is no simple task. But Steven DeRosa has done just that in this fact-filled, painstakingly documented account of the collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and screenwriter John Michael Hayes. DeRosa begins his narrative during the production of Dial M for Murder, when Hitchcock (who both produced and directed that film) hired radio writer and film scenarist Hayes to script Rear Window. He then chronicles the production of Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Trouble with Harry and The Man Who Knew Too Much (and, to an understandably lesser extent, Dial M), a period covering the two years between July 1953 and August 1955. Throughout these pages, DeRosa impresses (even amazes) us with the sheer volume of work Hitchcock undertook during this period (five major productions), the speed with which he accomplished it, and, of course, the overall quality of the finished products. DeRosa also delights us with countless 'behind-the-scenes' facts, figures and trivia. For example, I had known that Hitchcock shot portions of The Trouble with Harry on location in Vermont (the original novel is set in England). However, until I read this book, I hadn’t known that the director originally planned to shoot the entire film in Vermont, including interiors in an American Legion barracks (pp. 142-143). Unfortunately, as DeRosa relates, the rains came and the production retreated to California soundstages. To my great delight, DeRosa also calls attention to the stories behind the screenplays, which, in the case of Rear Window, may go all the way back to H. G. Wells’ 1895 piece “Through a Window”. He also suggests a number of real-life characters and incidents that may have influenced the creation of these films, including 'Life' magazine photojournalist Robert Capa (Ingrid Bergman’s lover) as a possible inspiration for L. B. Jefferies and singer Jo Stafford for Jo McKenna. For those who love this kind of 'could it be' speculation, as I certainly do, 'Writing with Hitchcock' will not disappoint. What is disappointing about the book is that, contrary to both received opinion and the evidence, DeRosa seems to want us to regard the films scripted by Hayes as something like Hitchcock’s supreme achievements. Phrases like 'one of the most successful director-screenwriter pairings in Hollywood history,' 'movies [having] achieved film-classic status,' 'the beginning of [Hitchcock’s] most successful period, critically and commercially' [all from the Introduction] convey something of DeRosa’s own enthusiasm, but ultimately ring rather hollow. For example, to demarcate Hitchcock’s 'most successful' decade from the beginning of his collaboration with Hayes (as DeRosa again does in Chapter 2) is both arbitrary and misleading: arbitrary because one could as well commence such a decade from the collaboration with Raymond Chandler (and encompass everything from Strangers on a Train to Psycho) or from the collaboration with Frederick Knott (and encompass everything from Dial M to The Birds); misleading because the implication is that somehow John Michael Hayes deserves credit for the landmark films that followed his tenure with Hitchcock. Ironically, DeRosa later takes pains to distance Hayes from those very films. On page 204, he laments that '[t]he rounded characters of the Hitchcock-Hayes films, which shared an optimistic viewpoint, were shoved aside in favor of the emotionally haunted characters who occupied such films as The Wrong Man, Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds and Marnie.' Even the 'wonderfully comic North By Northwest' retains the same 'distasteful elements' of two other non-Hayes films, Notorious and Vertigo, all three films depicting a woman used as a 'sexual pawn'. What are we to make of sentences like these, of 'distasteful elements' and 'rounded characters' being 'shoved aside'? Can DeRosa seriously be inviting us to compare To Catch a Thief with Vertigo to the benefit of the former and the detriment of the latter? Rear Window is, of course, masterful and undoubtedly deserves many of the superlatives that DeRosa employs. That it 'arguably contains the best dialogue in any Hitchcock film' (p 224), however, seems like special pleading given the contributions of people like Charles Bennett, Ben Hecht, Ernest Lehman and Joseph Stefano (to name but four). Moreover, one would imagine that, given the Woolrich story, the impressive cast, the Hitchcock tradition of foregrounding romance (from The Lodger on), and Hitchcock himself producing and directing the film, Rear Window stood a very good chance of turning out well, regardless of who wrote the screenplay. Yet, if I understand the thrust of DeRosa’s argument, the film succeeds because Hayes scripted it. Contrarily, to the extent that it fails, To Catch a Thief does so because of the poor performance of Charles Vanel as Bertani (p. 117; p. 123). In the case of Harry, DeRosa rightly points out that the film is 'very close' to its English source novel (p. 130). So, apart from eliminating some minor, adulterous characters and inserting a deputy sheriff, what exactly did Mr. Hayes do? The Production Code Administration effectively authored the deletion, and as for the addition, nosy, threatening police figures had been a staple of Hitchcock’s work long before he met Hayes. Coming to the final film of the collaboration, my opinion of The Man Who Knew Too Much has always been that it was poorly constructed, and DeRosa’s argument for its 'meticulous structure' (p. 265) did not convince me otherwise. Far from correcting the mistakes of the original film, the remake magnifies them. For example, everything that follows the Albert Hall climax is by definition 'anti-climactic'. But in the first film, Hitchcock actually shows us something interesting, almost a whole new film, about tracking down terrorists in a seedy neighborhood and waging a dramatic gun battle with them. The Hayes script also starts a new movie - but it's a long, ponderous, suspense-free movie in which Doris Day sings, and sings, and sings - and this even before Jimmy Stewart starts attending to what is theoretically the couple’s real reason for being at the embassy. It is quite understandable that, having worked closely with Mr. Hayes on this book - which is as much a biography of the screenwriter as a documentation of a film collaboration - DeRosa wants us to love and appreciate these four films as much as he does. Whether you think he succeeds or fails in this will likely depend upon the place in your heart held by Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Trouble with Harry and The Man Who Knew Too Much, and upon the degree to which you are willing to attribute the creation of these pictures to the screenwriter. Where DeRosa unquestionably succeeds is in documenting the history of these four highly-entertaining films, from original story to theatrical premiere. On that basis, I can recommend 'Writing with Hitchcock'.
• John Belton, the editor of 'Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window' (Cambridge Uni. Press, hb and pb), helpfully introduces this small volume of essays with an overview of its contents which begins: 'Like many of the best works of classical Hollywood cinema, Rear Window is a deceptively obvious film. Its chief virtues are clearly visible for all to see.' (p. 1) One of his points: the pleasure Jeff (James Stewart) takes in spying on his neighbours 'is essentially sadistic'. (p. 7) This is an observation taken up by Elise Lemire's essay on "Voyeurism and the Postwar Crisis of Masculinity", which paraphrases - presumably for students - the well-known claims about Hitchcock's film made by Laura Mulvey and Tania Modleski. Classical Hollywood cinema, says Mulvey, is primarily directed at the male viewer. So when normally itinerant photographer Jeff, at present confined to a wheelchair by a broken leg, begins to feel 'castration anxiety' at the attempts by his fiancée Lisa (Grace Kelly) to tempt him from one incapacitated state into another - settling down in marriage - we're told that his irrational (?!) fears have two possible 'escape routes' which the viewer is induced to share. Mulvey calls these 'sadistic voyeurism', on the one hand, and 'fetishistic scopophilia' (pleasure in looking), on the other. (pp. 62-63) And she thinks that Rear Window is a classic example of the first kind, because Jeff takes an (ambiguous) pleasure in sending Lisa into danger, and watching her put herself at risk, 'thus finally giving him the opportunity to save her' (with erotic connotations). (p. 63) But clearly the spectator, himself rendered temporarily immobile in his cinema seat, has all along also had plenty of inducement to exercise his own 'pleasure in looking' (especially at Grace Kelly), as well as sharing Jeff's fore-sadism (we could call it) in spying on his neighbours virtually en masse. In short, this whole matter gets pretty complicated, which Tania Modleski saw in part when she noted that Rear Window includes many reaction-shots that are as much the female's (Lisa's) point of view as the male's (Jeff's). Elise Lemire's essay doesn't shy from exploring these complexities, and others. Scott Curtis's essay, "The Making of Rear Window", has meanwhile set the scene, being well-researched and well-informed. Some of it is trivia (did you know that actor Frank Cady who plays the husband on the fire escape also plays Jeff's editor, Gunnison, who telephones him early in the film?), but this reflects Hitchcock's own attention to details, after all. Sarah Street's essay, "'The Dresses Had Told Me'" indicates the same thing in another way: by tracing how precisely Lisa's costume-changes reflect her character and intentions. Overall, Hitchcock wanted Lisa, in the words of costume-designer Edith Head, '"to appear like a piece of Dresden china, something slightly untouchable"'. (p. 106) Her evening wear, in particular, bore the 'New Look', a style launched a few years earlier in Paris. Eerily, Pam Cook's 'Fashioning the Nation: Costume and Identity in British Cinema' (1996) said of the New Look that it 'aroused primitive fears about female sexuality: both women and men dreaded being swallowed up by an overwhelming maternal body.' Street points out that '[t]hese remarks might well apply to Jeff's predicament, which is most acute when Lisa wears her second outfit, a full, black dress that signifies only one thing: seduction'. (p. 95) Michel Chion's essay, "Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window: The Fourth Side, which deals impressionistically with the film's use of sound, first appeared in 'Cahiers du Cinéma'. Of the chanteuse heard, but never seen, practising musical scales, Chion writes brilliantly: '"I like to think that this woman's voice brings a free element, escaping all requirement of spatialization, to the localized, everyday fabric of music and noises that arrives from the courtyard as if from an enormous burial pit of sounds."' (p. 114) Finally, Armond White's essay, "Eternal Vigilance in Rear Window" deals competently with the re-workings of the film's 'politics' by later filmmakers such as De Palma and Coppola. A solid book. Includes a filmography and some contemporary reviews of the film.
• The belles-lettres set will love Peter Conrad's 'The Hitchcock Murders' (hb, Faber and Faber), and will probably proclaim it perhaps the best book on Hitchcock yet written. It does begin splendidly, not just swiping at unfeeling 'pseudo-scientific professors of Film Studies' (p. xii) and regaling the reader with an account of Professor Conrad's own very personal memories of watching Psycho at age 13 ('Psycho did more than cater to my sexual curiosity; it replaced what the teachers at school called religious education, offering a glimpse of mysteries not available elsewhere' - p. 13); the early chapters show off the author's free-ranging literary and associative skills, seeming to promise a cascade of rich insights later. For instance, on p. 33 he gives us a new slant on the 'merry widows' in Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Noting that the film was scripted by playwright Thornton Wilder, Conrad recalls Wilder's stage farce 'The Matchmaker' (1954 - but I gather that there was an earlier version from 1938 called 'The Merchant of Yonkers'), which became the musical 'Hello, Dolly!'. In it, notes Conrad, 'a clerk called Malachi [pilfers from] ... the kind of widow "who sits in hotels and eats great meals and plays cards all afternoon and evening, with ten diamonds on her fingers".' Conrad compares this to how Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt 'derides the "useless women" who squander the money left to them by their dead husbands "in the hotels, the best hotels", where they drink money and eat it ..., "smelling of money, proud of their jewellery but of nothing else - faded, fat, greedy women".' Unfortunately, in this book called, remember, 'The Hitchcock Murders', Conrad doesn't note that Uncle Charlie himself was based on a combination of a Jack-the-Ripper-type character in Hitchcock's earlier The Lodger  and a couple of real-life US serial killers, including one called 'the Gorilla Murderer' who preyed mainly on landladies. Further, you have to wonder if it isn't facile of Conrad to apply to Hitchcock's work the phrase Bunuel used in Un Chien Andalou: 'a passionate call to commit murder' (p.xiii). Whom are we being asked to murder in Shadow of a Doubt? Uncle Charlie? But he's almost a tragic hero! Young Charlie? But she's an intelligent, pretty adolescent who speaks from the heart a defence of basic humanity (the dinner-table scene). The citizens of Santa Rosa? But the film is about preserving, or anyway defending, their way of life despite all its shortcomings. The 'merry widows' themselves? But if you join Uncle Charlie in his pathological hatred of them, you have surely missed the film's point that, whatever unreason (or reason) may say, 'killing people is wrong' - and always was. No, Hitchcock's films are only passionate about one thing, and that is 'pure cinema'. I don't recall that Conrad ever acknowledges this. And I have to say that once I got over the initial 'shock of the new' provided by the freshness of Conrad's approach (which reminded me strongly of the free-wheeling way I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Dickens - an author not mentioned by English-teacher Conrad, more's the pity), much of the book did strike me as facile. It simply avoids the hard things, like, say, an analysis of the dream sequence in Spellbound (1945) - which would merit a chapter unto itself. The 'ideal' book on Hitchcock has still to be written.
