Editor's Week 1998

December 1 - 1998
[Dan Auiler continues ...] Each Hitchcock "scholar" brings his or her own interest to the table. It should be apparent that it is not so much the personal Hitchcock that intrigues me, but the professional Hitchcock. As a filmmaker, Hitchcock approaches Zen master status. He always appears to do everything simply and with little effort. It's easy to see why he appreciated Cary Grant over the years--Cary also makes it look so simple. Both men are performers without seams, that is, they have mastered the craft and have hidden the work it takes. Now, Stephen Rebello and I trying to reverse-engineer the art: Just how did Hitchcock make these classics? The answer may sound simple (after all, if you ask the same question of a painter like Rembrandt, the answer will always be he applied paint to canvas), but in reality the only true way to learn to make films is to watch a master at work. Hitchcock for all his keen self-publicity, was rarely filmed at work. He has his cameos, his staged introductions, his elaborate, personalized trailers--but absent are the kind of "making of" films that surround almost any filmmaker alive today. Hitchcock was never extensively filmed while he was working--I'm not sure that this is bad thing. After all what would such footage really reveal? On the other hand, seeing Hitchcock direct must have been an incredible experience. My work is a constant effort to recreate whatever dynamics existed during this incredible creative process--if only for my own selfish filmmaking reasons, to try and determine what steps of the process are required for mastering the art. Tomorrow, I'll talk a little about Hitchcock's first step (and most important step) in making a film, the screenplay.

November 30 - 1998
[Dan Auiler speaking ...] First days are always hard. I've noticed that Hitchcock always planned simple, almost serene set ups for the first day on location. The location work always preceded the studio work. Once in the studio, Hitchcock seemed to relish the challenge. So may it be with my first guest spot for Ken. Ken cannot be replaced (indeed, I hope he's made arrangements for his brain to be left to some worthy institution), so I won't even try. I agreed to do this at a time when I'm swamped with work because this site has come to mean so much to me. I have a few sites that I visit daily--the MacGuffin page is one of them (the others? www.dvdresource.com, www.historyinacan.com, www.nytimes.com) Aside from the obvious--that the site is always refreshing, that the editor's day notes always turn a Hitchcockian stone I've never seen turned before, that the site's articles are always thought provoking-- there's the fact that The MacGuffin and Ken have become a conduit through which all things Hitchcockian flow. The site connects scholars and writers from all parts of the globe who share this singular fascination with the Master of cinema. Forget the suspense moniker--it confuses the trees for the forest (or is that vice versa?). Hitchcock, like other great artists in their own mediums (Shakespeare, Van Gogh, Picasso) mastered the art of the cinema like no other filmmaker before or since. In the coming days, I'll use this space to discuss the work I'm currently involved in (writing a book on the making of North by Northwest with Stephen Rebello, among other special projects) and the work I'm readying for publication next spring, Hitchcock's Notebooks. And of course, I can't imagine the time going by without my first love spinning out of the subconscious--Vertigo. Feel free to drop me a note--danauiler@sprintmail.com.

November 26 - 1998
In a spot of housekeeping, I've added a new 'Odd Spot' later on this page. It deals with childrens' street games (specifically the line, 'Step on a crack and break your mother's back') in Shadow of a Doubt (1943). One piece of information about that line is that it probably represents a 'rite of passage' whereby a child shows his defiance of the mother and dependence on her. He thereby demonstrates that he's 'all grown up'! Something I find interesting about that interpretation is how well it fits with the 'meaning' attributed by famous child-lore experts, Iona and Peter Opie, to the skipping-rhyme heard in Hitchcock's Marnie (1964). One version of that skipping-rhyme, going back to at least the last century, begins, 'Mother, mother, I feel sick,/ Send for the doctor, quick, quick, quick'. A new version was noted in America in 1952: 'Mother, mother, I am ill,/ Send for the doctor from over the hill./ In comes the doctor,/ In comes the nurse,/ In comes the lady with the alligator purse./ Penicillin, says the doctor,/ Penicillin, says the nurse,/ Penicillin, says the lady with the alligator purse.' It's this latter version, modified, that is heard in Marnie. In 'The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren' (1959), the Opies quote a 1955 book ('Jump Rope Rhymes' by Patricia Evans) on how the strange lady with the alligator purse is a recurring figure in American child rhymes. But what I find most interesting is the Opies' interpretation of the rhyme. It shows, they suggest, that the children chanting it, who may, when they were younger, have feared death 'as a frightening and private subject', have now brought it into the open. 'They have found that it is still a long way off, and these songs are a sign of their emancipation.' (p. 35) Is there a parallel here with Marnie's own special 'emancipation' enacted in Hitchcock's film? Enough of that. The reason I've been 'housekeeping' is that I'm going on 'leave' for a few months to do some writing. In my absence, lucky visitors to this site will be able to read regular comments on Hitchcock and more general film matters by some true experts. Leading off next week will be Dan Auiler, author of 'Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchock Classic' (1998) and compiler/editor of the forthcoming mammoth 'Hitchcock's Notebooks'. From next Monday, then, "The Editor's Day" will become "[Guest] Editor's Day". Drop in frequently!

November 25 - 1998
How easily thinking about Hitchcock movies - or anything else - becomes stultified, and old bromides perpetuated. (I was reminded of that term, 'bromides', tonight when watching a documentary called 'Music for the Movies', and someone mentioned with a smile 'that old bromide about music in films not being meant to be noticed'.) For example, the line that ends Easy Virtue is spoken by Larita Whittaker when, for the second time, she finds herself in a divorce court, the victim of a second injustice. On leaving the court, she again has to confront the papparazi of her day. 'Shoot', she tells them, 'there's nothing left to kill!' Well, that line was laughed at by some audiences, and even Hitchcock came to regard it as one of his errors - he wrote the line himself. In fact, though, it's brilliant. Brilliant not just for its double entendre involving the word 'shoot', but for the way it nails the idea of society as equatable with a form of death-drive (such that some recent Hitchcock scholars would invoke Lacan's theory of the Symbolic realm that foists on all of us the orthodoxy of our times), an idea that obsessed Hitchcock all his life. (The same idea informs Marnie, 1964, where it surfaces in Marnie's line to Lil after the hunt scene, 'Are you still in the mood for killing?') And here's another example of something similar. In Hitchcock's Downhill (1927), the boy Roddy (Ivor Novello) is wrongfully expelled from school, when he takes the blame for his best pal's indiscretion with a waitress. In a line that nearly everyone found risible (according to Hitchcock), the boy asks his headmaster, 'Does this mean, sir, that I shan't be able to play for the Old Boys?' But the boy's naivity is precisely the point, and the rest of the film, as its very title indicates, is about how on leaving school he is plunged into a world far less insulated and artificial in its standards - or lack of them - than he has hitherto known. This theme of an individual's subjectivity, which is invariably constrained, is another that would recur in nearly every Hitchcock picture thereafter. Hitchcock's own naivity - and the only way in which he was right to think of these lines I've quoted as bad - was in not allowing sufficiently for how stupid some audiences would be, in not getting the point! Which isn't to say, that Hitchcock's subsequent attitude to the lines wasn't the right one! In fact, that's the Hitchcock paradox, in a nutshell. Even stupidity, being a human trait, must be respected by a popular artist.

November 24 - 1998
Matriarchal figures in Hitchcock's films seldom come across sympathetically (though Mrs Boyle in Juno and the Paycock is an exception). Early in Easy Virtue (1927), which I began to discuss last night, we see someone's notepad containing successive entries at the divorce trial of Larita Filton (later Larita Whittaker), accused of being the lover of a young artist who has committed suicide. (He had wounded her brute of a drunkard husband, then shot himself.) Eventually we're shown that the notes are being taken by a large woman, one of the members of the jury, who writes a comment about the pity shown Larita by the artist: 'pity is akin to love'. We think that this woman, at least, is sympathetic to the accused. But not a bit of it! She turns out to be the most outraged of the jurors at the intimacy that probably occurred between Larita and the artist, who, damningly, had left her a sum of money in his will. The lady presses for a verdict of 'misconduct', and that is the finding that is made against Larita. Leaving the court, Larita has to brush past a row of photographers, eager to get photos of the woman who is now 'the notorious Mrs Filton'. Later she remarries, but in her new home comes up against another formidable woman, her mother-in-law, Mrs Whittaker. This aristocratic, archly conservative lady resents all interlopers in her family, but especially her son's wife whose background is obscure ... A title tells us: 'During the days that followed, Mrs Whittaker made Larita's life a burden to her - in private. But she was all smiles and sweetness with her - in public.' (We have been shown what sort of a woman Mrs Whittaker is right from the start, in the baleful look she gives Larita while descending the ancestral staircase to meet her for the first time. Hitchcock would repeat the identical scene twenty years later in Notorious when Mrs Sebastian first meets Alicia, whom her son has married and brought to live in the family home.) The film has plenty of light touches, though. Everyone talks about the marriage proposal that we learn of by watching the reactions of a telephonist who is listening in. But I like another touch that follows. A pile of suitcases is shown with a French poodle sitting on them. Then there's a cut, and the same suitcases now have a very British bulldog guarding them. We infer that we've seen successive scenes in two railway luggage halls - and that Larita and her new husband are now back in England.

November 23 - 1998
Tonight I watched Hitchcock's Easy Virtue (1927), based on the play by Noel Coward, which I hadn't seen for some time. Like all of Hitchcock's silents - like all of his films - it contains any number of points of interest. Leslie Halliwell's description of it as 'vapid' is frankly incorrect - Halliwell was bringing to it the wrong optic. (On that, cf. what I say on our FAQs page about a film like Stage Fright, which is still typically dismissed as very minor: in fact, it only takes a slight readjustment of one's expectations and understanding, i.e., one's optic, to appreciate what Hitchcock was doing and to see the film as thoughtful and innovative.) Okay. Easy Virtue tells what happens when a woman, Larita (Isobel Jeans), comes up against entrenched social prejudice. The film is beautifully observed, full of vigorous Hitchcock 'touches', and much feeling - especially for Larita herself as the prototypical Hitchcock 'wronged woman'. Later examples of the type might include Winnie Verloc in Sabotage (1936), plus, more particularly, women who dare to express themselves sexually, notably Alicia in Notorious (1946) and Melanie in The Birds (1963). Both of those latter films are clearly anticipated in Easy Virtue. Larita is actually referred to as 'notorious' at one point, and a 'cameras' motif (cf. the opening scene of Notorious) will also be echoed later. A clever touch in Easy Virtue is having Larita's past catch up with her because of photos published in 'The Tatler' - where else?! - a journal which was aimed at precisely the sort of social set into which Larita re-marries, presided over by the matriarch Mrs Whittaker. The latter person, Larita's mother-in-law, is the forerunner of Mrs Sebastian in Notorious, even to the way she still manages to lord it over her grown-up son. (Mrs Whittaker's muscular arms are emphasised by her sleeveless gowns!) She is also the predecessor of another formidable (prospective) mother-in-law, Mrs Brenner in The Birds. Larita's most sympathetic ally, after she marries her husband, John Whittaker, is the woman she has supplanted, Sarah. So Sarah is the predecessor of Annie Hayworth in The Birds. More tomorrow.

November 19 - 1998
Tonight I'll give brief excerpts from messages I've received recently. Tag Gallagher (whose latest book, on Roberto Rossellini, is now out - see note on our New Publications page) thanks us for printing on our Web site Charles Silet's review of 'Soul in Suspense' by Father Neil Hurley. But Tag isn't uncritical. He writes: '[Tania] Modleski and [Robin] Wood both approach the subject [of Hitchcock's Catholicism] with a premise that religion is evil and full of negative things. So too does Silet in his notions of what a Jesuit schooling would be like - demented fantasy! ... Frankly, I don't think guilt or wrongness are particularly religious themes. ... I think the primary sign of religious art is the "recognition" in the art that nothing in this world ultimately makes sense without God; that there is evil and that we are somehow called by God to battle it; that our efforts come to nought without grace - grace is a very important aspect of religious art, embracing love, sweetness, birth and even death and suffering.' (Tag, today I watched for the umpteenth time Hitchcock's Under Capricorn. It rather fits your definition of a religious film, ending on a snatch of music that asks 'Who gives the orders ...?' Clearly, I'd say, the answer to that question is: nobody in the film itself ...) Nandor Bokor visited Robert Schoen's 'Hitch and Alma' Web site after reading our recommendation (November 16 above). He reports: 'I often laughed out loud while reading the "screenplay" excerpts! Strangely, I don't find [the "screenplay"] offensive at all, although I do find the [Donald Spoto biography of Hitchcock], which draws somewhat similar conclusions, offensive and unjust.' (Excellent point, Nandor . Such indeed seems to be the nature of humour ...) Jason Rasmussen notes that the new version of Cornell Woolrich's 'Rear Window' will air on television on Sunday November 22 (9:00 PM EST/PST, on ABC), and stars Christopher Reeve and Darryl Hannah. Something that interests Jason is that among the neighbours in the story is now a gay couple, played by Marc Holzman and David Pittu, sympathetically treated. (Thanks, Jason. I wonder if an implication is that the photographer character has himself a gay streak? Several commentators, e.g., Robert Samuels, have found such a subtext in Hitchcock's film version of the story.)

November 18 - 1998
Robert Schoen has sent me an email defending his claim to see an influence of Picasso's 'Guernica' on the cellar scene in Psycho (see November 16 above). For one thing, Robert doesn't think that it's far-fetched to compare the role of a mother like Mrs Bates to fascism - not quite! 'But seriously', he adds, 'besides the episodic montage in black and white of "Guernica", that compares almost point by point to the [cellar] sequence of Psycho, Picasso did a whole sequence of guache studies for this mural, which included a very powerful variant on the braying horse with sardonic bared teeth, which bore a striking resemblance to the Dick Smith smiling skull mother.' Hmm! Tell me, Robert, do you also think that the garbed arm holding an oil lamp in Picasso's mural inspired the descent from the attic in The Birds (where Mrs Brenner holds aloft an identical lamp)? Or perhaps the Statue of Liberty scene in Saboteur? But I'll keep an open mind on the matter. Something I do think needs to be often pointed out - and Robert's 'Hitchcock and Alma' Web site begins to do this - is Hitch's constant resource to paintings and other art works for inspiration. One painter whom Hitchcock often referred to was Vermeer - not surprisingly, when you consider that Vermeer (1632-1675) was one of the great masters of interior lighting effects. During preproduction of Vertigo (1958), Hitch was very precise about the look he wanted, citing Vermeer paintings to cameraman Robert Burks. And in 'MacGuffin' 19 we printed an interview with Hitchcock done when he was making Frenzy (1972), in which the interviewer noted two books lying on Hitchcock's desk, on Vermeer and (French pre-impressionist) Corot. The interviewer reported that Hitchcock 'quotes painters often in making points about visual composition'. Something else about Vermeer that Hitchcock would surely have appreciated was that painter's subtle introduction of symbolic objects into his compositions. In 'Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window' (the letter is the start of a secret love affair), apples and peaches in a bowl remind us of Eve's Fall. The sexual connotations of biting into fruit are invoked in Hitchcock's Topaz (1969) and Frenzy ...

November 17 - 1998
To Hitchcock, everything was grist to his mill, and he seems to have had a wonderful power of recall. He was always a voracious reader (though later he stopped reading much fiction, claiming that he couldn't help being distracted by the question of whether the book would make a film), a keen play-goer, a discerning collector of paintings. Naturally he also kept in touch with trends in filmmaking, including in the British and European cinemas (the work of such directors as Sidney Gilliatt, Luis Bunuel, Jean Cocteau, Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni) and even the sexploitation pictures of director Russ Meyer - seeing the rugged, macho Charles Napier in Meyer's Supervixens (1974), Hitchcock had him put under contract at Universal. When artist Sam Marlowe in The Trouble With Harry (1956) speaks of creating 'from my vast subconscious', there's something of Hitchcock in that! Last night I mentioned how the climax of Psycho borrows from Albert Lewin's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Hitchcock must have startled to notice just how closely the two scenes matched. It wasn't just a matter of a swinging lightbulb in both. As Dorian Gray dies on a carpet bearing the legend 'Little Boy Blue', his handsome face suddenly becomes hideously disfigured with - as it were - the evil of his life. The nursery-rhyme reference reminds us that this attic was once Dorian's nursery (cf. Norman's bedroom with its teddy-bear in Psycho), and his disfigured face has its correspondence in Hitchcock's film when we see Norman's face momentarily overlaid with the skull-features of his dead mother (or is it an image of his own skull?).

November 16 - 1998
To announce and publicise his novel-cum-screenplay called 'Hitch and Alma', sculptor and author Robert Schoen has started a Web site - there's a link to it on our Links page. One of the site's most interesting items concerns Hitchcock and Art, and deals very knowledgably - as you'd expect - with how Hitchcock in his films has made numerous reference to paintings and other works of art. I was grateful for the observation that the swirling birds in the credits-sequence of The Birds (1963) suggest one of Jackson Pollock's abstract paintings - there's surely a parallel influence of Mondrian in the credits-sequence of North by Northwest (1959). And I'm sure that only an oversight caused Schoen to omit reference to Rodin's 'The Kiss' as an inspiration for the famous circling-shot of Scottie (James Stewart) and Judy (Kim Novak) kissing in the Empire Hotel in Vertigo (1958)! I'd question just one of Schoen's observations: that the scene in the cellar in Psycho (1960), when the light bulb is set swinging after Lila (Vera Miles) throws up her arms in horror on seeing 'Mrs Bates', is a 'quote' from Picasso's 'Guernica'. That celebrated mural expressing the artist's loathing of fascism and the horrors of war does include a lighted bulb and a figure registering horror - amongst several other items. But why would Hitchcock want to invoke such a mural in this scene - which would be in questionable taste and also of questionable relevance? And in fact there's a much more likely influence here: an identical swinging bulb, casting groteque shadows and highlights, at the startling climax in the attic of Albert Lewin's excellent The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). You have only to recall that Oscar Wilde's novel had been one of Hitchcock's favourite books - he read it 'several times' - to be convinced that Lewin's film version inspired the depiction of a parallel confrontation with a bizarre 'secret' (long hidden from prying eyes) in Psycho. (The scene in the Lewin film was sufficiently powerful to have also, it seems, been copied by Anthony Mann in his 1947 film noir, Desperate.) More about Hitchcock and art later. Meanwhile, do visit the 'Hitchcock and Alma' site.

November 12 - 1998
Was reading tonight the version of Lifeboat (1944) that appeared in 'Collier's', November 13, 1943. The 'authors' are given as Alfred Hitchcock and Harry Sylvester, and the story is said to be '[b]ased on an original screenplay by John Steinbeck'. (The recent SF film Lifepod cites this story as its source/inspiration.) Some character-points are interesting. If I read aright the description of syndicated journalist Constance Porter, she's largely a phoney. She has combined a 'somewhat ruthless intellect' with shrewd use of her body 'when the intellect ... failed; her foresight had always been remarkable; in a profession that required honesty, artistic ability and a certain objectivity, she ranked high, although she possessed none of these qualities'. Well, she's about to be shown up, but then, so is nearly everyone else in the lifeboat. For instance, ignoring the protests of the Communist stoker Kovac, they elect the rich industrialist Rittenhouse as their leader. 'It was Mrs Porter's idea first, but virtually all the others, except Kovac, had the curious respect for Rittenhouse which most Americans have for a highly successful businessman. And those who didn't know who Rittenhouse was were prepared to accept Mrs Porter's word for it; after all, wasn't she an internationally known reporter?' So trust gets doubly misplaced. Moreover, it's Rittenhouse who hands effective control of everyone's destinies to their German prisoner, Willi, who tells them to steer in a direction that - unbeknownst to them - will bring them to the German U-boat flotilla. (Rittenhouse's logic is that Willi had operated on the wounded Gus's leg, so he must be trustworthy. The nurse Alice sees through that argument. She says: 'He might not have been able to help himself when he saw the need for surgery. Now that it is over he could be reverting to type.' Shades of Mr Memory in The 39 Steps, who is another professional who can't help himself!) Actually Kovac, until he is knocked out in the storm that blows up, again seems the most practical-minded of those on board (after Willi), though his solution would be to immediately throw Willi overboard. Everyone else continues to follow the German. 'The storm beat on,' we're told, 'and Kovac, whose persistent refusal to trust the [German] alone might have saved them, rolled unconscious at the bottom of the boat.' On the other hand, the story shows that practically everyone makes some useful contribution to the general well-being at some stage in the journey ...The editor's day/Guest editor's day[I'm going on several months' leave. Proceed at once to the entry below for November 30, where Dan Auiler, the first of our 'guest editors' , begins his own colloquy on Hitchcock. Later, he'll be joined by others, talking on a range of film-related topics. Dan is the author of 'Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic', and author/compiler/editor of two forthcoming books: the mammoth 'Hitchcock's Notebooks' and 'North by Northwest: The Making of the Ultimate Hitchcock Thriller' - the last co-authored with Stephen Rebello. Reader, I leave you in good hands. - K. M.]

November 11 - 1998
What a rich film, the whodunit Murder! (1930) is. Structurally, it's rather sprawling, but Hitch still keeps it tight with the sheer precision of his style and treatment. For example, there's the contrast of the cramped houses and theatre in the provincial town where the murder occurs and the spacious London apartment where actor-manager Sir John (Herbert Marshall) lives. There's also the basic action that involves Diana Baring (Norah Baring), the convicted young woman, who waits resignedly in gaol for whatever is to be her fate, and Sir John's detective work on her behalf, requiring him to re-visit the scene of the crime and its environs - which are less grand than the sort of surroundings he has become accustomed to. (There's an implication that he had been losing his human touch.) Then there are the film's various levels of meaning, concerning the theatricality of all 'life', the centrality of marriage, and the unavoidability - in the Britain of the time - of class differences and privileges. The simple fact is, Hitchcock was making some very intellectual films at this time (Juno and the Paycock, Murder!, The Skin Game), each full of 'ideas', in which technique and meaning were seeking to find their own best 'marriage'. For good measure, Hitch sought to import further ideas from the German and French cinemas (there's a very clear borrowing from Cocteau's Le sang d'un poète in The Skin Game). All of this pays off later, in a film like Rope (1948), with its implicit examination of Nietzsche's idea of the 'Superman'. Nonetheless, the most powerful scene in Murder! is both Hitchcockian in a special way and - in hindsight - offers another anticipation of Rope (and other films). It's the scene where Sir John tricks female impersonator and homosexual, Handel Fane (Esme Percy), into revealing his guilt of the murder. Summoning Fane to his rooms on the pretence that he wants him to audition for a part in a new play, Sir John announces that the play is a re-creation of the recent murder. The sadism with which the trapped Fane is depicted in this scene is compounded by the presence in the room of two of Sir John's burly employees, who watch silently. When Fane lets slip an inside knowledge of the crime, Sir John is coolly polite. 'Look Mr Fane', he says, 'you've forgotten your script.' (The situation strikingly anticipates the end of Frenzy, where the upper-middle-class Inspector Oxford politely reprimands the film's working-class, apparently bisexual 'Necktie Murderer', telling him, 'Mr Rusk, you're not wearing your tie.') At this point the film becomes truly gripping - and it's obvious that Hitchcock knew it.

November 10 - 1998
Hitchcock pays a possible tribute to Galsworthy in Frenzy (1972), when he has Bob Rusk (Barry Foster) live as a tenant in the very building occupied by Galsworthy's regular publishers, Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd, 3 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden! (Thanks to Dr Nandor Bokor for confirming this in an email message tonight.) Now, more about the Galsworthy short story, 'The Juryman', that I mentioned last night. Essentially, it's about a self-important man, a member of the London Stock Exchange, who serves with some impatience on a local jury at the trial of a soldier who has attempted suicide. The other jury-members are themselves impatient to bring in a 'guilty' verdict, which may involve the soldier in a capital sentence (because it's 1915, and his action can be seen as a form of 'desertion'), so that they can hurry home. But something causes the man to pause, and to consider the inner condition of the accused. The soldier had reportedly 'missed his wife'. At this point the man hears himself say, 'I agree to no verdict that'll send the [soldier] back to prison.' And after the judge has acceded to the jury's recommendation of clemency, and has returned the soldier to his regiment (where of course he may soon be killed), telling him 'You are lucky to be alive' (!), Galsworthy shows that the man from the Stock Exchange has seen deeply into the heart of things, in a moment of almost Christ-like compassion. Ironically, although the man suddenly feels closer to his own wife and family, and momentarily determines to articulate his thoughts to his wife, he is unable to do it. At the end, we hear the man tell us, 'Fact is, life's too big a thing for me! All the same, I'm not the man I was yesterday - not quite!' (His wife may in fact have understood, her hand stroking his cheek in a final ambiguous moment.) Well, I see a deal of this story of Galsworthy's, and of other Galsworthy works, in Hitchcock - in such films as Murder! (1930), The Paradine Case (1947), and The Wrong Man (1956). Never underestimate the note of compassion that lurks within many of Hitch's so-called 'thrillers'!

November 9 - 1998
Hitchcock also acknowledged an indebtedness in his work to writer and playwright John Galsworthy, whose face and expression have been described in two words: 'seriousness' and 'sincerity'. (Those are likewise the qualities of his writings - seriousness and sincerity mixed with a profound compassion for victims of injustice.) When Hitchcock adapted Galsworthy's play 'The Skin Game' to the screen in 1931, he cast stage actor C.V. France in the part of patrician landowner Hillcrist whose pre-eminence in his neighbourhood is being challenged by the nouveau riche industrialist Hornblower (Edmund Gwenn). The film attains an additional piquancy by the fact that C.V. France closely resembles Galsworthy himself! (Galsworthy was in fact born into the kind of upper-middle-class prosperity that is the wryly-perceived subject of many of his works.) And of course Edmund Gwenn as Hillcrist's potential nemesis plays Hornblower with a chipper, bustling manner that wins his character at least some share of an audience's sympathies - setting the scene for high drama. The central scene at a land auction is indeed exciting, though Hitchcock was drawing closely on the play at this point. But there's a moment afterwards, where Hornblower leans into Hillcrist's parked car and exults in casually telling him that the winning bid was in fact his - using an agent - which is no less dramatic, and anticipates a similar moment in Rebecca (1940) between the pushy Favell (George Sanders) and the compromised aristocrat Maxim (Laurence Olivier). Hitchcock, as I say, appears to have learnt much from Galsworthy. A Galsworthy short story like 'The Juryman' shows an understanding of the English character that provided Hitchcock with touches of observation that enriched his '20s and '30s films. A fine Galsworthy play like 'Justice' (which I vividly remember studying at school) may have given Hitchcock inspiration for some of the procedural and forensic details on display in The Wrong Man (1956).

