Editor's Week 2004

December 15 - 2004
Laurence Harvey's cerebral and rather epicene chess-playing poultry farmer in "Arthur" anticipates the transvestite amateur taxidermist Norman Bates in Psycho. (The film was already in its scripting and pre-planning stages when "Arthur" was being shot in July 1959.) Brad Stevens has detected a 'masturbation' scene in "Arthur" (see December 13, above), and Richard Franklin, quoting Tony Perkins, has said that masturbation was implicit in the scene in Psycho where Norman Bates watches Marion Crane undress. (Gus Van Sant's version of Psycho literalised the moment.) Also, Norman Bates's almost affectionate attitude to his stuffed birds parallels that of the misanthropic Arthur to his chickens. Chickens, remarks Arthur, 'have all the same qualities' (including bad ones) as people, but are 'forgiveable'. Broader themes in "Arthur" link it to other Hitchcock films again. Any male's ambivalence about marriage was a recurring Hitchcock motif, and had at least one 'film of its own' (to use Theodore Price's term in his book 'Hitchcock and Homosexuality' [1992]). I'm thinking of Mr and Mrs Smith (1941). It occurs to me that the rather epicene, or anyway less-than-virile, Jefferson Custer (Gene Raymond) represents a sublimated aspect of David Smith himself (Robert Montgomery). After Smith's marriage to Ann (Carole Lombard) is declared illegal on a technicality, and the couple take the opportunity to flirt with prospective new partners, Ann tries to seduce Jefferson. But she fails. Jefferson just doesn't seem up to it! Not only does he appear constrained by harsh parental figures (and by inherited memories of South versus North rivalries from the time of the Civil War - actually I'd love an American reader of this website to interpret such an aspect of the film to me!), but Theodore Price dwells on the fact that Jefferson and David, who are business partners, have been 'chums' since boyhood. Hence I'm reminded of how the Laurence Harvey character in "Arthur" is chums with his long-standing 'chess partner', Sergeant Theron (as Brad Stevens has pointed out). Finally, and still more broadly, "Arthur" is clearly a quintessential example of Hitchcock's pet idea of the food-cycle, demonstrating that everything is potentially 'One'. (In this case, everything - and everyone - is potentially grist for Arthur's chicken-food mill, and being consumed in their turn.) Arthur himself is, in his way, God-like - a neat parallel with filmmaker Hitchcock for whom all 'actors are cattle', to be processed into 'pure film' and then consumed by us, its viewers! Curiously, such a process has religious and philosophical analogues, not least Schopenhauer's (and Hinduism's) notion of all-pervasive Will (Brahman). QED!

December 14 - 2004
The episode of 'AHP' called "Arthur" (see yesterday's entry) is quintessential Hitchcock, with elements going back as far as The Lodger (1926). There, a 'psychological' flashback shows the neurasthenic character played by Ivor Novello apparently unable to face the fact that his beautiful blonde sister will soon become 'available' to a suitor; and so he murders her at - significantly - her 'coming-out' ball. (A further implication is that his sister's image represents for him the 'ideal' image of their beloved mother; in other words, he wants to deny sexuality altogether.) Further, it appears indeed that the Novello character is 'The Avenger', the deranged killer of a succession of blondes, each a look-alike of his dead sister. In real life, of course, Ivor Novello was gay. The fact that the film ends with an improbable coda, a happy ending in which the Novello character marries the very girl, Daisy, herself a blonde, who has detected his 'queer' traits and wants to 'mother' him (after her policeman boyfriend has observed of the Novello character, 'Thank goodness he's not one for the girls!'), goes to show Hitchcock's capacity to resort to surrealism and/or fairy-tale to express things otherwise ineffable - and to keep his films' integrity. (The ending of The Lodger was so much more than a commercial compromise necessitated by the producers' decree that Novello could not be a murderer!) At this point, let me recall the entry for December 10, above, describing a 'Nietzschean' attitude to sex, which is seen as 'either a lewd and slightly sordid indulgence, a potentially deadly distraction, a total irrelevance, or else an act of world-saving numinosity'. It's only a short step from such a view - which I've suggested resembles Hitchcock's, both in and out of his films (such as Vertigo) - to the sort of 'gay' variant on it that Brad Stevens detects in "Arthur". At one point, Arthur is heard to describe his fully automated poultry farm as being 'as self-contained as possible'. In turn, one may be reminded of the sort of élitist attitudes to 'the masses' and their sordid goings-on that informs a work like Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World' (1932) with its disdain for all things tactile (including popular movies - 'the feelies'). Huxley is one of those British literary intellectuals described so devastatingly by Prof. John Carey in his book 'The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939' - and whose attitude I've suggested influenced Hitchcock's own, as when he spoke of his public as 'the moron masses'. (A film like Rope, based on the 1929 play by Patrick Hamilton, about two gay 'Nietzschean' killers, is the perfect expression of Hitchcock's ambivalence towards his public.) I'm also reminded by "Arthur" of Psycho (whose Norman Bates is clearly a descendant of both the Novello character in The Lodger and Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt) and of Marnie. Think of Norman Bates's hobby of stuffing birds (which are 'kinda passive to begin with') and of the misanthropic Marnie's preference for her horse Forio over people. Concluded tomorrow.

December 13 - 2004
Prompted by the references here, apropos Hitchcock's Rope, to 'chicken-strangling' (see November 29, above), Brad Stevens emailed me and included an excerpt from his in-depth study of Hitchcock's television work, recently translated into French and published in the journal 'Trafic'. (The original English version will eventually appear in 'The Movie Book of Unexplored Hitchcock'.) The excerpt is part of Brad's analysis of the episode of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' called "Arthur" (airdate: 27 September, 1959), starring Laurence Harvey and Hazel Court. This Hitchcock-directed episode is one of the series' best - it's the one about the innovative poultry farmer named Arthur who strangles his no-longer-wanted fiancée, Helen, and feeds her ground-up remains to the chickens - and Brad's analysis helps show exactly why the episode is so intriguing. In particular, he notes a homosexual subtext. 'Much as Arthur may proclaim his freedom from emotional or sexual ties [writes Brad], his proud insistence that he will never be married is belied by both his engagement to Helen and his friendship with Sergeant Theron, his regular "chess partner". It is the unexpected reappearance of Helen, with her heterosexual demands, that forces Arthur to cancel his "chess game". In his final speech, Arthur casually reveals that Sergeant Theron also raises chickens, the sexual connotations of which are well-known. When we see Arthur strangling a chicken in the opening sequence, the animal is held off-screen around the area of Arthur's crotch, an action unmistakably reminiscent of masturbation, and the subsequent strangling of Helen is filmed in exactly the same way (right down to the chicken squawk on the soundtrack, one of Hitchcock's cruellest touches). Like Shadow of a Doubt's Uncle Charlie, Rope's Brandon and Philip, and Psycho's Norman Bates, Arthur suppresses evidence of heterosexual inadequacy by committing murder: as his look into the camera following Helen's death implies, murder for Arthur is a public act for which he can claim success ("I could be quite famous if I chose to be. The reason you've never heard of me is that I succeeded ... only failure in the particular accomplishment I'm speaking of brings notoriety"), and thus conceal his more overt failures: the inability to "win" Helen and those homosexual impulses he dare not admit to having. As in "Lamb to the Slaughter" [airdate: 13 April, 1958], the evidence is eaten by an authority figure, but Arthur's proud admission that he gave Sergeant Theron a "brace of cockrels" raised on the feed made from Helen's corpse points to a much darker subtext: prohibited from acknowledging the sexual nature of their relationship, the two men compensate by literally consuming the body of a woman.' Many thanks, Brad. Tomorrow I'd like to supplement your analysis with a few brief comments of my own about this fine Hitchcock episode based on the short story "Being a Murderer Myself" by Arthur Williams.

December 11 - 2004
I love Dr Adam Roberts's observation: 'Shelley said that "the great instrument of moral good is the imagination"' [and a contemporary, Schopenhauer, claimed much the same]. Elvis Costello, on the other hand, said that "imagination can be a powerful deceiver". Elvis has the edge on Percy Bysshe, I'd say.' Right! And for my part, I think Hitchcock would agree - as would Schopenhauer! I'm reminded that somewhere in Patricia Highsmith's novel 'Strangers on a Train' is a passage about how every truth has its opposite close by. (Cf Hamlet's line, 'There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so' - anticipating the title of the play 'Right You Are - If You Think So' by Luigi Pirandello, a Schopenhauerian.) Nietzsche, continues Roberts, espoused ruthlessness, but went altogether too far. (Hitchcock's film of 'Strangers on a Train' effectively parodies Nietzsche when it has the wildly imaginative Bruno ask, 'What's a life or two, Guy?') The ruthlessness advocated by Nietzsche, Roberts tells us, is 'so close to psychopathy as to be, well, exactly the same thing.' And if no human being can be sure of possessing absolute truth - only of not possessing it - then it behoves us all to respect the individual lives of others. That is the lesson of Rope, after all. (Rupert Cadell: 'Did you think you were God, Brandon?') I am strongly reminded of both Rope and Vertigo when I read Roberts's conclusion, as follows. 'Here's an alternative [to Nietzsche]. Read Spinoza [whom Schopenhauer often quoted appreciatively]: The Matrix's much vaunted "letting it all go" [something to which Scottie in Vertigo never ascends - forgive the pun] means above all letting go the illusion that there is any such thing as free will at all (and especially abandoning the bizarre notion that free will inheres in those strong men who can separate themselves out from the rest of humanity, treating everybody else with contempt and ruthless violence). Read Marx [like Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard, a dialectician, but - also like them - far more attuned to the real world than G.W. Hegel]: freedom can be gained only by collective action, not by a self-satisfying but selfish policy of personal gratification-by-discipline. Whether we live in a real Matrix or only a metaphorical Matrix, the answer is not Fascism, but a world in which the free development of one is the free development of all.' (Finally, here's Rupert Cadell again: 'We are each of us a human being, Brandon, with the right to live and work and think as individuals! Yes, but with an obligation to the society we live in!')