• Several journals in recent months have carried Hitchcock articles. 'CineAction' has had two separate issues in the past year or so largely on Hitch. Just out is the 'Journal of Popular Film & Television', Spring 2001, containing a piece on "The Cold War Horror Film" (pp. 20-31) which includes observations like: 'Marion's transgressive desire [in Psycho] for erotic fusion with Sam in marriage is taken to psychotic lengths in Norman's transgressive desire for erotic fusion with his mother.' We'll review these journals, and others, soon. One more journal that has produced a Hitchcock issue lately is 'Literature/Film Quarterly', Vol. 28, No. 2, 2000. Here are reviews of its individual articles. First, Bernard F. Dick's "Hitchcock's Terrible Mothers" (pp. 238-49) refers in passing to Erich Neumann's book 'The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype' (pb, 1972), but takes the matter no further. (There's no reference to Camille Paglia's splendid treatment of the Great Mother motif in art in her exemplary 'Sexual Personae' , nor to my own use of Paglia's insights in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' .) Instead the article settles into a routine comparison of Hitchcock's films from Psycho (1960) to Marnie (1964) with their literary sources. Still, some interesting points are raised. For instance, of Robert Bloch's 'Psycho', Dick notes: 'Unable to accept the fact that his mother has a sex life, Norman punishes her and [her lover] Considine by putting rat poison in their coffee ... The point is that Norman punishes his mother for having sex; then punishes himself for having punished her [by going 'a little crazy'].' (pp. 240-41) This is almost exactly the syndrome that I detect in Hitchcock's The Lodger (1926), in which the Ivor Novello character first 'punishes' his sister for sullying women's purity - he kills her at her 'coming-out' ball - then becomes 'schizophrenic' (the word Hitchcock himself used in a BBC interview) and promises his dying mother that he will 'avenge' her daughter's (his sister's) death by tracking down the killer - himself! I will pass over Dick's eccentric interpretation of the last scene of The Birds (1963): 'For the first time, Lydia looks benign, even maternal - not because she has accepted the idea that her son would marry, but because she knows he is not going to marry Melanie, who is obviously going to need plastic surgery, if not psychotherapy.' (p. 244) Not quite as dubious is a comment by Dick about Marnie. 'The harbor setting', he writes, 'also explains [the heroine's] uncommon name. Her real name was Margaret, "Marnie" being the nickname given to her by her father, a sailor who was killed in World War II. "Marnie" evokes the sea [presumably by assimilation to "marine"] and its various associations: ebb and flow, cleansing and renewal, and deities such as Proteus and Poseidon, who, like the tide, could change their appearance.' (p. 245) This seems to me to catch the sense of the ebb and flow of the world's Will that is in all of these late films. It also seems to catch the note of sadness that is in Marnie (but also in The Lodger, at least incipiently), a poetic refrain reminiscent of both Matthew Arnold ("Dover Beach") and Gerard Manley Hopkins (Donald Spoto quotes Hopkins's lines from "Spring and Fall": 'It is the blight man was born for/ It is Margaret you mourn for').
• The prolific Christopher Morris (whose book on Hitchcock must be nearly finished by now) wrote the second Hitchcock article in the issue of 'Literature/Film Quarterly' we're considering here (Vol. 28, No. 4, 2000). It's called "Reading the Birds and The Birds" (pp. 250-58). It begins unpromisingly, with a dubious assertion about the MacGuffin (said to be 'a matter of indifference to the audience' - when surely it's only the omniscient Hitchcock who is indifferent to it, but not either the characters or the audience?) and a gratuitous excursion concerning Aristophanes's play of the same title as Hitchcock's film. Morris's preoccupation continues to be with Derrida's notion of 'the postal' - with how everything consists of arbitrary signs and forever-deferred ultimate meaning. Thus he sees the birds themselves (rather than the reasons for their actions) as a MacGuffin, and suggests that the stylised titles-sequence, with the shadowy birds dive-bombing and fracturing the words that appear on the screen, as evidence of such a preoccupation in Hitchcock. Of the opening scene, Morris writes: 'Melanie and Mitch lie from the first moment they see each other: she pretends to be a salesperson, and he pretends not to recognize her. These "spontaneous performances" call into question generalizations about each character's "true" identity, and because the main characters' masks precede any hope of determining their "true" personalities, the very existence of the latter is put in doubt.' (p. 253) Also significant, Morris finds, is how the mynah bird ordered by Melanie has not arrived (like some of the mail that gets sent to Bodega Bay, as we later learn). In sum, 'the film allegorizes the way the events of life proceed from language's deferral of content'. (p. 254) (Well, it certainly allegorizes the events of life ...) And, further: '[I]f we hold to the definition of the birds as visual effects to which characters attribute motivation, we can see that instead of an allegory of sexuality [which critics have tended to see the film as], the film is an allegory of viewing. The spectacle of the birds only presents more compellingly the spectacle of film in general, in which viewers are asked to attribute motivation to a play of light and shadow, to find an outside for an inside.' (p. 255) Finally: 'The film is at pains in its second half to deconstruct the distinction between interior and exterior; it does so most obviously in the reversals between humans and birds.' (p. 256) (Incidentally, Morris notes hereabouts the apt motif of 'broken glass' that runs through the film - which is interesting, too, because a similar, if less sophisticated, motif runs through Hitchcock's much earlier Blackmail  - as I was reminded recently when I read an unpublished paper on Hitchcock's early sound films sent to me by Dr Richard Ward.) Morris's critique, via Hitchcock's film, of what he calls 'western logocentrism' (p. 257), makes sense to me; I would only quarrel with certain of its emphases. Actually, I was reminded of how much the philosophy of Schopenhauer (which seems so relevant to The Birds) influenced the early Wittgenstein and his writings on language ...
• A third article in 'Literature/Film Quarterly', Vol. 28, No. 4, 2000, is Mark Osteen's "'It Doesn't Pay to Antagonize the Public': Sabotage and Hitchcock's Audience" (pp. 259-68). It has been somewhat superseded by the chapter on Sabotage (1936) in Susan Smith's recent book, 'Hitchcock: Suspense, Humour and Tone', which takes a similar line. But there's still this key passage: '[I]n a film filled with what Thomas Leitch calls "passive agents and murderous victims", it's never clear to what degree anybody is responsible for anything. Ted himself [the detective], albeit much more attractive than the jealous cop Joe in The Lodger  or the morally compromised detective Frank in Blackmail , is an ambiguous figure who ends up protecting Mrs Verloc by withholding evidence about her role in her husband's death. Similarly, Verloc, although he gets his brother-in-law Stevie blown up, is not entirely culpable, and Mrs Verloc's apparent killing of her husband is extenuated by his previous crime, by his apparent desire for punishment, and by Hitchcock's cleverly indeterminate staging.' (p. 261) You just wish that the author had taken this whole idea further, as it relates to the film's treatment of the shadowy terrorist bosses themselves, the limited adequacy of the police, the helplessness of the public in the face of the sabotage-caused blackouts (and of the same public's limited knowledge of their legal rights), etc. There is a whole expressionist picture being painted here; and the initial blacking-out of London parallels other depictions in Hitchcock of how everything, including the very film itself, is a reflection of a single 'life-force' that is normally taken for granted and is invisible. By the same token, perhaps all culpability is indeed relative - we are all 'agents' of a 'force' that is much more pervasive and powerful than any police force! - and it is probably no accident that the original source of the film was the novel 'The Secret Agent' (1907) by the Schopenhauer-influenced Joseph Conrad. (So, are the shadowy terrorist bosses some sort of symbol of ultimate power being manipulated by forerunners of the Nietzschean villains in several of Hitchcock's later films?) Incidentally, the author is surely mistaken in at least one of his claims. Referring to the crowds, 'both sadistic ... and gullible', who hold Stevie up on his way to deliver (unwittingly) an anarchists' bomb on Lord Mayor's Show Day, Osteen writes: 'This is the same crowd, one recalls, that has made Bartholomew the Strangler a huge popular hit ...' (p 262) On the evidence, it is hardly that. The film Stevie carries consists of just one or two reels, and is surely either a B-feature or, more likely, an episode of a serial, one among countless other such serials (with similarly lurid titles).
• A fourth article in 'Literature/Film Quarterly', Vol. 28, No. 4, 2000, is Thomas M. Leitch's "101 Ways to Tell Hitchcock's Psycho from Gus Van Sant's" (pp. 269-73). The title is literally accurate. As Leitch ('Find the Director and Other Hitchcock Games', 1991) says, 'the remake differs from the original in more ways than you can wave a butcher's knife at'. The point of compiling such a list is presumably to draw attention to the 1,001 (rather than 101) ways in which films may convey nuance, inflection, tone, meaning, etc. In the case of the two versions of Psycho(1960; 1998), Leitch notes that some changes are dictated by the attempt to bring the material up to date. For example: '12. Lila's job has moved from the Music Makers' Music Store to the Hardcore Vinyl Record Store' and '20. Instead of cowering helplessly [in the cellar scene], Lila kicks Norman before Sam disarms him.' (Conceivably another updating matter, though Leitch cites it in relation to the general speeding-up of the remake - which runs just 103 minutes as against the 109 minutes of Hitchcock's film - is item 88: 'In the biggest departure from his original, Van Sant omits the entire scene in front of the Fairvale Church.') One interesting entry is this: '49. When Arbogast quizzes Norman at dusk, Hitchcock's match cuts show the scene getting progressively darker. Van Sant shoots the scene in uniform interior light; it's not until the characters go outside that he shows how dark it has become.' It seems likely that Hitchcock remembered how he had shot the scene in Vertigo (1958) set in the Argosy Book Store, which also progressively darkens; arguably, Van Sant was oblivious to the poignancy of Hitchcock's effect. Other changes in the remake, notes Leitch, involve sound rather than visuals. For example: '79. Music now plays as Norman waits for Marion's car to sink, de-emphasizing the long moment, held without music in Hitchcock, when it stops sinking.' This scene represents an instance of where the invisible, but potent, presence of Hitchcock's joking persona helps make the scene so effective in the original; lacking a sense of that joking presence, the corresponding scene in the remake becomes relatively nondescript. All in all, this is a stimulating article.
• But the strongest piece in the recent Hitchcock issue of 'Literature/Film Quarterly' (Vol. 28, No. 4, 2000) is the last, John Fawell's "Fashion Dreams: Hitchcock, Women, and Lisa Fremont" (pp. 274-83). A newcomer to the Hitchcock field (occasionally it shows), Fawell gives the reader a foretaste of his coming book on Rear Window by arguing as follows: Donald Spoto has exaggerated Hitchcock's 'dark side' ('Spoto tends to breeze by overt testimonies on Hitchcock's behalf in his hunt for sinister subtext that in the end he may be the only one who sees' - p. 274). In particular, Hitchcock's relation to his actresses was plainly a mixture of astuteness and charm and at times less impressive attributes such as a certain crudeness and (especially in 'Tippi' Hedren's case) possessiveness. Nonetheless, '[i]n many ways the deciding factor in whether an actor got along with Hitchcock was not their sex, but their level of self-seriousness, [i.e.,] whether they had vaunted notions of acting that contradicted the quiet neutrality Hitchcock sought in his actors, whether they had a sense of humor about themselves' (p. 275). >From this insight (with which I entirely concur), Fawell proceeds to an excellent analysis of how Hitchcock's depiction of Lisa (Grace Kelly) in Rear Window shows the director's sympathy and understanding for all things truly 'feminine'. (I would only question whether it may be going too far to claim that at the end of the film 'Lisa seems much more likely to actually climb the Himalayas' than Jeff [p. 282] - Jeff's professional qualities as a robust itinerant photographer are surely a given.) Fawell's powerful conclusion seems incontrovertible. 'This, then,' he writes, 'is the flip side of the obsessive relationship Hitchcock had with his actresses that Spoto documents. The Svengali habits that developed late in life were the darker expression of a talent that had been at the center of what made his best films elegant and graceful: his sensitivity toward women, toward their carriage, their charm, their particular style ... But the real legacy of Hitchcock and Kelly is their films, the best films Kelly made, and the best because she found in Hitchcock, the most feminine of directors, an artist who centered his films' scripts and visual designs around his actresses and who registered their style and elegance more lovingly and sensitively than any other Hollywood director.' (p. 282)
• Sarah Street's "The Lodger" is a chapter (pp. 66-78) in the book she has edited with Jill Forbes, 'European Cinema: An Introduction' (Palgrave: Hampshire, UK, 2000). The author has also written 'British National Cinema' (1997) and an article on costume-design in Hitchcock for the 'Hitchcock Annual' a few years ago. Unfortunately, her chapter on The Lodger (1926) is strictly routine. I struggled to find any new information in it. Perhaps the closest I came was a paragraph on how Ivor Novello's performance as the Lodger seems to evoke Max Schreck's as the sinister Transylvanian count in F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1921). Street writes: '[Novello's] movements are deliberate and studied and his hand gestures reveal long fingers that are similar to those of the vampire in Nosferatu. When the Lodger has arrived at the Buntings' house and is installed in his room there is a shot of him from outside the window. As he looks out, the window pane forms a frame-within-a-frame around his face and the lighting effects create a streak of vertical light down his face. The image is very foreboding, particularly of the scene at the end of the film when the Lodger's handcuffs have got caught on the railings. [Editor's note. I imagine this refers to the possible Christ-symbolism of both shots.] In Nosferatu, the vampire is also filmed so that his face is framed by window panes, his fingers are unnaturally long and the visual construction of his image shows persistent patterns of a trapped individual, contributing to the film's suggestion of sympathy for the vampire. Novello's white make-up also gives him a vampiric quality, while Daisy's instantaneous attraction to him is reminiscent of the classic representation of the vampire whom women are compelled to desire.' (p. 72) Actually, I imagine that Richard Allen effectively started the notion of the Lodger as vampire with his essay on Hitchcock's 'metaskepticism', which is reviewed on this page. (So Sweet's article is another instance of the follow-the-leader syndrome that so prevails in academic film writing!) Which reminds me: I understand that Allen will take the matter further in his forthcoming book on Hitchcock - and that he has now read both Theodore Price's stimulating discussion of The Lodger in 'Hitchcock and Homosexuality' (1992) and Ken Mogg's article on that film in the 1992 'Hitchcock Annual'. That's clearly more than Sarah Street has done ...