November 5 - 1998
Tonight I watched Hitchcock's Juno and the Paycock (1929), adapted from the famous play by Sean O'Casey set in 1922 at a time of crisis in Ireland because of the Troubles. ('The whole world's in a terrible state of chassis', as one of the characters says.) As regular visitors to this Web site know, I sometimes like to evoke parallels between Hitchcock and the philosopher Schopenhauer, the latter an exponent of the idea of a life-force which he called 'Will'; Juno and the Paycock provides further evidence for what I have in mind. Like several other British playwrights of the time (e.g., Bernard Shaw, James Bridie), O'Casey in this play raises the matter of a life-force when he has Mary Boyle's lover, Charles Bentham (John Longden), talk about his interest in Theosophy. Bentham notes that Theosophy is 'founded on The Vedas, the religious books of the East' (Schopenhauer's favourite reading-matter), and that Theosophy's 'central theme is the existence of an all-pervading spirit - the Life-Breath'. He adds that 'the happiness of man depends upon his sympathy with this Spirit'. (Unfortunately, Jane Sloan's synopsis of the film, in 'Alfred Hitchcock: a guide to references and resources', garbles this passage.) Well, Bentham turns out to be a two-timer, and abandons Mary when the Boyle family's inheritance doesn't come through. Which puts the spotlight right back on Mary's mother - the 'Juno' of the play's title - played by Sara Allgood, who shoulders not just her family's troubles but effectively those of Ireland. Suffering is a theme of several early Hitchcock melodramas (e.g., The Pleasure Garden, in which the heroine tells the hero, 'We've both suffered'), just as it is a principal theme of Schopenhauer's philosophy. And Juno is one of Hitchcock's 'Great Mother' figures, in this case a benign one, who is at once human and more-than-human, a figurehead. The Boyle family is Catholic (like the Balestreros in The Wrong Man), but God is seemingly absent from the play/film. Mary Boyle is even given the line, 'There isn't a God.' Mrs Boyle, i.e., Juno, embodies more than her fair share of the strength and endurance that this world seems - impossibly - to demand, which is another reason why she is a figurehead figure. But all the play/film can do, besides quoting a form of Eastern wisdom, is leave Mrs Boyle beseeching a statue of the Virgin Mary, 'Take away this murderous hate and give us thine own eternal love!' In a way, all of this anticipates Hitchcock's rigorous The Birds (1963) - which he acknowledged had at least one indebtedness to O'Casey (the character of the drunk in the Tides Restaurant!).

November 4 - 1998
My thanks to AC who is a cinema and journalism student at USC, Los Angeles, where film historian Drew Casper has the Endowed Chair in Hitchcock studies. AC wrote to me recently with a list of questions, one of which asked what I thought of filmmakers remaking Hitchcock's films today? In part, my answer was as follows: 'When a director of the calibre of Gus Van Sant announces that he's remaking Psycho, I'm fascinated. It will be a virtual essay or documentary on the original film as we re-watch and re-hear the familiar shots and lines but with new actors and in sometimes slightly changed renditions.' I added that I've seen some mindless remakes of Hitchcock, '[b]ut Gus Van Sant is not mindless, and I expect good things from him. (One of the best "remakes" of a Hitch movie, in my view, was Richard Franklin's Psycho II, though it became too zany towards the end. But the point, of course, is that it wasn't really a remake at all, more a film made with intelligence and in the spirit of Hitch.)' Well, the original scriptwriter of Psycho, Josef Stefano, who has also been working on Gus Van Sant's version, visited USC recently, and AC has kindly supplied quotes from what Stefano said. The original script has been adhered to closely (though something like the $40,000 in stolen momey has been upped, in line with inflation); some wild rumours on the Internet about major departures (such as Marion and Lila being lovers instead of sisters) are simply untrue. Stefano did write some new dialogue for a few scenes, but the actors - notably Anne Heche as Marion - went back to the original lines! Likewise, Gus Van Sant - who was adamant that as few changes be made as possible, despite input to the contrary from both Stefano and the studio - tried to change the blocking in one shot, but it just didn't work, so again they went back to the original. Stefano said he came to support the idea of a shot-by-shot remake by thinking of it as a different interpretation by actors of a stageplay. He said Vince Vaughan is great as Norman Bates, though he plays the part very differently from Tony Perkins, and that Viggo Mortensen brings a strong sexuality to the part of Sam Loomis, which is what Stefano always wanted but that John Gavin didn't provide. (On that, see Stephen Rebello's 'Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho'.)

November 3 - 1998
A backstory is the lives of a film's characters before the film began. In considering the start of Psycho (1960), the other day, it occurred to me how much importance Hitchcock placed on giving each of his films a backstory. Clearly he felt more comfortable when he had a sense of the backstory, just as he needed to feel that he knew his characters as real people. (Compare his remarks about his dislike of costume pictures and Westerns: he said he could never imagine the characters in them going to the bathroom.) Equally important, in the actual films, was the audience's sense of past events influencing the present action. Often a mere hint is dropped, but that is sufficient to create a resonance. We first meet Sam Loomis, Marion Crane's boyfriend in Psycho, when we encounter him and Marion snatching some lunchtime sex in a run-down Phoenix, Arizona, hotel. It may never occur to us, consciously, as we watch the film, that Sam has flown in from California just for the occasion. But it still registers, as does the sense of Sam and Marion being two driven people, in a film full of driven people (the most extreme case being Norman Bates's). Another instance of this sort of thing is in Hitchcock's first film, The Pleasure Garden (1925). The aspiring dancer, Jill, arrives from the country with a 'letter of introduction' to the manager of the Pleasure Garden cabaret in London - a letter that is promptly stolen when her purse is pickpocketed by a couple of unsavoury types at the stage door. Never spelt out, but implied, is how that letter was probably given to the naive Jill in return for sexual favours by a seducer - who may, or may not, have really known the manager of the Pleasure Garden. Just about every Hitchcock film - think of Vertigo (1958) for a classic case - has some juicy or elaborate backstory that the actual film gradually reveals or alludes to. In Under Capricorn (1949), Adare asks Lady Henrietta about the time she lived in a hovel down by the Sydney docks while waiting for her husband to serve his term in prison (for a crime she had committed). 'How did you live all those years?', Adare asks. It's a good question. Did she resort to prostitution? (Cf. I Confess, 1953: did Logan and Madame Grandfort commit adultery in the summer-house?)

November 2 - 1998
I trust that the Hitchcock celebrations last weekend at Fairfield University, Connecticut, went well. Earlier this year, the organisers asked me for suggestions about what food to serve on the night. Among the items I came up with: bouillabaisse (à la Frenzy, or rather, not à la Frenzy ...), brook-trout (à la North by Northwest), quiche lorraine (à la To Catch a Thief), roast sirloin of beef (à la Sabotage), blueberry muffins (à la The Trouble With Harry) - and beverages to include tea (Marnie), coffee (though not drugged, à la The Lady Vanishes, etc.!), milk (ditto, à la Suspicion, etc.), and plentyof brandy and champagne ... Of course, if that weren't sufficient, the near-complete menu-card that's read out by Ted (John Loder), the detective in Sabotage, when he takes Winnie (Sylvia Sydney) and young Stevie to lunch at Simpson's Restaurant in London, is as follows: oysters; cavier; smoked salmon; fried, grilled, or boiled sole; roast saddle of mutton; Kentish chicken pudding; boiled silverside; roast sirloin; chops; steaks; grilled kidneys; roast duck ... (The above may perhaps show that the gourmand Hitchcock put his specialised knowledge to good use in his movies.)

October 29 - 1998
Watched again tonight Hitch's first film as director, The Pleasure Garden (1925). It's the one about the nice chorus girl, Patsy (Virginia Valli), who stays in the chorus but gets the nice man, Hugh (John Stuart), and the upstart girl from the provinces, Jill (Carmelita Geraghty), who seems headed for the big time as a dancer - whereupon she spurns Patsy who had helped her - but of loose morals and wayward character. But the film's real villain is the hero's friend Levet (Miles Mander) who had married Patsy, then proved dissolute and worthless, with a girl in every port. In the South Seas, he is eventually shot by Hugh. He had gone mad, the ghost of a native girl whom he had drowned coming back to haunt him. (Hitch films this with a possible nod to 'Macbeth', and anticipating the teleplay "Banquo's Ghost" that he would direct thirty years later for 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents'.) The shooting itself comes as a surprise, a hand holding a gun appearing in frame just as Levet wielding a scimitar seems about to add Jill to his list of victims! The shot momentarily sobers him. Mildly surprised, he smiles on recognising Hugh, then looks down with interest at the bullet-hole in his chest - and collapses. So the Hitchcock touch was in evidence from Film One. Indeed it was visible right from the opening scenes. At the Pleasure Garden cabaret in London, a sweaty gentleman ogles Patsy in the chorus. First he watches her through a pair of opera-glasses, then he screws a monocle into his eye for a better look. In other words, the same voyeuristic emphasis that's in Rear Window (1954) - where photographer Jeff spies on his neighbours first with binoculars then with a telephoto lens - is already operating. (There were several such emphases in Hitch's films in the intervening years, of course.)

October 26 - 1998
Thanks to all who read the entries above, of the past two-three weeks, detailing similarities of temperament and imagination between Hitchcock and his fellow countryman, England's greatest story-teller, Charles Dickens. Tonight a change of topic. I've been studying lately Hitchcock's Young and Innocent (1937), which is surely one of his most inventive comedy-adventures, full of sparkle and sunshine (after its melodramatic opening scene at night, in which a husband and wife quarrel in what looks like a lighthouse). Apropos that film critic Penelope Gilliatt has invoked some of the stories of Dornford Yates (presumably some of his 'Berry' tales), and I can see what she means - Hitch, of course, was far from being exclusively a 'Dickensian'! Indeed, he was often chameleon-like in his choice of subjects and styles, especially in his early English period, though retaining always a sense of, precisely, English good cheer and/or its opposite, the macabre. Only at the end of Young and Innocent, says Gilliatt, does Hitchcock permit himself a characteristic touch of sadism. Well, I wonder about that. Gilliatt is referring of course to the moment when the camera literally descends upon the drummer in a minstrel band and shows us, behind his makeup, the man's telltale twitching eye - a virtuoso camera movement from a distance of 145 feet to a mere four inches! (Moments earlier, the man had been popping pills, excusing himself with the bizarre line, 'This twitch is getting on my nerves.') I fail to see what is really sadistic about that shot. The fact is, the man's guilty agony is unerringly entered into, which would have required of the filmmakers a great deal of, well, empathy. (I prefer to use Keats's phrase, 'negative capability'.) As if to underline the deeper point, the film then has the heroine Erica (Nove Pilbeam) rush forward to give the collapsed drummer first-aid, brushing the gawking spectators aside with a remark asking, 'Can't you be human for once?' I'm reminded of Marnie's line (in Marnie, 1964), after the hunt scene, 'Are you stll in the mood for killing?' At the least, Hitch is showing us both sides of human nature - for, as a certain philosopher said, we're all compounded of malice and compassion!

October 22 - 1998
Curiously, then, both Dickens and Hitchcock held an ideal of feminine purity linked to someone whose name was itself associated with the letter 'em': for Dickens, as we've seen, it was 'Mary' (his wife's dead sister); for Hitchcock, it was 'Emma' (his mother's name, itself cognate with that of the Virgin Mary). However, in Hitchcock's films, women whose names begin with the letter 'M' (e.g., Madeleine in Vertigo) may have also something of the whore-figure about them, i.e., they are also Magdalen-figures (Madeleine's great-great-grandmother, Carlotta, had apparently been 'picked up' by Gavin Elster's ancestor, had mothered him a child, and then had callously been returned by him to the streets). The thing is, with such an ideal of feminine purity (and in Hitchcock's case a related image of 'the wronged woman'), both Dickens and Hitchcock, but particularly Dickens, might manage to imply, in Prof. Carey's words, 'that even normal sexuality is guilty or unclean'. Certainly that's the implication that Carey finds in Dickens's novels; while there's at least a hint of the same thing in Hitchcock's films, even in potentially erotic scenes that manage to trade on and mock that very guilt so that the scenes are as much comic as erotic (perhaps both Rear Window, 1954, and To Catch a Thief, 1955, might be cited). Arthur Laurents, who scripted Rope (1948), has said that the celibate Hitchcock regarded sex with disdain, that he wouldn't be part of it - though in another way he would indulge it by telling associates dirty jokes and by teasing audiences with artfully suggestive love-scenes that few other directors could top. Carey notes of Dickens's David Copperfield - the character in the book of that title - that he is 'terrified' of the cultured, educated Rosa Dartle; in turn, one may think of the line given to Devlin (Cary Grant) in Hitchcock's Notorious (1946), 'I've always been afraid of women.' So there was a 'split' in Dickens in his attitude towards any woman regarded as a potential sex-object, and that attitude , too, may be seen in 'David Copperfield'. The woman who eventually becomes David's second wife, Agnes Wickfield, is initially associated by him with a church's stained glass window that he'd seen in childhood; even just two or three chapters from the end of the novel, he can still say cheerfully that she is 'ever directing me to higher things'. One may be reminded, I think, of how Madeleine beckons Scottie to 'higher things' in Vertigo. However, Carey adds sagely: 'We should not suppose that Dickens failed to notice the sexual inhibitions of himself and his audience.' And he concludes his study of Dickens with an observation that may apply also to Hitchcock, by noting that Dickens was always a humorist: '[his] imagination transforms the world; his laughter controls it.'

October 21 - 1998
The final chapter of 'The Violent Effigy' by John Carey is called "Dickens and Sex" - which as Carey says, is an unpromising subject, since it's generally agreed that Dickens failed to fully and adequately depict even one normal sexual relationship. (The question for us is: did Hitchcock do any better?) The adult Dickens was particularly close to neither his mother (declining into senility) nor his clumsy wife, Catherine, from whom he eventually separated (after she had borne him several children, though). The woman in his life whom he seems to have most reverenced with an ideal kind of love was his wife's sister, Mary, who died in his arms at age 17 a year after his marriage, and who later served as a model of ideal feminine purity for several of the women in his fiction (e.g., the self-sacrificing Little Dorritt). (Here, by the way, seems the clue to why Dickens later so often hung around graveyards, for it's known that hours before Mary's funeral he went to the cemetery and meditated in solitude on her exposed coffin. He never forgot her.) Thereafter, as Carey notes, Dickens's fiction contained a kind of split marked by an erotic paternalism - which was carried over into his life when he felt attracted to quite young women, and eventually took as his mistress the teenage actress Ellen Ternan. When Dr Strong, lexicographer, marries Mrs Strong, in 'David Copperfield', Carey feels that we're left in some doubt about where the Doctor's energies are invested, and whether the marriage is consummated. 'Oh my husband and father', cries Mrs Strong confusingly. But of course there was always a parallel split in Hitchcock and his films. Fairly clearly the adult Hitchcock loved both his mother (until her death in 1942) and his wife, Alma, though he fathered just one child, Patricia. The split in Hitchcock, a Catholic, was precisely between two female figures, as suggested by the quintessential line heard in Rich and Strange (1931): 'A wife is always half a mother.' The indicated conflict for the male recurs in film after film, not least in Vertigo (1958) where Scottie experiences a mother-versus-whore form of desire, which only the ideal and essentially fictitious 'Madeleine' seems to him able to resolve - but which is defeated when an even more powerful and archetypal figure intervenes: the Great Mother, represented by the shadowy mother-superior. (Ambiguous here is whether the pagan or the religious element is uppermost.) More later.

October 21 - 1998
We've been making some systematic comparisons of Hitchcock and novelist Charles Dickens (born at Portsmouth, but a resident of London for much of his life, and thus virtually, like Hitchcock, a Cockney). The second-last chapter in John Carey's book on Dickens, 'The Violent Effigy' (1973), is called "Dickens' Children", and its main idea is that children in Dickens's novels are of two kinds: the realistic ones and the plastic ones (the latter often like small adults, e.g., Little Nell in 'The Old Curiosity Shop'). When Dickens truly entered into the mind of a child, the result was convincing, as in the childhood chapters of 'David Copperfield'. He also had sharp memories of his own boyhood, such as of attending a child-funeral and fearing that his nurse was going to ask him to contribute some of his pocket money to the grieving mother - which is exactly what happened, whereupon young Charles stoutly refused to part with his wealth! As Prof. Carey notes, 'The child's response to death ... [typically] dismays adult sensibilities.' There's a sense of that in a couple of Hitchcock films, Young and Innocent (1937) and The Trouble With Harry (1956); more generally, children in Hitchcock's films are realistically shown to be a mix of childish ego and childish malice - and childish fun. Perhaps the earliest, and fairly representative, is the young boy who pesters Hitchcock himself on the train in Blackmail (1929). Carey observes that it's natural for children to exploit adults - indeed, watch young Bart do it brilliantly in 'The Simpsons'! - and Hitchcock wouldn't have demurred. The two youngest children in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) know a thing or two about getting around their mother; on the obnoxious side, there's young Jessie taking advantage of her status as virtual foster-daughter to Mrs Edgar in Marnie (1964). Perhaps the two most unexceptional (in two senses) children in Hitchcock are Hank in the 1956 re-make of The Man Who Knew Too Much (his opposite number, Betty, in the 1934 version, is a trifle less bland) and Cathy in 1963's The Birds (not so unpleasant a child as Camille Paglia paints her, and clearly, I think, showing the insecurity of lacking a father to turn to). Against these, we must always recall the depiction of John Ballyntine at about age four in the Freudian Spellbound (1945) who 'accidentally' kills his brother in what seems a fairly literal instance of 'sibling rivalry'. In sum, in Hitchcock's knowing but generally not unsympathetic portrayal of children in his films - and I haven't even mentioned yet the young Cockney boy, Stevie, in Sabotage (1936) - he is far from disgraced when compared with Dickens in his novels. Another plus for Hitchcock: the generally excellent performances he got from his child-actors.

October 19 - 1998
That phrase 'morally handcuffed' is obviously a sophisticated idea, that of an adult looking back on his childhood. Nonetheless, there's no doubt that Dickens as a boy was a sensitive, intelligent, imaginative child! Any child may feel passing resentment at an adult who forbids him from going out to play on a sunny afternoon, for example, but you sense that young Dickens was already ambitious to 'improve' himself. We know that he felt humiliated at being taken from school at an early age and sent to work in a blacking-factory (his father had been arrested for debt). Young Alfred Hitchcock was also sensitive, intelligent, and 'ambitious' after his own fashion. For example, he steered clear of reading things like the popular Sexton Blake detective serials, preferring the tales of Edgar Allan Poe. He cultivated inwardness and imagination; he, too, you feel, was wary of adults who would 'morally handcuff' him! I mention all of this because I think it bears on why I see both Dickens and Hitchcock as being alike as artists of the imagination. Prof. John Carey concludes his chapter on Dickens's symbolism by noting Dickens's capacity to animate in his fiction even the most somnolent of objects. And Dickens himself said: 'It is my infirmity to fancy or perceive relations in things which are not apparent generally.' Caged birds were a frequent symbol in his novels, broadly 'representing either a protected favourite or a prisoner or both'. In Hitchcock, caged birds also figure more than once. The pair in the bus in To Catch a Thief (1955) constitute an ironic reference: even on the Côte d'Azur, your freedom may be restricted - a reference in turn to John Robie (Cary Grant), an ex-burglar given a paroled sentence. Another frequent symbol in Dickens - and in Hitchcock - is the lock. More than one character in 'Bleak House' is given a set of keys: the detective Mr Tulkinghorn, for example, brandishes the key to his wine cellar as a way of impressing his authority on the French maid, ex-gaol bird Hortense. Carey notes that the lock in Dickens 'is a "symbol" only in the sense of being a strangely potent object, recurrently invoked'. Well, Hitchcock layered on some Freudian meanings to locks - but basically his sensitivity to such objects in the first place is what marks his close affinity to Dickens as an imaginative artist ...

October 15 - 1998
Here's another similarity (cf. October 6, above) between Charles Dickens's 'Little Dorrit' and Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (either version). Dickens once said that the reason he began his novel in a sweltering prison in Marseilles was so that he might have the contrast, at the start of Chapter 3, of moving to London on a dull Sunday evening, 'gloomy, close, and stale'. That, of course is exactly the same effect that Hitchcock sought, and gained, by beginning his film on the snowy slopes of St Moritz (the 1934 version) and in hot, glaring Marrakesh (the 1956 version) before moving on to the dingy back streets of London. Also, notice how Dickens further describes his London setting as follows: 'In every thoroughfare, up almost every alley, and down almost every turning, some doleful bell was throbbing, jerking, tolling, as if the Plague were in the city and the dead-carts were going round. Everything was bolted and barred that could possibly furnish relief to an overworked people. ... [This] was the dreary Sunday of [hero Arthur Clenham's] boyhood, when, like a military deserter, he was marched to chapel by a picquet [picket] of teachers three times a day, morally handcuffed to another boy ... .' The city in a seeming death-grip, and the references to bars and handcuffs, are typical Dickens effects and metaphors that have at once a symbolic and a poetic function that in turn sets the tone for the entire novel (until, at any rate, its final chapters, when the gloom is lifted). And the sense of death-in-life, of a palpable yet symbolic 'atmosphere' to be sustained throughout the work, was something that Hitchcock inherited. He probably got some of it from studying Dickens at school, but also from reading such other writers as Poe and Mrs Belloc Lowndes (the latter's 'The Lodger' explicitly evokes death-in-life in its Madame Tussaud's climax, which is itself the probable forerunner of several Hitchcock climaxes, such as that featuring the British Museum in Blackmail, 1929). Typically, Prof. John Carey prefers the concrete imagery of prisons, etc., in 'Little Dorrit' to any symbolic meanings attaching to them - but the two things are so interconnected in their effect on us that you may feel that he has missed the totality and essential indivisibility of what Dickens was doing. (Cf., for example, the above passage about Clenham's being 'morally handcuffed'.)

October 14 - 1998
Another memorable symbol noted by John Carey in the novels of Dickens is the fog and rain in 'Bleak House'. Because I've remarked at length in 'MacGuffin' 20 how that same symbolism seems taken over by Hitchcock holus-bolus in The Wrong Man (1957), I'll not go into too many details here. (Hitchcock studied 'Bleak House' at school, and that novel, rather than Kafka's 'The Trial', itself influenced by the Dickens novel, seems the true progenitor of Hitchcock's so-called 'Kafkaesque' film.) Carey admits the force of the particular imagery, but feels that in some passages Dickens tries too hard to give it a local meaning: he feels that what little a London fog can tell us of the legal system, or of people's ignorance of their affinities with others, 'is really irrelevant to its poetic force'. Again I'd question this: the poetic force is splendidly achieved, but the fog's potential and actual value as symbol - its perceived relation to people - is what then 'fixes' it for us, and helps give the novel a 'dignity of significance' (in Goethe's phrase). Likewise in the case of The Wrong Man, Manny Balestrero's benighted condition is 'poetically' extended by the film's noirish style and by the pervasive imagery of mist, snow, and falling shadows - not to mention Bernard Herrmann's brilliantly mournful score - into a statement about an aspect of humanity in general. (In both works, another pervasive force is that of slow-moving time, and in particular the slowness of legal process: finally, though, both works allow a note of hopefulness to enter, for time may also bring an element of healing and change.) Next, Carey notes the pervasive symbolism attaching to prisons, bars, handcuffs - and birds, including birds in cages - in 'Little Dorrit'. All of those things are familiar Hitchcockian symbols, too, of course. Moreover, Hitchcock could give them the light touch that Carey feels is sometimes lacking in Dickens. (The diplomat Van Meer in Foreign Correspondent, 1940, referring to people feeding the 'little birds' at time of crisis, is knowingly creating a diversion from grave matters of state: there's both humour and point to his line, confirmed moments later when he speaks of feeling 'so helpless' just now, for the situation, of course, is actually far from being a simple one of feeding crumbs to birds.) More tomorrow.

October 13 - 1998
The way in which Hitchcock conditions his audience in matters of suspense often recalls Freud's 'Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious'. Freud shows, for example, that to tell a 'tendentious joke' (one that has a point to make, particularly of a sexual nature) may first require a certain mood, if the recipient of the joke is to be properly receptive. Such a mood may be arrived at by engaging in lesser forms of humour such as puns and non-tendentious joking. Similarly, I think, when someone like the writer Dickens or the filmmaker Hitchcock had a metaphysical point to make (see last night's item), they instinctively knew that their audience had first to be conditioned in a certain way. Hence the various levels on which they might explore a particular image or theme. John Carey objects to some of this in the case of Dickens, but you may perhaps suspect that his real objection is to Dickens's use of broad religious symbolism at all. Anyway, tonight let's look further at his chapter on Dickens's symbolism. He notes, for example, the vaguely symbolic presence of the London dustheaps in 'Our Mutual Friend'. Very reasonably, he comments that Dickens could hardly be criticising in his use of such imagery the acquisitiveness of Victorian society and its quest for 'filthy lucre' (the dustheaps sometimes contained human excrement) - or at least not altogether, since Dickens himself (like Hitchcock later) was a very rich man, and prided himself on his business skills. (Still, this is one of several places in Carey's book where you feel that he may be forgetting his own point from an earlier chapter, that Dickens might often take precisely contrary positions on one and the same topic!) What I find interesting about the dustheaps is how they anticipate similar imagery in Hitchcock's Frenzy which, as already noted (e.g., October 8, above) is full of references to eating and drinking, waste matter, and death. Think of the suggestiveness of the various references to potatoes, of which we're told there appears to be currently a glut, necessitating their being dug back into the ground. In turn, all of this imagery, in both Dickens and Hitchcock, may derive ultimately from the poet William Blake, whose poem 'London' refers to such things as 'the chartered Thames' (originally 'the dirty Thames') and ''Every blackening church'. (I discuss this further in 'MacGuffin' 20, apropos Hitchcock's The Wrong Man.) More later.