December 10 - 2004
Note that the Mephistophelean Gavin Elster tempts Scottie with 'freedom' (amongst other matters), just as Terry Eagleton might have predicted - Eagleton's book 'The Ideology of the Aesthetic' shows how the Romantics invented the myth of the 'absolutely free bourgeois individual', a myth taken up with enthusiasm by Nietzsche. Now, up to a point, there was a lot of Nietzsche in Hitchcock, including a degree of puritanism (balanced by a certain licentiousness in his joking and a high-spirited frolicking with actresses!). We have the testimony of someone like screenwriter Arthur Laurents on that. Accordingly, I was struck by how Dr Adam Roberts (who had earlier cited Eagleton) takes issue with Jake Horsley's puritanical and 'Nietzschean' view of sex. It reminded me of Hitchcock first and then Vertigo. 'According to Horsley [writes Roberts], "sex is either a lewd and slightly sordid indulgence, a potentially deadly distraction, a total irrelevance, or else an act of world-saving numinosity"'. The first part of that observation describes Hitchcock's view of sex, as we hear of it from Arthur Laurents; the second part describes how Madeleine is seen by Scottie in Vertigo! Roberts's own position is something else again: 'I'd say, "don't be an arsehole, and don't confuse your own muddle of sexual yearning/guilt with the way the world actually is".' Keep that in mind, for its common sense is what Hitchcock seems to allow at - or before - the film's end. That ending, I'd say, is suitably Schopenhauerian, for it effectively shows how Scottie's pursuit of the 'transcendental pretence' and/or Nietzschean 'power' and 'freedom' (all of these things embodied for him in Madeleine/Judy) amounts to just an attempt to apply the principle of sufficient reason to what is ultimately unknowable and ineffable, the world-riddle. (Schopenhauer: there is only Will.) That is, Scottie's folly is the same human folly that's critiqued on a somewhat different scale in The Birds. Gentle reader, would you like me to come down to earth now? Okay, here's a Hindu parable. A man had dedicated himself to seeking out the meaning of life and had roamed far and wide to try and find the answer. One day he had climbed to the top of a high mountain and there, as if awaiting him, he found a small box. On opening it, he saw inside a mirror and a printed message. The message read: 'There is no secret.' Of course, there is still individual psychology (and individual, existential meaning - Soren Kierkegaard's profound reminder to those content to live on the level of the Aesthetic as described by Terry Eagleton). In my book I suggest how the nun at the end of Vertigo is like a forbidding Great Mother figure. But she might as well be the male figure who guards the door in Kafka's parable told in 'Der Prozess'/'The Trial' (1925). Hitchcock's task in Vertigo was simply to bring together all such aspects of his tale and relate them seamlessly - I think of all those seemingly connected staircases in an Escher drawing! (Hitchcock: there is only pure film.) But I still need to complete my report on Dr Adam Roberts's review of Jake Horsley's 'Matrix Warrior: Being the One', which has been the ostensible topic here this week. Accordingly, I'll add one more entry here tonight.

December 9 - 2004
Continuing straight on from yesterday ... What I have just said, drawing attention to James Stewart's essentially dependent character in Vertigo - he is always trailing after either a person (Madeleine/Judy) or his own obsession! - may bring us near the heart of the film. Scottie, a bachelor who lives alone, becomes even more isolated as the film advances: everything and everyone, even Madeleine/Judy, is subordinated to his obsessed belief that 'the key' he is seeking (to what used to be called the world-riddle) may be literally around the next corner. (Note, too, that this makes Vertigo another city-film whose theme is 'alienation', like The Paradine Case and The Wrong Man, but a rather special case, inasmuch as the subjective emphasis is stronger, for one thing.) Previously, in my book, I have explained Scottie's obsession as resembling the 'transcendental pretence': this is defined by Robert C. Solomon, in his remarkable 'Continental Philosophy since 1750: The Rise and Fall of the Self' (1988), as the presumption behind much of Western philosophy and culture for 200 years, that the entire cosmos exists as a microcosm in the human mind. As Solomon observes: 'It appeared as innocence and common sense, but it embodied a profound arrogance that promoted self-righteousness, prohibited mutual understanding, and belied human diversity.' I hold to such a view of Scottie. Nonetheless, I see that it must now be complemented by what Terry Eagleton writes in his 'The Ideology of the Aesthetic' (1990) which covers similar ground to Solomon's book but employs its author's special Marxist and historical perspectives. Note that Eagleton is quoted by Dr Adam Roberts in the book review that we've been looking at this week. Roberts feels that Jake Horsley's 'Matrix Warrior: Being the One' (2003) is too respectful of Nietzsche's concept of the Superman, noting that such a figure (and there were others: e.g., the Byronic hero) 'is himself a culturally conditioned and historically determined individual. He is a myth, not reality.' Next, Roberts notes how Eagleton 'ties in this invention of the mythic "absolutely free bourgeois individual" with the Romantic invention of the category of the Aesthetic.' (Such a category appears initially to have represented an attempt by artists and thinkers to give the body and its senses due recognition - which of course is considerable - in reaction to 'the tyranny of the theoretical' that had characterised the Enlightenment.) But finally the Superman, says Roberts, 'remains an ideological construction. It is not true. It is the hypostisation [sic] of capital, the unfettered unit of money circulating without restruction [sic]. Human beings are not like this. They are social creatures.' Hmm. Such an elaborate formulation had not occurred to me. But what I now suppose is that Scottie in Vertigo may be an aspirer after just such a 'myth' (it may help explain his deference to the capitalist Gavin Elster who certainly offers him his money's-worth: 'colour, excitement, power, freedom'). That is, Scottie is guilty of both the 'transcendental pretence' and the pursuit of unreality in other senses of the word - which is what today's entry started out by noting. Tomorrow: I'll try and tie some threads together.

December 8 - 2004
Scottie in Vertigo is heard to ask, 'Why me? Why did you pick on me?' The question is ultimately unanswerable - just as it had been in Rear Window (1954) where the villain, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), had asked, 'What is it you want of me?' Nonetheless, given a situation born of a chance conjunction of persons and events, it is only human to demand an explanation, a cause. In The Birds (1963), Melanie (Tippi Hedren) is accused by the hysterical mother, 'I think you're the cause of all this [i.e., the bird attacks]!' In all of these cases (and others, such as Manny's predicament in The Wrong Man), the broad truth remains elusive: there are only the limited - often petty or foolish - explanations by characters driven by the so-called 'principle of sufficient reason'. Schopenhauer's own 'explanation' of what the broad truth consists, is that it's all the working of Will. Scottie's (sexual and metaphysical) pursuit of Madeleine/Judy, and the latter's collusion with Gavin Elster to entrap Scottie; Jeff's investigation and persecution of Thorwald; the very attacks by the birds - all indeed conform to how Schopenhauer characterises the working of Will, namely, as the expression of a blind, ignoble life/death force whose only sure outcome is suffering. (How apt it is that a key scene in Vertigo occurs in the Mission Dolores: cf the house called 'Minyago Yugilla'/'Why weepest thou?' in Under Capricorn [1949] - or, say, the glimpses of war ruins in such films as The Paradine Case, Stage Fright [1950], and Torn Curtain [1966].) To open oneself to the broad truth, if only in order to see it for what it is, and be better prepared to cope with the inevitable suffering, Schopenhauer advocated such things as detachment and humility (art might point the way). Later, someone like the 'vitalist' George Bernard Shaw, who had read both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, added other desirable attributes to the list, such as sheer energy (the idea being roughly to ally oneself with the life-force itself). Such energy was seen embodied in a non-conformist hero like Dick Dudgeon in Shaw's play 'The Devil's Disciple: A Melodrama' (1897), which Hitchcock had wanted to film. Now, notice how closely such a list of attributes corresponds to the one provided by Dr Adam Roberts in his review of the book 'Matrix Warrior: Being the One. The Unofficial Handbook' (which we've started to discuss here this week). The enlightened ones, he notes, 'can work towards ... becoming detached, passionate, ruthless, graceful, patient, imaginative, full of laughter, living with humility and prowess.' Unfortunately, detachment is something that Scottie in Vertigo never attains: quite literally, at the start of the film, he clings to life - as he clings to the roof guttering - and thereafter never really 'lets go' in order to actually live life rather than just pursue a notion of it (the anima-figure Madeleine). Christians of course speak of dying in order to live, and the concept makes sense psychologically. But Scottie merely becomes more and more obsessed. Note the importance of James Stewart's casting here. Had Hitchcock wanted a character who truly represented the sort of qualities listed by Dr Roberts, he would have cast Cary Grant! More tomorrow.