• Paul M. Jensen's 'Hitchcock Becomes "Hitchcock": The British Years' (Midnight Marquee Press, pb) is full of sensible, unpretentious observations about the films. Typical is the description of the opening scene of The Farmer's Wife (1928): 'Because Hitchcock has shown these events without establishing a context for them, the viewer's attention is caught, even as the action proceeds, with a confident precision while it temporarily bewilders ... He shows only concrete details, but he communicates the intangible. Thus, when Hitchcock says that he has no interest in "content," it should not be assumed that he has no interest in meaning.' (pp. 39-39) The book is particularly successful at a couple of points germane to its thesis of how Hitchcock became the Master of Suspense. Jensen thinks the first turning-point was the lack of box-office success for Hitchcock's at-times very personal Rich and Strange (1932), followed by the transitional Waltzes From Vienna (1933), in which a son rebels against the traditional aesthetic values of his father. The outcome was The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), inaugurating the series of Gaumont-British thrillers of the 1930s (all of them scripted by Charles Bennett), which made Hitchcock's reputation. Then, notes Jensen, on the eve of Hitchcock's departure to live in the United States, he made the historical melodrama Jamaica Inn (1939), which in the character of the fastidious, overweight Squire Pengallan (Charles Laughton), hosting (and dominating) dinner parties, and savouring good food and drink, gives a portrait of the director himself, including his fears for what lies ahead. Near the end of the film, Pengallan, now plainly mad, heads for 'the sun' (meaning Italy or Greece, but Los Angeles also fits the bill). Soon after, his servant tells a visitor that Pengallan has 'gone away on business'. Jensen concludes; 'In Jamaica Inn, despite the number of creative hands involved, Hitchcock left behind a typically honest and typically disguised record of the uncertainty that constantly hovered behind his public image of forceful confidence.' (p. 189) Something else refreshing about this little book is its large number of rare stills and movie posters, several of the latter non-English language designs.
• The March 2001 issue of 'Cineaste' (pp. 24-28) contains Joseph McBride's "Alfred Hitchcock's Mary Rose: An Old Master's Unheard Cri de Coeur". Some of the material is familiar, but McBride's account of this most sad (in every way) of Hitchcock's unrealised projects is exemplary and near-complete. In only one respect is it lacking. Though it notes the influence of Sir James Barrie's haunting 1920 play on Vertigo (1958) - including the story of the mad Carlotta stopping passers-by to ask, 'Have you seen my child?' - it otherwise overlooks earlier instances of where Hitchcock drew on the play. As early as Downhill (1927) Hitch had instructed lab technicians to tint the scenes of Roddy's delirium in Marseilles a pale green, remembering from his theatre-going (including his attendance at the original production of 'Mary Rose') the use of green light to suggest the world of ghosts and of fantasy. Later, for Shadow of a Doubt (1943), scripted by Thornton Wilder (whose 'Our Town' is so close in spirit to 'Mary Rose'), he based the characters of Joe and Herb on the father Mr Moreland and his friend Mr Amy in Barrie's play. (See Ken Mogg, 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', the uncut UK edition, 1999, p. 86.)
• Bill Krohn's 'Hitchcock au travail'/ 'Hitchcock at Work', was originally published last year in French by 'Editions Cahiers du cinéma' and was voted best large-format film book by the French Critics Association; our review is of the recent English version (Phaidon Press, London). The first thing to say is that it is magnificent. Next to Truffaut's famous interview with Hitchcock (also originally published in French), this is the must-read book on Hitchcock for scholars and keen Hitchcock fans alike. Krohn, the Hollywood correspondent for 'Cahiers du cinéma' since 1978, has based his book on material he consulted in the Hitchcock Archives and in studio records, on interviews with Hitchcock's collaborators, and on his own wide reading and inside knowledge of the film scene. Recently a professor who has read (too much?) Roland Barthes, wrote on the Internet: 'I don't think anyone I know in film theory or analysis would be naive enough to speculate on the conscious "intentions" of a director at the time a film was shot'. Well, forgive me, professor, but Krohn's book gives the lie to such nonsense: read what Krohn reveals about Hitchcock and his colleagues' incredibly meticulous work on such films as Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Notorious (1946), or The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and you'll surely eat your words! The conscious creative decisions taken at the time of these films' making - and traceable in surviving documents (if you know how to interpret them) - were rich, intricate, and often profound. Film theory has never arrived at Hitchcock's measure because, frankly, he knew more than all the theorists 'put together' (to quote Singin' in the Rain), something which Krohn's far-from-naive book amply indicates. (I also think of Stanley Kubrick's remark about never having read a review of his films that told him anything that he, the director, didn't already know.) So I hold to what I replied to the above-mentioned professor: Krohn's book 'should keep the bulk of honest Hitchcock theorists on track - or less off track - for years to come'. In particular, Krohn succeeds in exposing the myth that Hitchcock's films were effectively 'finished' by the time that the screenplay was written and storyboarded (when there was a storyboard, which was far from always being the case). The process of invention and modification and even improvisation might continue, and sometimes did, right through the filming and post-production periods: i.e., the shooting of the film was a virtual extra draft of the script, as far as Hitchcock was concerned. But perhaps the passage in the book that I'm most grateful for comes in the chapter on The Man Who Knew Too Much where Krohn first demonstrates and then comments on how John Michael Hayes's insistence on being given sole screenplay credit was unfair to Hitchcock's friend Angus MacPhail, who did a lot of good work on re-working the 1934 script before Hayes came on board. Krohn notes that in fact 'Hitchcock used [both] writers for what they did best ... MacPhail for the story, Hayes for the dialogue'. He adds, pointedly: 'Hitchcock might very well have applied to Hayes his remark to Truffaut about Evan Hunter, the screenwriter of The Birds : "He's a real professional, but he doesn't have the obliqueness of Hitchcock."' (pp. 154, 162) A full review of 'Hitchcock at Work' is in 'The MacGuffin' #28.
• The following guest review is by Dan Auiler, author of 'Hitchcock's Notebooks' (1999) and 'Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic' (1998) ...
Ken Mogg’s 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' (the uncut edition from Titan Books, London) is the very best kind of summary look at a career as important as Hitchcock’s. One can find any number of 'picture' books on Hitchcock, but Mogg’s book sets itself apart from these other books by his text that is part history and part critical analysis. 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' in essence is a book that provides the fan and philosopher all that he needs for an evening (or two or three) with Hitch. Just as Hitchcock eschewed genre conventions (and in doing so created his own genre), Mogg has recreated the standard for a book that’s goal is to provide a chronological survey of a director’s career. When I was much younger and coming of age as a film lover, these kinds of books were very popular. Nearly every director in Andrew Sarris’s pantheon had a 'Films of' book out, and these were great collections for fans but severely limited for anyone who gave film serious thought as an art. Always filled with copious and colorful stills and as much 'cover' art as the publishers could get their hands on, the text was decidedly the gushy stuff of fans. Often information was incorrect (you would never go to these texts for any kind of vital information) and even the summaries of the films were often found to be lacking. Mogg brushes these B-picture book conventions aside and with sustained success looks at each film in the Hitchcock canon with a seriousness that is challenging but accessible. Fortunately for us Mogg has never adopted the language of the ivory tower. He swims easily in the streams of language that most of us can barely stay afloat in - yet he is able to write in a style that is bracing and refreshingly readable. One hopes that some of the best thinkers on Hitch today (such as Richard Allen at NYU) would learn to write in something other than cinematic tongues. Mogg has mastered it. For example, Mogg’s thesis concerning Schopenhaurian Free Will is hardly the stuff of idle conversation after a screening, yet he makes this discussion easily understandable (and quite convincing) throughout the text. Unlike the case of many books, it is essential that you read Mogg’s introduction, as it deftly sets the stage for the film readings to follow. If there is a weakness in the text it is that this vital Author's Note is tucked away (almost hidden) at the front and would be easily bypassed by most readers. And perhaps some kind of summary opening and closing chapters may have helped connect some of the dots for us. This weakness aside, the individual film readings are often brilliant. Mogg’s assessment of some of Hitchcock’s 'problem' films should force readers to return to the films for another look. I found the readings of Under Capricorn and The Paradine Case especially provocative - I was forced to pull both copies of the film out to see the films again from the perspective of Mogg’s reading. This is what the best film books do for us - they bring us back to the films, sometimes seeing them with new eyes and a more profound appreciation. The fact that Mogg is able to do this with a director like Hitchcock, upon whom so much has been written, is the mark of a film lover who perhaps knows Hitchcock and his milieu better than any other film critic. The book is filled out with sidebars and thematic sections written by other writers. These all help tell the Hitchcock story without taking away from the course that Mogg has set. 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' is one of the more important books to be published in this Hitchcock centennial year. The text is rich with challenges for readers who think they know everything about Hitchcock and all the wonderful stills and 'cover' art a fan could want.
• Richard Allen's article, "Hitchcock, or the Pleasures of Metaskepticism", is succinct and resourceful as it attempts to relate the characteristic Hitchcockian ambiguity, first seen in The Lodger (1926), to its director's real-life projection of a certain type of persona, that of the dandy or rogue, that concealed (in and out of the films) his sexual uncertainty. The article was first published in 'October' #89, pp. 69-86, and now forms a chapter in Richard Allen and Sam Ishii-Gonzalès' 'Alfred Hitchcock: Centenary Essays' (hb and pb) for BFI Publishing. Allen's term 'metaskepticism' refers to how the films typically combine a romance plot with an ironic commentary upon it. So a key passage in the article is this: 'In The Lodger, the figure of the predatory vampire [cf Murnau's Nosferatu, 1922] is contained in the figure of the dandy-hero, whose gentlemanly aspect at once suggests and conceals a predatory sexuality that is connoted through Hitchcock's expressionist visual style.' (p. 73) Briefly resorting to Lacanian terminology, Allen observes: '[Hitchcock's] films suggest the way in which it is a concealed, self-annihilating, or predatory desire that renders romance possible. For this desire functions as the concealed lure upon which the romantic fallacy is sustained - immanent but never actualized.' (p. 77) (Some of us might say that this phenomenon expresses Will, and might invoke Schopenhauer's distinction between such Will - reality - and mere Representation - appearance.) In the second half of the article, Allen offers 'A Genealogy of Metaskepticism', starting with the suggestion that the poet Keats was a forerunner of the ambivalence concerning sexuality that Hitchcock also exhibited. Then he adds: 'Later in the century, Walter Pater defined gentlemanliness in a manner that acknowledged the lure, the fiction upon which it depends, and prepared the ground for Oscar Wilde and Alfred Hitchcock.' (p. 83) (One of Hitchcock's favourite books, let's remember, was Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' .) Finally, Allen comments on the presence of actual homosexuals in Hitchcock's films: '[Hitchcock] uses these characters to stage the performance of a gentlemanliness beneath which the darkest secrets are harboured. The fact that what lies beneath the surface is rumored to be "homosexual perversion" only intensifies the lure. [But m]any of Hitchcock's dandies do not suggest homosexuals, even when they are psychopathic murderers such as Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Bob Rusk in Frenzy (1972), and Arthur Adamson in Family Plot (1976).' (pp. 85-86) Our only disappointment with Allen's article is that it is short on acknowledgments. For example, some of its insights have already been provided in Theodore Price's 'Hitchcock and Homosexuality' (1992) - a text which, as we've noted before, academics often seem strangely reluctant to cite. Likewise, when Allen notes that the ambiguous flashback in The Lodger 'could be concealing [the Lodger's] own role in his sister's murder' (p. 72) and that the film's ending is also ambiguous about the Lodger's guilt or innocence (p. 73), Allen seems unaware that both these points were earlier made in Ken Mogg's article on The Lodger in the 1992 'Hitchcock Annual' (itself a revised version of an article originally published in 'The MacGuffin'). And the links to Keats, Pater, Wilde, etc., have all previously been explored in 'The MacGuffin'!
• Chapter 1 of Steven Cohan's 'Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties' (Indiana University Press, 1997) is called "The Spy in the Gray Flannel Suit" and discusses the Cary Grant character in Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959). The general idea is that just as 'George Kaplan' is a fiction within the film's diegesis/plot, so Roger Thornhill is himself a construct/epitome of fashionable male traits of the Fifties, and Cary Grant who plays Roger is likewise not exactly what he appears to be. For a start, Cary's real name was Archie Leach, and he was a bisexual. (That last matter is confirmed by an article published in 'The New Yorker' at about the same time as Cohan's book. The article, by Brendan Gill, appeared in the 2 June 1997 issue, and seems to speak of Grant's appetite for men from first-hand experience.) A typical passage: 'From the moment that Vandamm [James Mason] accidentally sets the stage for Roger to think of his identity as a performance, this spy in a gray flannel suit turns out to be the epitome of both the other-directed professional man and the cold war ideologies sustaining the hegemony of his class by confirming the value of his masculinity.' (p. 22) Cohan substantiates all of his general claims by referring to other texts, many of them contemporary with Hitchcock's film (e.g., a series of 1958 articles called "The Decline of the American Male" in 'Look' magazine.) He comes up with much interesting detail. For example, quoting George Clauncey's book on 'Gay New York' (1994), he tells us that the Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel (where an early scene of North by Northwest is set) was a 'well-known rendevouz among gay men ... where men were expected to dress well and carry themselves with discretion'. The movement of the film, he notes, is towards what a line of dialogue calls 'togetherness'; and he notes how that term first appeared in the 1954 Easter issue of 'McCall's', referring to a husband and wife sharing family duties without rigid gender demarcation of those duties (pp. 9-10). My only 'criticism' of Cohan's chapter is that it doesn't situate this particular Hitchcock film in the context of the director's work overall. For example, Hitch had long been interested in breaking down gender distinctions, and had always been fascinated by them. The connection with theatricality and 'performance' is quite specific in Murder! (1930), as I note in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story'. Likewise, the scene where Cary Grant strides about clad only in a bath towel (p. 31) has precedents from Hitchcock's Twenties films: see the entry on Downhill (1927) and Ivor Novello in my book. But generally Cohan is excellent. (For a good general review of it, see Peter Lehman's review in the June 1999 issue of the 'Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television', pp. 277-79.)