October 12 - 1998
Prof. John Carey's 'The Violent Effigy: a study of Dickens' imagination' has a chapter on "Symbols" in which he takes a slightly peculiar attitude to Dickens's use of a symbol like the sea in 'Dombey and Son'. Carey feels that there's a split between the concrete evocation of the sea via a character like Captain Cuttle (ex-naval man with a hook instead of a hand attached to his right wrist) and the more 'religious' and 'preachy' evocation of the sea when, for example, someone dies or is dying. Mrs Dombey dies at the end of Chapter I with daughter Florence in attendance. 'Clinging fast to that slight spar within her arms, the mother drifted out upon the dark and unknown sea that rolls round all the world.' Likewise, 'A Tale of Two Cities' has resurrection as its central theme. Carey notes that the theme is adumbrated at various levels, as with somone like the grave-robber Jerry Cruncher (a 'resurrectionist') on the one hand, and when there's a direct quote from the Christian burial service at the end of the novel, on the other hand, as Sydney Carton goes to his death on the scaffold ('I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die'). Carey admits that the effect of this quoting 'works' at this point, but he adds that once again we feel a 'gap' between it and 'Jerry Cruncher exemplifying the resurrection theme by digging up a coffin full of paving-stones'. Personally, I don't mind this 'grounding' of the metaphysical in something altogether more down-to-earth, even comical; and I think of how Hitchcock does exactly the same thing in Vertigo (1958) when on the one hand he has Scottie aspire 'upwards' after something nebulous and profound embodied in Madeleine, his 'eternal-feminine' figure, and on the other hand gives comic lines and bits of business about balancing and suspension to Midge, such as her reference to a new type of brassière 'built on the principle of the cantilever bridge'. I once made that same point on the Charles Dickens Forum (an academic site) on the Internet, but got no response. More on symbolism in Dickens and in Hitchcock tomorrow.

October 8 - 1998
Hitchcock's Frenzy is of course full of references to food and drink, and to both ingestion and digestion (and its products). If Charles Dickens could have a couple of medical students at dinner swap anecdotes about the dissection of corpses (see above), Hitchcock could have a couple of businessmen in a London pub at lunchtime discuss details of the Necktie Strangler's modus operandi with a buxom barmaid; equally, he could have Chief Inspector Oxford's wife serve him a watery consommé and then proceed to discuss aspects of rigor mortis as she absent-mindedly snaps a bread-stick (sometimes called a rusk - which happens to be the name of the film's murderer!). Frenzy is of course a film about all kinds of appetites (and, as I've said before, illustrates Hitchcock's remark that 'everything's perverted in a different way') ... And now here's a final point from John Carey's chapter called "Corpses and Effigies". Another bodily part that obsessed Dickens was the eye - or, rather, many eyes. He had recurrent nightmares of being stared at by disembodied eyes - there's such a moment in 'Pickwick Papers'. (Here I'm reminded of the dream in Hitchcock's Spellbound.) He was also obsessed with the phenomenon of looking at corpses or waxworks, 'looking at something that could not return a look' (as he put it). Prof. Carey relates this to the near-traumatic episode from Dickens's childhood when the sensitive boy had been forced to go to work in a verminous blacking-factory, putting labels on bottles - and being watched through the window by countless passers-by in the street. Hitchcock of course had his own childhood trauma, of being fleetingly locked in a police cell. Taking a cue from Carey, perhaps we can say that here originated Hitchcock's deep sense of what it is to feel powerless and to be stared at or otherwise humiliated. Norman Bates in Psycho speaks of his mother (himself?) being locked in a madhouse with 'cruel eyes studying you'. Many Hitchcock films dwell upon scenes of incarceration as something especially mortifying or indelible, like a stain ...

October 7 - 1998
Still on "Corpses and Effigies", John Carey notes of Dickens that he had a positive obsession with wooden legs (one of various lifeless body parts that fascinated him). What obsessed him about wooden legs were the things you can do with one, the damage it is subject to, and its relations with its owner. Only a little different, perhaps, was Alfred Hitchcock's near-fetish (it may seem) for legs in his films. No doubt there were both cinematic and Freudian reasons for this interest of Hitchcock's: for example, shots of a woman's lifeless or helpless limbs being hauled up a flight of stairs or through a doorway (as in Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds, etc.) are both expressive in themselves and facilitate a scene's montage. (Incidentally, it's of course a truism that Dickens was one of the most 'cinematic' of novelists, as Sergei Eisenstein was among the first to observe.) The amputation of Gus's gangrenous leg in Lifeboat (1944) is one of that film's memorable scenes, and the close-up of the knife being readied for its job by being cauterized in a candle-flame is a particularly telling image. But just as 'felt' by Hitchcock, you surmise, is the line given to Gus, who laments, 'If I lose my leg, I lose Rosie.' (Rosie is Gus's girlfriend and his partner in jitterbugging contests.) Trust Hitchcock, with scenarist Jo Swirling's help, to humanise the moment like that! Leg-symbolism in Hitchcock is also powerfully present in Rope (1948), Rear Window (1954), and Marnie (1964) - in the latter, Mrs Edgar's lameness is the visible reminder of both her 'accident' and of her past more generally, the guilt of which she represses. As in Dickens, then, a single visible trait given to a particular character can be richly expressive throughout an entire film (or novel) - which is consonant with Hitchcock's preference for 'suspense' over 'surprise' (one is lasting, the other only momentary). Here now is another of Prof. Carey's clever remarks about Dickens: 'With [his] inclination to break his characters into fragments, it's not surprising that Dickens' first success, "Pickwick Papers", already contains two medical students, Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen, whose function is to exchange anecdotes about the dissection of corpses, particularly at meal times.' That may remind you of some classic Hitchcock scenes! To be continued.

October 6 - 1998
Novelist Charles Dickens' fascination with cadavers and effigies that watch the watcher climaxed in 'Our Mutual Friend'. As John Carey writes: 'It wasn't until his last completed novel that Dickens produced his great set piece of dumb witnesses, and dumb witnesses who are real corpses as well as effigies. This is Mr Venus' shop [based on an actual shop in London] ... crammed with the stuffed animals and preserved babies and articulated human skeletons which make up Mr Venus' stock in trade [that of a taxidermist] ... .' And Carey goes on to note a typical brilliant and Dickensian moment in the novel when someone slams the street door of the shop, and the whole grisly population is shaken into momentary life. Among that population are (in Dickens's words) 'the green-glass-eyed cats, the dogs, the ducks, and all the rest of the collection, [which] show for an instant as if paralytically animated.' When I was an undergraduate, I remember describing Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) rather vaguely as 'the most "Dickensian" film I've ever seen' - well, here's part of the evidence for that remark! For the scene in Mr Venus's shop in 'Our Mutual Friend' is surely a precursor for the fight that breaks out in the taxidermist's workshop in Hitchcock's film, in which Dr Ben McKenna (James Stewart) grapples with Ambrose Chappell and his assistants, and the struggle is 'watched' by stuffed animals including a tiger, a bear, a swordfish, and the head of a lion mounted on a wall. And just for a moment, with Bernard Herrmann's music going pell-mell, the animals seem to come alive and to be joining in the pandemonium. Or such seems to have been Hitchcock's intention - the effect doesn't quite come off, as he later admitted. But nonetheless the 'grotesquerie' of this moment is Dickensian in its conception and design. Another scene from Dickens described by Carey comes from the story 'The Cricket on the Hearth' (which the great Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein read and admired). The toymaker's blind daughter stitches eyes onto dolls, and is silently 'watched' by dolls and rocking-horses around the walls. The 'logic' of this scene reminds me of the moment Hitchcock wanted for the Mount Rushmore climax of North by Northwest (1959) in which Thornhill (Cary Grant) would have hidden in Lincoln's nostril - and had a sneezing fit. More later.

October 5 - 1998
England's greatest and most popular story-teller, Charles Dickens - whom Hitchcock took after in many ways - had some peculiar obsessions, including hanging about graveyards, watching public executions, and indulging an interest in such matters as mob violence, cadavers, deformity, locks, prison bars, junkyards, and dustheaps. Notice that what virtually all of these have in common is the way they reflect life and death. Dickens told his biographer that he was well aware of his own enormous 'exercise of life' (a very romantic, or Romantic, notion). And Hitchcock would share many of Dickens's obsessions. Matters of police procedure fascinated him; he often visited both the Old Bailey (to observe criminal trials) and Scotland Yard's Black Museum (where various relics of famous crimes were displayed), and later toured the Vice Museum in Paris; and he held a long-standing desire to film 24 hours in the life of a city (cf. Ruttman's Berlin, 1927) and to show the city's waste products flowing into the sea. He once remarked sagely that 'everything's perverted in a different way'. So in many respects, Frenzy (1972) should be seen as the culmination of Hitchcock's obsessions and of what someone called his 'Wasteland vision' - while Hitchcock himself proudly told an interviewer that Frenzy was 'full of life'. Now let's return to Dickens. Prof. John Carey begins his chapter called "Corpses and Effigies" by noting Dickens's fascination with cadavers, wax figures, and the like. There are several undertakers in Dickens's novels. One of them, Mr Sowerberry in 'Oliver Twist', uses as a snuff box 'an ingenious little model of a patent coffin'. (Didn't Hitchcock once present 'Tippi' Hedren with a brooch in a miniature coffin?!) The novels also contain many waxworks which stare at people, and which people stare back at. Dickens was fascinated with this phenomenon. According to Carey, when Dickens was a toddler, his nursery was full of effigy figures, including a kind of Jack-in-the-box which to the child's imagination always seemed at least half alive, indeed 'demoniacal'. The accusing, Roman figure on the ceiling in 'Bleak House' who points to the scene of a murder may derive from one of Dickens's childhood memories; it always reminds me (in its function, at least) of the accusing jester in Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929). More later.

October 1 - 1998
The refrigerator in the back of the bystander's truck in North by Northwest is the crowning detail of the crop-dusting scene - a bit like the 'flowering annuals' detail when Uncle Pumblechook's shop is broken into in 'Great Expectations'. Both Dickens and Hitchcock showed exhuberance in spinning out and detailing the events - whether comic or horrific or a combination thereof - in their respective melodramas. Which is why, though their type of humour differed at times (see previous couple of entries), I don't believe that the actual temperament of these two artists was very different: the propensity to lay on unnecessary detail (often very amusing) that Orwell noted of Dickens had its equivalent, I think, in Hitchcock's flair for building up suspense scenes with telling detail upon telling detail. (See, for example, his imagined scene featuring Maria Callas described on our FAQs page.) There's an exhuberance and vitality in the work of both men that is certainly a large part of their popular appeal. It was given a more raw expression, perhaps, in the boundless energy of Dickens's prose, and received a more measured and calculated expression in some of the classic scenes of Hitchcockian suspense, but 'the Dickens touch' and 'the Hitchcock touch' were both products of the vital imaginations of these two great popular entertainers. Life and death are the very stuff of their melodramas. It's surely not altogether a coincidence that both Dickens's robbery scene in Uncle Pumblechook's corn and seed store and Hitchcock's crop-dusting scene in a cornfield feature flowers and/or crops - and more than a touch of violence. That's a natural conjunction of elements. Nor, I think, is it insignificant that just as Dickens was fascinated with prisons and criminals and corpses and effigies (waxworks, for example), so Hitchcock had quite similar interests. There's a fascinating chapter in John Carey's book about Dickens, 'The Violent Effigy', that deals with "Corpses and Effigies", and I'll discuss it in relation to Hitchcock next time.

September 30 - 1998
More on humour in Dickens and in Hitchcock. As I suggested last night, though both men are undoubtedly humorists of the first order, who in their respective melodramas repeatedly joke about death and other matters, their type of humour nonetheless differs a lot of the time. Dickens didn't call himself 'the inimitable' for nothing. According to George Orwell, Dickens belongs in a certain tradition of genuinely popular literature, and took from earlier novelists 'the cult of "character", i.e. eccentricity'. (Clearly, I'd say, Hitchcock also belongs in this tradition.) But what Dickens further brought to his work was his own 'fertility of invention, which is invention not so much of characters, still less of "situations", as of turns of phrase and concrete details. The outstanding, unmistakable mark of Dickens's writing is the unnecessary detail.' I'll give an example of what Orwell means in a moment. But note: it's certainly possible to assume a contrast with Hitchcock at this point, whom we're often told by critics allows into his films no detail that isn't significant! (Indeed, an academic repeated that remark to me just the other day.) Also, Hitchcock himself sometimes commented that he favoured a type of humour akin to the Cockney love of droll understatement. (Films like Rear Window and The Trouble With Harry may be said to pivot on such understatement.) Now here's an example of what Orwell meant about Dickens. In 'Great Expectations', thieves break into Uncle Pumblechook's corn and seed store. Before they make off with his cash, they tie him up and taunt him by drinking his wine, pulling his nose, and finally stuffing his mouth 'full of flowering annuals'. The unmistakable Dickens touch, says Orwell, is that bit about the flowering annuals. It comes after a long list of Pumblechook's indignities, and is so ... gratuitous! Nonetheless, notice the scene's mild sadism, and the 'organic' use of the setting itself in the events described. Hitchcock would surely have approved! The cornfield scene in North by Northwest works similarly. As Hitchcock noted, you have a crop-dusting plane so you must have it dust crops. Also, when at the end of the scene Thornhill escapes by making off in a local bystander's small truck, the latter person's chagrin is no doubt increased by the fact that the truck was carrying a (newly-bought?) refrigerator in the back! More tomorrow.

September 29 - 1998
Both Dickens and Hitchcock alleviated the grim and (merely) grotesque in their respective fictions, by means of humour. But reading John Carey's chapter on "Dickens' Humour" may show that the two artists' type of humour differed, a lot of the time. You'll find nothing in Hitchcock to match the savagery with which Dickens depicted 'the greatest gallery of hypocrites in fiction'. Such hypocritical characters as Mrs Gamp, Pecksniff, and Uriah Heep are the prime beneficiaries of Dickens's genius, says Carey. Without them, Dickens's novels would be maimed irreparably. Now, Hitchcock's films have their traitors and fakes and outright villains: such people as Stephen Fisher in Foreign Correspondent (1940), Blanche Tyler, the fake medium in Family Plot (1976), and Willy the Nazi U-boat captain in Lifeboat (1944). But there's little or no humour associated with such characters, no savage showing up of their 'falseness', for clearly Hitchcock respects each of them too much to turn them into brilliant caricatures or 'types' (even Willy is a real human being). The nearest Hitchcock comes to creating caricatures, it seems to me, is when he's depicting certain predatory females in some of his early films and perhaps as late as Strangers on a Train (1951), with its depiction of the 'trampish' Miriam; and when he's adding to his gallery of (comically) grotesque mother-figures, such as Mrs Van Hoppper in Rebecca (1940). But even in these cases, you often feel a real sense of pity for these women: the spinster played by Elsie Randolph on the ship in Rich and Strange (1932) is probably representative. Mrs Van Hopper is less so - but just think of her 'successors', both played by Jessie Royce Landis, in To Catch a Thief (1955) and North by Northwest (1959) respectively, to see the note of pity returning. Hitchcock's humour is gentler than Dickens's. In fact, it is often closer to 'gag' humour. An example: when Eve Gill in Stage Fright (1950) is practising being 'Doris Tinsdale' by donning her mother's glasses - and her mother, sans glasses, still manages to 'see through' her disguise! But I do think that 'the Dickens touch' and 'the Hitchcock touch' overlap. I'll say why tomorrow.

September 29 - 1998
Hitchcock studied four Charles Dickens novels at school. Tonight, then, more about similarities between Hitchcock and Dickens. The second chapter of John Carey's 'The Violent Effigy' (see earlier entries) is called "Dickens and Order". 'Neatness, orderliness and personal cleanliness ... were passionate concerns of Dickens', writes Carey. ' ... In his family life his concern with neatness was obsessive. Each morning he went upstairs to inspect the drawers in his daughters' bedroom, and left notes reprimanding any untidiness. ... "Method in everything" was his watchword. ... In Italy he was greatly irritated by the dirt and slackness of the foreigners ... England seemed "wonderfully neat" on his return.' Hitchcock, another Englishman, took after Dickens in most of these respects. He often told interviewers of his need for tidiness and method. 'After I've used the bathroom, I leave everything just as it was. You'd never know I'd been there.' Like Dickens, though, he was capable of being objective about these obsessions of his, as his remark about his visit to the bathroom shows. In Frenzy (1972), a potentially henpecked little man asks meekly about his predecessor, 'A neat man was he then?' You sense that Hitchcock was allowing a degree of self-parody here! But now Prof. Carey alerts us to why Dickens and Hitchcock were true artists. 'Once we come to recognize [the] sinister doubleness or reversibility which lurks within even Dickens' snuggest images of order and security, we shall find it easier to understand how the writer who craves for a bird[-like] bride in a ship-shape home [a reference to 'Dombey and Son'], is also the writer who needs to celebrate destruction and anarchy.' Clearly, a film director who once gave his preoccupations outside of making often violent melodramas as 'house and garden', belongs with Dickens in this respect. A desire for orderliness, for 'a clear horizon', provides fodder for fantasy in which such things are in danger of being lost or obliterated.

September 24 - 1998
Let's take a break tonight from all those Alfred Hitchcock/Charles Dickens parallels of late! Film collector/historian LS in the Irish Republic has sent me some interesting pages photocopied from a book called 'The Elstree Story' (1948). The newly-built Elstree Studios were acquired by Scottish solicitor John Maxwell in 1927 when he founded his company called British International Pictures (which later became Associated British Pictures). One of the first directors to make his films at Elstree was Hitchcock, starting with The Ring (1927) - he would then make his next nine films there. Hitchcock's contribution to this book indicates that he retained many happy memories of Elstree and the people he had worked with at that time. One of those people was the actor John Longden (Blackmail, 1929), who contributes an essay of his own, on "The Hitchcock Touch". Here are a few of the things he writes. 'Alfred Hitchcock ... was [already] beginning to see possibilities in the new medium [the sound-film], and at once began to introduce effects which were ahead of the times. One might say he provided a prototype for the sound-film treatment of drama as René Clair did for musicals with Le Million. Today, the "Hitchcock touch" is world-famous. It was already apparent in many sequences of Blackmail. I personally preferred the moment when the Blackmailer entered the heroine's shop at a time of great menace, and the "ting" of the shop-door bell was lengthened and magnified like a note of doom. ... Another time, a scene was ruined by a pair of squeaky boots - though Hitchcock seized on this and said it might be used effectively to create suspense in some later film. [LS suggests that Sabotage, 1936, has such a moment with Oscar Homolka.] ... The other memory is of a scene in which I, as a detective, had to walk nonchalantly round a room searching for evidence. As the sequence had to be tense, Hitch did not want to add music, so he suggested that I should whistle some tune. At this time The Singing Fool, the first big American talkie success, was all the rage, so Hitch told me to whistle "Sonny Boy". This cheeky, cocking-a-snook gesture seems to me the most typical "Hitchcock touch" of them all.'

September 23 - 1998
Tonight I'd like to look further at John Carey's opening chapter in 'The Violent Effigy: A Study of Dickens' Imagination', called "Dickens and Violence", and what it may suggest about that other great English master of storytelling, humour, and the macabre - Hitchcock. Dickens was fascinated by public hangings, and attended several, which he then described in detail in his various writings. But he also liked to dwell on such characters as Dennis the hangman in 'Barnaby Rudge', a big man with an enormous neck - a neck for stretching, as Dennis himself would say, and indeed that's what happens to it at the end of the novel! I'm sure Hitchcock would have relished such a character and his fate! (In fact, I'm tempted to cite such a character as 'the Necktie Strangler', Bob Rusk, in Frenzy, who ends up being told by Chief Inspector Oxford that he's not wearing a tie - implying that he soon will be! However, Rusk actually appears to be a composite of the real-life killers Neville Heath, known as the baby-faced killer, and 'Jack the Stripper'.) Moreover, Hitchcock, like Dickens, seems to have been fascinated by hangings and the sadistic feelings they might stir. There's much relish in the depiction of the 'hanging judge' (based on Mr Justice Avory) played by Charles Laughton in The Paradine Case (1947); and indeed Hitchcock confided to Bernard Herrmann (who must have broken the confidence!), as they washed dishes in the Hitchcocks' kitchen, that he'd liked to have been a hanging judge himself. Prof. Carey further notes of Dickens how there are scenes in his fiction where the villain's tormenting of his female victim/s has obvious sexual undertones. In 'Barnaby Rudge', when Hugh 'has the delicious Dolly Varden and haughty Emma Haredale at his mercy, imprisoned in a closed carriage, he insists on speaking of them as delicate, tender birds, and stares into the carriage, we are told, "like an ogre into his larder".' Again you think of Bob Rusk in Frenzy who first has poor Brenda Blaney at his mercy, and croaks repeatedly, 'Lovely! Lovely!' - then strangles her before callously crunching into an apple. Also, 'Barnaby Rudge' is where Dickens's ambivalent fascination-repugnance towards 'mobs' (cf. Hitchcock's The Lodger) is most on display. Carey concludes his chapter: 'Riot, murder, savagery have to be there before Dickens' imagination is gripped.' There's a lot of Hitchcock in that description, I fancy.

September 22 - 1998
More on the parallels between Dickens and Hitchcock, two great Londoners of rich imagination. (Other such men included Shakespeare, William Blake, and Charles Chaplin, though the latter, I think it must be said, lacked the kaleidoscopic and analytic qualities of the other four just mentioned.) Prof. Carey notes that Dickens 'never seems to have quite reconciled himself to the fact that violence and destruction were the most powerful stimulants to his imagination.' Hence he often sentimentalised family scenes, and often in a rather 'sickly' way (thinks Carey). To Hitchcock's credit, his own brand of melodrama invariably moved with assurance between scenes of criminality and scenes depicting the home. And when the criminal element actually entered the home, as in The Lodger (1926) and its American counterpart, Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Hitchcock showed himself no less assured in depicting the situation. (An interesting difference between those two films, though, is that whereas in The Lodger it's the mother, Mrs Bunting, who first realises what's going on, in Shadow of a Doubt, the mother, Mrs Newton, never sees that her brother is a psychopath.) Prof. Carey notes that Dickens actually strongly identified himself with his murderers. 'He habitually speaks about murderers' mental habits with extraordinary self-confidence, as if he were one himself.' Both Dickens and Hitchcock were authorities on well-known murders and murder-trials of their day. And it's surely true that Hitchcock, like Dickens, could project himself quite knowingly into the criminal mind, especially the mind of a man who feels himself hunted (whether Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt or Norman Bates in Psycho). Indeed, you think of the lines given to Isobel, the crime novelist, in Suspicion (1941), a character said to be based on Dorothy Sayers, in which she says that her murderers are her real heroes - and it's easy to hear Hitchcock chuckling, 'But of course!'

September 21 - 1998
I wrote above (September 16) that 'Hitchcock followed the British tradition of such authors as Dickens and Wilde in generally taking the side of the underdog against the privileged classes'. It's high time that I spelled out on this Web site a bit more systematically just why I keep saying that I consider novelist Charles Dickens (1812-1870) to have been Hitchcock's main artistic forebear. (I'll eventually devote a page of this site to that topic.) To that end, it will be helpful if I work through some of the points made about Dickens by Prof. John Carey in his acclaimed book, 'The Violent Effigy: A Study of Dickens' Imagination' (1973). So here goes. Carey introduces his subject by noting how closely Dickens conforms to Keats's argument about the poetic character: that it is essentially amoral and unprincipled. Imagination matters above all else. 'Almost any aberration ... from drunkenness to wife-beating can be found eliciting at various times both Dickens' mournfulness and his amused toleration.' Any topic is grist to the mill of Dickens's imagination. And something very similar may be said about Hitchcock, I think. He told Truffaut that no considerations of morality could have stopped him making Rear Window (1954), which he saw as an exercise in creating 'pure cinema'. Prof. Carey continues his argument in an opening chapter on "Dickens and Violence" where he notes how 'a leading characteristic of Dickens' mind [is] that he is able to see almost everything from two opposed points of view'. A prison may appear at different times as a hideous deprivation of freedom and as a snug retreat from the world. You think of Hamlet's remark in one of his soliloquies, ' There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.' The poet-prince then adds, 'I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.' But the creative artist - or filmmaker - doesn't allow himself to have bad dreams! He throws himself into all his characters and their worlds with a burning enthusiasm, an intense imagination, which is itself a form of 'pure cinema'!

September 17 - 1998
Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) in Marnie observes at one point, 'I never said I was perfect.' (Cf. Psycho: 'We all go a little mad sometimes' and 'We're all in our private traps'.) In one draft of the script of Marnie, Mark himself consults a psychiatrist about his problems. The idea that we're all 'only' human is one aspect of Hitchcock's sense of humanity that I was referring to last night, and probably a good enough reason why we should all give and receive 'compassion'. (Professor Walter Lowrie once said of Kierkegaard that he 'is the only modern man who has such a sense of the solidarity of the [human] race that original sin makes any sense to him' - but surely Hitchcock is another!) But there's another reason why compassion is so important and why, I think, Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), which immediately preceded Marnie, seems to also invite us to feel compassion by the film's end. I said last night that Hitchcock wants Marnie to be reintegrated into 'society' in the broadest sense of that term. Marnie is what social theorist Julia Kristeva would call an 'abject' figure (cf. above, September 14), and indeed some theorists - another is Luce Irigaray - have argued that women in general are rendered 'abject' by the nature of everyone's common subjection to patriarchy and the 'Symbolic' (social) realm. Clearly it's not sufficient for women that they simply 'embrace' their own abject condition - which is just about what Marnie has tried to do, at one point professing her total scorn of 'men!' (Nonetheless, some theorists, including Kristeva, have come close to suggesting exactly that 'solution'.) Commenting on Kristeva's work , John Lechte has noted how she has felt the need to considerably revise her position. And he concludes: 'The point is not ... to retreat back into a static view of the individual self as prior to social relations, but rather a view of that which reminds us of the need to ensure that the [S]ymbolic itself is not destroyed when it is necessarily transformed.' Such 'conservatism' sounds to me very like Hitchcock's. And if his 'native generosity of mind' and humanity, which I've tried to indicate above, led him to advise love and compassion as the best - or only - workable solution, that also happens to be the solution that has long had the most enduring and widespread religious and philosophical support. Nonetheless, it may not be 'perfect' either! (Have I thus shown how The Birds and Marnie are linked in their 'open-ended pessimism', as Father Neil Hurley has put it?)