December 7 - 2004
On November 30, above, I noted that 'Manny' in The Wrong Man and 'Scottie' in Vertigo, are both, in their different ways, Everyman-figures. Scottie is the intellectual, a would-be power-broker (who had hoped to become Chief of Police and thus effectively command San Francisco, the world's most representative city - a situation which may remind you of Hamlet, who had thought to count himself 'a king of infinite [time and] space'). But ultimately Scottie can no more comprehend his subjection to the time-space-causality nexus than can the far humbler, prayerful Manny. Scottie's plaintive cry of 'Why me?' must necessarily, in this world, go unanswered. It's surely no coincidence that 'Sight and Sound' reviewer Philip Strick, in his review of The Matrix, compared its would-be-liberated hero Neo (Keanu Reeves) to, amongst others, Luke Skywalker, calling the latter the 'prime exponent of the "Why me?" syndrome'. (Strick's review: Matrix.) Scottie is one of Hitchcock's aspiring Supermen, like the aptly named Willi in the no-less-aptly named Lifeboat, or Brandon in Rope ('Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman - a rope over an abyss', as Nietzsche put it). But, like Hamlet again, what defeats all of these figures is 'bad dreams', their representative human fallibility - and finiteness. (More specifically, what betrays Willi is sweat; likewise, Brandon has his stammer and Scottie has his 'vertigo' - each of these things is highly emblematic.) Which may bring me to the book review I recommended yesterday, by Dr Adam Roberts, of Jake Horsley's 'Matrix Warrior: Being the One. The Unofficial Handbook'. Dr Roberts is finally highly critical of Horsley for his out-and-out Nietzschean position, telling him that 'we are [all] social creatures' (thus sounding like both Rupert Cadell at the end of Rope and the anti-Nietzschean hero, Edward Leithen, of John Buchan's novel 'The Power House') - but not before noting what unredeemed creatures the rest of us tend to be. That is, most of us remain enmeshed in the Matrix. As Roberts puts it: 'The unenlightened, those humans still "plugged-in" to the Matrix, are greedy, lustful, ambitious, envious, conceited, self-pitying, indignant, slothful, and above all petty; banal shadows of real life. They are all these things because it serves the ends of the Matrix that they be concerned with these small-minded matters, rather than opening their eyes to the larger reality.' I have a problem with the somewhat moralising tone here, and the attributing of teleological intent to the Matrix, but essentially Roberts is describing the working of Will in humans. (Before filming of The Matrix began, the Wachowski brothers advised Keanu Reeves to go and study Schopenhauer, Hume, and Nietzsche!) Now, Scottie in Vertigo certainly seeks to (literally and figuratively) rise above such pettiness, and so initially he has our full respect. What, then, goes wrong? More tomorrow.

December 6 - 2004
It's always exciting - if rare - to encounter a person, or a mind, who shares several of your own keenest preoccupations! Dr Adam Roberts, an authority on Science Fiction, and a prolific SF author, teaches English Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London. Recently I stumbled on his fine review of a book by Jake Horsley, 'Matrix Warrior: Being the One. The Unofficial Handbook'. (I also finally watched the Wachowski brothers' The Matrix [1999].) Very quickly I became excited! If you've been following my recent (and not-so-recent) attempts to formulate Schopenhauerian/Nietzschean descriptions of Hitchcock's 'vitalism' (invoking, among others, Schopenhauer himself, William Blake, Charles Dickens, G.K.Chesterton, and George Bernard Shaw), and to understand Hitchcock's ambivalence on Nietzschean and élitist attitudes to 'the masses' - attitudes implicit in a film like Rope (1948) - you may be struck on reading Dr Roberts's review by just how well he says things that I have previously struggled to set down! [link no longer available AF] Later this week I'll attempt to apply to Hitchcock some of the things Roberts says. Notice that he becomes critical of Jake Horsley half way through the review, seemingly because Horsley is an out-and-out Nietzschean. Notice also that the very concept of 'the Matrix' corresponds closely to Schopenhauer's term 'Representation' (the deceptive world of appearances, i.e., the manifest and illusory aspect of basic Will). Schopenhauer knew that he had several predecessors, most notably for him Plato and Kant. That said, you might want to consider straight away this short excerpt from Roberts's review, and maybe think about how well it fits a film like Vertigo (1958). 'What is the nature of the "reality" that is hidden behind the veil [asks Roberts]? If you are Heraclitus it is "flow"; if you are Plato it is the pure and eternal realm of the Forms; if you are a neo-Platonist, a Christian or a Muslim it is "God"; if you are Schopenhauer (or his disciple, Nietzsche) it is "Will"; if you are a Marxist it is the revolutionary potential of the proletariat, obscured by the ideology of the ruling classes; if you’re Freud it’s the unconscious and its currency of sex and death; and if you are a postmodernist then there is nothing at all behind the world of appearances, there are only simulacra. You pays, as the saying goes, your money and you takes your choice, as they phrase goes.' Hmm. Can't Vertigo be seen to imply all of these different 'realities' (with Gavin Elster representing the empowered ruling classes)? More tomorrow.

December 1 - 2004
Hugo Münsterberg wrote in 1916: 'The photoplay tells us the human story by overcoming the forms of the outer world, namely, space, time and causality, and by adjusting the events to the forms of the inner world, namely, attention, memory, imagination and emotion.' One person (AF) on the Film-Philosophy forum was reminded by this of Hitchcock's Vertigo, another (DS) of Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her. Among DS's points (see also yesterday's entry) was this: 'there is the causality of social forces [i.e., the outer world] acting on the individual, parallels between Juliette's hopes and dreams and the shots of roads and buildings under construction, and [also] the 360 degree camera movements which situate [or place] the characters' verbal and facial expressions of the[ir] innermost selves'. Again I was reminded of Vertigo itself! Hitchcock has Scottie 'spiral' after Madeleine in his car, across the city, down hills and around corners, past roadworks and other signs of 'life' and 'progress'; on the other hand, when he feels that he is losing her, on the visit to the old livery stables, the film gives us a shot of a car disappearing down a road, and the mood is forlorn. (Alain Resnais would 'specialise' in such moments, as in Last Year at Marienbad [1961].) Note that the cut employed for this last shot immediately gives us Scottie's feeling, but it is inseparable from our own. DS asks: 'More generally, aren't montage/collage often considered to be almost direct images of the interior world?' I don't know about 'collage' (I reserve that term for mutiple assembled images, as in collage art), but certainly montage (i.e., cutting) can take us straight to the 'inner'; and whole rhythms of cutting (again as in parts of Vertigo) can be powerfully 'inner'. DS's final point is this: 'I'd argue that [Two or Three Things I Know About Her] also asks [viewers] to reflect on [our] relation to it and to cinema at large - so [giving us] another level at which it relates inner and outer perhaps'. Yes, and so does Vertigo! I've always thought that Hitchcock's film is almost a pat demonstration of passages in Siegfried Kracauer's 'Theory of Film' (1960) about the nature of film viewing - passages such as those on 'lowered consciousness' and 'dreaming'. But of course the very title of Vertigo reflects all of this. Speaking of 360 degree camera movements, I recall that Andrew Sarris called the one in Vertigo 'Pirandellian' - which is absolutely, positively right! Luigi Pirandello (cf a parenthesis on November 24, above) was the theatre's leading philosopher-playwright about its relation to its audience. His heyday was the 1920s, and even then Hitchcock, a devoted theatre-goer, was being Pirandellian. As I emailed AF, Hitchcock's Downhill (1927) has three parts called, respectively, 'The world of youth', 'The world of make-believe', and 'The world of lost illusions' - and was originally shown in a theatre where, for one scene, the film would halt and the action continue on the stage, using the film's own actors, live! Talk about worlds within worlds! And don't the names of those worlds remind you of Vertigo? (Scottie initially behaves like a youth, indeed like a little boy, as Midge teasingly reminds him.) Moreover, an audience (comprising many separate subjectivities), as it watches Vertigo, is caught up in Scottie's consciousness which is being manipulated by 'Madeleine'/Judy and by the Mephistophlean Gavin Elster, who are in turn all products of Hitchcock's own 'manipulative' imagination. (Cf Munsterberg's term 'adjusting'.) Also, the film is performed by actors playing characters who are themselves playing roles (e.g., Kim Novak playing Judy playing Madeleine playing at being possessed by Carlotta.) Vertigo indeed!