• In the August 1999 issue of youth-fashion magazine 'The Face', of all places, is an illustrated report on stills photographer Arthur Schatz and his assignment in 1967 to photograph a couple of young acting students as models for Hitchcock's Kaleidoscope, a film never finally made. But it could have been great. The article, "Love thru a lens", reports that it 'was to be a macabre thriller based around the story of Neville Heath, a real-life English serial murderer of the late Forties known as "The Ladykiller". From the outset, the director [who had just seen Antonioni's Blow-up] took a special interest in the project: he rewrote the script, transposing the action to lakes and rivers around New York and making the central character a young, hippyish bohemian who can only become aroused when near water.' (p. 130) Schatz reports, '"I did everything in available light. ... We shot it early in the morning and late in the afternoon, because everything was sidelit and dark. That was the whole genre. It was supposed to look spooky."' (pp. 132-33) Some stills accompanying the article show a shadowy ship's deck, a line of blue sea, and a near-naked brunette girl in red panties fleeing from a youth; finally she lies dead on the deck. The article includes such additional information as how, on Rear Window (1954), Hitchcock once spent half an hour arranging a shot of Grace Kelly's shoes that was never used in the film. When assistant Herbert Coleman asked why, Hitch remarked drily, 'Haven't you heard of the shoe fetish?' (p.134) And on Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Hitch told Joseph Cotten to dress like 'a rich man going to a resort for a vacation' (p. 134).
• In a supplement to 'Sight and Sound' for August 1999, two new articles are Raymond Durgnat's "The business of fear" (a résumé of the typically very bourgeois fears that Hitchcock played on) and Larry Gross's "Parallel lines: Hitchcock the screenwriter". The latter is right-on. After reminding us of Hitchcock's systematic and under-appreciated use of visual motifs in a film like North by Northwest (e.g., a 'parallel lines' motif running through the film evident in, say, shots of the tall stands of corn in which Thornhill hides - but note, Gross omits to mention the related 'arrowed progress' motif which also gets repeated visual statement), the article concentrates on how the 'parlour' conversation in Psycho sets up a conventional but bleak sense of character - in order to annihilate it in the ensuing murder scene. Narrative and visual means, respectively, thus combine to produce a nihilism of meaning (which, incidentally, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche saw as underlying all 'willing', and which Gross feels is finally Kafka-esque). The murder scene's 'drain, and its darkness, mock and belie all prior attempts at meaningful human communication' (p. 42). Finally, the article turns to Vertigo where, as in Psycho, audience confidence in a conventional narrative is undercut 'when new narrative developments destroy the confidence in [identification-figures Scottie and Marion, respectively, that] the camera misleadingly helped to create' (p. 44). Gross concludes that Hitchcock was 'uniquely interested in both telling and destroying the telling of stories on film'. As already said, this is right-on. Perhaps, though, one may have two reservations. First, the article perpetuates a fault of Hitchcock studies in concentrating on just a few films from the late 1950s in order to generalise about Hitchcock's work as a whole. And, related to this, is how the techniques described by Gross aren't unique at all. For example, 19th-century novelist Charles Dickens would provide his readers with a narrative of conventional expectations (not least, the first half of 'Great Expectations' itself) in order to pull the rug from under them, thus revealing a general 'nihilism' (whose emblem in the novel is the state of crime in Victorian London) which must be met at a fresh level of personal 'concern' ...
• Actress Eva Marie Saint says that Hitchcock gave her three instructions for her performance in North by Northwest (1959): 'One, lower your voice. Two, don't use your hands. And three, look directly into Cary Grant's eyes at all times.' Saint is one of five Hitchcock actresses interviewed during a panel discussion moderated by Dr Greg Garrett published as "Hitchcock's Women on Hitchcock" in 'Literature/Film Quarterly', Vol. 27, No. 2, 1999, pp. 78-89. Saint also reveals that the costumes in North by Northwest were intended by Hitch not to date the picture. 'He was very meticulous and had definite ideas about what you wore', Saint says (p. 84). Suzanne Pleshette of The Birds (1963) is impressed by how Hitchcock didn't mind filming scenes of longer than two pages. 'Today', she says, 'nobody has the ability to stay focussed. I don't think I've had a scene in the last ten years that goes more than two pages because it's an MTV generation who can't stay focussed.' (p. 86) Pleshette's role as Annie Hayworth, the schoolteacher, was originally quite different: it had no former love-interest with the Rod Taylor character. Janet Leigh notes that the change made the role 'much more interesting'. And Pleshette responds: 'It really did, and especially that we [the Pleshette character and the 'Tippi' Hedren character] liked each other - the two women liked each other, which was new at that time.' (p. 87) (That's true in a sense, maybe, but Hitchcock had achieved something similar back in 1927 when he'd shown an affection develop in Easy Virtue between Laura and her defeated rival, Sarah, for the hand of her mother's-boy husband, John Whittaker; indeed, when Laura leaves the Whittaker household at the end, Hitchcock shows Laura and Sarah kissing.) A couple of other things I got from this sometimes-interesting discussion: how Hitchcock would go to great lengths to put an actress at her ease (Karen Black of Family Plot, 1976, tells a story about how Hitch, following an operation, teased her by saying that he didn't have a belly-button - p. 88); and how Hitch didn't storyboard everything in his films. According to Tippi' Hedren, '[t]hey generally were technical boards. They were never like two-people-scene boards.' (p. 89)
• Something different - and excellent - is Scottish poet James Robertson's 'I Dream of Alfred Hitchcock' (pb, 24pp) which takes its name from the title-poem of a collection consisting of dramatic monologues, lyrics, sonnets and other short pieces - all based on, or inspired by, Hitchcock's films. The majority of the poems are told in the first-person, as if the poet is acknowledging the subjective nature of Hitchcock's cinema. That he is aware of such a basis is evident from the first poem, in particular, which describes a film whose 'point of view ... was/Unique, my own, yet somehow also/Everybody else's. ...' And the poet has a thoughtful response to the typical Hitchcock cameo: 'For a moment, he showed/Another life down which we might have gone, and then/It closed again. ...' The most enigmatic poem about subjectivity is called "The Man Who Knew Too Much", and describes a mysterious figure invested by others with a succession of identities, yet who, we are repeatedly told, 'did not see himself as such'. We read that 'by threats [he] could not be cowed ... /Draped spies around him like a shroud .../A lonely figure in a crowd'. (He sounds, in fact, rather like a character from Conrad or Greene.) Naturally the collection includes a couple of poems inspired by The 39 Steps (1935) with its Scottish scenes. Reading "The Honeymooners" about a handcuffed couple ('Oh yes, in these strange hours we've come to know/Each other as some long-married couples never do'), I was reminded of how in Hitchcock a theme of 'trial marriage' informs such other films as The Mountain Eagle (1926), Secret Agent (1936), and Spellbound (1945) - the idea of a forced or illicit intimacy appealed to Hitch, obviously! Also, two poems have been inspired by Vertigo (1958). The one called "Madeleine" is especially poignant and evocative, and includes a description of Madeleine in the graveyard, 'Where she moves like a magnolia through the haze,/Solitary, pausing only briefly here, and here,/Then on again, sleepwalking to the shore.' Technically and aesthetically, these are all fine poems, and there are many moments of wit and humour, drama, and insight into the films. The book has four b/w drawings. It can be ordered for £2.50 per copy (or £9 for four copies, or £10 for five copies) from the author and publisher, James Robertson, 8 South Street, Kingskettle, Fife KY 15 7PL, Scotland (telephone 01337 831129; email <email@example.com>). Prices include postage. In the UK, the book can also be ordered through any bookshop. The ISBN number is 1 902944 00 3.
• Charles Barr's 'English Hitchcock' (pb) notes that the under-appreciated Number Seventeen (1932) is innovative within Hitchcock's oeuvre in a couple of important ways: firstly, in its streamlining of the boy-meets-girl storyline, anticipating the thrillers to come (e.g., in depicting the meeting and liason of its couple in the space of a few hours), and, secondly, in introducing the MacGuffin into Hitchcock's work (here it's the necklace that everybody is seeking). Observations like this by Barr make for pleasurable reading, perhaps more than does some of his formal analysis of the films, involving timing of scenes, references to eyelines, and (in the case of Blackmail, 1929) comparison of the silent and sound versions, and comparisons with sources - where Barr isn't always incisive or complete. (Barr is right to note that the Scotland Yard references in Mrs Belloc Lowndes's novel 'The Lodger' anticipate ones in Blackmail; but even more he might have noted how the same novel's Madame Tussaud's death-in-life finalé anticipates the Egyptian Room imagery of Blackmail's British Museum climax!) He offers a surprise, though, when comparing the novel and film of Rich and Strange (1932) - Hitchcock's biographers had previously led us to believe that no such novel existed. He also reveals that two somewhat different versions of The Pleasure Garden (1926) exist - but offers no information about the status of the print of that film that turned up in Waco, Texas, a few years ago. The book is, I think, stronger on the sound films than the silent ones: I'd say that Barr underrates the emotional power of The Ring (1927), and overrates that of The Manxman (1929). (Nor, may I add, does he appear to have read my article on The Lodger in the 1992 'Hitchcock Annual', where I suggest how that film is more ambiguous than commentators have taken it to be.) Also, I feel that Barr doesn't see how objective Hitchcock's 'human documents' are overall. If there's a 'hatred of women' theme in Downhill (1927), there's equally a 'hatred of men' theme elsewhere (e.g., Juno and the Paycock), and a 'love of humankind' theme somewhere else again (e.g., The Trouble With Harry). Likewise, if Rich and Strange has a 'vulnerable woman' motif, another film (or the same film) will have a 'vulnerable man' motif (e.g., Spellbound). Lastly, if some films (e.g., The Manxman) have an absent or ineffectual mother, other films (e.g., Easy Virtue) have an absent or ineffectual father. But this is still a good, sensible book, which will be much consulted in its current and future editions. Note: our copy came from the publisher/supplier, Cameron Books, P.O. Box 1, Moffat, DG10 9SU, Scotland, whose email address is <firstname.lastname@example.org>. The price of the book is £17.95 including postage in the the UK, or £19 including (surface) postage in Europe, or £22 including (airmail) postage elsewhere. Please pay by sterling draft or by Visa or Mastercard.
• Dan Auiler's 'Hitchcock's Notebooks' (or 'Hitchcock's Secret Notebooks' in the UK) is published by Spike/Avon Books (Bloomsbury in the UK) in hardback. It's an 'authorized' collection of documents, including transcripts of script conferences, from the Hitchcock Archives. A welcome inclusion is documentation about the Antonioni-influenced project called Kaleidoscope. (Clearly, one scene set in an oil refinery would have echoed Antonioni's Il deserto rosso; while a still for some test footage reproduced in the recent BBC documentary on Hitchcock recalls Blow-up.) Essentially the film would have re-located to America the story of real-life murderer Neville Heath, someone who is also the likely basis of Swan/Lesgate in Dial M for Murder (see 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story'). Tragically, the project was aborted by Universal, who then foisted Topaz on Hitchcock, which wasn't the director's happiest effort. Auiler's book contains in its 568 pages a few other nuggets for scholars, such as some cut lines from Thornton Wilder's handwritten script of Shadow of a Doubt in which Uncle Charlie talks ostensibly about his forthcoming speech to Emma's women's club but thereby reveals his sexual repression (p. 121). And material on The Birds (e.g., p. 393) shows that Camille Paglia is wrong to say that Lydia Brenner remains the dominant woman when the film ends. However, Auiler's book is generally a disappointment. It is lazily compiled/edited, irritates with what 'The Guardian' called 'Pooterish' comments, sometimes gets its facts wrong, fails to explain obscurities, and - not least, I'd say - simply perpetuates standard assessments of the director's films. One example: Hitchcock's screwball comedy Mr and Mrs Smith (RKO, 1941) is never mentioned, or documented, thereby only encouraging the unjust neglect that it has always received. Auiler (on this occasion) and his publishers should be ashamed of themselves.