September 16 - 1998
I would even say that for Hitchcock to have shot the Marnie hunt scene naturalistically, with meticulous realism à la Tom Jones (a film that many people in the audience had recently seen), would have been the trite thing to do; and that Forio's death, and Marnie's shock, would have been cheapened by such a clichéd approach. (Hitchcock: 'I always try to avoid the cliché.') Instead, in keeping with his film overall, Hitchcock deliberately stylised the scene, such as when Forio's approach to the wall is protracted with some 'Eisensteinian' cutting - n.b., more subjectivity, putting us inside what Marnie is feeling. Also, clearly Hitchcock wanted to avoid glorifying fox-hunting, partly because Marnie herself is not one of these aristocrats, and despises blood sports (as her remark to Lil at the end of the scene shows, 'Are you still in the mood for killing?'), but also because, you feel, he wanted to distance himself from the whole Tom Jones ethos (I mean both its 'mindless' romp and the Henry Fielding characters). Hitchcock's own attitude almost certainly resembled Oscar Wilde's position on fox-hunting: 'The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable.' Wilde was one of Hitchcock's favourite authors, and Hitchcock followed the British tradition of such authors as Dickens and Wilde in generally taking the side of the underdog against the privileged classes. Hence his (Hitchcock's) interest in an 'abject' character like Marnie. The film is critical of both 'aristocracy' and 'business'. However, that's not the whole matter. Like Dickens in particular, Hitchcock was capable of admiring certain individuals whatever their social status or occupation, such as the remarkable Mark Rutland (innovative head of a publishing firm) here. George Orwell's famous essay on Dickens speaks of that author's 'native generosity of mind' and his feel for 'the idea of human brotherhood'. Among Hitchcock's films, you may detect such qualities quite strongly in The Trouble With Harry (1955). Yet you may also sense them in Marnie. Hitchcock wants the alienated Marnie to be reintegrated into 'society' - but 'society' in the truest, broadest sense. At the end of the film, Mark tells Marnie, 'It's time to have compassion for yourself.' More later.

September 15 - 1998
About the hunt scene in Marnie ... I'm perfectly willing to say that Marnie's close-ups are even more 'alienating' (because of indifferent process-work) than Hitchcock intended them to be - but that nonetheless he had indeed intended something very like that. That is what the critics of this great scene don't understand. Hitchcock chose to use process work here, rather than go on location as Tony Richardson had done for his hunt scene in Tom Jones the previous year, not because 'he hated location shooting' but because he saw how studio close-ups would be sufficient for his purpose and even in keeping with the type of stylised expressiveness that runs all the way through the film (see list in last night's entry). Moreover, these shots of Marnie that show her in a narcissistic world of her own with just her beloved black horse Forio (the very symbol of her narcissism) are the necessary prelude to the scene's climactic moment when Forio hits the brick wall and has to be destroyed. In turn, that moment is the turning-point in Marnie's path to reintegration into a society from which she has been alienated since childhood. Now consider the hunt scene further. The process-shot close-ups that show Marnie alienated - and which in a sense alienate the audience too (perhaps more than Hitchcock intended, to judge from the sort of remarks you sometimes hear) - correspond to how Marnie herself is 'asleep' at this stage of her life and is about to receive 'a rude awakening'. Not only that, but Hitchcock's technique here matches one he often used in his films before a climax: first soft, then hard, kapow! If he was going to show a character reacting with alarm, he would first show that character not just bored or indifferent but positively smiling - the better to register the change in emotion. That's why the close-ups of Marnie on her horse, seen against 'badly-done' process-shot backgrounds, are surely very much what Hitchcock wanted. First we see Marnie alienated and 'asleep'; then we see her being 'awakened'. In fact, I can't watch the moment of Forio's hooves clipping the wall - kapow! - and the immediate aftermath, when Marnie has to 'kill the thing she loves' (I'm deliberately echoing Oscar Wilde), without profound emotion. (Okay, I get red-eyed!) More later.

September 14 - 1998
There's a Zen epigram that I admire, 'Those who say, do not know; those who know, do not say.' If I were wiser, I wouldn't get involved in some of the controversies - even the less intemperate ones - that sometimes rage on the Usenet site! But in fact I've just come from posting my second long contribution in as many nights about the worth of Marnie (1964), a film I love. Basically, last night I defended the controversial shot of the looming ship obviously painted on a backdrop. Art director Robert Boyle queried the use of the backdrop, but Hitchcock responded, 'I see nothing wrong with it, Bob.' I agree with Hitchcock on this, both because the shot has always 'worked' for me and because I think that Hitchcock was speaking from his heart when he defended the backdrop's phoneyness. (I've given my reasons here before, among them being the shot's link to the trauma of Marnie's childhood.) And tonight I've defended the look of the hunt scene, including the close-ups of Marnie that are obviously studio-set. To grasp what Hitchcock was doing here, you first have to appreciate that Marnie is positively replete with expressive devices that are deliberately jarring, abrupt, disconcerting. Think of the red suffusions, stylised thunderstorms, extreme close-ups of kisses, Herrmann's screeching and plummeting music, even dialogue like Mark Rutland's remark, 'Let's back up and turn that Mount Everest of manure into a few facts.' (All of this is set against the banal, measured, listless world of 'business' that Hitchcock was in a sense 'exposing'.) Second, it helps to see that the hunt scene is making reference to the invigorating and meticulously-photographed one in Tony Richardson's Tom Jones, which had picked up several Academy Awards (including Best Picture) the previous year. Hitchcock was deliberately doing it differently (though his brilliant helicopter shot instantly gets the visceral quality) because Marnie is alienated from the people she is riding with, and from the privileged values they represent. Marnie is what Julia Kristeva would call an 'abject' figure, and Hitchcock shows her great sympathy. More later.

September 9 - 1998
More on the 'subjective' element in a Hitchcock film. Yes, we all contain an element of hostility (or malice, as Schopenhauer noted) - as well as its opposite. John Michael Hayes set himself the task of breaking down audience-hostility early in Rear Window (1954) by piling gag on gag: the main one, he told me, was Stella's remark about 'General Motors' having to go to the bathroom ten times a day, whereupon Stella had sensed that 'the whole country was ready to let go!' (Thus she was able, she claimed, to predict the Great Depression!) The delightful absurdity of this is all the more affecting because it appeals to us collectively ... Now, it's important to realise that the birds in The Birds (1963) aren't just a symbol of the Other - they also represent us. (It was part of what I call Hitchcock's 'outflanking technique' that he tried to be both objective and subjective, sometimes in the very same shot - read on.) The audience of that film, as usual, brought a lot of hostility with them. When TG (see above, September 7) noted that Hitchcock blondes characteristically wear 'tight skirts and high heels ... and can't stand to be even slightly out of order', so that we want them to 'fall into a river', he was probably - and maliciously! - thinking of Melanie Daniels ('Tippi' Hedren) at the start of The Birds. In various ways, malice is evoked early on, then appeased and even broken down (the very credits-sequence reminds us of Hitch's promise that 'the birds is/are coming'!), and is eventually displaced onto the birds themselves. Now, consider the memorable birds'-eye shot of Bodega Bay. It looks objective but is really still subjective (which was Schopenhauer's point when he began Volume II of his most famous work by describing and commenting on the earth as seen from above ...). And as soon as the seagulls enter the frame, we are indeed reminded of the shot's subjectivity - and of how the birds represent a part of us (as well as another part, which we suppose is not us ...). Next minute the film's main scene of pandemonium and mayhem begins (the exploding car, etc.) - effectively wrought by the birds on our behalf, for of course this is precisely what we paid to see. We wanted it. Worth noting, too, is how just about all the main characters in the film (except, on the surface, young Cathy ...) have at least a moment of malice. Finally, I've often remarked in 'The MacGuffin' that Hitchcock himself had a cruel streak, and was a mix of both 'negative capability' (empathy) and 'imperious mastery' (domination). Thus he could get right inside both his characters and his audience ...

September 8 - 1998
In a day or two I'll put up on our 'Selections' page my recent musings about Camille Paglia's splendid little book on The Birds. Meanwhile, CC has said that he's puzzled about what I meant by saying that Paglia didn't get the film's 'subjectivity'. Okay. I was referring to what I call Hitchcock's use of 'subjective-technique' to involve/implicate audiences in the on-screen action. I gave two examples. One concerned the successive close-ups of three people inside the Brenner house rising into the frame after the birds have retreated. These three shots pose visual puzzles for the audience ('What's going on here?') which provide a correlative of the three listening characters' own aural puzzles ('Have the birds really gone?'). Paglia's book just describes this scene, without noting how the audience is put to work and thereby involved in the scene. The other example I gave was when the frightened mother looks directly at the camera, representing Melanie, but also us, and says, 'I think you're the cause of all this.' Paglia merely says that the scene has a 'mythic power', but what I pointed out was that it effectively invokes Schopenhauer's 'principle of sufficient reason' whereby everything must be assigned a cause. The audience has been searching for such a cause to explain the bird attacks, and now here we're told that we are the cause! Which is actually right in line with Schopenhauer's most famous statement, 'The world is my representation [mental image]', i.e., each person makes the world for himself/herself. This is a profound psychological insight (Schopenhauer was arguably Freud's main predecessor), and something like it came easily to Hitchcock. Another example now. I noted above (August 26) how a character in Psycho shows a certain complacency that conceals darker urges deep down. Schopenhauer said that we're all compounded of basic egoism, malice, and compassion - as many of Hitchcock's films show. And naturally the same goes for the audience. When I interviewed John Michael Hayes about his script for Rear Window, he told me that one of his main tasks early in the film was to break down natural audience hostility - to the film and to each other. More later.

September 7 - 1998
A couple of readers' comments tonight on matters raised here recently. First, RC found Julia's citing of one intertextual reference by Spielberg (August 31) to be 'a bit naive ... her head would spin were she aware of the number of times directors have referred to other films within their [own] films. ... The real matter [in any case] is how one interprets the inclusion. When ... Spielberg does it, he's telling us he's aware of previous films but his references are interpretively narrow ...; when Stanley Kubrick or Martin Scorsese or the Coen Brothers do it there's usually a mixture of fun and interpretation.' (This is interesting in relation to Hitchcock, I think, because although he often 'borrowed' from other films, e.g., the swivelling-heads shot of tennis spectators in Strangers on a Train comes from the 1948 British film Quartet, there's never a sense that he is 'interpreting' such material for a 'cine-literate' audience.) And on the matter of Hitch's use of blondes in his films (September 2), TG feels that the basic idea is 'quite obvious' - blondes represent 'a certain type of class: not real real class, but real ersatz class.' He adds: 'Notice that H's high-class heroines are really never quite so. Grace Kelly is a good example because her father was a bricklayer who became a millionaire ... plus they [the Kellys] were Catholic, which pulls you down a notch. The H women who have real class (born or earned, like Midge [in Vertigo] or the schoolteacher in The Birds) are usually not blondes. Since the blonde always dresses impossibly (tight skirts and high heels), and can't stand to be even slightly out of order, she becomes the image of the sort of woman that one wants to see fall into a river.' All of which is largely true, though I'm not sure how exactly it matches Hitch's pre-1950 films. In Under Capricorn (1949), for instance, the camera repeatedly dwells on Ingrid Bergman's radiant, auburn hair, which clearly represents Lady Henrietta's potential to resume her rightful former position in society: these scenes of golden light falling on her already burnished hair strike a note of hopefulness, and say without irony that 'class' (in two senses) will out.

September 2 - 1998
Why do so many Hitchcock movies have blonde heroines? We've tackled this question before, even quoting Marina Warner's excellent book on fairy-tales, called 'From the Beast to the Blonde' (1994). Warner notes the symbolism of blondes, which may refer to both fertility and erotic attraction and to virginity! Hitchcock enjoyed that paradox, and used it teasingly in his films. But basically, he said that he associated blondes with being lady-like: 'I've thought since I was a child that ladies are blonde, my wife is blonde.' (George Orwell's essay on Dickens notes that there was a Victorian notion of a woman - woman with a capital W - being above a man, which seems to resemble the idea of 'the lady' that Hitchcock means here.) He sometimes elaborated by saying that he thought 'Nordic' blondes far sexier, in a subtle way, than more 'obvious' Mediterranean brunettes. (The same essay by Orwell mentions that English children even into the 20th century were typically brought up to despise the southern European races! ...) Blondes thus have more going for them - or bring more with them - as active heroines in Hitchcock films. But Hitchcock also felt that blondes make the best victims: 'they're like virgin snow which shows up the bloody footprints'. Such blonde victims figure in an early Hitchcock picture like The Lodger (1926), where the 'Avenger' killer (based on Jack the Ripper) does indeed stalk only blondes. Importantly, although later films play up the lady-like side of their blonde heroines (played by Ingrid Bergman, say), the potential to be a victim is still always implicit, too ...

September 1 - 1998
Every so often I have to say this. I've answered several inquiries lately by personal email, several of them at length, and not one of the inquirers has thanked me afterwards. This site was never set up to answer questions like 'Send me everything you've got on Psycho (or Family Plot)' - what do you take me for, some sort of librarian? Or Father Christmas? Nor was this site ever intended to answer questions like, 'What is the anecdote about the MacGuffin that's in Truffaut's book on Hitchcock ?' or 'Where does Hitchcock appear in Strangers on a Train?' This is a scholarly site, and I find it repugnant - yes, nauseating - to answer stuff that's elementary and printed in many of the the basic books on Hitchcock, or else listed on other Web sites that are given a link on our Links page, or else can be checked out simply by running a video or laserdisk or DVD of the film in question! Still, I'm a softie, and whenever someone asks me a question, I do tend to give the required information plus a thoughtful comment or two of my own about Hitchcock or his films. But even softies are human, and they would appreciate being thanked for their time and trouble ... On Sunday, I answered an inquiry about Family Plot with information about budget ($3.5 million), novelist Victor Canning (whose work had often been filmed before, e.g., Venetian Bird, 1952), the name of the actor replaced by William Devane after a week's shooting (Roy Thinnes), some thoughts on the characters (the two couples both 'live in worlds of their own, as if they don't read the newspapers much and aren't objectified beings, but rather products of their day-to-day interactions in the big, anonymous city of SF'), and finally a description of my visit one night to the Family Plot set (on the very 'backest' of the back lots at Universal). Worth a line of thanks, I'd have thought. In fact, probably I should have charged a professional fee! Maybe next time ... (Okay, send your hate-mail!)

August 31 - 1998
Tonight it's back briefly to the matter I raised last week (August 24) of one film 'borrowing' material from another (something that Hitchcock films did repeatedly, though nearly always with a 'twist' added). I don't mean ostentatious 'homages' - such as when DePalma's The Untouchables (1987) echoes the Odessa Steps sequence from Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin (1925) - but rather more invisible instances of 'intertextuality'. What I was seeking were non-Hitchcock instances of this sort of thing. Well, Julia C. Rice happened to mention the following item recently on a scholarly newsgroup ... 'I was watching the film The Shining [1980] the other day and for one moment thought that I was watching the wrong film .... there is a scene in the hotel kitchen where the screen son of Jack Nicholson tries to hide from him in the hotel's kitchen .... he hides in one of the metal cupboards that run like corridors down the length of the kitchen ... the boy can't quite close the door ... the Nicholson character who is trying to kill him enters the kitchen and walks down the walkways snorting and dragging his injured leg .... a very Oedipal scenario .... but the resemblence between that scene and one in the film Jurassic Park [1993], where one of two children tries to hide in a similar metal cupboard in the visitor's centre kitchen.... (which also has a door that will not close)... while two Velociraptors snorting walk down the kitchen walkways hunting for them.... was so strong that it instantly merged the two scenes in my mind.' Comments, or further examples, anyone? Is the kitchen setting especially important here? If so, why?! (Tomorrow it's back to Hitchcock.)

August 26 - 1998
Was corresponding the other night with Fergal in the Irish Republic about Psycho (1960), including about the scene in Sam Loomis's hardware store in which the middle-aged lady considers buying a can of 'Spot' insecticide. 'They tell you what its ingredients are', she murmurs, 'and how it's guaranteed to exterminate every insect in the world, but they do not tell you whether or not it's painless. And', she adds, 'I say, insect or man, death should always be painless.' An audience laughs uneasily at this, as well they might. As Fergal noted, the scene follows hard on the shower-murder and clean-up. There's a certain element of comic bathos about the moment. (Cf. the famous knocking-at-the-gate after the murder of Duncan in 'Macbeth'.) Also, the lines are beautifully written, like practically all of Joseph Stefano's dialogue in Psycho. Here are some of the things I'd note about them. The phrase, 'guaranteed to exterminate every insect in the world', is especially black. Note: not 'every type of insect' but 'every insect' - ruthless total extermination, in fact! Likewise, the lady's solicitude is allowed to seem misplaced and lacking something: 'insect or man' implies that it's okay to kill even humans provided it's done painlessly and 'humanely'! Next, notice the cadence that Stefano gives the lines by such means as the use of conjunctions: 'and ... but ... And ...'. Combined with the reference to an unspecified 'They', the effect is to foreshadow the related lines at the end of the film in which 'Mrs Bates' intones, 'They are probably watching me - well, let them. ... I hope that they are watching, they will see, they will see and they will say, "why she wouldn't even harm a fly".' (Those final lines clearly pick up on the earlier ones in the hardware store.) But the topper of the scene with the lady in the hardware store is when she finally buys the insecticide (with a beatific smile on her face) not knowing whether it's painless - implying a certain complacency and/or phoney conventional caring, covering up a different nature entirely ...

August 25 - 1998
Something I finally dropped from an article I drafted recently on Under Capricorn (1949), Hitchcock's film set in Australia in the 1830s, was the following double-barrelled example of the director's deep understanding of ambience. Under Capricorn has a scene in which Lady Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman), as part of her self-rehabilitation from alcoholism and depression, goes to the kitchen whose running has hitherto been left to the ruthless housekeeper, Milly, and makes a point - in front of the kitchen staff - of burning the leather strap that has been kept there for 'disciplinary' use. Milly has been sent packing, and Lady Henrietta's intention is to establish a new, more humane régime. Of course, what the scene also suggests is her new state of mind towards herself, a state of mind that is more benign and forgiving than it has been for a long time - clearly a healthy sign. But there's something else. The burning of the strap acquires an extra resonance from the fact that the film is set in a penal colony, another harsh régime. In effect, Lady Henrietta's rehabilitation confirms her as an exemplary, inspirational presence in the film - and indeed the film's story does hinge on that fact (notably in a scene set in Government House, when the Hon. Charles Adare - Michael Wilding - is inspired to make a noble, 'freeing' gesture at the film's climax). I would compare the Under Capricorn kitchen scene, in a certain respect, with the one in Torn Curtain (1966) in which the agent Gromek (Wolfgang Kieling) is gassed to death with his head in a domestic oven. The setting is a peaceful, East German farmhouse - not too far removed geographically, as Hitchcock was aware and remarked in interviews, from similar 'peaceful' settings that had contained concentration camps with their own, grim ovens. (Still another ambience comes from 'Hansel and Gretel' - which, Hitchcock once noted, includes a moment when a witch is thrust into her own oven.)

August 24 - 1998
And now for something not quite completely different ... We're constantly speculating here on this site (and in 'The MacGuffin') about 'borrowings' by Hitchcock from other filmmakers and their films. A friend of mine, RC, has noted a parallel case of one film lifting material from another, though neither is a Hitchcock film. In Sam Wood's King's Row (1941), made for Warners, someone has a speech about the breakdown of the world into a state of madness. The very same speech turns up in Rudolph Maté's The Dark Past (1948), made for Columbia, and is delivered, I think, by the Lee J. Cobb character, a psychiatrist. I happened to mention another such borrowing (non-Hitchcock) on a newsgroup recently when someone asked about the final scene in a nightclub that ends Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957). The actress Suzanne Christian (Kubrick's wife) plays the novice singer who must perform to the cat-calls of the soldiers present, and bravely does so (leaving the viewer with very mixed emotions indeed). As I recall, that scene resembles very closely one in Richard Fleischer's The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955) ... Maybe readers of this site might have some similar instances to share? I'd be interested to hear them. Tomorrow: back to Hitchcock.

August 19 - 1998
Of course, it's significant that compassion is a 'feminine' quality and that compassion in The Birds is shown by (three) females only. The situation is perhaps different in Marnie (1964), where the remarkable Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) is the one who tells Marnie at the end, 'It's time to have compassion for yourself', implying that her compassion hitherto has been directed elsewhere - mainly to her beloved horse, Forio. But let's concentrate on The Birds for now. Precisely because compassion is a feminine trait, Hitchcock must have had reservations about how it may be applied, and by whom. In keeping with the finally hegemonic (orthodox) ideology that prevails in every Hitchcock film (even, say, Rope - see review on our New Publications page of Scott Paulin's article about music in that film), compassion is really only endorsed, without mockery, by Hitchcock when it comes from either the female or male side of a marriage, in which feminine and masculine principles have merged. Anything else, e.g., compassion shown by a spinster or a bachelor, tends to be depicted as somehow a sign of weakness. Cf. the note above (August 17) on Nietzsche's attitude to compassion; and cf. also the note on our FAQs page about the poet Keats's ambivalent attitude to 'negative capability' (empathy) which entails an essentially passive ('feminine') understanding. Nonetheless, I'm convinced that compassion mattered a great deal to the Catholic, sensitive, artistic Hitchcock - and that his understanding of what compassion could achieve was close to that of Schopenhauer, who raised compassion to a metaphysical principle of true-seeing in which 'Maya' (illusion) is overcome. (Schopenhauer had first noted that all of us are compounded of three warring traits - egoism, malice, and compassion, these 'present in everyone in different and incredibly unequal proportions' - which, I suggest, comes close to how Hitchcock depicts human beings in a film like The Birds.) But of course the realist in Hitchcock made him end The Birds on a downbeat, ambiguous note, which is only fitting. The film offers no easy 'outs' ...

August 18 - 1998
A message tonight from TG asks whether the notion of the death-drive used above is 'different from the literary concept that's been with us since "The Iliad"?' Yes, it is. Lacan's notion of the death-drive, as I understand it, refers to how we're all situated in the Symbolic (cultural/social) realm, whose signifying chain proceeds apace, regardless of the individual. We're all constantly being 'standardised', made inauthentic, separated from the Real - as, according to Lacan, we always were, from the moment that language got its clutches on each of us. (A case of Homer nodding?) As I've noted here previously, there's a close parallel with how Kant and Schopenhauer tell us that we're all more-or-less permanently separated from knowledge of the noumenal realm, of the Thing-in-itself. Now, bear with me. As noted last night, three of the women in The Birds show compassion when they utter the line 'Poor thing!' (Actually, Mrs Bundy says, 'Poor things!') The first is Annie Hayworth, the schoolteacher, when a seagull crashes into her front door in the moonlight, and breaks its neck. Annie is roughly the equivalent of Midge in Vertigo, another warm and compassionate woman - and loser. She'll later die, pecked to death, within a metre or two of where the seagull died. Mrs Bundy, the tweedy ornithologist, also expresses sorrow for our avian kin when she recalls how, on a previous occasion, a flock of seagulls had lost its way in a fog and blundered inland. (Camille Paglia notes, astutely, that Mrs Bundy has 'fantasies of Christian compassion', implied in her mention of cataloguing local bird-numbers in 'our Christmas count'.) Finally, Lydia Brenner says, 'Oh, poor thing!' - significantly about Melanie after her ordeal-by-bird-attack in the Brenner attic. Melanie at the end, bandaged and near-catatonic, is like a wounded bird herself. And that, as I see it, is the point. Schopenhauer, an animal-lover like Hitchcock, taught that, truly seen, there's no essential difference between the human and animal realms. If only we had access to noumenal knowledge, instead of being bound in subjectivity (the death-drive?), we'd see this - and be transformed. Schopenhauer's principal panacea? Compassion. More later.

August 17 - 1998
In Vertigo (1958), when Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) hears the story of 'the mad Carlotta, the sad Carlotta' told by Pop Liebel in the darkening bookshop, she says with feeling, 'Poor thing!' Scottie (James Stewart), on the other hand, gives Pop a curt thanks for his story and hastens from the shop, leaving Midge to follow. Later, at the film's climax on the mission bell-tower, Scottie tells Judy (Kim Novak) that her big mistake had been that of keeping a 'souvenir of a killing'. 'You shouldn't have been that sentimental', he almost gulps. (Yet what else has his pursuit of Judy been, in the second half of the film, than a kind of sentimental journey, seeking his lost Madeleine?) Robert Samuels, in 'Hitchcock's Bi-Textuality' (1998), suggests, somewhat confusingly (confusedly?), that Scottie is criticising Judy for not taking control of the Freudian/Lacanian death drive: 'one of the key functions of the death drive ... is the overcoming ... of sentimentality, especially the sentiments of shame, fear, and pity' (p. 91). Samuels, I think, is implying that Scottie's own agenda has been to conquer the death drive. In my article "The Fragments of the Mirror" (on this Web site), I give a slightly different reading of that agenda: I suggest that Scottie is an aspiring Nietzschean figure (for Nietzsche, pity and compassion were debilitating, except in the authentic 'Superman', and hence Nietzsche criticised such Christian values as turning the other cheek, loving one's neighbour, having compassion for those who are suffering). The two readings, Samuels's and mine, are thus compatible, for we seem to agree that Scottie has embarked on his own private mission of self-overcoming. But at what cost, the film seems to ask? (I always think here of Otto Preminger's 1963 film about an upwardly-mobile prelate, The Cardinal, which has a similar theme.) Certainly, the matter of compassion was important to Hitchcock: in The Birds (1963), he has no fewer than three different women (Annie, Mrs Bundy, Lydia) exclaim the line we heard Midge utter in Vertigo, 'Poor thing!' More later.