November 30 - 2004
I have posted on the Film-Philosophy forum this observation by pioneer film theorist Hugo Münsterberg: 'The photoplay tells us the human story by overcoming the forms of the outer world, namely, space, time and causality, and by adjusting the events to the forms of the inner world, namely, attention, memory, imagination and emotion.' We've discussed Münsterberg's observation here before, and I've cited Prof. S.S. Prawer's view (in 'Caligari's Children' [1980]) that it has never been bettered as a formulation of how cinema makes visible the contents of the human imagination. Actually, I had in mind how Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1957) and Vertigo (1958) both seem to me to illustrate aspects of what Münsterberg says. First, The Wrong Man seems almost to define 'Manny' Balestrero (Henry Fonda) as a character largely in terms of his subjection to the time-space-causality nexus, which he himself never understands. (But which of us does? It's a profound truth that each of us is bound in our particular subjectivity, whose co-ordinates stretch to infinity, if we could but see them. Manny is as much a representative figure, an Everyman, as Scottie in Vertigo, who is heard to ask plaintively, 'Why me?') Matters are made particularly difficult for Manny because, at times, there seems no rhyme or reason for his predicament - only the sheer coincidence of his having a double, and such things as the unfortunate fact that his handwriting resembles the holdup man's. Second, as I've noted here before, Vertigo does seem to make particular appeal to attention, memory, imagination, and emotion in order to create a cinema 'world' which becomes increasingly an 'inner' one (a dream turning into a nightmare, in fact) and in which normal rules of time, space, and even causality (think of the McKittrick Hotel scene) seem increasingly 'suspended', like Scottie himself - and the film viewer. So I was pleased to note that the first respondent to my Film-Philosophy post promptly suggested as a 'marker' film ... Vertigo. Later, he responded again, and just as gratifyingly (to me, anyway): 'I wonder if we might think about this [observation by Münsterberg as referring to] ... introjection. We begin by watching the film as "out there" and end up by experiencing it as "in here".' And a second respondent made some remarks of equal interest (again to me, at least). He cited Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1966), 'an unsurpassed meditation on & exploration of this relationship [between outer and inner]: "her" being announced at the very beginning as both Paris and the main character - Juliette.' I immediately thought of how Madeleine in Vertigo is similarly assimilated to San Francisco from the moment we see her at Ernie's (in a dining room filled with the city's well-to-do, including an admiral just back from the sea, no doubt) and then as she proceeds to visit several of the city's landmarks, among them the very Mission Dolores (Mission of Sorrow) where the city began. (Several of this respondent's other points also reminded me of Hitchcock's film! More tomorrow.)

November 29 - 2004
RA emailed me to ask if I had any thoughts on the references to chickens - and chicken-strangling - in Rope (1948). He had located several gay meanings of 'chicken' which clearly have potential relevance to this film about two gay killers who, influenced by Nietzsche's concept of the Superman, strangle a youth and then hide his body in a chest. 'The MacGuffin' had briefly considered this matter in one of its early issues, when reviewing the first edition of Robin Wood's 'Hitchcock Films Revisited'. But we haven't yet devoted an issue to Rope, so I was content to say to RA that the reference in question is suggestive enough anyway, and to note a significant pun: Brandon (John Dall) mentions that Phillip (Farley Granger) had been staying at, I think, Brandon's mother's house in the country; and one Sunday morning while church bells were ringing, thus summoning all good provincial burghers to worship, Phillip had been occupied wringing the necks of several chickens. Until, that is, one of the chickens rebelled, and rose up 'like Lazarus'. Something I have only just noticed, though, is how that latter reference relates to another indication, discussed here a few months ago (just before we went into recess), that Phillip is fearful of the murdered youth coming back from the dead. When the short-sighted Mrs Atwater (Constance Collier) first arrives at Brandon and Phillip's party, she mistakes one of her fellow-guests, Kenneth (Douglas Dick), for the murdered youth. 'David!', she exclaims - to Phillip's consternation, which is so great (a close-up shows us) that he has snapped the stem of his wine glass, cutting his hand. (Note: the supposedly detached Rupert [James Stewart], who had been Brandon and Phillips' housemaster at school, and who had been almost worshipped by Brandon, will cut his hand before the film ends ...) But to come back to the matter of the chickens on the farm (not forgetting that the party guests actually eat chicken during the film, thus providing a foretaste of the trailer for The Birds [1963]) ... In the suggestion of a return from the dead, there's almost a Christ-reference, which makes the church bells even more apposite. In turn, an enraged Rupert will later ask his 'disciple', who had thought to follow his precepts, 'Did you think you were God, Brandon?' Further, strangling chickens does sound like a sexual symbol, and is perhaps a hint that Phillip and Brandon (who tells the story, which Phillip denies) had been otherwise occupied that morning. In which case, I hate to think what Phillip's reported alarm, when the chicken 'rose up', might mean! Might it have been his 'first time' with Brandon? Anyway, there are broader 'meanings' again to the act of strangling birds. Readers may like to look at an entertaining article called "Sadism in High Places" by Clare Voyens ('a TV Anxiety Aunt and part-time sex therapist'), which even brings in Wilhelm Reich, Original Sin, and more. To read it, click here: Sadism in High Places. But if you're curious about gay meanings of 'chicken', 'chicken neck', etc., and can tolerate adult content, there are several sites on the Web to illuminate you. Here's one (WayBack Machine): Robert Scott's Gay Slang. Lastly, to put the matter in a different context, here's a link to an article on Rope by Jean-Pierre Coursodon that may be the best piece on that film yet published (it has been newly revised and translated by its author): Fetishism of the Long Take in Rope.

November 24 - 2004
Something I didn't mention yesterday is that the original film version of Pinero's 'The Enchanted Cottage', made in 1924, was one of Hitchcock's all-time favourite films. Tonight I watched the beautifully written and crafted 1945 remake, starring Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young and directed by John Cromwell. The film's message - and Pinero's - is that love is superior to 'objective' reality, at least for the individuals most concerned, the lovers. (Another playwright, Luigi Pirandello, would not have disagreed; he simply put such matters on a more cerebral plane, as in his cleverly-titled 'Right You Are - If You Think So'. Pirandello was certainly another influence on Hitchcock.) The fact that in The Enchanted Cottage the parents don't understand the lovers' fragile modus vivendi, and all but shatter it, links them with the oppressive in-laws of 'His House in Order'. Once again, then, I'm reminded of Hitchcock's sympathy for underdogs, if you follow me. His films consistently critique divisive thinking, inadequate perception, which fails to see that really everything is One. That 'One' especially includes people. The blind composer in Saboteur - himself isolated, but 'seeing' truly - is like his prototype in 'The Enchanted Cottage': he stands against the social divisiveness that is the film's donnée (starting-point), and encourages the lovers to keep the flame of their love burning. His is the real tutelary presence at the climax of Saboteur when hero Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) battles with the traitorous Fry (Norman Lloyd) beneath the upraised flame of liberty, for the destiny of America and the World. 'Divisiveness' is also the theme of another of Hitchcock's 'political' films, Torn Curtain (1966), and what it laments is, precisely, the world's inability to realise Oneness. ('Divisiveness' is critiqued in everything from the superb bus scene to the detail of the name of the Hotel D'Angleterre ...) Unfortunately for the world, there is no all-seeing blind composer in Torn Curtain. Let me finish on some related thoughts. The theme of 'neighbourliness' in Rear Window (1954) again opposes 'divisiveness', and nowhere more so than when the little dog is found strangled and its owner tells the courtyard, 'You don't know the meaning of the word "neighbour"'. (Norman McLaren's Oscar-winning short Neighbours [1952] had lately explored the idea, 'Good fences make good neighbours'; Hitchcock's film ponders the same notion.) In Secret Agent (1936), a dog's 'telepathic' awareness of its master's death miles away stands as a 'higher' sensibility against the 'destructive' bent of the hero (anti-hero?) Ashenden, and may again represent a reminder of a lost unity which a higher sensibility/perception would restore. Likewise, young Charlie's initial 'telepathic' communication with her Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) - though it proves to have been largely illusory - raises the hope of a happy Oneness. But the incestuous connotations are strong, and the end of the film repudiates them. What it doesn't repudiate is the underlying idea of unity - which 'pure film' would realise.

November 23 - 2004
Hitchcock wasn't joking when he told Truffaut that Daphne du Maurier's novel 'Rebecca' owed much to Sir Arthur Wing Pinero's play 'His House in Order' (1906); elsewhere, Hitchcock criticised du Maurier's work in general for being 'derivative'. (In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', I show that the character of the sinister housekeeper Mrs Danvers is based on one called Mrs Unthank found in the novel 'The Great Impersonation' [1920] by E. Phillips Oppenheim. And obviously 'Rebecca' also owes a large debt to Charlotte Brontë's 'Jane Eyre'.) Hmm. Hitchcock would know, of course! That is, he wasn't above a spot of 'derivativeness' himself! Perhaps his complaint about du Maurier was a case of sour grapes: she had been (with reason) very critical of his film of Jamaica Inn (1939). At all events, I greatly enjoyed 'His House in Order' ('A Comedy in Four Acts') when I read it recently. Something else noted in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' is how Pinero's play is echoed in Noël Coward's 'Easy Virtue' (1926), filmed by Hitchcock in 1927. In all of these works, the heroine, a perceived interloper, is oppressed by a household of entrenched social mores and self-assumed superiority. If she is spirited - and lucky - enough, she survives by making some sort of compromise. Interestingly, the 1928 film of His House in Order cast Tallulah Bankhead as Nina - this, at about the time that Bankhead was appearing onstage in Charles Bennett's 'Blackmail' (shortly to be filmed by Hitchcock). (Another point of interest: the film was directed by Randle Ayrton who plays old Caesar in Hitchcock's The Manxman [1929].) Now, I've just said that Mrs Danvers in 'Rebecca' is based on a character in a novel by E. Phillips Oppenheim, which is true enough. But there's a generic similarity (let's call it) to the sister-in-law named Geraldine who, in Pinero's play, takes over the household after the first wife dies, staying on even when the master of the house remarries, and who thereafter runs it with great efficiency (the second wife, Nina, is perceived as incapable of such household management). Hitchcock obviously saw this connection, for - bear with me - he took an incident associated with Geraldine and gave it to the Mrs Danvers-like housekeeper Milly in Under Capricorn (1949). If you recall the moment in that film when the keys-carrying Milly passes a window and Adare (Michael Wilding) mutters 'Brrr', because he suddenly feels chilled, you know the incident I mean. Another point: Hitchcock's knowledge of Pinero's plays is evident, too, in Saboteur (1942), whose blind composer in the woods is based on a similar character in Pinero's play 'The Enchanted Cottage' (1921). And finally, coming back to Daphne du Maurier, I would just add: these cross-influences still need a lot of work. Nina Auerbach's study of du Maurier, 'Haunted Heiress' (2000), has no mention of either Pinero or E. Phillips Oppenheim. Nor, I'm practically certain, does an earlier book, 'Daphne du Maurier: Writing, Identity and the Gothic Imagination' (1998), by Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik.