• Karen Beckman's "Violent Vanishings: Hitchcock, Harlan, and the Disappearing Woman", in the feminist film journal 'Camera Obscura', September 1996, pp. 78-102, can be summarised quite easily. Beckman notes that two films of the same basic story, Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (Britain) and Veit Harlan's Verwehte Spuren/The Footprints Blown Away (Germany), were released in the same year, 1938. Beckman asks: 'Why does the vanishing woman emerge with a vengeance on the eve of World War II?' (p. 79) The answer she gives is: 'Viewed retrospectively, how could this 1938 cinematic effacement of women not ... bring to mind the National Socialism's actual effacement of the Jews?' (p. 87) Well now, how does one take this suggestion seriously? I will say straight out that I am not persuaded that Hitchcock's film had such a hidden agenda. The disappearance - followed by eventual reappearance - of Miss Froy, the British governess who is also a spy, in that film, shows that the fictitious country of 'Bandrika' means business as far as spies are concerned; and we can sense that the European political situation is being referred to. But anything more probing than that would be a reading-in of a meaning that is not there, not even with hindsight. In the case of Harlan's film, though, matters are slightly different. The woman who disappears, the heroine's mother, has bubonic plague; Beckman notes that Jews were already being likened in National Socialist propaganda to a 'godless plague' (pp. 96-97). Thus Harlan's film, which Hitler liked, did not actually 'subvert' National Socialist ideas of the need to get rid of 'sick people' who might 'contaminate the healthy ones' (in the words of the same National Socialist propaganda). However, I don't see that Harlan's film is being any more supportive of National Socialism than that. Some other thoughts, briefly ... Beckman makes no attempt to talk of films made in 1938 about disappearing men, so there is no scale of comparison, (dis)similarity, etc. Nor does she seem aware of how the basic story had already been told in print by Mrs Belloc Lowndes in 1913, in a novel called 'The End of Her Honeymoon' (the same year as 'The Lodger'): did the novel also have a hidden agenda, perhaps referring to what the Germans were up to prior to World War I? (Also, the same story figured, for example, as an episode of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' in 1955. What was its hidden agenda?) Lastly, in 1933, a British and a German film, Hitchcock's Waltzes From Vienna and Ludwig Berger's Waltzerkrieg, were made at about the same time, both based on a German (I think) stage musical that became a British stage musical. Are we to suppose that Hitchcock had a political purpose in making his film? (I can't comment on the German film, as I haven't seen it.)
• The book 'Screening the Sacred' (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1995) is edited by Joel W. Martin and Conrad E. Ostwalt, Jr. Part One ("Theological Criticism") includes an essay by Larry E. Grimes called "Shall These Bones Live? The Problem of Bodies in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and Joel Coen's Blood Simple" (it's on pp. 19-29). Grimes asserts that Psycho is infused with a 'traditional Christian vision' and a 'discourse of hope' that 'sets it apart from ... films such as Blood Simple', films that view humans as destined to live in a world without hope of transcendence. Grimes calls Psycho 'an Advent film' because it starts in Phoenix (the name of the bird that was said to rise from its own ashes) and is set in the weeks before Christmas (pp.23-24). Like that season, he adds, 'it is marked by waiting' (p. 25). Grimes suggests that the film 'ends' four times before the final shot, of Marion's car being pulled from the swamp (when, he says, one can hope 'that the dead shall be raised incorruptible' - p. 25). Thus the audience is required to wait for this fifth ending that is (allegedly) more optimistic than those preceding it. The essay, I'd say, is written for those who want to hear its unambiguous interpretation of the film - but it itself deaf to the ambiguities that are everywhere. For example, the last shot can be read as confirming that Marion is dead and gone. Nonetheless, I agree fully that Psycho is about waiting, and have myself analysed the film in those terms (e.g., in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story'), citing Miltonic undertones. (Note: at one point, Marion's sister complains, 'What am I supposed to do? Just sit here and wait?' This connects with her remark, 'Patience doesn't run in my family.') But Grimes's citing of the fourth-century theologian Athanasius, and the eleventh-century theologian Anselm, is superfluous; and his picking out a fleetingly-glimpsed headline in Marion's newspaper that she wraps around the stolen money - a headline reading 'Voters Okay New Water District' - as indicating that Hitchcock gives us 'permission' to empathise with Marion, is one of those foolishnesses that continue to bedevil Hitchcock exegesis.
• Julian Lapointe's "Pre '59 New Wave: Polyphony and Paradigms" attempts to show how the film criticism of several 'Cahiers du cinéma' film critics (Chabrol, Godard, Rivette, Rohmer, Truffaut) anticipated the style and approach seen in their respective New Wave movies. The article is in 'CineAction', December 1998, pp. 18-29. It offers some modest conclusions. Typical is the assessment of Truffaut as less interested in theory than his colleagues: 'Truffaut, more than any of his Cahiers/New Wave colleagues, was a gifted rhetorician. He could substitute impressionist assertions for reasoned argumentation: he often did, and his writing strengths owed more heavily to the former than to the latter.' (p. 25). Lapointe adds that Truffaut's early film-making (roughly, the first three pictures: The 400 Blows, Shoot the Piano Player, Jules and Jim) shows this same characteristic. Of (some of) the later Truffaut films, we're told: 'his approach to a Hitchcockian sensibility [in Soft Skin, Fahrenheit 451, The Mississippi Mermaid] is exploratory; he enters new territory. He doesn't circumvent it.' (p. 29) Which leads to this conclusion: 'An apt formulation may be: Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol order their effects, Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut create them.'
• An extract from Patrick McGilligan's forthcoming biography of Hitchcock (to be published in 2001) is printed in the July/August, 1999, issue of 'Film Comment', pp. 22-31. Called "Before the Flickers", the extract consists of short pieces of fiction that a young Alfred Hitchcock wrote for the house-journal of the company called W.T. Henley's Telegraph Works in East London, where he had his first job for six years from November 1914. Hitch's job consisted initially of calculating sizes and voltages of cables. But for 'The Henley Telegraph', he could exercise his already keen imagination, as in the well-known "Gas" (a story that Donald Spoto sees as Poe-influenced, but which might equally be seen as in the vein of Wilkie Collins, a prolific writer of stories like "A Terribly Strange Bed", set in a seedy part of Paris). McGilligan reprints "Gas" and then several more short fictional pieces that he has unearthed, most of them demonstrating Hitch's ability to produce a surprise twist at the end, thus anticipating his TV series of forty years later. The story called "The Woman's Part" shows Hitch already using a device that he would re-cycle in films like Downhill (1927), Murder! (1930) and Saboteur (1942), in which action that we had supposed to be taking place in reality is suddenly shown to be occurring on a stage or screen. Other stories like "The History of Pea Eating" and "Fedora" are more whimsical. It is nice to read that the head of Henley's advertising department at the time, W.A. Moore (amazingly, he seems to be still alive), remembers Hitch as already having a reputation as a 'natural humorist and clown' (p. 27). Hitch even organized Henley's football club for several years.
• In an article on Van Sant's Psycho (1998), in 'Cinema Papers' (Australia), June 1999, pp. 20-21 and 57, Richard Franklin calls the re-make 'a good film'. (Franklin, of course, is well qualified to judge: he himself made Psycho II, back in 1983.) This doesn't stop him from engaging in a little 'nit-picking', as he says. One example: 'Tony Perkins told me it was implicit in the original that Norman masturbates while watching Marion undress. I was not aware of this and doubt many others got it. However, in the new version it's blatant, damaging the ironic (no it was bold) effect of making Norman the diligent boy cleaning up after his banshee mother into an audience identification figure.' (p. 57) Franklin regrets the loss of Marion's smile during the car drive when she imagines Cassidy's reaction to the theft [a smile that forms part of a motif of 'smiles' during Hitchcock's film, one more link between Marion, Norman, and 'Mother'], and he wonders why '[Anne] Heche relishes Marion's decision to steal the money in the scene where she packs her bags - which Janet Leigh does not' (p. 21). [Perhaps Van Sant felt that personal guilt-feelings are 'old-fashioned'?] Franklin dislikes some of Van Sant's framings, and notes that during the filming Van Sant and his cast would have watched the original film on a monitor showing it at 1.33:1 (though shooting his own film at 1.85:1). [However, Van Sant was aware of how the original film, though filmed at 1.33:1, was intended to be shown at a somewhat narrower aspect-ratio. In 'Cinefantastique', December 1998, he mentions seeing the original Psycho cans labelled '1.75:1'.]
• Leonard J. Leff's "Ingrid in the Lion's Den: Re-cutting Notorious" demonstrates Hitchcock's intense awareness of nuances brought about by cutting-patterns, juxtapositions, insertions and deletions of even a single shot. The article is in 'Film Comment', March/April, 1999, pp. 26-29. Leff's delving into the Selznick papers in Austin, Texas, allows him to probe in detail a sequence like the one in which a drunken Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) drives a nervous Devlin (Cary Grant) at speed through the Florida night. The sequence, notes Leff, is 'another of Hitchcock's car scenes of active females and passive males ... scenes rehearsed each morning when [secretary] Carol Stevens drove the director to work.' Devlin is 'more nervous than he appears to [Alicia]. He tries to light a cigarette, fails. He extends, then withdraws a controlling hand towards the wheel, which was part of the iconography of cars - wheels, accelerators, gear levers - that here and elsewhere Hitchcock treats as vaguely sexual.' (p. 28) [Note: nothing profound in what Hitch was doing here - just, as Leff shows, artful manipulation of material that 'works'. The film's complexity is in its overall design, and its brilliance comes from Hitchcock's total grasp of what he is doing - after a lot of painstaking experimentation to make what works work better still.] And here's an example of Hitchcock's refining down: throughout spring 1946, during final dubbing and mixing, he 'reduced the pronunciations of "Alicia," who had been called everything from "uh-LEE-sha" and "ah-LEE-she-ah" to "uh-LEE-she-uh" and "ah-LEE-sha" to no more than one variant.' (p. 29)
• Thomas M. Leitch's "It's the Cold War, Stupid: An Obvious History of the Political Hitchcock" is published in 'Literature/Film Quarterly', Vol. 27, No. 1, 1999, pp. 3-15. But as Leitch himself notes at the outset, his article is only incidentally about Hitchcock. The basic idea - though it isn't quite put like this by Leitch - concerns the incredible (if necessary?) arrogance of scholars in 'humanistic discourse' who advance interpretations of films, or whatever, that they firmly believe are obviously true, but which often prove to be off-beam if not dead wrong! (Something like that - it's a convoluted article.) Moreover, soon the scholar concerned typically proceeds to disavow much of the original argument as merely obvious, and which no scholar would now bother with. Leitch concludes: 'By disavowing the obvious (the consensual basis of every argument) as stupid (what nobody would be caught dead thinking), humanistic scholars project and extend an unending war within themselves onto the larger scholarly community.' (pp. 12-13) In effect, Leitch admits that more than half the time academic scholars are merely engaging in intellectual puzzles (cf. p. 7). The real arrogance here is scarcely noted by Leitch, though, when he touches on the fact that meanwhile real scholars beavering away in the likes of the Milton Society and the Spenser Society are so efficient that they leave no room for the academics to play their puzzles - so that their findings are largely ignored. (Again, something like that - see p. 7.)
• Camille Paglia's 'The Birds' (BFI) is superbly descriptive, evocative, allusive, readable - all the things that 'The MacGuffin' has been saying for years would be true if ever the writer of 'Sexual Personae' (1990) turned her hand to Hitchcock! We feel absolutely vindicated! Drawing extensively on the wonderful issue of 'Cinefantastique' magazine (Fall, 1980) devoted to Hitchcock's 1963 film, Paglia's 100-page monograph is, not least, constantly verifiable in its assertions. (Many frame-stills are included, including 24 in colour.) She notes that the first sketches art-designer Robert Boyle did for The Birds, when the film was still set, like Daphne du Maurier's short story, in Cornwall, were based on Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' (1893). Boyle said he wanted to capture 'the sense of bleakness and madness ... [a] wilderness expressing an inner state' (p. 18). Exactly. No less exact, and astute, is Paglia's claim that Hitchcock's film belongs to 'the main line of British Romanticism, descending from the raw nature-tableaux and sinister femmes fatales of Coleridge' (p. 7). The two principal femmes fatales she discerns in The Birds are Melanie Daniels ('Tippi' Hedren) and Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy) - though she thinks that Lydia will remain the dominant one after the film has ended (p. 86). We feel vindicated in another way, too, because Paglia's citing of Coleridge (as against Wordsworth, with his comfy view of nature) fits perfectly with our own view that Hitchcock's film is 'Schopenhauerian'. (Coleridge and Schopenhauer were contemporaries, deeply influenced by Plato and Kant; and both held that animal nature is red in tooth and claw.) Indeed, though the high-point of Paglia's book is its appreciation of the film's central scene in the restaurant ('like a play within a play' - p. 69), it doesn't quite know what to say about the mother's accusation to Melanie - and us - that 'I think you're the cause of all this'. Schopenhauer, though, could have explained! (His 'principle of sufficient reason' deals with the need of people to atrribute a reason/cause to everything, even the inexplicable.) Paglia merely speaks of the moment's 'mythic power' (p. 74), and compares the woman to a witch-baiter in 'The Crucible'. The film's subjective dimension eludes Paglia here, and elsewhere. Also, for the record, I'm surprised that Paglia didn't note the resemblance of ornithologist Mrs Bundy (Ethel Griffies) to lesbian author 'Clemence Dane' (Winifred Ashton) who had been the model for Madame Arcati in Noël Coward's 'Blithe Spirit' (1941). No matter - Paglia's monograph is one of the best pieces of writing on Hitchcock that you'll find ...