August 12 - 1998
On the newsgroups and even in the Melbourne 'Age' recently, they've been telling the story of how composer David Raskin, who had just written the haunting score for Fox's Laura (1944), thought that he was also going to write the score for Hitchcock's Lifeboat, made at the same studio. But Hitchcock changed his mind about having a score, saying that as the film was set on the open sea, it would be unrealistic to use music - the audience would wonder where the sound was coming from. It was an admirable aesthetic decision by Hitchcock - which he stuck to when he made the equally serious The Birds (1963) - but it piqued Raskin. 'Ask Mr Hitchcock where the cameras come from', he's reported to have said, 'and I'll tell him where the music comes from.' But of course Hitchcock was right, or at least was seeing more deeply than Raskin. For film is primarily a visual medium, and the visual is that which tends towards universality. At any rate, in a film, the camera is part of the donné, the given. Sound, on the other hand, is always local; and music is especially idiomatic - there is no 'universal' music. (Paradoxically, though, the addition of music to a situation can indeed help 'universalise' it, as I think is true of the 'case history' we're shown in Hitchcock's Marnie, 1964.) The only orchestral music heard in Lifeboat is behind the opening credits, as the 'mother-ship' sinks. Thereafter, everyone is on their own - there's no appeal to outside help. The addition of music would have blunted Hitchcock's very serious point.

August 11 - 1998
When the frightened mother in the Tides Restaurant in The Birds accuses us of being 'the cause of all this', I don't think she's only remarking on how we each create our own cinema inside our head, so to speak. I think she's also reminding us of our predatory nature, of how looking isn't a purely neutral act - it has an aggressive component. Being alive and being predatory are connected (as Schopenhauer, for one, well knew). Now, it's a fact that the author Charles Dickens (1812-1870), surely Hitchcock's main artistic forebear, was fascinated by waxworks and corpses: both, he once remarked, possess the 'one underlying expression of looking at something that could not return a look' (his italics). Eyes fascinated Dickens (see, for example, John Carey, 'The Violent Effigy: a study of Dickens's imagination', pp. 103-04), as I think they fascinated Hitchcock. And whenever in Hitchcock's films a look is returned directly to the camera, as by the murderer (Raymond Burr) in Rear Window (1954), the effect is complex. It can simultaneously startle us (because it goes against a film convention), make us feel uneasy (it's aggressive), and yet also make us feel acknowledged and that much more alive. Hitchcock was aware of all these matters; and I recall a line of dialogue that was going to be included in Vertigo (1958) and spoken by Judy (Kim Novak): 'You've got to prove you're alive, these days.' In the life-and-death world of The Birds, eyes are a special item of attention. 'Cover your eyes!' shouts Mitch, as the birds begin one of their attacks. It does the farmer Dan Fawcett no good, of course, for he dies horribly with his eyes pecked out (as we, and Lydia Brenner, see). It's the deep logic of the film that we feel that the birds' actions are somehow our own, that they emanate with us, though that we're also vulnerable ourselves, and hence the appropriateness of all the film's eye-imagery and of the frightened mother's accusatory gaze at us in the Tides Restaurant. But finally it all comes down to a matter of the nature of Will, of that which is everywhere and in everything, and is a life-force that is also a death-force (as Schopenhauer defined it). A 'no exit' situation, really.

August 10 - 1998
As I say on our New Publications page, practically the only criticism I can make of Camille Paglia's book on The Birds is that she she doesn't take the full measure of Hitchcock's 'subjective cinema'. Here's another example. After the birds' final dive-bombing of the Brenners' house, a lull occurs. 'They're going!', says Mitch (Rod Taylor). Three successive shots of individuals in close-up show each person, in turn, rising into the frame which is initially empty. Three times the frame is filled. Then the camera pulls back, showing the characters at full length, together ... What this does is involve the audience, who three times must say, 'What's going on here? ... Ah, now we see.' And finally what we see are the three main characters (Mitch, Melanie, Lydia) united by their ordeal. Which of course is the idea. But first we've had to be as puzzled as they have been: our visual puzzle (the empty frame) matchs their aural puzzle (the diminishing sound of the birds outside the house). Though Paglia misses all of this, she describes the actual shots splendidly: 'in flickering chiaroscuro from the fireplace ... the three figures ... [finally] stand stock-still, listening, turned to stone like entombed colossi. ... The scene is as beautifully blocked as in live theatre.' (p. 81) Now let's come back to the scene in the Tides Restaurant where the frightened mother accuses Melanie/the camera/ us: 'I think you're the cause of all this.' Given the subjective nature of Hitchcock's cinema, she's dead right, of course! Right from the start of the film, we've become more and more involved, just as Melanie has been getting more deeply involved with Mitch and the people of Bodega Bay. But Hitchcock's cinema is really doubly subjective, because it naturally partakes of the nature of our experiences generally. As Schopenhauer insisted, we're constantly bound in subjectivity. That's why he began his most famous book by saying, 'The world is my representation' - which I take to be the exact equivalent of what the frightened mother tells Melanie/us. We are watching the film, and thus in Schopenhauer's sense we are making or causing it to happen! But there's still another aspect of this moment in which the mother gazes straight at the camera, and I'll talk about that tomorrow.

August 6 - 1998
In The Birds, when the birds are massing for an aerial bombardment outside the Tides Restaurant, Mitch confers with the fisherman Sebastian and proposes a strategy of making smoke-bombs to confuse the attackers, just as fog has done in the past. Camille Paglia has a clever observation about this: '"Make our own fog!" - [is this] a wry comment by the script on the human hunger for meaning?' (p. 71) It may well be, and Paglia has her own explanation of the birds. She sees the crows who attack the school children 'as Colridgean emissaries vandalising sentimental Wordsworthian notions of childhood' (p. 67). You think of how Wordsworth is effectively mocked early in Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972) when a politician who is glibly quoting him ('Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive!') is suddenly interrupted by the presence of a dead body ... Hitchcock of course delights in defeating everybody's complacent notions, and The Birds may be the ultimate example of what I call his 'outflanking technique'. I agree with Paglia that the birds represent an 'enormous unknowable force, much greater than human life', which is why I see them as embodying 'Will' (which Schopenhauer likened to a life-force that is also a death-force), but even that way of thinking about them by Paglia may not be adequate as a definition. It rather reifies the birds as (mere) force. When the frightened mother addresses the camera and says, 'I think you're the cause of all this', Paglia can only say that the moment has 'a mythic power' (p. 74). In fact, it's an excellent example of how, when confronted (so to speak) by the world's Will, which Schopenhauer further defined as the mysterious Thing-in-itself, human grasp is plainly inadequate. (See last night's entry.) In making Lifeboat (1944), Hitchcock said that he intended to show up the Allies' disunity so that they might then find common cause against their enemy, the Nazi. Effectively, The Birds operates on a similar principle, first showing up individual (subjective) inadequacy so that a truer knowledge may be arrived at. (Which isn't to say that the birds are our natural enemy, and young Cathy's line at the end about the love-birds may be a nod to that fact.)

August 5 - 1998
Note that Suddenly, Last Summer gives us a son-dependent mother who finally goes 'psycho', whereas Psycho reverses the situation by giving us a mother-dependent son who finally ... And in both cases, there's a strange interiority at the end, in which different identities merge, and the viewer may wonder just who is who - and whether s/he, the viewer, isn't just a bit 'psycho', too! (However, both films are careful to also leave us with a feeling of having been extricated from the mire, or swamp: e.g., in Suddenly, Last Summer, the character played by Elizabeth Taylor is 'saved'.) I see here a paradigm for the 'subjectivity' of The Birds, in which the viewer is again 'implicated' in the story. That's what I want to talk about tonight. There are a couple of key shots. One is the literally birds'-eye view of Bodega Bay after fire has broken out in the town square (outside the Tides Restaurant). This always reminds me of a scene from Turgenev's story 'Ghosts' describing 'the earth as seen from above, when the humans look small and unimportant and are locked in eternal struggle with blind forces which they cannot control' - a scene, Turgenev's biographer tells us, that was inspired by a passage in Schopenhauer. And the other key shot in The Birds occurs when the frightened mother inside the Tides Restaurant turns to Melanie Daniels - and us (represented by the camera lens) - and says, 'I think you're the cause of all this'. This really turns the tables on us with a vengeance, because each viewer naturally wonders what has caused the birds to attack! As Kant and Schopenhauer remind us, the idea of a causal principle which 'authorizes us everywhere to search for the why' is inherent in all our dealings with the world. Schopenhauer calls it 'the principle of sufficient reason'. However, what he also tells us is that beyond all our explanations is another, greater reality, Kant's Ding-an-sich (the Thing-in-itself), which is unknowable. Schopenhauer called it the world's 'Will'. Okay. As I've said here before, I see the birds in Hitchcock's film as finally representing the inexplicable: they function as Will. Camille Paglia, though, sees the birds as expressing the film's (Coleridgean) 'vision of nature as savage ... as this enormous unknowable force, much greater than human life'. Is there a difference in our views? Find out tomorrow!

August 4 - 1998
One of the films that Hitchcock certainly saw, as part of his mandatory research, when he was making Psycho (1960) was Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), adapted from the 1958 play by Tennessee Williams. It stars Katherine Hepburn as the possessive, oddball mother, Montgomery Clift as the ambivalent young neuro-surgeon, and Elizabeth Taylor as the young woman whom the Hepburn character wants lobotomised because she effectively knows too much ... In Camille Paglia's great monograph on The Birds, she notes a likely influence on that film of the Tennessee Williams play, and refers to the latter's vision of nature as voracious: as the character Mrs Venables says, 'We're all of us trapped by this devouring creation.' In turn, Paglia speculates that the possessive Mrs Brenner in The Birds effectively 'lobotomises' Melanie Daniels ('Tippi' Hedren), her rival for her son Mitch (Rod Taylor), and notes that by the end of the film Melanie is 'out of her mind' (p. 87). I agree with Paglia that the influence is likely (or, anyway, that a parallel exists), and tonight I simply want to point out how Suddenly, Last Summer has other echoes in Hitchcock's films that Paglia hasn't recorded. First, the possessive mother with a sexually ambivalent or gay son (the homosexual Sebastian in Mankiewicz's film) is one obvious parallel with Psycho that Hitchcock would have immediately spotted. Note that by the end of Suddenly, Last Summer the viewer somehow thinks of the Clift character as a 'double' for the dead Sebastian (both have occasion to dress in white, for example). And indeed Mrs Venables finally goes 'psycho' and does address the doctor as Sebastian. Bird imagery and the line about how we're all 'trapped' are further parallels between the two films. But there's something else. Sebastian, we're told, had once thought to 'give up the torments of this world and become a Buddhist monk'. Is this the inspiration for why Norman at the end of Psycho so much resembles a Buddhist monk - as discussed on our FAQs page? Certainly the final flashback of Suddenly, Last Summer is the structural model for the climactic scene of Hitchcock's Marnie (1964)! More later.

August 3 - 1998
An enthusiastic review of Camille Paglia's BFI monograph on Hitchcock's The Birds is now up on our New Publications page. I note there that Paglia locates the film in the line of Coleridge and British Romanticism, and I say how well this fits with my own 'Schopenhauerian' understanding of the film. 'Coleridge and Schopenhauer', I point out, 'were contemporaries, deeply influenced by Plato and Kant; and both held that animal nature is red in tooth and claw.' Tonight I received a message from friend TG suggesting that it's wrong to mix Coleridge and Kant. But Coleridge-authority Kathleen Raine disagrees. 'As a young man', she notes, 'Coleridge visited Germany in order to study the language and philosophy of Kant and Schelling, with whom he has many affinities.' Also, Raine notes that '[f]or Coleridge, both as Christian and Platonist, and as transcendendalist, mind is primary ... he considered Imagination to be "the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM."' Paglia's chapter on Coleridge in her great book 'Sexual Personae' comments that '[t]he self-divinizing Romantic poet displaces Jehovah'. This is very close, I suggest, to Schopenhauer's notion of genius - and what I call elsewhere on this Web site 'the transcendental pretence', something that's effectively critiqued by Hitchcock's own Vertigo (1958). Moreover, it seems to me that the line of Coleridge and Romanticism that Paglia detects in The Birds may in fact have arrived there via Germany, so to speak. As for the idea that 'nature can be awfully rough on you' (as Hitchcock said apropos The Birds), that's quite in keeping with Schopenhauer's understanding. For him, 'the world of nature is a world of perpetual screaming. Schopenhauer's view of this is a nightmare vision' (Bryan Magee, 'The Great Philosophers', 1987). Paglia notes that initial sketches by art-designer Robert Boyle for The Birds were based on Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' (1893) - a work often considered pre-(German) Expressionist. Okay. This has all been preliminary. Tomorrow the fun begins.

July 29 - 1998
Speaking of Rebecca ... I 've just put up on our New Publications page a review of an article by Rhona J. Berenstein comparing the 'lesbian' content of Hitchcock's film with Lewis Allen's 'ghost' film, The Uninvited (1944). Readers of this Web site (and of 'MacGuffin' 11) may recall that we've previously noted how The Uninvited seems in turn to have influenced Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958): e.g., such matters as the latter's clifftop scene where Madeleine seems intent on committing suicide, and even the name of Madeleine's Spanish ancestor, Carlotta (though in The Uninvited the Spanish ancestor is in fact called Carmel). Here's just one of Berenstein's points. Joseph Breen was head of the Production Code Administration (PCA) at the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA); early on, he looked at the script of Rebecca and told producer David O. Selznick that 'there [can] be no suggestion whatever of a perverted relationship between Mrs Danvers and Rebecca'. Nonetheless, Hitchcock went ahead and filmed the scene in Rebecca's bedroom exactly as it was in the script, and other matters required the barest of script revisions. Berenstein comments : 'A [likely] contributing factor to Breen's approval of the final cut is that he believed that if overt intimations of perversion were excised (for example, Mrs Danvers's claim that Rebecca despised all men was deleted), then the code was upheld' (p. 18). To that I'd add that Hitchcock certainly learnt at this time the value of appearing to show 'nothing' and letting the context make the point anyway. For example, it helped that the actress playing Mrs Danvers, Australian Judith (later Dame Judith) Anderson, was herself a lesbian. (Similar casting was later applied by Hitchcock to the two gay killers in Rope.) Likewise, I'm reminded of the moment in Psycho (1960) where a close-up of the spine of a book in Norman's bedroom shows the book to be untitled. Hitchcock included the shot anyway (and Lila Crane's lack of reaction) - though a reading of Robert Bloch's original novel shows that the book was in fact pornographic ...

July 28 - 1998
And if we're talking about some 'sources' for Marnie (the last couple of entries here), then why not for The Birds (1963)? I don't mean Daphne du Maurier's chilling short story, which Hitchcock had recently read when he was researching stories (as I recall) for his TV series. I mean, rather, other stories and films that may have also been in Hitchcock's and novelist Evan Hunter's minds when they were working on the screenplay. I'd say that one film that influenced them was Stanley Kramer's On the Beach (1959), from the excellent end-of-the-world novel by Nevil Shute. A couple of the film's stars were Gregory Peck and Tony Perkins (also Ava Gardner - surely an influence on the casting of Susan Pleshette in The Birds); and its matter-of-fact but strangely moving treatment of its apocalyptic theme had a quiet dignity and effectiveness. Hitchcock may have seen an opportunity to emulate that effect in the more obviously imaginative genre that Daphne du Maurier's story represented. Interestingly, the beach- and sea-imagery is a 'natural' for such stories, with its reminder that human life emerged from the sea in the first place. (I'd argue that in Hitchcock's films the sea is often also a symbol of primary 'Will', as are the birds themselves in this particular film - I noted on this site recently how the bird attacks tend to come in 'waves' and have a 'tidal' quality.) In Nevil Shute's novel, there's even a scene in which Commander Dwight Towers (the Gregory Peck character) takes his submarine along the US coast after the nuclear war and passes Santa Rosa (near Bodega Bay) on his way to checking out San Francisco - where the Golden Gate Bridge has been knocked out. (Hitchcock wanted to end The Birds with a shot of birds massing on the Golden Gate Bridge.) As for other stories that offer precedents, I'm grateful to Leslie Shepard in the Irish Republic who has drawn my attention to such short stories as Frank Baker's 'The Birds' (1935) and Philip MacDonald's 'Our Feathered Friends' (date unknown). I read the latter the other day, and noted that like Hitchcock's film (and unlike Daphne du Maurier's tale) it focuses on a young couple. Novelist Philip MacDonald worked on the screenplay of Hitchcock's adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1940) ...

July 27 - 1998
More about influences on Marnie, etc. When Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) at afternoon tea pointedly asks inquisitive sister-in-law Lil Mainwaring (Diane Baker) whether she'll be taking lemon with her tea, I suspect that he's echoing a line from James Whale's The Old Dark House (1932). There, Penderel (Melvyn Douglas) innocently inquires of the sour, hostile Rebecca Femm (Eva Moore), 'Vinegar, Miss Femm?' James Whale was of course a British stage-director who went to Hollywood; The Old Dark House was based on the novel 'Benighted' by J.B. Priestley, and the screenplay was written in part by Benn Levy who had worked on Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929). In any case, Whale's influence on Hitchcock is detectable in at least a couple of other instances. The memorable scene with the hermit in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) finds an echo in Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942). And a shock moment in both Bride and the same director's The Man in the Iron Mask (1939), involving a quick succession of angled jump-cuts, was quietly echoed (as Leslie Halliwell has noted) in Hitchcock's The Birds (1963). And now here's another 'source' of Marnie. Remember the moment when a louring Strutt accompanies Marnie into dinner? I'd say Hitchcock himself had remembered here a scene from Robert Z. Leonard's Pride and Prejudice (1940), in which a butler announces, 'Dinner is served', and there's a grim procession into the dining-room led by Lady Catherine de Burgh (Edna May Oliver); the heroine Elizabeth (Greer Garson) finds herself escorted by the detestable Mr Collins (Melville Cooper - seen the same year in Hitchcock's Rebecca).

July 22 - 1998
Last night I suggested how Kazan's On the Waterfront, starring Brando (and with Karl Malden in a supporting role) may have impressed and influenced Hitchcock. An earlier Kazan film, also starring Brando, A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), had certainly had that effect on Hitchcock. The famous scene in Streetcar in which Stanley (Brando) stands on an outside staircase and shouts 'Stellaaaaa', provided the setting - an identical staircase - for the scene in Hitchcock's I Confess (1952) in which Anne Baxter in misty slow-motion descends a curving flight of stairs towards her lover (Montgomery Clift). The connection between the two films is underlined by Karl Malden's presence in both. But I said last night that I'd also comment on the ship scene in Hitchcock's Marnie. One possible inspiration for that looming ship at the end of the street in Baltimore where Marnie's mother lives, may have been the immense liner seen in the background of several shots of On the Waterfront. If so, there was also another influence. Hitchcock's brilliant matte-artist Albert Whitlock (The Birds, Marnie, etc.) told me that Hitchcock had remembered a scene from his own childhood in London. He'd been visiting a poor Thames-side area when he suddenly turned into a street running down to the river and had seen an enormous ship moored at the end of it. The ship quite dominated the nearby houses. It was a memorable sight. When Hitchcock re-created it in Marnie, it managed to suggest the sheer oppressiveness of Marnie's mother's house to Marnie herself because of a traumatic incident when Marnie was a child. The unreal look of the scene in Marnie is very fitting, since the oppressiveness is a private, subjective thing inside Marnie's head. Even the wetness of the backdrop used in some shots (which some people complain about) is very right - it carries a suggestion of tearfulness (cf. a line in Family Plot about banishing 'the tears of the past').

July 21 - 1998
I feel sure that Hitchcock saw and liked Elia Kazan's Academy Award-winning On the Waterfront (1954), starring Marlon Brando. Its co-star was the blonde newcomer Eva Marie Saint whom Hitchcock would transform in a typical Hitchcock fashion (rather like Cinderella is magically transformed in the fairy-tale!) in North by Northwest (1959), where Saint plays the foreign spy's mistress, Eve Kendall. (Camille Paglia has rightly dwelt recently on how Hitchcock personally supervised every aspect of Saint's wardrobe for his film.) Her character in On the Waterfront is a member of a poor Catholic family, the sister of the dead Joey Doyle who had ratted on the corrupt Union. In an early scene, we see her combing that blonde hair of hers with an ornamental hairbrush. Later, she'll try to beat off the Brando character with it, because she knows that he had helped set up Joey to be killed - yet she now finds herself attracted to the Brando character's attentions. Those two scenes may well have suggested to Hitchcock the scene in The Wrong Man (1956) where he has Vera Miles, another blonde, strike her husband (Henry Fonda) with a similar hairbrush. You can see the influence of Kazan's film on Hitchcock's in other ways, such as similar use of atmospheric shots of wintry streets with steam rising from gratings. Likewise, Kazan has a scene in a street where Terry (Brando) admits to Saint's character his part in her brother's death, and the details of what he says are drowned out by the sound of waterfront whistles: this may have suggested to Hitchcock the airport scene in North by Northwest between Cary Grant and Saint where Grant's words are drowned out by the sound of an airplane starting up. And again, several scenes in On the Waterfront show a huge liner moored at the dock, and clearly that liner symbolises the great beyond that's so out of reach of the film's characters (cf. Terry's lament, 'I coulda been a contender'). I suspect an influence on the ship in Hitchcock's Marnie (1964), though, if so, it wasn't the only influence. More tomorrow.

July 20 - 1998
Hitchcock's favourite author, John Buchan, had his prejudices. (But we all have prejudices, or a tendency to think in stereotypes, says a recent article by Annie Paul in 'Psychology Today' magazine.) You can see such prejudices towards Jews and homosexuals in 'The Thirty-Nine Steps' (1915). Praise to Hitchcock for not echoing them in his film-version. Now, much good work on Buchan's ambivalent attitude towards Jews has been done by scholar Bryan Cheyette, notably in his book 'Constructions of "the Jew" in English literature and society' (1993). Something that Dr Cheyette shows is that Buchan admired some individual Jews (e.g., Disraeli) and also felt mystically attracted to the idea of a mythic unity of Jews and non-Jews in an original Edenic setting; yet he also carried some of the popular prejudices against Jews, and often linked his villains to a Jewish-backed conspiracy (as in 'The Thirty-Nine Steps', and in 'Huntingtower', 1922). Something that occurs to me is how there's a similar ambivalence in Buchan towards both Nietzsche's idea of the Übermensch (as in 'The Power-House', 1913) and towards socialism (freedom must be worked for by the individual qua individual is a sentiment flung at some 'misguided' former Russian serfs at the end of 'Huntingtower'). And as I've noted elsewhere on this Web site, Hitchcock himself harboured some similar ambivalences: for example, he spoke privately of 'the moronic masses', i.e., his public! The passage in Buchan's 'The Power-House' in which its Nietzschean villain is put in his place includes the following: '"You love power, hidden power. You flatter your vanity by despising mankind and making them your tools. You scorn the smattering of inaccuracies which passes for human knowledge, and I will not venture to say you are wrong. Therefore, you use your brains to frustrate it. Unhappily, the life of millions is built on that smattering, so you are a foe to society."' There, you almost feel, speaks the director of Lifeboat (1944), whose nominal villain is the Nazi named Will(y), and whose Allied represenatatives behave at one point, in Hitchcock's words, 'like a pack of animals'. Many of Hitchcock's films are constructed on an ambivalence parallel to the one that's in Lifeboat ...

July 16 - 1998
I think that there's a further 'meaning' to the strange glance that Scottie gives the chandelier at the McKittrick Hotel in Vertigo. I wasn't going to mention this because I wasn't sure how I could verify it. But today I had occasion to re-read part of 'D'Entre les Morts', the brilliant novel by Boileau and Narcejac which Hitchcock's film follows quite closely in many respects. The novel is profoundly mystical, drawing on many traditions and myths in presenting its theme of the Scottie character's quest to be 'free' (of the past, of ignorance, of death), and seeing the object of his quest embodied in the elusive Madeleine. In the novel, Madeleine envies the alleged passivity of animals. She says, 'I don't pity animals at all. On the contrary. They eat, they sleep, and they're innocent. They have no pasts and no futures.' She also says, 'I wish it was possible to stop thinking altogether.' The Scottie character snorts, 'Some philosophy, that!', but you sense that his fascination with the often strangely passive and remote Madeleine is growing by the minute. He knows what Madeleine is driving at, and it's something that isn't perhaps just a death-wish but more what philosophers call 'detachment'. Hitchcock loved to find designs that could express motifs in his films (e.g., the 'criss-cross' imagery of interlocking lives in Strangers on a Train and Family Plot). Well, when Scottie looks up at that magnificent chandelier at the McKittrick Hotel in Vertigo, he isn't just admiring its design and age. Nor is the shot just a transitional one, a 'pillow-shot'. The chandelier consists of crystal pendants that hang off it, and the chandelier itself hangs from the ceiling. And that image says in effect that 'everything is attached to something else'. Poor Scottie! A part of him wants so much to be non-attached, not to be always left hanging (as we saw him literally hanging at the start of the film). Hence a profound paradox: he wants to be 'attached' to Madeleine/Judy because he senses that she offers him 'freedom' ...