November 22 - 2004
Sometimes when I email friends, I just let my head go in order (hopefully) to say something interesting. I'm not sure if the following is that, but it is stream-of-consciousness stuff. TG had hinted that I can be over-abstruse at times! Here, then, is what I emailed him (tidied up just a little) ... My point when citing some 'abstruse' influence on Hitchcock is: that if you only go by 'received' notions of where a director is coming from, then you have 'gone theoretical' and are likely to miss the reality. Nobody told Hitchcock (or could have told him, except maybe Alma) that, for the clinging kiss that lasts forever in Notorious [1946], he mustn't or wouldn't remember a young couple he had once glimpsed from a train window, the guy peeing against a wall while the girl still clung to him lovingly and with an interest only in him (not in the train passing). If Hitchcock saw a Griffith film called Orphans of the Storm [1922], and greatly liked it, and assimilated it mentally to his reading of Dickens's 'A Tale of Two Cities' (so that he later got confused and told Truffaut that the Griffith film was called A Tale of Two Cities), then just because you haven't seen it yourself is no reason to discount it as a shaping and/or emotional influence on a Hitchcock film like, say, The Man Who Knew Too Much (both versions, but especially the second, where the 'Que, Sera, Sera' song at the final climax functions like the scene in the Griffith where one Gish sister sings in the street to locate her blind sister, the other Gish sister, whom she hasn't seen for years - though a common ancestor for both works is a legend about Richard I and his troubador, and which, as Bill Krohn has shown, was in the minds of Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes during scripting - though, moreover, as I've noted myself, such singing was also a staple device of 19th century stage melodrama when parents wanted to locate a long-lost child, which is certainly relevant to the scene in the 1956 TMWKTM, because, after all, that scene does involve a father and mother seeking out their little boy who has been kidnapped). Just because the whole thing can become quite abstruse or complicated doesn't mean that Hitchcock didn't think that way in order to arrive at his use of the device in his film: on the contrary, that's just the sort of creative thinking - not particularly logical in the Cartesian sense - that he loved, and which I tune into when I watch his films (leaving my copies of Lacan and Derrida and De Man at home). Moreover, there are parallels overall between the tone and shape of the Dickens and the Griffith that correspond to the Hitchcocks, though if you don't see that Hitchcock's Albert Hall climax is like the race-to-the-guillotine climax of Griffith's film, then it's your loss and I can't prove it to you, and you may scoff at me. (But do consider that the cantata sung in the Albert Hall - the film is full of singing - is called 'Storm Cloud', à la Orphans of ..., and thus seems to support what I've often argued, that melodrama, which evolved with Romanticism and with philosophical notions of a universal life-force, is finally expressive of such a universal force, if only inadequately comprehended - and whose analogue is 'pure film'.)

November 17 - 2004
Of that triptych of shots in The Paradine Case (see above), I have said elsewhere that it represents the characters (unknowingly) 'putting on the city', like a garment. (I noted yesterday how the film repeatedly shows the city's architecture and skyline, thus encouraging us to read the triptych this way. Note the fittingness of the time - evening, when people have retired to bed, drawing the bedcovers up, perchance to dream ...) But, equally, the triptych reminds us that the characters are united by a basic creatureliness: we all sleep, we all have the same fundamental needs. By extension, the city, i.e., London, renewing itself after the War, represents the unity that the characters are seeking or, sadly, feel to have eluded them. (The other visual motif I noted yesterday - of the 'stately' columns seen at the Old Bailey, at Hindley Hall in Cumbria, and so on - stands for a certain 'tradition' that can only represent a certain kind of unity, and that, unfortunately, often an imposed or punitive one.) The idea that fascinated Charles Dickens (according to his friend and biographer John Forster), and which permeates 'Bleak House' (1853) - that 'we are all so connected without knowing it' - is very strong in The Paradine Case. I know that The Paradine Case isn't considered a major Hitchcock film, but it deserves reconsideration. Critic Bill Krohn has done extensive work on the extant footage and scripts, and feels that there are things in Hitchcock's conception and execution that are remarkable - only, in many cases the trimming done by Selznick has crassly removed the real point of a scene. But I began by talking of how Hitchcock films are about 'life' or life passing people by. The one thing Tony Keane lacks from wife Gay is, it's implied, passion. By contrast, that's precisely what he senses in Maddalena Paradine. Suitably, when Keane visits Hindley Hall, the camera dwells, almost fetishistically, on Maddalena's ornately carved bed and its plush surroundings. And when the camera, in an adjoining room, shows Maddalena's beloved piano (she had also played the piano in the Paradines' London town house), the sheet of music on it is called 'Apassionata'. (Note: the composer's name, an Italian one, translates as 'Franz Waxman'.) However, at the film's end, Tony and Gay are reconciled. She tells him not to become 'a beachcomber', i.e., someone who dwells apart from the flow of 'life', and a close-up shows her hand reaching out to touch his face on which a stubble has appeared (he's not been home and now it's nearly dawn). It's a nice symbol, suggesting both the passage of time - the flow of life - and a renewed intimacy of Tony and Gay that itself is a reconciliation to 'life' in the deepest meaning of the word.

November 16 - 2004
I trust that I have begun to show how, once one sees that Hitchcock's films are about 'life' (definition/s below), they also begin to reveal their affinity with 'pure cinema'. It's nearly all in the design (hence the significance of Hitchcock's legendary emphasis on meticulous pre-planning). An aspect of The Paradine Case is how London is shown as fragmented, having various styles and moods. Time and again, a scene begins with a corner of a building, a stretch of the Thames, a part of a skyline (some of it War-ravaged) - but never, I think, the same shot twice. Or, in some secluded square, a statue of some seemingly forgotten figure stands forlornly. Time has moved on. (Time and space are very precisely employed, too, as elements in The Wrong Man [1957], which I increasingly think of as a companion to The Paradine Case, though they differ greatly in storyline.) By the same token, there's a sense of 'unappreciated' or 'potential' unity, and again design has much to do with it. Consider the significance of how similar columns with their pediments figure in scenes of the Old Bailey, of Hindley Hall (the Paradine country mansion), and of the inside of Judge Horfield's home. Or why Hitchcock includes a triptych of shots (which I've described elsewhere) of the various participants in Mrs Paradine's trial preparing in their separate dwellings to go to sleep on the evening of the trial's opening day. Also, Hitchcock gives us a general sense of the city's post-War renewal ('life' again), thus anticipating a motif that recurs in Under Capricorn (1949) and Stage Fright (1950). So now I'll try and summarise matters. Hitchcock could be very objective and show people either enjoying life (but seldom 100%!) or missing out on it. (Not even in To Catch a Thief [1955], set on the French Riviera, does anyone seem truly happy!) Equally, he took a subjective approach, typically implicating the film viewer, whereby a central character behaves wilfully or constrainedly but in appreciably human terms. The suddenly restless and discontented Keane in The Paradine Case is such a figure, and in his wilful obsessiveness he prefigures Scottie in Vertigo. But, inasmuch as he is an identification-figure at the centre of the film, he also has affinities with the constrained heroes of Hitchcock's 'picaresque' adventure-thrillers (e.g., Hannay in The 39 Steps [1935]). Such figures embody 'life' as a subjective experience and as an 'impulse' - both those things, though in varying degrees and balances. They are figures of Will, and if they are also pro-actively wilful, they typically, if unwisely, go looking for a 'lost paradise' (in The Paradine Case represented by 'Italy' and Maddalena, in Vertigo by 'missions' and by Madeleine). Note: both The Paradine Case and Vertigo are thus 'lost paradise' films, but the 'picaresque' thrillers (e.g., The 39 Steps) aren't. The heroes of the latter are typically 'ciphers', devoid of appreciable ambition. They just want to stay alive! But they are still figures of Will. And it is this Will that Hitchcock's cinema expresses, and which 'pure film' is ultimately about. So it doesn't matter whether the 'life' is inner or outer, a 'force', an impulse, or a 'flow'. Pure film is up to expressing it, and is its analogue. Tomorrow: a little more on The Paradine Case.