• In 1992, Rhona J. Berenstein interpreted Hitchcock's Rebecca as a 'lesbian' text, making much of the second Mrs de Winter's line, 'I'm not the sort of person men marry'. (See 'CineAction' 29, 1992, pp. 82-96.) Now, in similar vein, she has written "Adaptation, Censorship, and Audiences of Questionable Type: Lesbian Sightings in Rebecca (1940) and The Uninvited (1944)". The article (in 'Cinema Journal, Vol. 37, No. 3, 1998, pp. 16-37) compares Hitchcock's film with Lewis Allen's splendid ghost story starring Ray Milland and Gail Russell - and featuring Cornelia Otis Skinner in a Mrs Danvers-like role. The association of lesbianism with horror (vampires, ghosts) goes back at least as far as Sheridan Le Fanu's classic 'Carmilla' of last century - it's strange that Professor Berenstein doesn't mention it. For in fact the reader may feel that she labours at times to state the obvious, though she has plenty of excuse. Amusingly, she is able to show that the very same censors, executives, etc., who when Allen's film was in the script stage had shown awareness of certain tendencies in the story, later reacted with shocked denial when Father Brendan Larnen of the Legion of Decency drew their attention to some scenes which, he said, were drawing 'large audiences of questionable type [to attend] this film at unusual hours'. Of course, Allen's film couldn't be exactly overt about what it was doing; even so, Berenstein notes 'that the heroine of The Uninvited is, unlike [Joan] Fontaine's character in Rebecca, allowed to articulate her love for the specter, though that declaration is refashioned as a daughter's love for her mother' (p. 22). Also, a biography of Daphne du Maurier, author of the Rebecca novel, has been published since Berenstein wrote her original article; in an 'I-told-you-so' footnote, Berenstein now records that 'Du Maurier herself was a cross-dresser and had a lesbian sister, Angela, who wrote the lesbian novel, "The Little Less"'. (Readers may like to compare what we say elsewhere on this Web site about Rebecca in particular - for that, see our FAQs page.)
• Congratulations to Dan Auiler, film collector, teacher, and Buddhist, living in Los Angeles, whose book on the phenomenon that is Hitchcock's Vertigo has the breadth and grasp that were needed. (An earlier model was Stephen Rebello's excellent 'Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho'.) Not a critical text, and with nary a footnote for unwary readers to stumble over, 'Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic' nonetheless is both amply-researched and evocative. Auiler accessed the Hitchcock production files and interviewed key surviving personnel who had worked on the film (and, in a final chapter, Messrs Harris and Katz, who restored it on 70mm in 1996). A couple of highlights: a long letter written by Hitchcock describing his film's structure (a 'front' story concealing 'the big story which ... is only revealed to the audience in the final scene' - an idea later modified), and artist John Ferren's elaborate notes for the nightmare sequence ('a rhythmed beat of coloured light which swells from and recedes to darkness ... rhythmed to begin at a normal heart beat and gradually increase to a flutter in the final sequence'). Vertigo is of course replete with allusions to darkness (these linked to its corridor- and tunnel-imagery), and the book bears this out in describing such matters as the Argosy Book Shop scene (which gradually darkens as Pop Liebel tells his story) and the credits-sequence (which fades to black). But a likely hidden agenda of the book is to correct Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto's surely too jaundiced account of Hitchcock's 'dark side', and in this it succeeds. A final note says: 'In all of the interviews and conversations that went into the preparation of this book, those who worked with Hitchcock were consistent in [projecting] ...an overall admiration for the man and the artist'. For Hitchcock's healthy approach to working with his writers (alternating 'work' and 'play'), see p. 37. My impression is that the book is itself a healthily-conceived and written one. Auiler is entitled to conclude: 'Those of us who are "healthy" do not wander the old places, looking for ghosts. But the film expresses a truth that may be dark but is unavoidable ... In [a] sense, we all stand with Scottie in the tower.'
• A major book for scholars is Robert Samuels's 'Hitchcock's Bi-Textuality: Lacan, Feminisms, and Queer Theory'. Its main idea is that a Hitchcock film allows expression to many usually suppressed or 'forbidden' feelings and viewpoints, before returning us to some sort of 'normality' which is the socialised world we all inhabit - Lacan's Symbolic realm - structured by language and a basically patriarchal, heterosexist outlook. Samuels is very aware of the work of such theorists as Kristeva, Irigaray, and Lee Edelman. They all make use of Freud's and Lacan's description of a 'bisexual' primal scene, in which the infant 'identifies' with both parents. Reading this book, I learnt much about Lacan's own theory, and about Hitchcock's films, though I several times felt that the two were 'yoked by violence together'. Or if not by violence, by facility. (Did you ever play 'That reminds me of'?) The best and the worst of the book are perhaps to be found in the chapter on Notorious (1946). When Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) is lying on a bed with a hangover, Devlin (Cary Grant) approaches her, and the camera tilts. 'What's your angle? Do you want to frame me?' she asks suspiciously - thereby identifying both Devlin and the director Hitchcock with males who would deny her autonomy as a female. (Actually, both are trying to help her: e.g., Hitchcock to photograph her from her best 'angle'.) Samuels makes a convincing case for how Devlin's love for Alicia as she enters into marriage with the Nazi Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), in order to spy on activities inside the Sebastian household, forces him (Devlin) to re-experience homosexual feelings: he'll later say, 'I was a fat-headed guy full of pain' - presumably because he has been both jealous and has lost control of the situation, considered a heterosexual male prerogative. Samuels cites similar ambiguities (e.g., Devlin's boss seems chuffed when he hears that Alex - a likely bisexual - has called him 'rather handsome'). It's when he tries to link the alcoholic Alicia to feminine traits of 'fluidity' (here following Irigaray's theory) that Samuels sometimes seems to me to 'cheat'. For example, Alicia speaks jokingly of blowing up the Panama Canal, and Samuels concludes that she 'is highlighting the way that her fluid nature stands as a threat to men' (p. 68).
• A new book called 'Play It Again, Sam: Retakes on Remakes' has two essays concerning Hitchcock films. The book's co-editor, Stuart McDougal, writes on the two versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much (on pp. 52-69). Such an exercise has been done before - and rather well - both by Ina Rae Hark (whom McDougal acknowledges in his bibliography) and Robert Corber (whom McDougal apparently hasn't read). This new one doesn't add a lot. Still, I liked the description of how Bob (Leslie Banks) in the 1934 version of the film must mature and become more like an adult - not least by casting off Clive (Hugh Wakefield), 'the infantilized bachelor uncle' - before he can successfully team with his wife Jill (Edna Best) to rescue their kidnapped daughter. And there's this summing up of the 1956 version of the film: 'There is a strong tension ... between the rigid, rational, headstrong power of the patriarchy - embodied in Dr McKenna [James Stewart] - and the intuitive, "musical" intelligence of his wife, Jo [Doris Day], as well as a concern with patriarchal succession and oedipal struggle that is lacking in the first version.' The book's other Hitchcock-related essay is by Robert Kolker (it's on pp. 34-51), and is basically about Martin Scorsese's indebtedness to Hitchcock, with especial reference to Cape Fear (1991), itself a remake of J. Lee Thompson's 1962 film. Kolker's approach tends to breadth rather than depth, and his long essay takes a while to get going. Typical of his see-saw, would-be even-handed descriptive method is how on p. 48 we're told that '[t]he characters of Cape Fear do not triumph with the hard death of Cady', yet on p. 49 we're informed that the film 'manages to return some measure of control to the good man and to allow the family a measure of recuperation'. Yet persist to the end if you're interested in Kolker's claim that Scorsese's film drew on 'the concept of the double' in three Hitchcock films of the fifties: Stage Fright, Strangers on a Train, and I Confess. Though even then you may be left feeling uneasy: it's never made clear whether Kolker is quoting Scorsese on this, or just speculating. [Footnote: Professor Kolker has told us that he followed a hunch, and then used a computer to put images from Scorsese and Hitchcock side by side. Our comment is that this sort of 'borrowing' by filmmakers is indeed very common - each issue of 'The MacGuffin' gives several instances of it: e.g., how a scene in King Vidor's The Citadel (1939) 'inspired' the Momma Lucy's episode in Hitchcock's screwball comedy, Mr and Mrs Smith (1941).]
• Scott D. Paulin is a graduate student in Musicology at Princeton. For 'Spectator' (University of Southern California), Spring/Summer 1997, he has written "Unheard Sexualities?: Queer Theory and the Soundtrack" (it's on pp. 37-49), which includes cogent observations on the use of music in Hitchcock's Rope (1948). There are two main ideas. First, that the playing on the piano by Philip (Farley Granger) of Poulenc's 'Perpetual Movement' No. 1 (1918) - a work 'remarkable for its opposition to the norms of classical tonal music' (p. 38) - marks him as 'deviant'. Though Philip plays with the piece repeatedly, he 'never plays the piece through to its conclusion' (p. 38) - which may suggest a view of the filmmakers about homosexuality as non-achieving. (The film is of course about two gay killers.) Second, Paulin notes that the Poulenc piece is also heard over both the opening and closing titles of the film, but there 'rewritten in a more tonal framework' and given 'a broader instrumental palette' (p. 39). Paulin says of the net effect: 'This non-diegetic [non-story] closure "corrects" Poulenc's deviation from the prescribed norms, but it also assimilates the music to the dominant [heterosexual] paradigm, as if to deny that such deviance had ever existed' (p. 39). An extra dimension is given this observation when Paulin notes in a footnote that Poulenc's music, resembling Eric Satie's, can be seen as quite 'feminine' and 'Eastern' (n. 12, pp. 48-49).
• An article called "Return of the Seldom Repressed: (Re) mastering Hitchcock's Vertigo", in the Australian media journal 'Metro' (No. 113/114, 1998), pp. 42-47, attempts to explain that film's endless fascination for critics and audiences, and even - somewhat mystically - for why it keeps receiving new releases in 'new' versions. 'Vertigo', we're told (p. 44), 'establishes a world in which possession is never possible, where ... each return to the film challenges the viewer to unravel its mysteries and trap it like a butterfly under glass.' Similarly, many people make 'pilgrimages' to the film's locations in San Francisco, thereby trying 'to forestall Scottie's revelation that the object of our fascination is nothing but a "fiction".' (p. 47). The author, Adrian Danks, offers some acute incidental observations (e.g., that Basic Instinct, 1992, 'lazily' taps into a viewer's familiarity with Vertigo though it only succeeds in exhausting the 'palpable male melancholy' of the Hitchcock film - p. 46), but the article finally lacks breadth. Missing is film theorist Dudley Andrews's understanding of the unsatisfying nature of viewing any film: 'Desiring to possess the film, we are confined to merely viewing it. Consequently, the successful film can never ultimately satisfy us ...'. (Vertigo, then, is at one level about the nature of film viewing - which Danks does indeed sense, saying, on p. 44, that our 'obsession' with cinema concerns 'shadows, ethereality, repetition and "death"'.) In fact, this is the very relation we have in our 'phenomenal' existence to the unknowable 'noumenal' realm which Kant called Ding-an-sich (the 'thing-in-itself') and which Schopenhauer called the world's 'Will'. It's the Kantian-Schopenhauerian (and Eastern) dimension of Vertigo that this article doesn't take in, i.e., the film's relation to our (potential) wider experience beyond 'the cinema of the self'.
• Four issues on from her fine article in 'CineAction' about Hitchcock's I Confess (see elsewhere on this page), Deborah Thomas has provided the same journal with another insightful piece, "On Being Norman: Performance and Inner Life in Hitchcock's Psycho" ('CineAction', No. 44, 1997, pp. 66-72). A basic idea is that Norman inhabits a waking dream, as, in her own way, does Marion (she, too, 'hears voices in her head in the course of her drive' - p. 72). Thomas sees deeply into Norman's several selves: he has, for example, both a slyly knowing and a bewildered, even unknowing aspect, just as his 'mother' has both active and passive aspects (cf. p. 70). In describing some of this, Thomas is brilliant: '[Norman's] posture continually evokes withdrawal from the surrounding world, whether through the way his coat collar is held tightly closed against the rain when Marion first arrives, or the way he keeps his hands in his pockets as he enters the kitchen after spying on Marion and, later, as he greets Lila and Sam on their arrival at the motel ... This is a body making as little space for itself in the world as possible, pulling back from contact with its troubling realities which present themselves to him as thin air.' (p. 69) After reading the article, I found myself recalling Camille Paglia's claim that throughout 'Wuthering Heights' Emily Brontë identifies herself with Heathcliff against the social norm represented by Nellie Dean and Lockwood. Well, I know why I thought of that. More than ever, I'm now convinced that in some deep ways Norman Bates is Hitchcock (to coin a phrase). On the <alt.movies.hitchcock> newsgroup the other day, Bill Warren recalled seeing Hitchcock in his limo on Sunset Boulevard sitting on the front edge of his seat clutching the seat belt 'and staring fixedly straight ahead. And this was on that long, gently curving section of Sunset that runs through Beverley Hills.' (There's a similar anecdote about Hitchcock in David Freeman's book, 'The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock', 1984.)