July 15 - 1998
More thoughts about the McKittrick Hotel episode of Vertigo. First, as I noted yesterday, Madeleine's 'disappearing act' belongs to a certain tradition of melodrama, involving a 'big lie' and often engineered by a criminal mastermind. The McKittrick Hotel episode is part of a larger deception involving a murder plot by the villainous Gavin Elster and designed to play on the hero Scottie's 'weakness', nominally his fear of heights (though clearly his fear is more, or other, than just that). A classic fictional example of the 'big lie' will be found in the English novel 'The Woman in White' (1860) by William Wilkie Collins, whom Hitchcock called 'quite brilliant'. (Hitchcock's actress daughter, Patricia, appeared in a television production of the novel in the early 1950s ...) Its opera-loving villain, Count Fosco, has been called 'the most brilliantly portrayed villain in mystery fiction'. Interestingly, Collins took many of his story's details from a real-life French case, the sensational Douhault lawsuit of the 18th century. Let me recommend the novel - it's one of my favourites. Now, in a separate but related tradition is the well-known tale of 'the vanishing lady' (perhaps Gavin Elster had heard it?!). The author of 'The Lodger', Mrs Belloc Lowndes, wrote an early version, 'The End of Her Honeymoon' (1913). Another version is set on a train and was filmed by Hitchcock as The Lady Vanishes (1938), from the novel by Ethel Lina White. It, too, is a 'big lie' story. Finally, here's a separate matter again. The person who asked about the McKittrick Hotel scene mentioned the chandelier that Scottie looks at. It represents the elegance of the old days when Carlotta Valdes (we're told) lived in this building. The chandelier and its glass pendants fit with all the other imagery of 'suspension' and 'hanging' in the film (e.g., a brassière 'designed on the principle of the cantilever bridge'!). Maybe I'll say more on this another time.

July 14 - 1998
Someone was asking about the McKittrick Hotel scene in Vertigo (1958), and I referred them to the article "Out of Hitchcock's Filing Cabinet" that's on this Web site. There, I show how the basic idea of Madeleine's 'disappearing act' comes from the Curtis Bernhardt film Conflict (1945), starring Humphrey Bogart. (In both films, it's a trick, a put-up job, with the respective landladies in on the act - literally an act, since the landladies and the respective women who disappear are playing roles and are presumably well-paid for their trouble.) But there are other, related precedents. Notably, German ex-patriate Bernhardt had made an earlier film, Carrefour/Crossroads, in 1938, in France. The plot of that film concerns amnesia. The film's evil mastermind (Charles Vanel) learns of a diplomat who has lost part of his memory, and sees in this an opportunity for blackmail. He employs an elderly actress to impersonate the diplomat's mother and help convince him that he has committed a crime. In other words, Bernhardt's Conflict was drawing on a device from his earlier film. Next, that film was remade in Hollywood in 1942, as Crossroads, when it was directed by Jack Conway for MGM. The evil mastermind figure was played by Basil Rathbone, and his victim by William Powell (one of Hitchcock's favourite actors). You could say with some validity that Rathbone is a predecessor of Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) in Vertigo, and William Powell a forerunner of that film's Scottie (James Stewart), whom Elster dupes by playing on his infirmity - not amnesia in Scottie's case, but acrophobia (fear of heights). This is all part of a still larger tradition of melodrama (and German Expressionism), as I show in another article, "The Fragments of the Mirror: Vertigo and its Sources", originally published in 'MacGuffin' 11, and which I'm currently revising for publication elsewhere. More later.

July 13 - 1998
What's a good analogy for the job of a film director? A friend of mine suggested 'an orchestra conductor', and you can easily see what she means. But if that's truly what a director is like, then how come people who like to 'diminish' someone like Hitchcock (e.g., a writer last year in the London 'Spectator') use the same analogy? Actually, I think that Hitchcock himself adduced what may be the best illustration. In the 1930s, he observed that a film director is like the editor of a newspaper - and not just any newspaper. 'The man who understands the psychology of the public better than anybody else today', he said, 'is the editor of the successful, popular modern newspaper. He deals to a great extent in melodrama. The modern treatment of news, with its simple statement, which makes the reader "live" the story, is brilliant in its analysis of the public mind.' (This is from a little-known article by Hitchcock, defending his use of 'melodrama' in his films. We'll print the full article in a future 'MacGuffin'. Hitchcock adds that for him 'melodrama' amounts to 'ultra-realism' and that 'all my thinking has led me to the conclusion that that is the only road to screen realism that will still be entertainment'.) Of course, his own thinking didn't stop there, and by the 1940s, in films like Rebecca, Suspicion, Shadow of a Doubt, and Spellbound, he was making sophisticated psychological studies of some of his characters, in which the very look and shape of the film reflected that psychology. Nonetheless, the need for the viewer to 'live' the story was always a main preoccupation of Hitchcock. Both his stories and his characters had to be somehow 'topical' ...

July 9 - 1998
Something I meant to note about The 39 Steps (1935) when I was discussing it here recently, was how it begins on an image of light: the neon sign of the London music hall where Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) encounters the mysterious spy, Annabella Smith. That image - like neon signs in countless other Hitchcock films - represents the city as a place of Life. (Dr Samuel Johnson once said: 'When a man is tired of London, he's tired of life.') Significantly, when Hannay goes on the run, after the death of Annabella, and arrives at the Scottish crofter's cottage, he there meets the young wife named Margaret (Peggy Ashcroft), who confides to him how much she misses the lights of Glascow on a Saturday night. You feel Hannay's tenderness towards her - and notice one of the patterns of the film, namely, Hannay's constant sexual frustration which had begun when Annabella was killed in his flat. He'd originally expected to spend the night with her. In a way, her sudden death is the equivalent of how, in Vertigo (1958), Scottie initially sees a colleague fall to his death, and then spends much of the rest of the film trying to attone, or account, for what had happened. Scottie's love-object becomes the mysterious Madeleine, though her apparent death all too soon frustrates his design. Likewise, in The 39 Steps, Hannay soon meets the blonde Pamela (Madeleine Carroll), but never quite manages to consumate his feelings towards her: not least because of the awkward fact that for much of the time they're handcuffed together! However, the film's climax back in London, at the Palladium, stresses light and life (e.g., the line of high-kicking chorus-girls), and promises release at last ...June 13 What's a good analogy for the job of a film director? A friend of mine suggested 'an orchestra conductor', and you can easily see what she means. But if that's truly what a director is like, then how come people who like to 'diminish' someone like Hitchcock (e.g., a writer last year in the London 'Spectator') use the same analogy? Actually, I think that Hitchcock himself adduced what may be the best illustration. In the 1930s, he observed that a film director is like the editor of a newspaper - and not just any newspaper. 'The man who understands the psychology of the public better than anybody else today', he said, 'is the editor of the successful, popular modern newspaper. He deals to a great extent in melodrama. The modern treatment of news, with its simple statement, which makes the reader "live" the story, is brilliant in its analysis of the public mind.' (This is from a little-known article by Hitchcock, defending his use of 'melodrama' in his films. We'll print the full article in a future 'MacGuffin'. Hitchcock adds that for him 'melodrama' amounts to 'ultra-realism' and that 'all my thinking has led me to the conclusion that that is the only road to screen realism that will still be entertainment'.) Of course, his own thinking didn't stop there, and by the 1940s, in films like Rebecca, Suspicion, Shadow of a Doubt, and Spellbound, he was making sophisticated psychological studies of some of his characters, in which the very look and shape of the film reflected that psychology. Nonetheless, the need for the viewer to 'live' the story was always a main preoccupation of Hitchcock. Both his stories and his characters had to be somehow 'topical' ...

July 8 - 1998
More on Suspicion. One reason I cited the opening of the film (up to the wind-blown scene on the hillock) is how well it supports my general contention that H's films are often analogous to Will, a life-force that is also a death-force. Very often, and appropriately, H links Will with images of nature (cf my thoughts on The Birds above, July 1). The image of a wind-blown hillock prefigures Spellbound, where wind-blown leaves suggest the mutability of all things, even marriage. And H is right to link all of this to nature, rather than to exclude nature from his schema, as a presumptuous modern theorist like Foucault does (according to Camille Paglia the other day). The dandy in H - the Oscar Wilde part of him - may have felt a certain disdain for nature (Wilde said that his mission was to improve on nature!), but another part of him knew that he could never actually defeat nature. I think that you feel this wise ambivalence in any number of H films, including Suspicion. The other reason I dwelt last night on that film's opening is because it anticipates the remainder of the film. For example, Johnnie defeats the father-figure, the railway ticket-inspector, here - by borrowing some stamps from Lina. But it's perhaps the last time. When Lina's father dies without leaving her and Johnnie a substantial inheritance, Johnnie addresses the General's portrait, 'You win, old boy'. As his debts continue to mount (beyond rather more than the penny- halfpenny that he owed the ticket-inspector), Johnnie first embezzles £2,000 from his employer, another ex-military man (it seems), Captain Melbeck. Then, found out, he contrives various schemes to repay the money. Increasingly desperate, he hits on the idea of insuring his wife's life, then poisoning her. In the ending H wanted, a masochistically-loving Lina (something implied by the hillock scene and its aftermath) would have knowingly consented to her own death, though not without giving Johnnie a letter to mail that would have incriminated him. Thus he would have finally repaid both his debt to society and the penny-halfpenny in stamps that he'd borrowed from her at the outset.

July 7 - 1998
Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941) begins where North by Northwest (1959) ends - with a train entering a tunnel. The connotations are similar, implying the onset and unknown future course of a marriage. Appropriately, the tunnel scene in Suspicion starts with the shriek of the train, since this particular marriage is going to be beset by many 'alarums and excursions' - but then, aren't all marriages? As I've said before, Suspicion is almost a surreal account of a marriage, not unlike Bunuel's El (1953) in that respect. Of course, when Lina (Joan Fontaine) and Johnnie (Cary Grant) first meet in the opening scene on the train, they don't yet know that they're destined to marry. This makes the situation a bit like the conception of a marriage, à la the conception of a child - and so the train entering the tunnel in Suspicion may indeed be thought of as a phallic (or copulation) symbol, as H called the corresponding shot in North by Northwest. And the progression of events to the actual marriage (in a registry office, with rain running down the window) is like the relatively untroubled time when the child is gestating in its mother's womb. (The further implication, that the actual marriage is like a birth or an awakening, prefigures some of the symbolism of Spellbound, 1945.) But let's return to the scene on the train. Lina's dowdy and repressed side is established: she's a governess, wearing glasses and reading a book on child psychology. By contrast, playboy Johnnie is already his irresponsible self, falling foul of father-figures (here, a railway ticket-inspector) and getting round them with his usual aplomb. The next scene, at a fox hunt, reverses things to this extent: that we see the 'other' Lina, the confident and expert horse-rider, and another side of Johnnie, who is now clearly rather bored with his usual company. But the noise and movement of the hunt scene continues the dynamic of the scene on the train and maintains its sexual connotation. This dynamic reaches its first climax in the key scene on the wind-blown hillock where the 'two' Linas contend with each other - as they'll continue to do for the rest of the film. More later.

July 6 - 1998
Speaking of Robert Samuels's 'Hitchcock's Bi-Textuality' (as I was in the last entry - see also our New Publications page), I received tonight this neat thought from friend JLK in California ... 'Sorry Ken, but upon glancing through Samuels' book it appeared to me, since I did not see a meaningful sentence, that it was just incomprehensible drivel. Then I saw one paragraph that was meaningful in the sense that it could be verified as true or false --- the slur on the masculinity of Caldicott and Charters, supported only by the assertion that they were in bed together sans pants. But to anyone who has seen The Lady Vanishes [1938] it is clear that one is wearing the pajama top and the other the bottom. So here we have another case of a self-styled Hitchcock "scholar" who apparently has not bothered to study the movies he writes about. For if Samuels had studied the movie, and with the psychoanalytic knowledge that the book cover claims, he would have noted that the following dialogue describes unambiguously the characters' sexuality. Upon being told they could have the servant girl's room and being introduced to her, Caldicott says "Pity we can't have one each" --- pause for Charters' 'What?'--- "room, I mean." Here the character reveals through humor his desire for a female, but he is unable to express this openly, even to his friend because of their social class (vide Freud's "Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious"). He then declares a preference for separate quarters, to which Charters accedes. This scene ... thus shows the two gentlemen are clearly heterosexual, and evidently respectable married men (possibly on a business trip). For, were they bachelors, they would speak more openly about the girl; but our characters do not, since it would show a disrespect for their wives. They must mask their feelings through humor. Is it part of the agenda of gender-scholars today to seek for homosexuality everywhere, even almongst fictional characters?' (KM's answer: yes, it would almost seem so!)

July 2 - 1998
Congratulations to Dan Auiler for his solid book, 'Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic' (my copy came today, thanks Dan!). I describe the book as 'solid' for a reason: it is both substantial and decidedly non-abstract. It puts you back in touch with the whole vast project that Vertigo was, and thereby re-awakens your sense of the actual film - better than much analytic criticism does. I'm reminded of what I said above (June 16) about Marnie, that its 'marvellously dense texture ... doesn't need psychoanalysis to reveal or justify it'. So many intellectual writers about particular films tend to use them as Rorschach blots on which to project abstract theories of sometimes dubious relevance (cf. entry for June 25, above). Something I'm grateful for in Dan Auiler's book is Saul Bass's description of what he sought to suggest in the titles-sequence. First, we're introduced to the face of a woman who in the film will be 'put together piece by piece'. Later, we see a succession of colourful and beautiful spirals emerge from the woman's eye, as if we're now being shown what the woman means to the man who pieces her together. These Lissajous spiral designs, named after a French mathematician of the 19th century (and created for the film by John Whitney), had come to obsess Bass: 'so I knew a little of what Hitch was driving at. I wanted to express the mood of this film about love and obsession.' (p. 155) Having said that, though, I'd like to note how the eye-image relates to the idea of 'unknowableness' and 'nothingness' mentioned above (June 30, July 1) as being a recurring motif in Hitchcock. Clearly, nothingness calls forth notions or images to fill it! And though Bass doesn't compare the Lissajous spirals to the structure of a moebious strip - invoked by Robert Samuels ('Hitchcock's Bi-Textuality') in his discussion of Vertigo, where he says that such designs imply the man's reawakened bisexual state of infancy (!) - who's to say that such thoughts weren't part of Bass's obsession (and are part of Scottie's obsession in the film)? I'm sorry, reader: I tried not to be abstract!

July 1 - 1998
What I'm saying about The Birds is this. That what the birds 'represent' is finally unknowable, and that the reasons for why they are attacking people are ultimately mysterious - though there are several prosaic explanations offered by people in the film (e.g., a shortage of food) and several, essentially subjective attitudes expressed about what to do about them (e.g., get guns and wipe them off the face of the earth). Thus, collectively, the birds are like Will, the unknowable Thing-in-itself, which Schopenhauer equated with a 'life-force' that is also a 'death-force', something blind and ungovernable Its main symbol in a film like Lifeboat (1944) is the all-surrounding, restless, ungovernable ocean; its main symbol in The Birds is the birds themselves. Schopenhauer also said that we can never really 'see' Will (reality), which is one and indivisible, but only its countless and infinitely varied manifestations, called Representation (appearance). We noted here recently (e.g., June 15) that many of Hitchcock's films are 'about' nothing, and contain images of nothingness (e.g., the prairie in North by Northwest); and perhaps those films are also 'about' the folly of thinking that we know the unknowable, the hubris of mistaking appearance for reality. Those images of nothingness are included in the films to bring a particular character, such as Roger Thornhill, to a position of apparent defeat - after which, there may be another, richer knowledge/experience to be had (see, for example, 'Thoughts on North by Northwest and its title', elsewhere on this Web site). Now let's come back to The Birds. The bird-attacks occur at intervals: you feel that they are almost 'tidal', a force of nature, not unlike the nearby sea. Also, the birds attack people's eyes in particular. This seems apt, given that eyes are the means by which we (including film viewers) mistake appearance for reality. Once again, the character/s, and the audience, must be brought to apparent defeat, you see ...

June 30 - 1998
A while ago, film student Christine Aube sent me a copy of an excellent essay she had written on Hitchcock's Lifeboat (1944). (Christine is now doing further, postgraduate work on the image of Germans in Hollywood films of the 1930s and 1940s.) Her essay notes that the characters in the lifeboat have a representative function, not least Stanley Garrett seen as the cautious Englishman (Britain had repeatedly delayed a combined British-US invasion of Europe - though I wonder if this was generally known?), and the communist Kovac seen as representing the Soviet Union against Rittenhouse's capitalistic US. The point here is based on one in Sam Simone, 'Hitchcock As Activist' (1985). As you can see, I'm not sure how accurate it is: another question I have is about how cautious Stanley (Hume Cronyn) really is. But of course the characters are also representative in another way, namely, of the lack of unity amongst the Allies at home in the US. I noted to Christine that the allegory of this film anticipates a similar situation in The Birds (1963). Christine then asked me: had I any ideas on what Hitchcock's plea for unity might have been in 1963?! The gist of my reply was as follows. I said I was thinking mainly of the scene in the Tides Bar, with its angry militarist, sceptical ornithologist, concerned mother, pragmatist, fatalist, etc. Next, when somone wonders why the birds are attacking humans, Melanie (Tippi Hedren) responds with the eminently sensible, 'It's happening, isn't that a reason?' Here I'm reminded of the philosopher Schopenhauer who understood that beyond the parameters of time, space, and causality - the basic categories we think in/with - there is the unknowable Will/Thing-in-itself. So perhaps that's the unity behind this film, as so often in other Hitchcock films (see notes elsewhere on this Web site), which Melanie intuits and takes the lesson of; and the birds themselves effectively represent the limits of human perception, resulting in our lack of unity which might be the eventual cause of our destruction. More later.

June 25 - 1998
On our New Publications page, I say of Robert Samuels's 'Hitchcock's Bi-Textuality' (1998) that it 'cheats' a bit, and I ask the reader: did you ever play 'That reminds me of?' (Here's an e.g. of that game. Question: 'Why does a pancake remind you of a kangaroo?' Possible answer: 'A pancake reminds me of a discus. A discus reminds me of throwing. Throwing reminds me of jumping. Jumping reminds me of a kangaroo.') In his chapter on Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945), Samuels, for reasons of his theory, wants to suggest that the alarm of John Ballantine (Gregory Peck) whenever he sees dark lines on a white surface is due to how those lines suggest his fear of women. Samuels 'proves' his argument as follows. Dark lines on a white surface remind him (and therefore Ballantine) of writing. That reminds him of how (French philosopher) Jacques Derrida said that writing signifies a loss of control. A loss of control seems to Samuels to be undesirable (in a male), and therefore is to him (and therefore to Ballantine) something to be feared. And whenever Ballantine has one of his attacks of alarm, it's almost invariably when Constance (Ingrid Bergman) is close by. Ergo: the dark lines signify that Ballantine feels afraid of Constance. At no point does Samuels bother to trace the association provided by Hitchcock's film between dark lines on a white surface, ski trails on a downward slope, and a childhood accident involving another downward slope. Nor does Samuels bother to note (amongst other weaknesses in his argument) that, for many people, writing is a form of control, not a loss of control: when you write, you can do so at your own speed, you can erase and re-write, you can make the words say what you want them to say (more or less!). In other words, Samuels sometimes brings in his theory (Lacan on the fear of being able to present oneself in the Real; Derrida on writing as external to the body; etc.) in dubious ways. The bare facts (e.g., that Hitchcock's males often show fear of women) are often already apparent or already known. Hmmm.

June 24 - 1998
Tonight some thoughts on villains. Colin Higgins's Foul Play (see last item) is revealing for some matters in which it does and doesn't get its villains quite right. One of its villains is a phoney bishop, who has killed the real bishop, his identical-twin brother! Unfortunately, when he tries to justify the cause for which he committed his crime, he can only spout some nonsense about the false piety of 'organised religion'. By contrast, a classic portrayal of villainly is that of the mastermind criminal in John Buchan's novel 'The Power-House' (1913) as someone with an authentic Nietzschean philosophy (as well as a rabid mania for power). We are impressed by, and can believe in, such a villain, and that's a principle that Hitchcock took to heart, as for example in depicting the cultured Vandamm (James Mason) in North by Northwest (1959). All of the villains in Foul Play are basically stock-sinister or bumbling (e.g. the one called 'Whitey' who looks like an albino Lee Marvin, or the one who is fat and bald), and that also lowers the tone just a little. Mind you, Rachel Roberts is quite chilling at times as perhaps the real brains of the assassins' organisation, and she does tell the phoney bishop to stop talking his claptrap! So at least the film keeps a consistent tone of comedy-suspense, and that's important. But now here's another thought about why Hitchcock's villains tend to be 'classier' than most. When Hitchcock cast the assassin in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), he scoured European cinema for just the right person: Regie Nalder. With his lour and his whine and his sallow complexion - and wearing evening dress - he was a sight to behold, definitely not your ideal dance-partner, perhaps. And yet: that's exactly how you can imagine him, as a classy ballroom dancer. Foul Play has its counterpart - except that his pock-marked face looks more tired and haggard than anything, so he's much less interesting and sinister than Regie Nalder ...

June 23 - 1998
You can learn a lot about Hitchcock's films - and filmmaking more generally - by studying some of the better attempts to imitate or parody his work. I enjoyed Colin Higgins's Foul Play, starring Goldie Hawn and Chevvy Chase, when it first came out in 1978, and they showed it again here on TV the other night - and it was still fun! The climax combines elements of Peter Bogdanovich's What's Up, Doc? (1972) and Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). But let me just single out some of the film's small details. A camera movement, for instance. To show Gloria Mundy (Hawn) coming upstairs to her first-floor room, the camera on the landing starts to move, thus bringing her into view. Trained on her, it keeps on moving and completes its sweep just as she reaches her room and goes inside. That's all done in one shot, followed by a cut to inside the room. Very economical and unobtrusive and effective. A Hitchcock lesson was that if you get the small details right, the bigger things also work better. Gloria is a Catholic, so the film's plot involving an attempt to assassinate the Pope when His Holiness is visiting San Francisco, where Gloria lives, is that much more pertinent. Gloria's character owes just a little to Blanche in Hitchcock's Family Plot (1976): both are slightly kookie blondes. And like that film, Foul Play shows a familiarity with everyday San Francisco details of streets and topography. (Hitchcock's Vertigo concentrated mainly on landmarks.) I liked a scene in which Gloria shows off a new blue outfit - which she calls her bridesmaid's dress - to her fatherly but appreciative landlord, played by Burgess Meredith. Then, removing the concealing shoulder-wrap, she remarks, 'And now I'm ready for a night on the town' - and we can easily see what she means. (I imagine this scene owes something to one in Hitchcock's Rear Window, 1954.) She has no time to change when a telephone call lures her across town to a very sleazy looking building indeed. Screenwriter-director Higgins knows how to make the most of these contrasts.

June 22 - 1998
An instance of where scholars of Hitchcock's films detect a male urge to control women (and a possible affinity with a similar tendency in H himself: cf. the last item above) occurs in Spellbound (1945). Robert Samuels, author of 'H's Bi-Textuality' (1998), believes that the film's villain Dr Murchison (Leo G. Carroll) is a surrogate-figure for H because both are directors! (Murchison is the director of the Green Manors mental institution.) Like the hero, John Ballantine (Gregory Peck), Murchison comes to fear and/or resent the power wielded by the doctor called Constance (Ingrid Bergman). Here's what Samuels says: 'Constance's effective reading of ... Ballantine's unconscious ... puts her in a position to undermine every male in the film, including H. Perhaps the male director [i.e., Murchison] can only shoot himself at the end because the female subject has gained access to his own repressed desire.' (p. 39) For a review of Samuels's book, see our New Publications page. I say there that I think Samuels 'cheats' a bit in some of his interpretations! And that's a problem with a lot of theory about H's films - it can end up distorting the reality. In Spellbound's case, it's important to note that Murchison is depicted as a villain. So what does that say about H himself? Possibly nothing, but someone who has recently spent some time studying H and his work is Dan Auiler, himself author of a book on the making of Vertigo. After our last item, Dan sent me this message: 'I have to say, from everything I've read, seen and heard - and that's just about every scrap of the H collection - Hitch was a devoted and doting father and husband. [Daughter] Pat has always described all of their relationships as close. H could not have functioned without either of those women ...'. I believe that H did have a 'dark side' - we all do - but let's not forget something that composer John Addison said about Hitch: 'He was the most civilised of men.'

June 18 - 1998
Thanks to IM, a film student at the University of Kent at Canterbury, who seeks references on whether the Hitchcocks' marriage was a happy one. I referred him of course to Donald Spoto's 'The Life of AH: The Dark Side of Genius' (1983) and, very obviously, to 'H on H' (1995), edited by Sidney Gottlieb, especially the article there called "The Woman Who Knows Too Much". As Gottlieb's introductory remarks say: '[The article] is at first glance a characteristically rambling, light, anecdotal sketch of his wife, Alma, and their relationship, but even without over scrutinizing it we quickly realize that this relationship is complex, troubled, and troubling.' Gottlieb suggests that the article shows H's 'fear of being analyzed and thereby "demolished" by his wife. The silent or silenced woman is a recurrent theme in his films ...'. Significantly, perhaps, the article begins by recalling that when Hitch proposed to Alma, it was on a ship in a storm, and Alma was seasick! Apparently he saw nothing ungallant or odd in that! The fact is, though, that he always liked to control situations - control was necessary to him. But that shouldn't surprise anyone, for many film directors are typically that way! And I dare say both Hitch and Alma knew that, too! Hitch grew very dependent on his wife, and theirs was a life-long bond. He pays tribute in the article to her 'normality', something 'becoming so unnormal these days'. And he adds: 'She has a consistency of presence, a lively personality, a never-clouded expression and she keeps her mouth shut except in magnanimously helpful ways.' I'll make no comment on that, except to note what I told IM: Hitch always deeply respected his wife's views on whatever film project he was working on, consulting her in many matters of the script, etc. IM has now sent along a follow-up question. Was daughter Patricia loved/cherished by both parents? To the best of my knowledge, yes, she was. Indeed, there's some evidence that Hitch felt quite possessive of her, especially as she approached marriageable age ...