November 15 - 2004
Something I've been noticing while putting up our 'Report' on McGilligan's book - and for other reasons - is how often Hitchcock showed 'life' passing people by. Norman Bates in Psycho (1960), stuck with managing a lonely motel, speaks regretfully of how 'they moved away the highway'; Squire Pengallan in Jamaica Inn (1939) laments his distance from London, and how the people around him are barely alive; Annie Hayworth in The Birds (1963) has settled in upstate Bodega Bay seemingly for good, though her affair with Mitch is now a lost cause. In each case, the person teeters on the edge of sanity; two of them actually go crazy. (Poor Annie is the partial exception, merely noting that 'this tilling of the soil can become compulsive'.) In each case, too, Hitchcock does something remarkable: he implies how glorious the person's course might have been (at least in fantasy). Thus Norman seemingly once listened raptly to Beethoven's 'Eroica' Symphony; Squire Pengallan had ambitions to be a Byronic hero; and Annie still dreams on, while listening to her favourite recording of Wagner's 'Tristan und Isolde'. These instances all recall the famous line about 'mute inglorious Miltons' in Thomas Gray's 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard'! At the same time, it's a case of 'pure film'. Just by inserting these contraries in his films (Norman and Beethoven; Pengallan and Byron; Annie and Wagner), Hitchcock defines where his characters are at; also, like a poet (or a musician or an artist), he creates a mood or its modulation. (Cf Hitchcock telling Truffaut, about The Trouble With Harry [1955], that its contrasts of dark and light 'elevate the commonplace in life to a higher level'.) Next, the idea of 'life' passing people by also occurs in a film like The Paradine Case (1947). Anthony Keane (Gregory Peck), though happily married and a successful barrister, seems unconsciously to seek something that he has missed out on. His wife Gay (Ann Todd) wants him to take their long-deferred Venetian honeymoon, but he keeps putting her off. Italy doesn't have strong enough appeal for him - at least, not Italy with Gay! But then Keane encounters his exotic new client, Maddalena Paradine, from Italy, and promptly becomes infatuated (spellbound?). So now we have the inverse of the 'mute inglorious Miltons' syndrome: a highly acclaimed barrister (based on the famous Edward Marshall Hall) suddenly sees in Mrs Paradine the 'key' to what has been troubling him deep down, and he starts rushing around the country (to Cumbria) and behaving obsessively. This is almost an analogue of the appeal of 'cinema' (cf Vertigo [1958]), and I'll say something more about it tomorrow.

November 10 - 2004
Something that initially excited Richard Franklin about reading the screenplay of No Bail for the Judge was its massive 180 or so pages - usually, screenplays are in the 100-120 pages range. But Samuel Taylor's screenplay, notes Richard, 'is the next best thing to seeing a finished Hitchcock film, since it contains lots of camera moves and the like, giving a very clear indication of how Hitchcock planned to shoot it'. The project would have rounded out Hitchcock's contract with Paramount. (In the event, Psycho, albeit shot at Universal, served that function.) Incidentally, note from yesterday's entry that John Williams would have played not the accused judge but the eccentric Colonel Brain whom Low enlists to infiltrate the world of London's street walkers. (Steven DeRosa gets this right; but other sources, including Patrick McGilligan's recent biography of Hitchcock, slip up.) Although the character of Ambrose Low would have been played by Laurence Harvey, I've read that Hitchcock had initially wanted Cary Grant. And someone else considered for the role, suggests McGilligan, was Richard Burton.

Richard Franklin found in the screenplay 'some surprising and wonderful humour'. In particular, he describes a suspense scene set in a courtroom (not the only such one). It involves a trial in the magistrate's court where 'some street girls, the judge's daughter included, have to try and get Ambrose off the hook as a procurer, but will be "cut" by their pimp if they do. So in the end Ambrose gets himself off without a word even from the barrister heroine.'

Hitchcock's ambition to set a scene in Hyde Park goes back to the time he worked briefly with Sean O'Casey on a project that eventually became O'Casey's play 'Within the Gates' (1943). (John Galsworthy's man-on-the-run drama, 'Escape', which Hitchcock had wanted to film, also contained such a scene.) And, almost certainly, Hitchcock in 1959 remembered, too, the climactic scene of Lawrence Huntingdon's Wanted for Murder (1946), which this website has shown to have been a major influence on several Hitchcock films.

But here's Richard Franklin's summing up on No Bail for the Judge ... 'As a courtroom melodrama No Bail ... is far superior to The Paradine Case (1947), and doubtless interest in the subject and its London setting came from the then recent success of Billy Wilder's Witness for the Prosecution (1958). Still, it is very much of its time (and would need much re-working to compare to, say, a John Grisham like Copolla's The Rainmaker). But it is clear where it comes in the Hitchcock canon. And especially that if Hitchcock wanted to push the envelope with an unscripted rape scene, that he was moving towards the shock of the Psycho shower murder (by comparison to which, No Bail for the Judge's camera direction and style are suggestive of his more measured, glossier Technicolor films). As necktie murders and London's seamier side go, I suspect circa 1960 No Bail ... would probably have been a better picture than Frenzy a decade later.'

[Note. Richard Franklin is seen in several of the Laurent Bouzereau 'making of' documentaries included with the recent Warner 'Alfred Hitchcock: The Signature Collection' DVDs.]

November 9 - 2004
Richard Franklin (director of Psycho II) tells me that he recently spent a fascinating day in the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, reading Samuel Taylor's screenplay of No Bail for the Judge. This of course is the unrealised project that Hitchcock was going to direct after North by Northwest, and which would have starred Audrey Hepburn and Laurence Harvey. First, here's a brief synopsis of the story, based on the novel by Henry Cecil ... A respectable Old Bailey judge, Sir Edwin Prout, through no fault of his own - indeed, after trying to save a dog from being run over in the street - suffers a blow to the head and ends up suffering amnesia and charged with the murder of a prostitute. His barrister daughter Elizabeth (Hepburn) allies herself with an ex-thief turned private detective, Ambrose Low (Harvey), and, with the help of the retired Colonel Brain (John Williams), a richly droll character, sets herself to obtain the evidence necessary to acquit her father and to convict the real criminal.

Richard read both Samuel Taylor's treatment for the film and a version of the screenplay. The dates on these are respectively April 10 and April 15. (A later version of the screenplay, dated May 21, is excerpted on Steven DeRosa's 'Writing with Hitchcock' website: 'rape' scene.) Something that struck Richard was that the 'supposedly contentious rape scene' is really quite mild. As he puts it: 'it is perhaps clearer in the treatment that the heroine is forced to have sex with the villain (the playboy son of a titled lady who is in fact running London's prostitution ring). But both versions of the scene in Hyde Park end with specific reference to moving in on the back of his head and seeing nothing.'

Richard continues: 'In 1959, Audrey Hepburn (who apparently had some personal issues at the time) may have characterised this as a kind of rape, but there is no violence implicit, other than the fact that the villain pulls her toward him with a necktie (his murder weapon of the prostitute who was blackmailing his mother). In the next scene, in the car driving away from Hyde Park, Elizabeth looks rueful but unhurt. And later she tells the now despondent Ambrose that it was her choice [to accompany the villain to try and obtain information: cf John Buchan's 'Mr Standfast' (1919) - Ed.] and that she'd do it again, if necessary, to save her father (taking the morality of the couple from Notorious somewhat further).'

The film's finale evidently caused problems. Richard notes how in the treatment it occurs at the Epsom Derby, where the villain is trampled to death by the horses. But in the April 15 screenplay, the finale takes place at a party in the villain's mother's home: the son gets drunk, confesses, and falls with a chandelier to his death. And Steven DeRosa notes another finale again, in which the villain first shoots one of his murderous associates, then turns the gun on himself.

November 2 - 2004
My thanks to J. Lary Kuhns for the following, extracted from the book 'Littlewood's Miscellany' (more information). It seems to be a prototype for Hitchcock's famous 'MacGuffin' anecdote set in a railway carriage. The prototype, called "The Mongoose", is also set in a railway carriage, and consists of the following dialogue: A: 'What is that basket in the rack for?' B: 'A mongoose; you see, I have a friend who sees snakes.' A: 'But those are imaginary snakes.' B: 'Oh yes, but it is an imaginary mongoose.' And 'Littlewood's Miscellany' comments tersely: 'This was a chestnut in 1913, [but] quite unknown in 1930; don't know about 1956.'

September 10 - 2004
Sorry for the continued inactivity here lately. Tonight, though, our Index page has been slightly revised. It announces that a very long review of Patrick McGilligan's 'Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light' will eventually appear on this site. 'Late 2004', is what it says. In fact, the review could appear as early as October. (By the way, we're less than enamoured of McGilligan's book. Don't throw away your copy of Spoto's 'The Dark Side of Genius' ...) Other material is also in preparation. We haven't forgotten, for example, our commitment to put up more on Hitchcock and Dickens. For starters, that is.

August 18 - 2004
ust a couple of things. First, Prof. Phil Skerry of Lakeland Community College, Ohio, has been back in touch with a cheery email and a request: 'I'm the guy who's writing the book on the shower scene from Psycho. I want to thank you for the posting [on the 'MacGuffin' website a few months ago]. I received some terrific responses. I just received an extension for the MS until Dec. 31, so I was wondering if you might be willing to put in one more request for reminiscences.' In particular, Prof. Skerry wants to hear from people who remember their first viewing of Psycho with an audience and what it was like, both personally and for the other audience members. You can email him at . Second, maybe test your knowledge of Hitchcock's films with a series of multiple-choice quizzes compiled by Dave Hunter. Click here (WayBack Machine): Questions

July 12 - 2004
For a while (days, weeks, months?), the Editor will be pre-occupied with overhauling and updating this site. During that time (days, weeks, months?), "Editor's Day" is likely to consist only (if at all) of news about 'what the Editor has been doing lately to overhaul and update this site'. Clear? Tonight, for example, the Editor has been paving the way by answering emails and posting material re the new Alfred Hitchcock Enthusiasts & Scholars Group. [Yahoo group now history - AF]. (That's where the action is, for the moment.) Hail to thee, gentle reader ...