• Something different. A wonderful essay on Rear Window is published on the Web, in the architectural journal 'Ark'. The site is Finnish, but much of its content is translated into English. And fortunately, Juhani Pallasmaa's "The Geometry of Terror" is among the pieces translated. First delivered as a valedictory lecture at the Helsinki University of Technology in 1997, it is clearly a work of devotion as well as erudition (but done deftly, lightly). Thus a reference to Titian's 'Presentation of the Virgin' serves beautifully to comment on the film's life-likeness, a sense of extraneousness and occasional triviality, as with 'the meaningless helicopter flying over the buildings at the beginning of the film, which hovers to gawk at the bathing beauties on the flat roof'. .All of the author's senses are alert: 'Hitchcock creates a feeling of terror through well chosen scenes just when the mind is most receptive, such as when a bloodcurdling scream from the yard interrupts Lisa's displaying her enticing lingerie, [or when we see] the murderer cleaning the butcher's knife and little saw against the sound of children playing, or when Lisa is kissing Jeff whilst his mind is preoccupied with the significance of the murder weapons.' May I add that Pallasmaa's essay seems to me to complement my own, albeit inferior, essay on Rear Window printed in 'MacGuffin' 23? Go and read Pallasmaa now: "The Geometry of Terror".
• Yet another article on Hitchcock by Prof. Christopher Morris has appeared - two or three of his earlier articles are listed/critiqued below. This latest one is called "The Allegory of Seeing in Hitchcock's Silent Films", and is published in 'Film Criticism', Winter 1997-98, pp. 27-50. Morris's basic idea, once again, is how Hitchcock's films depict the world as 'postal', i.e., they 'imply that assumptions concerning culture or the individual, however necessary to intelligibility, are also fictional' (p. 42). For instance, in The Ring (1927), 'life's striving is reducible to shifts in arbitrary signs' (p. 32), by which Morris means such things as numbers 'pulled from the wall, calendar-style' during Jack's first fight with Corby (p. 31). This reducibility of life's striving, adds Morris, is then given a broader significance 'by the conflation of signs with not only boxing but any mute percussion: for example, the film's credits are immediately juxtaposed with a carnival drum being banged.' (p. 32) Though Morris's examples are new, being drawn from six of Hitchcock's silent films, the main content of the article should be very familiar to 'MacGuffin' readers. See, for example, 'MacGuffin' 22, pp. 13-14, where we noted, in a review of Sidney Gottlieb's 'Hitchcock on Hitchcock', how that book's content seems constantly to invite comparison with Schopenhauerian ideas - 'with, let's say, that philosopher's emphasis on the typically harsh way the world goes.' (Gottlieb had suggested that 'hostility and aggression ... are intimately bound up with film-making ...'.)
• John Belton, who has written recurrently on Hitchcock over the years (but with increasing formalism, more's the pity), has now authored an interesting article, "Charles Bennett and the typical Hitchcock scenario", in 'Film History', Vol. 9 (1997), pp. 320-332. Bennett, of course, was the playwight and scenarist who wrote the scripts for some of Hitchcock's early triumphs, such as The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), Secret Agent (1936), and Foreign Correspondent (1940). In addition, Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929) was based on Bennett's play, first staged at the Globe Theatre in 1928, when it starred Tallulah Bankhead. (Bennett had a hand in the film's scripting, but not its final version.) Belton has gone back and read the original play of 'Blackmail', and several other early Bennett plays, which is more than Tom Ryall did before writing his disappointing BFI monograph on Blackmail (1993). Belton concludes that 'a sense of loss' is the theme 'which characterises Bennett's best work in the theatre and on the screen' (p. 322). Unfortunately, his article has several errors, oversights, and solecisms. For instance, I was disappointed that he failed to spot how the ending that Bennett wrote for 'Blackmail' (but which Tallulah Bankhead insisted be changed for the play's London run), is precisely the one that Hitchcock used decades later to resolve The Trouble With Harry (1956) - the 'murdered' man, whom everybody has felt guilt over, proves to have in fact died from a heart attack. (Mind you, the 1956 film's ending comes basically from the 'Harry' novel.)
• For 'Cineaste', Vol. 23, No. 1 (pp 4-9), Royal S. Brown has written on "Back From Among the Dead: The Restoration of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo". As its title suggests, the article is mainly about the problems, and accomplishments, of the recent restoration. But there's also some attempt at a resumé of critical writing on the film (notably by Robin Wood and by Brown himself), plus an appreciative reference to Raymond Bellour's long, ground-breaking 1975 analysis of North by Northwest ("Le Blocage symbolique") - though it's surely time that the latter article were seen for the fairly repetitious, albeit beautiful in an abstract way, thing it is - like a computer-generated series of Mandlebrot effects. (Brown merely says that it's both exhaustive and exhausting.) As for Brown's own past analysis of Vertigo cited here, namely his 1986 "Vertigo as Orphic Tragedy", we'd ask whether he should have pushed himself forward like this! Brown is far from being the most incisive of writers, perhaps mainly because he hasn't yet seen the need, in any given analysis of a Hitchcock film, for a plurality of responses: thus his 1986 piece is far too resolutely set on showing a rigorous re-working of the Orpheus myth in Vertigo, instead of noting the film's multiple references to various 'archetypal' women (on that, see in particular the article about Vertigo that's on this Web site). But two plus-marks for Brown: for his quoting of Kim Novak (emerging as something of a Vertigo authority) whose comment on the deliberate 'illogic' in the story Brown rightly calls 'lucid'; and for his put-down (in a footnote) of Marion Keane for writing 'one of the worst articles ever ... on Hitchcock or any other director'. As 'MacGuffin' readers know, we're no fan of Ms Keane either!
• Out in paperback is Stefan Sharff's 'The Art of Looking in Hitchcock's Rear Window'. Review by DA: 'I'm afraid he hasn't much to say other than to describe in infinite detail each shot of the film - which has its own rewards, i.e., it draws you back to the film again and again.'
• Basically, Christopher Morris's "The Direction of North by Northwest", in 'Cinema Journal' 36, No. 4, Summer 1997, pp. 43-56, repeats the claim of his earlier, insightful article on Vertigo (in the 'Hitchcock Annual', 1996-97) that the film itself recognises, by its structure, etc., that no meaning we would assign it will stick - but that nonetheless the critic will and must proceed to assign the film meanings! (Still, nothing there that Schopenhauer didn't imply long ago - as noted in 'MacGuffin' 10, where we showed how he and Kant anticipated Lacan.) But this time Morris builds his essay on Jacques Derrida's notion of 'the postal' (assigned addresses, assigned meanings, both with allegedly 'groundless signifiers' - how the mail ever arrives isn't discussed!). So the following conclusion is reached: 'Thornhill can no sooner question his true name than the Professor can question national security or Vandamm can question his nefarious scheme or Eve can question her motives. The signifying presences its characters take for granted are depicted in North by Northwest as illusion.' (p. 53) Again some insights, but an unduly wordy essay this time, nonetheless!
• A couple of recent books about film studios may be of interest to Hitchcock scholars. F. Bernard Dick's 'City of Dreams/The Making & Remaking of Universal Pictures' (1997) has 'impeccable, detailed research from primary documents, and a highly readable and enjoyable writing style'. Klaus Kreimeier's 'The UFA Story: A History of Germany's Greatest Film Company, 1918--1945' (1996) has been translated by Robert and Rita Kimber. It's recommended by SG, who thinks it 'much better ... than the new biography of Fritz Lang by Patrick McGilligan'.
• Chapter 8 of Peter Bogdanovich's 'Who the Devil Made It' is about Hitchcock. Much of it is a reprint of the already-published interview with Hitchcock that Bogdanovich did for the MoMA in 1962, but there's an updating to the time of Hitchcock's death in 1980. Some of the 'new' material is of great interest. Let it be noted, for instance, what Hitchcock said when asked (p.554) whether he identified with Jimmy Stewart's character in Rear Window (1954): 'Oh, possibly, yes. But that's what I think the people don't understand. They don't understand professionalism. The strangling scene in Frenzy (1972) is a carefully designed scene, done slowly and meticulously [and quite in tune with some of the best-selling literary thrillers being published at the time, with their emphasis on sadistic detail - Ed.], and it comes out like fireworks on the screen. If I felt the same way as the actor Barry Foster feels as a character, I'd never get it on the screen. It's idiotic.' Bogdanovich's introduction to the Hitchcock chapter also contains several interesting details, such as how he himself had offered to go to Finland to shoot the on-location sequences for The Short Night (Hitchcock's last project, never filmed), when it became apparent that Hitchcock's failing health would prevent him doing so in person.
• Donald Spoto's 'Notorious: The Life of Ingrid Bergman' (1997) contains, inter alia, the revelation that Hitchcock based the Lisa-Jeff relationship in Rear Window on a real-life affair between Ingrid Bergman and renowned photo-journalist Robert Capa in 1946. ('MacGuffin' 23, on Rear Window, discusses the film from this new perspective, and others.)
• We're well aware that there's a 'publish or perish' syndrome in academia, but the results are sometimes inadequate. A recent issue of the journal 'Film & History' (Vol. 27, No. 1-4, 1997) has an article called "Archetypes as Propaganda in Alfred Hitchcock's 'Lost' World War II Films" by two academics from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, J. Justin Gustainis and Jay DeSilva. The article simply says, in effect, that the characters in the two wartime propaganda shorts that Hitchcock made in England (Bon Voyage, Aventure Malgache, both 1944) were representative - 'archetypes' - of the sides then at war: here, specifically, Nazis, Free French, and the British. As if that weren't obvious enough to anyone seeing the two films! Also, the two authors refer more than once to 'a friend of Hitchcock's' who had asked him to come to England to make the two films - as if no-one would know the person. In fact, it was one of the top British film moguls and entrepreneurs, Sidney Bernstein!
• Charles Silet, of Iowa State University, has sent us a report on the CD-ROM called 'The Rebecca Project' (Rutgers University Press, 1995). As noted here previously, the CD is only available for Macintosh computers, and it isn't cheap ($US 69.95). Charles Silet tells us that he has mixed views about it. While the idea of the project is truly revolutionary in the scope and diversity of its material, much of the execution is flawed. For instance, the exclusively 'feminist' readings of the film (essays by Diana Waldman, Tania Modleski, Mary Ann Doan, and Rhona J. Berenstein) may strike some users as unnecessarily narrow. We'll print Charles Silet's full review of the CD in a forthcoming issue of 'The MacGuffin'.
• There's an interview with actress Teresa Wright, in which she talks about her role in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943), in 'Projections 7' (1997, Faber & Faber), pp. 225-33. The interview has few surprises, though we liked the reference to how there's a progression in the clothes worn by young Charlie in the film, starting with the dress (a gift from her Uncle Charlie) that initially makes her look 'so young and fresh'. But Ms Wright can be naive, as when she remarks that there's nothing 'incestuous' about the emerald ring given Charlie by her uncle (p. 229). The relationship of niece and uncle may not actually be an incestuous one, yet the connotation and the suggestion are definitely of incest, and have a long tradition (see our FAQs page). 'Projections 7' is edited by John Boorman and Walter Donohue.
• "Vertigo Before Hitchcock", by Tim Lucas, in 'Video Watchdog' #40, 1997, pp. 70-71, compares the novel 'D'Entre les Morts' (published in France in February 1954) with Hitchcock's 1958 film. (As Lucas notes, the novel had by then been translated into English, by Geoffrey Sainsbury, as 'The Living and the Dead'.)
It's an admirably descriptive piece, which notes many of the qualities of the original novel - such as how its 'French wartime setting mirrors the inner devastation of its protagonist'. Lucas feels that Hitchcock read the novel 'very closely and drew from its inspiration'. But strangely, he ends up making a similar error to Robin Wood (in 'Hitchcock's Films') who wrote that 'the novel offers no equivalent for the sequoias [scene]' in the film. According to Lucas, the novel has no scene matching the film's 'museum visit, [nor] the big trees'.
So, for the record, here's part of what we reported in 'MacGuffin' 11 (November 1993): 'Not only do Flavières (the Scottie character) and Madeleine visit the Forêt de Fontainebleau (Part I, Chapter 4), although this is merely referred to, but a key scene soon follows that takes place in the Louvre. Here, the couple pass "through a dark entrance" to where they saunter "among Egyptian gods in the coolness of a cathedral", and they converse on the very matters that Scottie and Madeleine raise in the film's Muir Woods [or Big Basin State Park]. Finally, Flavières and Madeleine leave the building and find themselves, "somewhat breathless, in front of a lawn in the middle of which a sprinkler was shedding a rainbow". (As Scottie and Madeleine leave [the Redwood forest], the impression given is indeed that of their emerging from a cathedral into the light, a moment soon followed by the scene on the clifftop with its piece of overt romanticism, the crashing waves.)'
• Evan Hunter's long article "Me and Hitch" in 'Sight and Sound', June 1997, pp. 25-37, has been published separately as a small book (Faber and Faber). It's hugely interesting about The Birds, for which Hunter wrote the screenplay. By the same token, it offers no awareness of Hitchcock's larger body of work (masterworks like Vertigo, North by Northwest, The Trouble With Harry), and that needs to be said. The article is consistently self-justificatory at Hitchcock's expense. It claims that the worst scene in The Birds - on the sand dunes - was written by Hitch himself. (Two years ago, in the 'Hitchcock Annual', Hunter said he didn't know who wrote it. That now appears to be true: according to Bill Krohn, the scene was written by Victor Pritchett - about whom, see next paragraph.) Alleging that Hitchcock virtually prostituted the project, Hunter takes little of the blame for what was always a rather trite plot and storyline. Instead, he suggests that the director ended up seeking 'respectability', and he ridicules as 'utter rot' Hitchcock's post-film description of the movie's theme as one of 'complacency', the fact that catastrophe 'surrounds us all' (pp. 28-29). Yet no-one more than Hitch (we suggest) knew the importance of first justcreating - and only later seeing if you've made a masterpiece or not. Hunter doesn't seem to understand (or remember) that crucial fact. He simply reports that '[w]hile we were shaping the screenplay, there was no talk at all of symbolism' (p. 28).