June 17 - 1998
After reading that list of references to flowers in Shadow of a Doubt - thanks again to film student Robert Woolley, who compiled it - I immediately thought of two things. One: Hitchcock giving orders for the art design of Vertigo and requesting 'plenty of mirrors'. It sounds like, for Shadow of a Doubt, he'd asked for 'plenty of flowers'! Why? Robert's answer to that is that the flowers are 'markers of the normal world, or, more precisely, the desire to be in the normal world ... They symbolize the desire to keep Santa Rosa a Garden of Eden as the serpent [Uncle Charlie] moves in.' That certainly fits with some other uses of flower imagery in Hitchcock. For example, there's the memorable moment in I Confess (1953) when the sacristan Otto Keller, who is a murderer, drops an armful of lilies when confronted in the church by Father Logan, who knows of his guilt. (Doesn't the same film have a reference to paint being used to cover up 'grime', which just happens to sound like 'crime'?!) The other thing I immediately thought of was the extensive flower imagery that's in Topaz (1969). That film certainly has much 'lost paradise' imagery in which the tropical island of Cuba itself features as a sort of desecrated Eden - and flower imagery elsewhere in the film (including a florist's shop in Harlem recalling the florist's shop in Vertigo) serves as marker for either an unconscious general yearning to recover Eden or an equally unconscious denial of its loss. (The theme of a 'lost paradise' runs right through Hitchcock's work, starting with his very first feature, The Pleasure Garden, 1925. That film already features a similar dichotomy to the one that's in Topaz: a desecrated tropical Eden as opposed to the big city, London, with its 'Pleasure Garden' nightclub - a sort of substitute Garden of Eden!)

June 16 - 1998
I was trying at one point in last night's entry to mock - just a little - the trendy adducing of Lacan to 'explain' Hitchcock. It didn't work, did it! Anyway, my point is that if you're going to 'use' Lacan that way, you have to go for broke - the slightest reference to Lacan seems to involve you in explaining your explanations. (To my mind, that partly invalidates Lacan as a film-critical tool - there are other ways, I believe, of elucidating films that allow you to stick more closely to a sense of the unfolding texts. A film like Marnie, which some of us love - and others loathe - has a marvellously dense texture that doesn't need psychoanalysis to reveal or justify it. Nonetheless, please note, I find things of great value in the chapter on Marnie that's in Robert Samuels's 'Lacanian' book, 'Hitchcock's Bi-Textuality' - soon to be reviewed on this site!) So tonight let's be very concrete. My thanks to film student Robert Woolley who has been intensively studying Hitchcock at the University of Minnesota. He has sent me this fine insight into the proliferation of flower images in Shadow of a Doubt (1943). 'There are flowers featured in nearly every wallpaper pattern, on nearly every piece of furniture, in the carpet patterns, on the china, on Emmy's blouses, pins, and hats, on Charlie's kitchen apron, on the walls in the bar, on the dresses of many of the women coming out of church, as the subject of nearly every framed wall hanging; there are live flowers in vases and pots all over the interior and exterior of the Newton house, behind Ann's ears and in her hair, and in Uncle Charlie's lapel. Flowers line the sidewalk between the church and the Newton house. They are mentioned by Mrs Newton (she wants to put out even more flowers before the "surveyors" come); we learn that Mr Newton's handkerchief has the 'nice, fresh, clean smell of lavender'; Ann and Charlie discuss which kinds of flowers they should pick for a table arrangement. And, of course, the Newtons live in a town named for a flower: Santa Rosa.' Some comments tomorrow.

June 15 - 1998
I ran out of space last time just when I was ready to discuss 'nothingness' in Hitchcock's movies. There are 'holes' or 'gulfs' in any number of them, such as 'the great gulf fixed' in Under Capricorn, the wide courtyard in Rear Window, the open graves in The Trouble With Harry and Vertigo, the numerous 'orifices' in Psycho. Basically, Hitchcock uses such things as a part of his screenplays' construction: establish a sense of absence or dislocation, and the plot can move towards its overcoming. But also, each film gives such images a concrete meaning (e.g., the 'great gulf' in Under Capricorn refers to the dislocated marriage of the Fluskys, as well as to a more general condition - the phrase is in fact a biblical one referring to Limbo). In turn, there are psychological associations attached to such images: in general terms, the death drive, as discussed here recently. Elsewhere on this site, I note of The Trouble With Harry how in that film there's an evocation of 'presence' and 'absence' associated respectively with 'good' and 'bad' mothering. Those are terms used by early-childhood researcher, D.W. Winnicott. He in turn influenced the great French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan - who gives us many clues to the fundamental meaning of 'nothingness': e.g., it represents the 'missing object' which represents the missing 'maternal phallus' which represents the 'missing primal scene' ... (Maybe check out question 1 on our FAQs page.) But, as always, I'd like to make tonight's entry here 'truly illuminating' (to please Terry Teachout). Here goes. The opposite of the death drive is really what Hitchcock's films are about: sex and Life. North by Northwest is very sexy, very zingy. So, too, is The 39 Steps (1935), which I watched at the weekend. It ends with the impending death of (the too-cerebral?) Mr Memory - while in the background a whole row of chorus girls kick up their legs. Life goes on. Appropriately, the musical number ("Tinkle, Tinkle, Tinkle") comes from the film Evergreen (1934) ...

June 11 - 1998
Terry Teachout has written an article on North by Northwest (see last night) in which he says that the 'only truly illuminating thing' he's ever read about the film is Charles Thomas Samuels's description of its 'contentless virtuousity. ... Admiring interviewers seeking to pluck out the secret of Hitchcock's meaning forget that the secret is the absence of meaning, the absolute identification of meaning with effect.' Tonight I want to suggest that (1) Hitchcock's undoubted virtuosity isn't contentless, and (2) there are other 'truly illuminating' things to be said about the film! I'll start with what may sound dead stupid: it's important that Thornhill and Eve travel on the 20th-Century Limited from New York to Chicago and not, say, the afternoon milk train between X and Lower Y. Not, please note, because the 20th-Century Limited is symbolic (Hitchcock said that there are no symbols in the film except for the phallic tunnel at the end - by which he obviously meant deliberate symbols ...), but because the more glamorous and specific the references the more sexy and sophisticated the film may appear. Now (bear with me) here's a quote from my favourite philosopher: 'That we abhor nothingness so much is simply another way of saying that we will life so much ...'. Notice that phrase about willing life. To me, something that is 'truly illuminating' about North by Northwest is to realise how absolutely constructed it is. All of its references to nothingness (e.g., the empty prairie) are deliberate; all those dreary, pasty-faced, ordinary-looking people in the background of shots featuring Thornhill and Eve are put there by Hitchcock to emphasise the life and glamour of the main couple. In short, this is a film (like so many by Hitchcock) about what my favourite philosopher (Schopenhauer) calls Will, the life-force. (Maybe check out the lately-revised questions 1 and 2 on our FAQs page.) Near the end of the film, Thornhill will say, 'I never felt more alive.' Nonetheless , that 'nothingness' I mentioned isn't nothing. In Vertigo, for example, it's quite a more considered thing. More another time.

June 10 - 1998
Tonight I stick my neck out a bit! For 40 years, come next year, people have been writing 'smart' articles about Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959), claiming that it's about literally 'nothing', zero, a big emptiness. How clever of Hitchcock, these people say, he's really sending up all those film critics who like to find profound 'meanings' in his films, isn't he? North by Northwest, they invariably add, is 'really' about the presence and panache of Cary Grant, the enticing coolness of platinum-blonde Eve Marie Saint, the bravura score of Bernard Herrmann, the magnificent impudence of the plot, and, ah, that scene in the upper-berth on the 20th-Century Limited! All the obvious things, in fact! Truth to tell, we've run an article a bit like that in the current 'MacGuffin', mainly because it's well-written and not without some savvy ('Ever the child of silent films, Hitchcock had come to discover that the "facts" are sometimes cinematically moot'). And, from time to time, the obvious needs to be re-stated! The trouble is, as I've implied, most of the authors of these articles think that they've 'covered' what's in the film, and have shown up the 'pretensions' of critics who take Hitchcock too seriously. Well, let me tell them that they're wrong. The real Hitchcock buff is aware of, and loves, all the things I've just mentioned as being in North by Northwest - and sees that there's infinitely more to be said! 'MacGuffin' reader JLR has sent me a typically 'smart' article called "The Genius of Pure Effect" by Terry Teachout, published in the February/March issue of 'Civilization' ('The Magazine of the Library of Congress'). I take its point about a dumbing-down of acting styles in a certain type of big-budget thriller ('We started out with Cary Grant and ended up with Keanu Reeves'). But where the author betrays his own myopia is in a sentence like this: 'The only truly illuminating thing I've ever read about North by Northwest is a 1970 essay by the late Charles Thomas Samuels, who spoke appreciatively of its "contentless virtuosity".' In fact, that's a dumb phrase! More tomorrow.

June 9 - 1998
Here's a homely insight into Hitchcock that I like very much. Hitchcock's daughter, Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell, was interviewed by telephone on Australian radio in 1994. (I was asked if I'd do the interview. Not having been on radio for years, I declined. But I contributed some questions.) Patricia was asked about her father's tastes in movies. 'Oh,' she said, 'he had quite corny tastes.' Obviously remembering her father's watching television at home (or when visiting the O'Connells), she said that he loved the TV series called 'Gentle Ben', about a boy and a bear, which ran in the 1960s. He enjoyed Burt Reynolds movies, Patricia said. (Can't you just picture Hitch chortling at the antics and stunts during the cross-country chase in Smokey and the Bandit?) And, she said, he would have just loved E.T. (1982).

June 8 - 1998
Jason Rasmussen, who wrote our article on Hitchcock and Oscar Wilde ('MacGuffin' 24), this week sent me a copy of a gay press article about the Wilde phenomenon that's happening in the US - not just the release of the British film Wilde but also a Broadway production ('The Judas Kiss') and an off-Broadway one ('Gross Indecency'). The gay press article includes several of Oscar's choicest sayings, including this one: 'Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation'. I remarked to Jason how that reminded me of David Reisman's famous term 'other-directedness' ('The Lonely Crowd', 1950), and how I'd once said (on this site) that I thought Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972) is about that phenomenon. For instance, the cheery greengrocer and psychopathic strangler of women, Bob Rusk, seems the epitome of Reisman's definition of one aspect of other-directedness: a capacity for 'a superficial intimacy with and response to everyone'. More broadly, though, all the Londoners in the film seem more or less other-directed! Interestingly, Oscar Wilde's name is actually mentioned in the film. Hence it's curious that Rusk himself, the film's villain, is characterised as gay. Not only is he very chummy with his Mum, but, like her, he has red hair - which I understand represents an English (Cockney?) code for gayness, in certain jokes, etc. (A novel by Dennis Wheatley, 'Forbidden Territory', which Hitchcock had wanted to film in the '30s, has a pointed remark about that.) So I'm saying that Frenzy could very well be called The Lonely Crowd - and that the film is one more instance (cf above, May 26ff) of where for much of the film's length, the hero is contending with a form of death drive and - directly or indirectly - a dominating mother. The hero of Frenzy is ex-Squadron Leader Richard Blaney (whom Rusk calls 'Dicko'!), and his troubles are very much bound up with the gay Rusk, though he doesn't know it until near the end ...

May 20 - 1998
Tonight or tomorrow, I'll put up on our 'New Publications' page a review of two chapters found in a new book whose clever title is 'Play It Again, Sam: Retakes on Remakes'. Meanwhile, because somebody on the Usenet site has tonight suggested similarities between Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) and Scorsese's Cape Fear (1991), here's a run-down of what Prof. Robert Kolker's chapter says about Hitchcock's influence on Scorsese's film. Apparently, Scorsese had three Hitchcock films of the fifties in mind. (I say 'apparently' because Kolker doesn't make clear whether he is quoting Scorsese or just speculating.) They were: Stage Fright, Strangers on a Train, and I Confess. From the first of these, with its scene between a killer and his would-be victim in a Cinderella coach in a theatre props bay, Scorsese drew his inspiration for the high school episode in which the vicious Cady entrances Bowden's teenage daughter in a stage setting that depicts a fairy tale cottage. From I Confess, Scorsese allegedly took the idea of a good man powerless to act effectively against another man who is making his life a torment. As for Strangers on a Train, that seems to have been the main source for the idea of a 'dark double': as Bruno is to Guy, so is Cady to Bowden. 'Bruno', says Kolker, 'is Guy's secret-sharer ... emerging from his unconscious to do his bidding' - or to become another tormentor. For clearly these three Hitchcock films all play with the idea of an everyday world and another world that is more daemonic and out-of-control. 'Throughout the fifties', concludes Kolker, 'Hitchcock was thinking about domesticity ... No longer a barrier against the unknown and unwanted, the domestic was the shell that only barely kept evil and corruption from spilling out.' And perhaps we can add that The Birds showed even more overtly the daemonic element in Hitchcock, and prefigured its unruly, grotesque appearance in Scorsese's Cape Fear.

May 19 - 1998
On the alt.movies.hitchcock Usenet site a few weeks ago, FH of the Irish Republic asked the significance of the scene in Suspicion (1941) where two detectives gaze at a cubist-type painting inside Lina and Johnnie's house. The younger detective becomes bemused and puzzled by it, and has to be nudged by his colleague. Here are some of the things I wrote back (plus an extra thought or two). First, the moment is a comic one, echoing another comic moment involving an older and a younger policeman in The 39 Steps (1935). I'm also reminded of something that Hitchcock said to Truffaut, that 'directors who lose control are concerned with the abstract'! (Think about it!) Perhaps more crucial, though, is how the dark lines in the painting echo the dark shadows, like curving bars of a cage, cast on the surrounding walls in the house. Well, just as the younger detective has to be roused from his reverie, so a moment later, Lina, after being shown a newspaper item about the death of Beaky in Paris, has to be roused from something like a trance, again by the senior detective. (We sense she fears that her no-good husband has murdered Beaky.) Soon, as Lina turns from showing the policemen out, the shadows actually seem about to overwhelm her. Throughout the film, 'provincial' Lina is made to feel small and a 'junior partner' of her husband, whom she nonetheless loves ...

May 18 - 1998
Some feature films are, quite validly, far removed from 'realism' - though they may pretend otherwise. Such a film is Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958), which TG keeps telling me is 'flawed' because he finds 'empty' both of the characters played by Kim Novak. I think his attitude nonsensical! For one thing, the characters are both opposites and complements of each other. Accordingly, the extreme remoteness and 'lostness' of Madeleine (when we first see her) is reversed in the extreme availability ('I've been understanding since I was 16') and 'commonness' of Judy. At the same time, as critic Robin Wood has so aptly said, we come to see that Judy had 'found' herself in Madeleine. Pure Pirandellism! And touching. Next, a very theme of the film (parodied later in Hitchcock's own North by Northwest, and never far removed from his subsequent films) is that life itself revolves around a 'nothingness' whose only mitigation may come in love. Because Scottie (James Stewart) soon begins to identify Madeleine with this same ontology, i.e., he thinks that she can help him access the very secrets, or absence thereof, of the universe, it is necessary that we sense an absence in her (which, ironically, she is herself seeking to overcome). Again, very Pirandellian, very touching. Especially so, as clearly Scottie is projecting onto this 'eternal feminine' figure an absence or vacantness that is really his own! Moreover, by contrast to all this bloodless psychology and metaphysics, the film provides its warm, girl-next-door figure, Scottie's former sweetheart, Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes). Sadly, Midge had broken off their relationship as far back as their college days, sensing even then that there was something strange (even queer, according to Dr Theodore Price) about Scottie ...

May 14 - 1998
More on the theme of patience versus impatience in Hitchcock. Most of my readers will know another Dickens novel, 'A Tale of Two Cities', if only from one of its film or TV versions. It's a melodrama when all's said and done, and was in fact played on the stage as 'The Only Way'. Director D.W. Griffith made a variant of it under the title Orphans of the Storm (1921). Well, Hitchcock had read both the Dickens novel and seen the Griffith film. In some ways, Hitchcock's own Under Capricorn, which I've been discussing here lately, is like 'A Tale of Two Cities' (though obviously there's no French Revolution in Hitch's film!): the relation of Dickens's Sydney Carton to the family of Lucy Manette (he makes the ultimate sacrifice that it might endure) is like that of Hitchcock's Charles Adare to the family of Henrietta Flusky (Adare doesn't die at the film's end, but he does make a noble sacrifice ...). Both Carton and Adare are self-abnegating figures. And just as 'Tale' has a theme of 'restored to life' (first surfacing when Lucy's father, Dr Manette, a former prisoner in the Bastille, is saved from incipient senility), so does Under Capricorn, notably with Charles's entry into the Flusky household which has become moribund (Lady Henrietta has become an alcoholic, and Charles volunteers to try to rehabilitate her). In Dickens's novel, the principal 'villain' is the Revolution itself after 'Madame Guillotine' has seemingly gone mad; in Under Capricorn, a major villain is likewise the stupidity of the law. In both works, the future is held out as where true justice may perhaps be sought. Which brings me back to the theme of patience versus impatience in Hitchcock. Hitchcock's own impatience with the law and its procedures is seen in Under Capricorn, The Trouble With Harry, and The Wrong Man. In some cases (e.g., Harry), it may be possible for individuals to collude against the law; in others (e.g., The Wrong Man), we may simply be told that 'miracles take time'. In all these cases, patience is enjoined ...

May 13 - 1998
Okay, here are some further thoughts on patience versus impatience as such a theme figures in Hitchcock - and elsewhere. By coincidence, I've tonight been reading a learned essay on Hitchcock and Nietzsche sent to me by Melbourne philosophy student Mairead Phillips - whom I thank heartily. Mairead writes of how, in both men's work, 'we fall privy to a sense of outrage and impatience, an inability to wait any longer, a fractiousness of spirit, ... above all, a desire to arrive.' And that's very true. There's something of all of us in Psycho's Marion Crane who, desperate to enter into the flow of life (boyfriend Sam keeps stalling her), loses patience and absconds with her boss's money. And, ironically, her last place-of-arrival is that most stagnant of abodes, the Bates Motel. I shan't dwell on the imagery of all this, but simply note the remark of Lila Crane (Vera Miles) later in the movie, that 'patience doesn't run in my family'. By contrast, perhaps the most magisterial (and 'élitist') statement in literature that exists about the wisdom of being content to wait on God's purpose is that of the blind Puritan poet John Milton in the sonnet known as "On His Blindness"- which is effectively evoked in Psycho when Marion half-quotes its famous line, 'They also serve who only stand and wait'. (I'm saying that Hitchcock knowingly drew on this poem by his fellow Cockney, Milton, and that Psycho can in fact be read as an elaborate re-working of the poem's imagery - as well, of course, of imagery from Robert Bloch's novel, 'Psycho' ...) A few years earlier, Vera Miles had played the wife in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man. The fact that the wife, contra her husband (Henry Fonda), loses faith/patience, and suffers a breakdown, is something that my Catholic friend, TG, finds both appalling and near-tragic. But here's another thing. The law's delay and folly in that film seem to echo a truly classic depiction of such things in fiction, i.e., the novel 'Bleak House', by another famous Londoner, Charles Dickens. Two people known to have read the novel are Franz Kafka ('The Trial') and Alfred Hitchcock. More later.

May 12 - 1998
My thanks to pal Adrian Martin who, on the topic of 'ten-minute takes' and the like (see above, May 4), jogged my weak memory about the name of the recent film, Haime Humberto Hermosillo's La Tarea/Homework, that uses the 'ten-minute take' to make a film that is ostensibly (like Hitchcock's Rope) one continuous shot. (Actually, though, I think Rope does have a couple of - undisguised - cuts in it, something I'll take up another time.) Adrian also sent me some notes from his broadcast review last year of Billy Bob Thornton's Sling Blade, that uses several long takes - shots or whole scenes in which there is no editing, just one camera set-up - not unlike Hitchcock's Under Capricorn (1949) in that respect. Amongst Adrian's points (but not referring to Sling Blade) was this: 'if the rhythm of the action falters, if the energy of the actors drops out for even a second, if the choreography of bodies and objects and surroundings doesn't click into place perfectly, ... then the long take becomes clumsy and unendurable, and its passing seconds and minutes tick away very heavily indeed.' That sounds like the sort of point cinematographer Jack Cardiff makes in his book 'Magic Hour' about a 'fatal loss of tempo' in Under Capricorn, and basically I accept its truth. (Under Capricorn also has a long, fairly static shot of the housekeeper Milly goading her master Sam Flusky, which seems to go on forever.) But as I remarked to Adrian tonight, a theme of Hitchcock's romantic film is 'wasted life' and the interminable delays of legal process which, as Sam says, seem to 'go on and on and on'. That is, there's some attempt by the film to relate the very drawback of its (experimental) technique to its wider point about a need for patience in an imperfect world. The film's last shot shows a boy fishing from a dock ... Such a theme of patience versus impatience also figures in Hitchcock's two films featuring Vera Miles: The Wrong Man (1956) and Psycho (1960). More later.

May 11 - 1998
A film scholar whom I admire is Prof. Mark Crispin Miller, who wrote a fine article on Kubrick's 2001 for 'Sight and Sound' a few years ago. He also wrote an excellent analysis of Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941) for 'Modern Language Notes', December 1983 (pp. 1143-1186). It was the latter article that pointed out a tell-tale detail about Johnnie (Cary Grant) who is married to Lina (Joan Fontaine). One morning, Lina overhears this 'innocent' exchange between her husband and the maid Ethel, after Ethel has brought Johnnie his morning tea and the post in bed. 'Hello!' he says groggily (he has just woken up). 'You here again?' Clearly, this little touch is inspired by the novel ('Before the Fact' by 'Francis Iles'/Anthony Berkeley), where Johnnie seduces a succession of maids, and fathers a child by at least two of them. For Johnnie is more than a ne'er-do-well there (and perhaps in the film): he is both that and a psychopathic killer. Indeed, he is clearly based on the real-life mass-poisoner and forger William Palmer (1824-1856), who lived in Liverpool. (As I pointed out in 'MacGuffin' 7, that's probably the 'Freudian' reason why Johnnie in the film speaks of having to go to Liverpool to see his lawyers.) Among the facts known about Palmer: that he was a racehorse-owner and gambler; that he was married to a colonel's daughter, whom he seems to have married for her large dowry, and soon poisoned to death; that indeed his favourite method of killing all of his victims was by poison, including on one occasion during a brandy drinking match. All of these details find their way into both the novel and the film - though the latter manages to keep them ambiguous (Lina may be imagining most of them).

May 7 - 1998
One of Claude Rains's British films of the 1930s was Maurice Elvey's enjoyable thriller The Clairvoyant (1935), and I've sometimes wondered whether Hitchcock saw it - or heard about it - before he made his own The 39 Steps of the same year. Rains plays a fake clairvoyant who performs in a music hall, and the similarities of the film's opening scene to that of Hitchcock's film - also set in a music hall - are several. (At the very least, Hitchcock would surely have been impressed by the satisfying way that backstage and front-of-house action in The Clairvoyant is combined.) Now here's a more definite 'borrowing' by The 39 Steps from an earlier film. Michelle, a student in Montreal, Canada, sent me a message this week asking about the music used in the closing scene, set in the London Palladium. In particular, she asked: what is the name of the musical number heard when Mr Memory lies dying and a row of dancing girls kick up their legs on the stage behind him? And why did the music sound familiar (its words are 'on the tip of my brain')? Well, the music comes from the well-known Jessie Matthews vehicle, Evergreen (1934), in which Sonnie Hale sings (with a dancing chorus-line) a song called "Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle". But I guessed that Michelle probably hadn't seen that film. So I mentioned that a part of it sounds to me a bit like the song called "Ain't She Sweet?". And tonight I got back a message from Michelle: 'You are my muse! "Ain't She Sweet?" Those are the words!' Now we're both wondering exactly when that song (music by Milton Ager, words by Jack Yellen) came out? Was it before or after 1934/1935? Can anyone tell us, please?

May 6 - 1998
I've a knowledgable film-buff friend, RC, who this afternoon told me a few things about Claude Rains (1889-1967) that I'd not heard before. Not that there's that much to know (in a sense), because Rains was apparently one of the most private and reserved of people. That may explain why there's not been a biography written of him (even though he was married four times!). He was an Englishman, of course, born - like Alfred Hitchcock - in London. He was a stage actor from childhood, though he visited America from 1914 and actually made his first film there: The Invisible Man (1933). He had also worked in New York Theatre Guild productions from the 1920s. But here's what particularly impressed me today when I heard it: Rains had taught at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London, where his students included Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, and Robert Morley. Now, one of Rains's best roles was of course for Hitchcock: as the outwardly gentle, but inwardly 'Nazified', husband of Ingrid Bergman in Notorious (1946). And later on, in the 1950s, he appeared in no fewer than four episodes of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents', including as the pastor who has a bit of a flutter on the horses in "The Horseplayer", directed by Hitchcock himself. Rains and Hitchcock appear to have liked and respected each other. But - a piece of trivia to end on - four appearances in 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' was nothing like a record. I suspect that the actor who appeared the most number of times in 'AHP' and the 'AHH' shows was Gary Merrill: he seems to have made about twice the number of appearances as Rains. (I'm not sure why that might be.)

May 5 - 1998
Mark Norberg in Los Angeles has noted how Donald Spoto plays down Hitchcock's contribution to The Lady Vanishes (1938) by suggesting that all Hitch did was take an already-existing script and call for a new opening scene and a reworked final reel. Well, that's not what I've heard happened, and I don't think it takes the measure of Hitch's role in the film's huge success. First, I put weight on Andrew Sinclair's introduction to the 'Classic Film Scripts' edition of The Lady Vanishes, where he notes that scriptwriters Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder were asked by Hitchcock to make 'significant changes from the novel. The hero Gilbert was metamorphosed from a dam engineer to a collector of folk music. A banker became a magician in order to introduce the sequence of the trick cabinet and the poster of the Vanishing Lady. Miss Froy was transposed from a gullible governess into a British secret agent, while Hitchcock made his purpose clear in the lines explaining her name, Froy, not Freud. "It rhymes with joy." Hitchcock intended to make a thriller of joyous action, not of psychological motivation.' Exactly. I think of how Gilliat and Launder had scripted an earlier film, Albert de Courville's Seven Sinners (1936), about gun-runners who wreck trains to dispose of people they find inconvenient: it's a diverting enough comedy-thriller in its own way, but it simply isn't in the same class as the constantly amusing and/or gripping The Lady Vanishes. Hitchcock helped Gilliat and Launder a great deal just by making (so very well) his and their film - it got them a 'name'. More than that, Hitch retained a keen interest in Gilliat and Launder's work afterwards. In 1948, Gilliat nearly joined Hitch on the latter's (and Sidney Bernstein's) short-lived company, Transatlantic Pictures.