July 8 - 2004
Brandon in Rope brags to Philip that committing murder is his way of being 'creative' and coming alive. He is like so many other Hitchcock characters who are failed artists: e.g., Bruno in the novel and film of Strangers on a Train (1951), the Scottie character in the novel and film of Vertigo (1958), Roger in North by Northwest (1959). In each case, Hitchcock knowingly counterpoints 'life' with 'art'. Bruno, for example, enumerates for Guy his hare-brained projects of driving at 150 m.p.h., booking a ticket on the first rocket to the moon, and even harnessing the life-force. Meanwhile, you suspect that his artistic talent is no greater than that of his mother, the painter of a ghastly 'Saint Francis'. The Vertigo novel specifically calls Scottie 'a failed artist', and the film proceeds to associate him with Midge in that respect; Scottie's pursuit of Madeleine into churches and art galleries is his attempt to overcome his lack. As for Roger, he scoffs at art connoisseur Van Damm and concentrates, as he says, on 'the art of survival'; near the end of the film, he gets to boast, 'I never felt more alive'. But he is still not a true artist. Note a couple of implications. First, Hitchcock sees art as something privileged and supremely healthy: in art lies wholeness and a way of mastering the destructive side of our (dual) natures. Second, without it, we may be in danger of taking out our destructiveness on others. (One wonders what will become of Roger and Eve on their return to New York. Have they learnt the lesson of their adventures? Or will thay be like Fred and Emily at the end of Rich and Strange - a film to which North by Northwest alludes, and which it resembles structurally - and become one more of the quarrelling couples found in so many of Hitchcock's films?) Okay. In commenting now on the broken-glass episode in Rope, I want to make use of the above observations. (Regular readers may also recall my brief analysis here a few weeks ago of the Michael Curtiz film The Sea Wolf [1941] based on the novel by Jack London who had read both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche ...) Hitchcock, I think understandably, must have liked the drama of the broken glass because he later used a variant of it in Frenzy (1972). Such a moment, in its concentrated suggestiveness, is quite Eisensteinian, of course. Think of the close-up in Battleship Potemkin (1925) of the pince-nez that had belonged to the ship's captain (was it?) killed in the mutiny. In the case of Philip in Rope, he breaks the glass when he momentarily thinks that the murdered boy, David Kentley, has returned as a 'ghost'. Near-sighted Mrs Attwater (Constance Collier) has just entered the room and exclaimed 'David!' when in fact she has seen David's friend and look-alike Kenneth. Philip's nervousness has been emphasised several times to this point; it corresponds to his partner Brandon's stammer inasmuch as the film thereby reminds us that neither of these two would-be 'Supermen' are anything other than human - and fallible. The moment also serves to stress the resemblance of David and Kenneth, a crucial point in the play as well. Earlier, Brandon had said, 'The Davids of this world merely occupy space.' Now we are being reminded that, from the point of view of these two cold and twisted killers, Kenneth is equally expendable. (Bruno in Strangers on a Train will ask, 'What's a life or two, Guy?') And now I must hasten to the end of the film. The whole film has been another of Hitchcock's critiques of subjectivity and hubris like, say, The Birds (1963). Now we hear Rupert's ringing accusation, 'Did you think you were God, Brandon?' When Rupert throws open the window - another glass object, note - we can almost feel the healthy fresh air that flows into the apartment and brings with it the welcome voices of a 'society' that is not itself infallible but is nonetheless, short of God, or the visions of art, the best corrective to our inevitable wickednesses and self-deceptions ...

July 7 - 2004
Speaking of some British values of the 1920s and 1930s (see the penultimate sentence above) may bring me to a question I have been asked by Hitchcock enthusiast RW about Rope (1948): can I defend the business with the broken glass? RW is particularly incensed by how, within moments of Philip's cutting his hand on the broken stem of the glass, both of his hands are shown to be unbloodied. And, yes, that has always seemed to me, too, an obvious 'slip-up' by Hitchcock! (Three quick points to dispose of this particular aspect of the broken-glass matter. First, those of us who know Hitchock's films well are aware that there are many 'slip-ups' in them. But, second - in view of your strongly-worded email, RW, about how you feel 'contempt' for anyone who can still admire the film - I would add that it's a necessary skill [a life-skill, indeed] not to let a blemish, even a large one, spoil one's appreciation of what else remains. Rope has many virtues. Third, the broken glass has dramatic and symbolic and thematic importance in the film - something to which I'll come shortly.) Now, about those British values I mentioned. Patrick Hamilton's play called 'Rope' was first performed in London in 1929. The play draws on the intellectual climate of that time. I would especially mention a book I have often cited here - Prof. John Carey's 'The Intellectuals and the Masses' (1992) - in which Carey shows the incredibly snobbish attitude of British intellectuals after the First World War. Much influenced by the writings of Nietzsche, these intellectuals believed that 'most people are dead'. Quite frankly, some of them anticipated Hitler. D.H. Lawrence wrote in a letter that he would like to build 'a lethal chamber as big as the Crystal Palace' in which he could exterminate the masses. Hair-raising stuff. And Hitchcock mixed with some of these intellectuals - for instance, whenever he attended the London Film Society - and certainly imbibed some of their values. (Undoubtedly his phrase 'the moron masses' was a carry-over from this time.) Carey shows that Catholic intellectuals were as prone as anyone to adopt some of the 'snobbishness' I'm speaking of here. By the same token, Hitchcock was a man of the people, both by dint of his Cockney background and the fact that he made his living from entertaining the masses - in effect, by bringing them more alive! (In the 1930s, Hitchcock wrote that most people are 'sluggish and jellified' and that it was a filmmaker's job to do something about it.) Again and again, I have iterated here that Hitchcock's ambivalence towards his audiences, and towards worldly things (and Hitchcock could be very worldly), resulted in marvellously rich films ultimately expressive of a life-force that is also a death-force. The ambivalence is patently present in a film like Rich and Strange (1932), in which the lowly clerk Fred tells his wife Emily, 'I want more life - life, I tell you!', and appears to have his wish granted - yet still leaves us puzzled at the film's end about just how much, if anything, he and Emily have learnt from their recent experiences. Has life been wasted on these two representatives of the masses? Well, 'Rope' raises similar questions. In the opening moments of the play, the Brandon character, influenced by Nietzsche, speaks lines that recur practically unchanged in Hitchcock's film. 'I have killed. I have killed for the sake of danger and for the sake of killing. And I am alive. Truly and wonderfully alive.' Tomorrow: the broken glass in Rope - its dramatic, symbolic, and thematic importance.

July 6 - 2004
I want to return, just for tonight, to the matter of how the Bulldog Drummond novels, plays, and films probably had a major influence on Hitchcock. My thanks to Prof. TW for saying that, to judge from my comments here last week, 'it looks like [there's] a very credible case for the Colman-Drummond adaptations [in particular] being influential on Hitchcock'. As TW notes: like Donat in Hitchcock's The 39 Steps, Colman was the perfect gentleman and not the 'fascist thug' that Drummond in the novels has been called (e.g., by British film historian Jeffrey Richards in 'Visions of Yesterday' [1973]). But it's the 'fascist' aspect of Drummond that I'd like to take up for a moment. Recall how I wrote here last week (July 1): 'I actually find a certain pathos in the atmosphere of the Drummond novels which [...] read like an extension of the nocturnal trips into no-man's-land, or the perilous tunnelling beneath enemy positions, that Sapper and a select band of stout-hearted fellows must have regularly [undertaken] during the War.' Compare that with an interesting comment by noted gay journalist and playwright Johann Hari writing recently on the nexus down to the present-day between homosexuality and fascism. Of the Nazi Ernst Rohm, who was openly gay and who was executed, at Hitler's express orders, on the Night of the Long Knives (see Visconti's The Damned [1970]), Hari writes: 'Historian Joachim Fest describes Rohm's generation of alienated, demobbed young men humiliated by defeat as "agents of a permanent revolution without any revolutionary idea of the future, only a wish to eternalize the values of the trenches."' (To read the full article by Hari, click here (WayBack Machine): Johann Hari - Archive.) Aspects of that description - but only aspects - certainly sound like they apply to Drummond and his pals in Sapper's novels. Of course, Drummond & Co. aren't 'humiliated by defeat', so they aren't necessarily out to avenge themselves on anybody. Nor are they seeking to permanently revolutionise society. Nor, finally, are they gay - at least, Drummond certainly isn't. (One has one's doubts about the seemingly sexless, monacled Algy, towards whom Drummond is benevolent and protective.) But they are keen to 'eternalize the values of the trenches' and to have fun doing it, which requires finding suitable opponents. Hence the 'fascist' tag applied to Drummond and his men (by, say, Jeffrey Richards) when they go into action against people like Carl Peterson and his henchmen - and typically at night. Peterson (who seems at times almost a prototype for Fritz Lang's Dr Mabuse) is brilliant, protean, and not averse to using torture. Also, he is known to employ semi-human individuals, even orang-utans, to guard himself and his property, and to use electrified fences and other 'discouragements' to would-be snoopers. All good fun, surely! (Perhaps Jeffrey Richards's comments are a little beside the point.) Anyway, I suspect that Hitchcock saw it that way. The fact that he himself patently had a streak of sadism, if not actual 'fascism', I regard as perfectly in keeping with some quite British values of the time. And by putting this side of himself into his work, he ensured that films like The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and The 39 Steps (1935) only seemed the richer to audiences then, as they still seem to us now.