Hunter shows bitterness towards Hitchcock's actor-friend, Hume Cronyn, and is positively insulting to another Hitchcock friend, the eminent British man-of-letters, the late Sir Victor Pritchett, both of whom the director approached for last-minute suggestions about improving the screenplay. Finally, you really do have to wonder about someone - Hunter - who says he still thinks The Birds would have been improved by giving it a murder-mystery plot (p. 27).
• More on The Birds. When Hitchcock put 'Tippi' Hedren through a week of endurance and pain during the shooting of the attic scene, his determination, even fanaticism, to get exactly the right effect may have had no precedent since D.W. Griffith shot the ice-floe climax of Way Down East (1920) - when Lillian Gish was forced to request a stand-in and the latter came away with permanent injuries to one hand caused by frostbite. (Hitchcock once cited the Griffith scene as his favourite 'chase' scene of all time.) Memories of Hitchcock's state-of-mind during the making of The Birds form part of the 'flashback' structure of the new mystery-thriller novel, 'Birdland', by Hollywood screenwriter Eric Adams, published in the UK.
Something else the novel touches on is how a steady stream of present-day tourists visits Bodega Bay, wanting to check out for themselves places they've seen in the film, like the Tides Bar and the Brenner farm-site. The novel's psychiatrist, Rob, explains this fascination by surmising that Hitchcock brought his audiences close to 'the only emotion many people feel' - fear. The novel shows an impressive awareness of Hitchcock techniques (for instance, character after character is introduced in some way that catches the reader off-balance). Not essential reading, exactly, but enjoyable.
• Reader, we're sorry, but here's another article on Hitchcock we didn't warm to! Peter Wollen, whose approach to Hitchcock has always been rather hit-and-run anyway (though with flashes of brilliance), writes just a typical English Establishment piece on Vertigo for the April 1997 issue of 'Sight and Sound' (pp. 14-19, with a note by Pat Kirkham on Saul Bass's credits-sequence). The piece contains about the usual number of tired slips, like repeatedly calling Judy Barton 'Judy Easton', and generally says nothing new (we think regular 'MacGuffin' readers will be yawning). However, about four paragraphs from the end, there is one more-or-less fresh insight. Wollen writes: 'The work which Vertigo most reminds me of is André Breton's surrealist masterpiece "Nadja". In 1928 Breton published a strange documentary fantasy in which he described his aimless wanderings around Paris with a mysterious woman whom he had first noticed by chance in the street. ...' So definitely include this Breton novel as a possible item among well over a score of 'borrowings' Hitchcock made use of in Vertigo - though in this case it was most probably an indirect borrowing, via Boileau and Narcejac's 'D'Entre les Morts'. Compare a couple of notes elsewhere below. (Note: we just don't think Wollen should abandon his always-extensive general reading just yet.)
• Britain's 'Time Out' magazine, for April 16-23, 1997, pp. 20-24, has an interview with Kim Novak and Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell, which includes this valuable insight into Vertigo. On the set, Hitchcock paid particular attention to the rhythm. According to Novak, 'It was very important to him, in fact he worked with a metronome in certain scenes early on, and in the tower at the end. He wanted a staccato effect, probably in contrast with the slow movements of Madeleine, that dream-like quality. He was very exacting on that. I must say, it really felt like it was moving too slow, it was very unnatural-feeling, but it worked!' [Hitchcock may have remembered the use of a metronome from pictures like Our Daily Bread, 1934, directed by King Vidor, whose films Hitchcock admired.]
• Easily the most important recent book on Hitchcock, we think, is 'Hitchcock on Hitchcock' (now in pb), edited by Sidney Gottlieb. It's a must-read complement to Truffaut's famous interview with Hitchcock. A highly appreciative review of it by Matthew Bernstein is included in the Fall, 1996, issue of 'Film Quarterly', pp. 53-55. Our own long review of the book is featured in 'MacGuffin 22', together with related material (including an interview with Professor Gottlieb).
• Available in paperback, is 'Dissolving Views: Key Writings on British Cinema' (1996), edited by Andrew Higson. Lead article is Charles Barr's paper from the 1980 Rome Hitchcock Conference, now titled "Hitchcock's British Films Revisited", whose first English publication was back in 1992 in 'The MacGuffin'. One of Barr's main points is that in many of Hitchcock's films a kind of trance-state links spectator and protagonist.
• There's a chapter on "Herrmann, Hitchcock, and the Music of the Irrational" in Royal S. Brown's 'Overtones and Undertones: Reading Film Music' (pb). 'The MacGuffin' has been critical in the past of some of Professor Brown's work on Hitchcock (e.g., a 1980 article he wrote on Spellbound), but everything by the very scholarly Brown warrants respect, not least his detailed appreciation of Bernard Herrmann's scoring. Would anyone who has read 'Overtones and Undertones' like to send us a brief report? (We've already looked at Brown's 'Dionysian' reading of Psycho in his book's first chapter, and noted an overlap with certain matters raised on this Web site. A typical passage by Brown observes that 'Psycho, like Shostakovich's Fourteenth Symphony or Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, ultimately leaves us dangling outside [the aesthetic norm]' - p. 37.)
• The May 1996 issue of 'Sight and Sound', pp. 28-31, contains an article on Rebecca (1940) by Alison Light. The article is informative and thoughtful, and we wholly agree with this observation: 'Though he [afterwards] shrugged off the paraphernalia of the Gothic and found more vernacular American subjects, [Hitchcock] ... returned obsessively to the pathology of repression' (p. 31). Even so, Ms Light misses how all of the characters at Manderley - right down to the most minor - are characterised as de-natured and de-sexed in some way. (For instance, the butler Robert is having trouble with his teeth ...) Consequently, her suggestion that the male filmmakers (Selznick, Hitchcock) finally succeed in their aim of exorcising the threatening ghost of Rebecca with her errant or 'perverse' female desires may be a little too pat. That is indeed how the film sees Rebecca (compare 'MacGuffin' 8, pp. 9-10), but the film has many ironies directed at the male characters, not least Maxim himself.
• Another recent 'Sight and Sound' piece on Hitchcock is David Thomson's "H For Hitchcock" in the January 1997 issue, pp. 26-28, 30. Unfortunately it's a jejune attempt to characterise a director whom Thomson has never loved - perhaps a classic case of an extravert (Thomson) being unable to appreciate the work of one of the great introverts (Hitchcock). Thomson's concluding paragraph is typical, more-or-less accurately noting Hitchcock's increasing pessimism but defining this as personal weakness (Hitchcock 'fears the world') rather than seeing it positively (e.g., seeing Hitchcock as the philosopher/observer who has good reason to revile some of the things he shows us) ...
• In 'CineAction' #40, pp. 32-37, Deborah Thomas writes on "Confession as betrayal: Hitchcock's I Confess as Enigmatic Text". It makes many excellent points, such as how Logan's relationship with Ruth may be seen as a series of betrayals and retaliations. 'In response to Logan's inability right from the start to give himself fully to Ruth, as evidenced by his eager embracing of the war and her hostile response ("He was one of the first to volunteer. I hated him for that"), we have Ruth's marriage to Grandfort ...'. (p. 34) The ultimate point seems to be the ambiguity of the human condition, its events and motives. However, Thomas stops short of saying quite that, settling for describing the film in terms of Hitchcock's insistence on his own authorship, 'his final right to withhold any basis for a definitive reading' (p. 37).
• Professor Thomas Hemmeter has written a short, not exactly profound article on "Hitchcock's Melodramatic Silence", whose main point is that '[s]ilences in Hitchcock's films ... at once [reveal] a kind of truth and at the same time [call] that truth into question' (p. 33). You may find the article in the 'Journal of Film and Video', 48.1-2 (Spring-Summer, 1996), pp. 33-40.
• The publication, 'Projections 4½', issued in association with the French 'Positif', includes a brilliant short essay on Vertigo (1958) by one of that film's greatest fans, the director Chris Marker, plus a sensible note on Psycho (1960) by Jean-Claude Brisseau. Marker writes: 'There used to be a special effect in old movies where a character would detach himself from his sleeping or dead body, and his transparent form would float up to the sky or into the land of dreams.' (p. 126) In keeping with that notion, the second half of Vertigo is seen by Marker as a dream- or mirror-image of both Scottie's and Judy's mutual desires. (In the dress-shop, with its mirrors, we're suddenly reminded that 'there are two Scotties as well as two Judys' - p. 127). This issue of 'Projections' is again edited by John Boorman and Walter Donahue, and published in English by Faber and Faber.
• For another recent article on Psycho, see James Griffith's "Psycho: Not Guilty as Charged" in 'Film Comment', July-August 1996, pp. 76-79. Actually we found the article much less interesting than Hitchcock-author Raymond Durgnat's response to it: see the 'Letters' pages of 'Film Comment', January-February 1997, pp. 87-88. Griffith simply says that the spectator of Psycho doesn't so much identify with the characters and their specific guilt as share in the characters' - or the audience's - aroused dread of being 'found out'. (Then for several pages of plot-description, Griffith spells out this fine distinction, whose validity in any case is questionable. Sure, just about everyone in the first part of the film has some secret or other: e.g., even Lowery has a bottle hidden in his desk. But as Hitchcock knew, to establish such general secretiveness facilitates the spectator's identifying with certain key characters such as Marion, towards whom we can be even more sympathetic. Of course, the identification can never be total.) Among Raymond Durgnat's points, in his polite and sensible letter, is this: 'movies like Psycho allow a variety of interpretations, and satisfy the wide range of ideologies you find in a mass audience, yet still achieve an "envelope" of shared, consensual response, and intimate meaning'. Yes!
• At least three articles on Hitchcock have appeared in recent issues of 'Literature/Film Quarterly'. The considerable Hitchcockian qualities of Neil Jordan's The Crying Game (1992) were bound to be examined sooner or later: Peter N. Chumo II's "The Crying Game, Hitchcockian Romance, and the Quest for Identity" is in Vol. 23, No. 4, 1995, pp.247-253. But it's back to a classic text for Christopher Morris, who looks at "Psycho's Allegory of Seeing" in Vol. 24, No. 1, 1996, pp. 47-51. (Other articles by Professor Morris are mentioned elsewhere on this Web page.) And Dennis R. Perry discusses "Imps of the Perverse: Discovering the Poe/Hitchcock Connection" in Vol. 24, No. 4, 1996, pp. 393-399. This last is a sound piece about Poe's influence on Hitchcock, covering similar ground to a part of our article on Vertigo in 'MacGuffin' 11. For instance, Perry writes: 'In tales such as "Ligeia" and "Usher" Poe meditates on the character of the artist which reflects his own inextinguishable sense of loss at the death of his mother. ... Art then, for Poe [as for Hitchcock], can be a window through which to either glimpse or escape this world.' (p. 397) What Perry doesn't note is the plurality of influences on Vertigo - which apart from Poe and several filmmakers also probably include Dumas, Goethe, Wilde, Shaw, Barrie, Breton, Cocteau, and various classical myths. (Hitchcock was indeed well-read or, at any rate, 'well-versed'. See 'MacGuffins' 11 and 17, et al.)
• Still on Vertigo, there's a finely-written article about it in 'The New York Review' of December 19, 1996, pp, 54-56, 58, 60. The article is called "Magnificent Obsession", and the writer is Geoffrey O'Brien. Something we appreciated was a fresh example of a spiral motif operating in the film: in this case, the whirling of Gavin Elster's swivel chair!
• Another Vertigo article is in 'The New Yorker', November 18, 1996. We were intrigued by this: 'the most perceptive contemporary review of the movie [was by] the Cuban critic (later novelist) Guillermo Cabrera Infante [who] praised Vertigo as "the first great surrealist film"'. (Cabrera Infante is also cited by Chris Marker in an item above.) We looked him up in 'Chambers Biographical Dictionary', and learned that he was born in Cuba in 1929 and emigrated to England in 1966. 'Film critic, journalist and translator of Joyce's Dubliners (1972), he is known chiefly for his fiction, particularly Infante's Inferno (1984), set in Havana in the 1940s and 1950s ...'. A reader of this Web page, BB, has provided us with the following choice excerpts from Cabrera Infante's review: 'Vertigo is a masterwork and with the years its importance will become clear. Not only is it the only great surrealist film, but the first romantic work of the twentieth century. ... [A] great part of the success of the film - like the photography of Robert Burks, who continues in his psychological use of colour - is due to the obsessive score by Herrmann, to his depraved habaneras, to the fateful castenets that cast a net in the nightmare, to the fainting theme of love.' (The full review may be found in 'A Twentieth Century Job', the collection of Cabrera Infante's 1954-1960 film criticism from his Cuba days, published by Faber and Faber in 1991.)
(Readers are invited to send us brief comments on any of the above articles and books, and/or to forward us details of further relevant material. We especially thank the Australian Film Institute's Research and Information Centre, now located at RMIT University, Melbourne, for their help.)