May 4 - 1998
Some catching up now. First, about directors who could be ruthless (see above, May 1). Watching a documentary tonight on actress Jean Seberg, I heard someone report that director Otto Preminger was regularly known as 'Mein Führer' to his casts and crews. (After two films with Jean Seberg, he dropped her, she said, 'like a used Kleenex'.) Next, about British actor Tom Helmore (see April 28), who played the part of the villain Gavin Elster in Vertigo. Besides appearing in a couple of earlier Hitchcock films (The Ring and Secret Agent), Helmore also appeared in at least two episodes of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' ("Little White Frock" and "Murder Me Twice") and - perhaps most interesting of all - in a trailer for Frenzy (1972). There's a transcript of that on Patrik Wikström's Hitchcock Web site (see link on our Links page). Finally, my best thanks to Dave LaDelfa who responded to my question (April 21) about possible precedents for the 'ten-minute takes' used in Rope. Dave suggests: 'the kitchen scene (originally even longer than it exists today) from The Magnificent Ambersons! This [1942] film features/featured many long-single-take shots ... that might have presaged the set-juggling techniques of Rope if they hadn't been shredded so mercilessly by the studio.' I agree with all of this! In fact, I was reminded of how there are clear indications that Hitchcock several times took ideas from Orson Welles's work. For instance, I've heard a radio broadcast directed by Hitchcock, circa 1946, of 'Malice Aforethought' by 'Francis Iles' (a pseudonym). Some of the sound-techniques in that broadcast sound like those Welles innovated so dynamically on the 'Mercury Theater of the Air' and in Citizen Kane (1941) and Ambersons. By the way, a recent film set in South America used its own ten-minute takes to tell the story of a woman who seduces a man in her apartment. But I've forgotten the film's name. Anyone know it?

May 1 - 1998
My thanks to Michael Stopp in Switzerland for alerting me to an excellent, sensible article that's on the Web, called "Personality, Pathology, and The Act of Creation: The Case of Alfred Hitchcock", by Dr Stanton Peele. (I'll give the URL in a moment.) The basic idea in the article is that Hitchcock always knew exactly what he was putting up there on the screen - it was never just images of his out-of-control (and/or unconscious) fantasies. He was always the detached, consummate artist, involving the audience in situations from the victim's point of view as much as from the perpetrator's. I agree with all of that (and have said so here several times). Mind you, there was a ruthless streak in Hitch when he was directing or preparing his films. It was a mark of his being more than a metteur-en-scène (see yesterday's entry). Somewhere I've footage on video of him directing a crowd of extras for the Thames Embankment scenes in Frenzy (1972). And when some hapless person makes an error, spoiling the take, Hitch truly looks livid, almost Hitler-like, as if he'd have summarily shot the person concerned. But then, ruthlessness is the name of the game in many professions, including professional sport, for example. That's understood and permitted or, at worst, dealt a penalty. So I say that we should see these things in perspective. Donald Spoto's biography of Hitch doesn't always do that, I feel. (And the ferris-wheel episode involving Hitch's daughter, quoted from Spoto in the Peele article, has been specifically denied in most of its particulars by Patricia Hitchcock herself.) Here's the article: Personality, Pathology, and The Act of Creation: The Case of Alfred Hitchcock

April 30 - 1998
This isn't a grizzle, though maybe it should be! I don't believe that I've ever heard one person say to me what I like to believe is true - that the picture of Alfred Hitchcock's creativity being built up on this Web site, and in the pages of 'The MacGuffin', is vaster and more deep-running than you'll find elsewhere! Most views of Hitchcock are usually fairly 'impressionistic' or else amount to somebody saying, 'I've got this theory about Hitchcock, which goes like this ...'. Whereas, creativity is really beyond and much more than any of that (even if the theory in question happens to be derived from Freud or Lacan or Derrida or some other polymath): it's the result of countless inputs running together, filtered ultimately through the mind of the director. (I'm talking of Hitchcock, remember, no mere metteur-en-scène, as the French used to call uncreative directors.) I don't think that any of the details - well, hardly any - in the "Editor's Day" entries recently has been trivial, rightly interpreted! But recently I had a message from an academic, MF, who insists that the sign outside Gavin Elster's shipyard in Vertigo saying 'SPEED LIMIT 8 M.P.H.' must be something that Hitchcock deliberately put there, and that Hitchcock was 'up to something' with it (because, says MF, you'd normally expect to find '5 M.P.H.' or '10 M.P.H.'). Well, I don't buy that - and I'm not going to suggest that if you sawed '8' in half you'd end up with a spiral design: one circle inside another! Hitchcock was perfectly capable of using naturalistic detail that he came across on location just as naturalistic detail, and that's what I think he did here. The end. (However, comments are invited!)

April 29 - 1998
Lary Kuhns in California mentions a further neat touch that's in the sauna scene in Secret Agent: the cigar of 'Old Man R' is unravelling in all that steam, though he still brandishes it like a pointer at the map that the officer (Tom Helmore) brings him! Thanks, Lary! Okay, now let's switch to To Catch a Thief (1955). I've an inkling where Hitchcock got the idea for the symbolism of the fireworks. It was from the Ealing film Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948), where fireworks are set off by the citizenry of Hanover to celebrate the wedding-night of their ruler and Sophie Dorothea. Hitchcock almost certainly watched Basil Dearden's film, based on an historical novel by Helen Simpson, before he made his own Under Capricorn (1949), based on another historical novel by the same author. (Hitch kept in touch with events at Ealing through his friend Angus MacPhail, who was in charge of the Script Department.) And what about the fancy-dress ball that climaxes To Catch a Thief? Well, there were certainly real-life precedents for such a lavish occasion in which each guest turns up dressed as a character from history. Famously, in England, at roughly the end of the last century, the Duchess of Devonshire organised such an event. Hitch may have heard of that occasion, and seen its possibilities for his film: e.g., to show off Grace Kelly's 'modelling' flare, and to showcase the costuming talents of Paramount's Edith Head.

April 28 - 1998
In Hitchcock's Secret Agent (1936), there's an interesting little moment that's not mentioned in Jane Sloan's long synopsis of the film. It takes place in an English steam bath or sauna, where the Commander-in-Chief , with a towel wrapped around his waist, receives a report on the agent Ashenden's movements from an officer in full uniform. They study a map of the area somewhere near Turkey where Ashenden (John Gielgud) and 'the General' (Peter Lorre) are operating. The scene effectively tells us of the urgency of the report (which necessitates breaking in like this on the 'Old Man'); and the informality of the scene stands in contrast to the one following, in which Ashenden and 'the General' prepare to board a train at a busy railway station where the man they are pursuing (Robert Young) is also embarking. But the way the sauna scene begins is just as interesting. En route to the railway station, Ashenden and 'the General' jump into a car which drives off in a swirl of exhaust fumes. On that image, the film cuts to a swirl of steam, through which we eventually spot the 'Old Man'. The actual cut is invisible. And there's one more point of interest about this little scene. The uniformed officer is played by Tom Helmore, who had already appeared in Hitchcock's The Ring (1928) and who would play the villainous Gavin Elster in Vertigo (1958). For that last piece of information, thanks to Nandor Bokor and Patrik Wikström.

April 25 - 1998
An inquiry came yesterday about a painting of a Chinese girl by an artist named Tretchikoff. Was it seen in one of Hitchcock's films? (The painting was thought to have a twin, in which the girl is seen looking in a different direction.) What did I know about the artist and his work? Well, firstly, I guessed that the inquirer was thinking of Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972), where twin paintings of dark-skinned girls are seen on the wall in Bob Rusk's Covent Garden apartment. I think that they're of Balinese girls (or the same Balinese girl?), actually. I saw the same paintings in a shop window in Melbourne, Australia, at about the time the film came out. Well, using a Web-search engine, I located a South African art gallery site, which has full details of the artist and his work. There's even a splendid colour reproduction of his portrait of the late Princess Diana. The artist is Vladimir Tretchikoff (1913- ), a South African, whose work is claimed to be among the most reproduced in the world. Now here's something else about those paintings in Frenzy. A month ago I commented somewhere that they suggest the 'other-directedness' of Rusk in the film, though in fact just about all of the Londoners in the film are a bit like that. (That's the point, of course.) The famous term 'other-directedness' was coined by sociologist David Riesman in his book, 'The Lonely Crowd' (1950). By coincidence, I today came across Riesman's definition of the term: it pertains to persons (or their characters) predominantly influenced by a 'need for approval and direction by others'. Such people, Riesman claims, often have a capacity for just 'a superficial intimacy with and response to everyone'. I think that rather sums up Bob Rusk, the cheery greengrocer - and psychopathic killer - in Hitchcock's film. For those interested, click here to see examples of Vladimir Tretchikoff's work, and a list of his paintings: Vladimir Tretchikoff

April 24 - 1998
Referring to my visit to the set of Family Plot (mentioned here on April 18), Nandor Bokor asks: how 'old' did Hitchcock seem to be? Nandor adds: 'when I see interviews with him from the time of Frenzy, he looks very healthy, and in top form in every sense. In the trailer for Family Plot, however, he already looks very old, and has difficulties in delivering his speech.' Well, when I watched him working that night, he was aged 76, and already not very well. He had arthritis, for one thing. There on the back-lot at Universal, he stayed in his car until almost the very last moment before the camera took the first shot for the evening. They told me stories about how the car had interior heating, and that you could get hot yourself (if you were the Assistant Director, say, talking to Hitch at his car window) just by standing near it! Still, once Hitch had walked slowly over to his director's chair, and settled into it, he conversed animatedly enough with his immediate assistants and crew-members like Karen Black. And his eagle-eye spotted things on the set that nobody else had noticed: like, how a diffusing-scrim over one of the lights had come loose and, in the breeze, was causing almost imperceptible shadows on the ground where the camera would be shooting. (Someone was quickly assigned to go up a ladder and hold the scrim during the shot.) But generally, he still looked like the Hitch of old (if that's the expression) that night. Just like in the movies, and on the telly!

April 23 - 1998
Elsewhere on this Web site are a couple of references to how, in Psycho (1960), Marion Crane's death in a 'radiantly' white bathroom beneath a shower-nozzle that serves as a 'halo' fits with other imagery in the film that serves to give various 'religious' meanings to what takes place. Hitchcock loved doing this sort of thing. For instance, there are references to angels in at least three other of his films beside Psycho, which seems to have Milton's famous sonnet known as "On His Blindness" in mind. (The sonnet's even-more-famous last line, 'They also serve who only stand and wait', is itself a reference to the angels who attend on God.) As for the connotation of a religious sacrifice that takes place in the presence of a 'radiance', I've suggested that Hitchcock took that from the novel on which Spellbound (1945) was based: 'The House of Dr Edwardes' by 'Francis Beeding' (a pseudonym). The novel was published in 1927. I'd now suggest a further likely influence. Watching a documentary at the weekend about famous actress Louise Brooks, I was greatly impressed by a clip from G.W. Pabst's Pandora's Box (1928) in which the character Lulu ends up being murdered by Jack-the-Ripper. (I'll be watching Pabst's film in its entirety in the next few days.) Lulu is shown as being attracted to the Ripper, whom she invites to her room. It's Christmas-time, after all, a time of celebration ... Just before he seemingly wants to make love to her, but ends up knifing her, Jack playfully holds above Lulu's head a circle of holly - a crown of thorns. The similarity to Psycho seems to me too close to be an accident. And I think of how in Spellbound there's a likely reference to another film of Pabst's, Secrets of a Soul (1926), the first serious film about psychoanalysis. (Hitchcock may even have met Pabst in Germany.)

April 22 - 1998
Someone who would seem to agree with what I wrote last night - that Hitchcock was less an innovator than a steady worker - is Jane Sloan. I browsed today the excellent "Critical Survey" in her book 'Alfred Hitchcock: a filmography and bibliography' (1993), and noted her conclusion: that 'Hitchcock's primary method was ... "formal reinvention" - of literary work, of other films, of stories in the newspapers, of others' ideas, of his own ideas; his favored analogy for film directing was music conducting'. And it occurred to me that a reason that it's difficult to talk about a notable feature of Hitch's films - their humour - is that it, too, largely generates itself from its context. It isn't a brilliant humour, it's born out of an alertness to what is needed at the time. Hitch's gags are sometimes not really so, more just dramatic pivot-points. At the climax of Strangers on a Train (1951), as Guy and Bruno have a slugging-match on the out-of-control roundabout, a fairground employee points to them and excitedly tells some police detectives, 'That's the man!' And the detectives say back, 'Of course it is! We know that.' But they think that the employee is pointing to Guy, when in fact he means Bruno. Fool police! But we hardly think of that, so it isn't a gag. And the action is continuing. Next moment there's a shot that always gets a laugh, of a small boy on the roundabout enjoying himself immensely, as his wooden horse prances up and down at a great rate. Fool boy! The shot is a gag, but it, too, emerges naturally out of - and back into - the context. Its purpose is to give expression to, and simultaneously relieve and heighten, our tension. As I say, Hitch was always on the alert to catch or seize what the moment required. He was an opportunist.

April 21 - 1998
One final question, from the list sent to me by a reader, is this: 'What sorts of innovations did Hitchcock bring to film?' And my response is (again) perhaps not what the reader may be expecting. I may be wrong, but I think that Hitch was less an innovator than a steady worker! ('Genius', someone said, 'is the capacity to take infinite pains.') For sure, Hitch is associated with such things as the first British talkie, Blackmail (unless that honour should go to The Clue of the New Pin), the first use of 'the ten-minute take' in Rope, the making of an early 3-D film (Dial M for Murder, though it was actually one of the last to be filmed at the time, as the 3-D craze died quickly), and certainly the making of the 'breakthrough' modern horror film in Psycho. But most of these things were really just 'developments' out of new technology or earlier innovations by others (e.g., Psycho owed much to Clouzot's Les Diaboliques, particularly in the sequence of Marion's long drive to the motel, and both films were themselves quite closely based on novels). Even 'the ten-minute take' is really just an extended version of less ambitious moments in earlier films (though I can't really think of an example - suggestions, anyone?) or might again be seen as 'borrowing' from literature (e.g., Molly Bloom's long, long monologue in James Joyce's 'Ulysses'). If I had to name just one basic Hitchcock innovation, it might be his giving his films a subjective (character's-viewpoint) basis, and in finding the appropriate forms and techniques to match. For example, Psycho is about a madman, and the film's horror format is inseparable from that fact. Likewise, Rebecca is told basically from the viewpoint of an initially rather timid young woman, and all the 'Gothic' accoutrements (finally overthrown) reflect that situation.

April 18 - 1998
Another question sent to me by the reader I've mentioned is this: 'Could you offer a few anecdotes about Hitchcock's films? (Interesting behind-the-scenes stories, camera tricks, the odd ways in which he devised cameos.)' Well, following a train of thought, here's something else director Richard Franklin remarked to me. The legendary calmness and quiet of Hitchcock's set had its purpose. It was what allowed Hitchcock to judge so exactly the rhythm of his shots, i.e., both individual shots and the composite rhythm of those shots. Hitchcock would imagine himself in the film spectator's position, and for that it was essential that he keep a certain detachment. A Buddha-like detachment (though Richard didn't say so). Director Josef Von Sternberg once visited Melbourne (where I live) and told me in his dry way the very same thing about Hitch: on the set he was 'fat and detached'! Both Richard Franklin and I were lucky enough to watch Hitch direct Family Plot (1976). We were there on different days, but curiously one of the scenes Richard watched being shot on a soundstage - the helicopter cabin - was the continuation of the scene I'd watched being filmed on the Universal back-lot one night: the scene in which kidnapper Fran (Karen Black) collects the ransom diamond. I stood directly behind Hitch and Karen, and eavesdropped. Between takes, he would 'tutor' her in the mysteries of film technique. She seemed happy to feed him questions. 'Why do we need this shot of the airport doorway at all?' she asked him. 'Why not just go directly inside the building?' Hitch answered in his lugubrious drawl: 'You see, Karen, it's like the trombones in the orchestra. We can't just let them blare out in-dis-crim-in-ate-ly, can we?' (A fuller account of my visit to the set of Family Plot is in 'MacGuffin' 1.)

April 17 - 1998
Am still fresh out of ideas tonight! The next question from the reader I mentioned last night is: 'What have modern directors learned from Hitchcock?' And the best short answer I can suggest to that is: each has just his own particular take. That's no slight or slur on anyone. We're all like that. I've heard Hal Hartley say some very intelligent things about Notorious (1946). (Unfortunately, the BBC Movies Web site - link below - has only a brief excerpt from his comments.) Still, I'm unsure whether his comments, interesting though they were, were as cogent as those of film critic Donald Spoto, also about Notorious, during the same BBC Hitchcock season last year. (The BBC Web site doesn't carry Spoto's comments at all.) Or consider this. Richard Franklin (Psycho II) once described to me how, during the parlour scene between Marion and Norman in Psycho, as the relationship subtly shifts, the level of the camera does likewise, suggesting who is dominating whom: first Norman, then Marion. But arguably such matters are effective only in a context of issues and concerns that the director (in this case, Hitchcock) has brought with him from much prior consideration of the film as a whole. That's where the real worth of a good director stems from: his personal 'vision'. Brian De Palma has done some fine Hitchcock 'imitations' (briefly discussed on this site by Philip Kemp). But sometimes he seems to me to overlook something basic. An example I once gave was this. The 'vertigo' (track-in, zoom-out) shots in Vertigo (1958) are effective not so much for technical reasons as because Hitchcock was tapping into a universal, pre-verbal fear we all have (as do animals): fear of falling from a height. In De Palma's Body Double (1984), he imitated Hitchcock's technique but linked it not to acrophobia (fear of heights) but to claustrophobia. For at least one viewer (who doesn't believe that he's claustrophobic), the De Palma shots were mere bombast ...

April 16 - 1998
Back from recess, and clearly not the better for it! Confronted with a list of questions from a reader, the first of which is, 'Why does AH remain so vital for study and entertainment today?', I'm unsure what to say! I mean, why is any artist-entertainer vital after he's been dead for nearly 20 years? Or 200 years, for that matter. But notice that I describe Hitchcock as an 'artist-entertainer'. There haven't been too many of those in the sense I'm thinking of: someone who tried always to appeal to the widest possible audience while crafting works that undoubtedly were major art. I've always maintained that the nearest equivalent to Hitchcock was the novelist Dickens, who had a similar sense of the comic and the grotesque, a similar psychological acumen, and a similar readiness to express himself using melodramatic plots rich in symbolism. (Director D.W. Griffith provides one of several bridges between Dickens and Hitchcock.) Anyway, speaking of Dickens, I noticed someone tonight on a Dickens forum asking if there's a name for the literary device whereby characters are assigned descriptive surnames that suggest their personality traits: e.g., Scrooge, Bumble, Buzfuz. It was a device that Hitchcock also used at times: e.g., Strutt, Vandamm, Devlin. Another occasion when Hitchcock has fun with a name is when the sheriff in Psycho (1960) toys with the surname of the private detective, 'Ar-bo-gast'. (That's the right sort of name for a murder victim. Much fruitier than 'Smith' or 'Jones'!) So there's another possible clue to Hitchcock's 'vitality': his own personality. It was what helped give his films style. And style, as F.L. Lucas once wrote, 'is simply a means by which one personality moves others ... [a matter] of practical psychology'.

April 10 - 1998
Speaking of the Mission Dolores in Vertigo (1958) ... It was originally called the Mission San Francisco de Asis, and was founded in the same year (1776) as the city to which it eventually gave its name. So when 'Madeleine' (Kim Novak), wearing her grey suit ('as if she'd just materialised out of the San Francisco fog' - Hitchcock), leads Scottie (James Stewart) there early in the film, it's one more indication that her story concerns the city itself. At this early stage, too, the film is already building a motif whereby Madeleine repeatedly leads Scottie from scenes of glare and motion - the city streets - to places of shade and stillness, where time seems suspended. It's as if she embodied both (the history of) the city itself and, beyond that, the key to what used to be called 'the world riddle'. (She's beautiful besides. Scottie doesn't stand a chance!) Certainly, when you enter the Mission tucked away in a side street, you immediately feel the stillness the film conveys. On the whole, it's a benign feeling. An official Mission brochure notes: 'Within the silent walls of the old mission, time seems to have stopped.' The brochure adds that the interior 'differs little from its earliest appearance. Decorated redwood ceiling beams are just as created by Indian workmen.' There's a slightly sinister note in that, if you care to so interpret the use of Indian labour. (Also, Camille Paglia recently reported that the Mission is built on the site of an Indian burial-ground.) But the film doesn't stress it. It doesn't need to. The history of the city is expressive enough, along with other landmarks (e.g., Old Fort Point) that the film refers to. The city of San Francis of Assisi is an emblem of humankind - its sometime hopes and shame and achievements. Vertigo trades on all of that.

April 9 - 1998
I began this particular topic (two nights ago) by remarking that Hitchcock's 'morality' is of no 'provincial' kind in the sense specified by Nietzsche (in "Schopenhauer as Educator"). For most people, said Nietzsche in effect, morality goes with the territory. Most of us unthinkingly adopt the moral code of our immediate neighbours. Anything else is seen as 'otherness'. But my feeling is that Hitchcock is one of the most cosmopolitan of directors, as Schopenhauer is among the most cosmopolitan of thinkers, and his 'morality' has a matching depth. Mind you, Hitchcock's biography by Donald Spoto shows him to have had basically the normal person's make-up as described by Schopenhauer: roughly equal parts of egoism, malice, and compassion! (Schopenhauer's definitions: compassion is the incentive to seek the well-being of another - or to alleviate his woe; malice is the incentive to seek the woe of another; egoism that to seek one's own well-being.) There was always a cruel streak in Hitchcock. But equally, and this is where both Hitchcock and Schopenhauer are 'different', we may also detect a strong counter-current towards compassion. What Schopenhauer (unlike Kant, with his 'ethics of duty') developed, after taking a long, hard look at the world, was an 'ethics of compassion'; it was what the world needed, he felt. We must grow in compassion. Well, I think Hitchcock came increasingly to feel the same way. There's not much compassion in the world of realpolitik on display in Notorious, and that's the point. By contrast, although such films as The Paradine Case, Under Capricorn, and Torn Curtain are all often considered Hitchcock 'duds', they do state a need for compassion - which in Vertigo receives a masterly expression. (Incidentally, I've always been struck by the similarity in names of the house in Under Capricorn, 'Minyago Yugilla'/'Why Weepest Thou?', and the San Francisco mission in Vertigo, the Mission Dolores/Mission of Grief.)

April 8 - 1998
To save his own skin, Alex in Notorious accedes to his mother's scheme to poison his American-agent wife, Alicia - and he does it consummately, as befits a Nazi. (There's a chilling close-up of him looking nonchalent straight after Alicia begins to suspect what is happening.) Alicia's boyfriend Devlin could never do that, we may tell ourselves - though we've seen Devlin seem to take an almost equally indifferent stance to Alicia in her earlier plight concerning whether or not to marry Alex. The fact is that everybody in this film, as in a Renoir one, 'has his reasons' - and when analysed, those reasons are invariably expedient ones. Or amoral ones. They proceed from Will (of which expediency is a part, being the same as self-interest). Interestingly, Alicia really sets the ball rolling when she - true to past form - 'seduces' Devlin early in the film. It's she who takes the wheel of the car travelling at 80 miles per hour: her minder, Devlin, is now only ambiguously controlling her. (From all reports, Ingrid Bergman could be a pretty fast worker herself, and it's likely that Hitchcock knew some of this - though the 'loose woman' aspect of the character comes from the original story, published in 'The Saturday Evening Post'.) Round about here, Devlin really falls for her. Thus there's an anticipation of Vertigo (1958), where Scottie falls for 'Madeleine', another ambiguous character. A point I wanted to make last night is that once you grasp this essential fact, that Devlin has loved Alicia from the start (though he's constantly fighting or questioning it, or her), everything follows, and makes perfect sense of the film. It's spelt out at the finish, where he admits to having been 'a fat-headed guy, full of pain'. But isn't everybody in this film? Now, amoral (libidinous, Will-driven) characters are also seen in Hitchcock's comedy The Trouble With Harry (1955), but there the nature of the pastoral form - with its splendid isolation - permits a more truly 'happy' ending ... More tomorrow.

April 7 - 1998
I'm not sure that anyone has properly taken the measure of the 'morality' - for want of a better word - that's underlying many of Hitchcock's films. One thing's for sure, though: Hitchcock was not 'provincial' in the sense referred to in the following quote from Nietzsche (in his essay, "Schopenhauer as Educator"). 'It is so provincial', writes Nietzsche, 'to bind oneself to views that already a few hundred miles away are no longer binding. Orient and Occident are chalk lines drawn before our eyes in order to mock our timidity.' Rather, Hitchcock's 'morality' seems to me one of compassion, derived from his seeing (through) the arbitrary codes most of us unthinkingly follow. Take the case of Notorious (1946). According to critical cliché, Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) is morally superior to the males in the film; but according to the same critical cliché, the Nazi she marries, Alex (Claude Rains), loves her more than does her American boyfriend and minder, Devlin (Cary Grant). All these points are disputable, I'd say, and everybody in the film is finally shown to be swimming in the same amoral soup. Some pointers now. Alicia doesn't have to marry Alex: weakly, she asks her American bosses to decide, knowing that they'll almost certainly tell her to proceed (to further her work as an American agent). Devlin is often criticised for saying at this point, 'I think it's a useful idea' - when clearly his pique covers great personal hurt (but he can hardly intervene) precisely because he does love her. Okay, Devlin doesn't intervene here; but Alex doesn't intervene when his Nazi colleagues discuss killing one of their own number, Emil, thus virtually sentencing the latter to death for a minor security slip he'd made. Ironically, Alex has made a much bigger security slip - and he'll be punished for this at the end when Devlin (following the film's inexorable logic) shuts him out from the getaway car. And now a question: how much of Alex's wish to marry Alicia is motivated by wanting to assert himself against his domineering mother - the most vicious character in the film, and significantly a female ... More later.

[I could not locate any earlier posts for 1998 in Ken's records - AF]