July 5 - 2004
There was a wonderful post on the site the other day about the sound version of Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929). Here is the bulk of it: 'Just imagine what it must have been like for theatre-goers. The film begins like many other films that included synchronized sound effects in addition to simple music. This was no big surprise as most [filmgoers] had experienced this before. Then, voices are heard [...], but since the actors have their backs turned on the screen, this too is something that [audiences] had seen before in [non-lip-synchronised] films like Piccadilly. Then comes the big surprise. As [Frank] meets Alice White, the audience for the first time sees the lips moving as they hear the words. The film comes alive with sound like [filmgoers] have never [experienced] before! What they don't know (and this is even more unbelievable), the voice that they hear coming so convincingly from Anny Ondra's lips belongs to another actress [i.e., Joan Barry] talking into an off-stage microphone while Anny mouths the words. What a great film Blackmail is. Beginning as a [conventional silent-converted-to-sound picture] and then progressing to a full fledged talkie, the film is a bigger masterpiece than [perhaps] Hitchcock ever imagined.' Well, I'm not exactly sure about that last statement - in which the writer of the post is suggesting that Hitchcock did things this way by accident. In fact, I was reminded of the start of The Birds (1963) in which Hitchcock toys with our expectations that eventually the birds are going to attack en masse. For the first half hour, he merely gives hints and little signs of what is coming! Then, when the finches pour down the Brenners' chimney, suddenly (nearly) all the stops come out! Okay. In preparing to write up tonight's item here, I looked again at both the silent and sound versions of Blackmail. And I must say that I love the atmospheric silent version - perhaps even more than the sound version because, after all, some of the latter's effects are a bit erratic and aren't as sophisticated yet as Hitchcock's later use of sound would be. But I just wanted to comment on a couple of differences in the early parts of the two versions. First, some of the bits of business in the silent version are gone from the sound version. In particular, there's a lovely moment in the former when the newly-caught and -fingerprinted felon has just been shut into his cell and stands at the aperture in his cell door, obviously mouthing-off at the detectives who have put him away. Suddenly someone lowers the shutter over the aperture - a neat way of 'shutting him up' still further (and a virtual comment by Hitchcock on the film's lack of a soundtrack)! Second, I noticed tonight for the first time that Hitchcock's cameo in the two versions is slightly different. In the better-known sound version, it ends with Hitchcock out-staring the little kid who has tormented him in the subway train. But in the silent version, Hitchcock is more passive. As the kid returns to possibly continue the attack, Hitchcock, though aware of the kid's presence, doesn't look up - leaving both him and us in trepidation about what the kid may do next!

July 2 - 2004
No, I take back what I said about Sapper's Bulldog Drummond being perhaps more a man of the people than Buchan's Richard Hannay! It is precisely the friendly, gentlemanly aspect of Hannay that Robert Donat gets so right in Hitchcock's film! In the chapter of Buchan's novel called "The Radical Candidate" - the basis of the memorable scene of the impromptu political speech in the film - Hannay meets up with a man named Sir Harry on his way to give a speech, and is invited to fill in for a second speaker who has gone missing. (Sir Harry's consternation may remind you of the White Rabbit muttering distractedly to himself in Lewis Carroll's 'Alice In Wonderland'!) As soon as Sir Harry starts speaking, Hannay realises how inept a speaker he is. 'Yet', Hannay tells the reader, 'in a queer way I liked the speech. You could see the niceness of the chap shining out behind the muck with which he had been spoon-fed.' (Chapter IV) You don't get that sort of friendly appreciation from Drummond - perhaps because there simply isn't time! But that brings me to my next point. The outlandishness of many scenes in Hitchcock's The 39 Steps is a Drummond sort of thing. For example, in the novel, Hannay's own speech at the political meeting is just a matter of regaling his audience with memories of his trip to Australia. ('I simply told them all I could remember about Australia, praying there should be no Australian there ...') The nonsensical - but deeply felt - speech in the film, however, provides an instance of Hitchcock's inspired cheekiness that I equate with some of Sapper! Now consider this. The two Ronald Colman films of Drummond novels - the second was called Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (1934) and was described by William K. Everson as 'that rarity, a sequel superior to its original' - both seem to me obvious precursors of The 39 Steps. Everson writes of the second Drummond film: 'The script delighted in dumping Drummond into the most inextricable of situations, have him admit the near impossibility of escape, and then proceed to effect that escape in a manner both absurd yet somehow logical.' How Hitchcockian! Next, the addition of a love-interest to The 39 Steps, and a certain risquéness about the whole business, is like a combining of elements from the Drummond films and the chapter called "Adventures of a Pair of Handcuffs" from a comedy-adventure novel by Anthony Berkeley, 'Mr Priestley's Problem' (1927) - as our separate page on The 39 Steps discusses. About the inn scene, in particular, and in addition to a risqué story involving a pie which Hitchcock cited to Truffaut as one source, I think of the scenes at the Green Bay Inn in the 1929 Bulldog Drummond and also the inn scene in a 1934 Tom Walls vehicle called Lady In Danger: what Hitchcock and screenwriter Charles Bennett appear to have done is change the prying pair of innkeepers in that film to the far more agreeable elderly couple in the 1935 film. At all events, Buchan is the least of inspirations here! Even the fact that the pursuers of Hannay and Pamela on the moors are, in one extended sequence, spies disguised as policemen, is a rather Bulldog Drummond sort of situation: at the end of Bulldog Drummond, Carl Peterson and his whole gang elude Drummond (paving the way for a sequel, of course) by impersonating police officers! Okay. That will have to do for this week. Another time I'll discuss further the Drummond novels and films and their connections to such Hitchcock films as Foreign Correspondent and North by Northwest.

July 1 - 2004
Again tonight, let me start with a clarification. When I called Bulldog Drummond 'almost ... a larrikin-figure' and 'a working-class [or] lower-middle-class type' (June 29, above), I didn't mean the last part literally - Captain Hugh Drummond is anything but working-class in terms of income. (The same goes for his monacled pal, Algy, of course.) Nonetheless, he is perhaps more a man of the people, and uninhibited when it comes to having 'fun' (almost as Howard Hawks used that word), than Richard Hannay in the novels of Buchan. (Hannay and his pals move pretty much exclusively in the highest echelons of society, and in particular the landed gentry, whose essential values they staunchly uphold; Drummond, by contrast, is basically a city dweller, isn't much interested in class and class-values, and would probably subvert some of those values if he could be bothered to identify just what they were. In general, he is simply against whatever is stuffy and moribund. Drummond's 'larrikin' escapades thus appealed more than Hannay's adventures to ordinary working-class and middle-class readers. If I'm not mistaken, Buchan's regular publisher was Methuen, while Sapper's was Hodder and Staughton - which should tell us something.) Another point is this. Sapper's hero is often described as a bit of a xenophobe and a thug, but let's not overlook that Buchan's early novels - like 'The Thirty-Nine Steps' (1915) - contain their blatant anti-Semitic and homophobic elements (which Hitchcock's film version understandably jettisoned). I actually find a certain pathos in the atmosphere of the Drummond novels which, as I mentioned yesterday, read like an extension of the nocturnal trips into no-man's-land, or the perilous tunnelling beneath enemy positions, that Sapper and a select band of stout-hearted fellows must have regularly experienced during the War. Consider also that reference to the 'shell-shocked' (actually tortured) old man in the 'Bulldog Drummond' novel (see June 28, above): in that description there's an element of compassion, albeit sublimated by pragmatics, that bespeaks Sapper's experience of the wartime trenches in all their stark reality - and which contemporary readers would have respected. But I wanted to pass next to Sapper's influence on Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935). I will say two things. First, and this contravenes usual opinion, by the time that Hitchcock and Charles Bennett were through, there was really very little of Buchan left in the film - not much more in fact than there is of Daphne du Maurier left in Hitchcock's (and Evan Hunter's) The Birds (1963)! On the other hand, there is rather more of Sapper in the film than is generally recognised. As I pointed out here on November 20, 2002, some of the business with Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim) throwing herself at Hannay (Robert Donat) at the start, is neither from Buchan nor is it an ex nihilo invention of Bennett and Hitchcock. I wrote: 'Take a look at the scene in Bulldog Drummond [F. Richard Jones, 1929] in which a young blonde named Phyllis throws herself on the manly Drummond and pleads with him to save her father who is being held prisoner by Carl Peterson [...] She bursts into Drummond's room at an inn [...] and immediately crosses to the window where she closes the curtains and peers down, terrified, into the courtyard below. The episode not only anticipates how Hannay in The 39 Steps is suddenly accosted in the street outside a music hall and asked by a blonde woman, Annabella, to be taken home by him - where she promptly requests him to draw the curtains and [check] the street below - but also the element of male gratification is the same and [evidently] shows the influence of one scene on the other.' More tomorrow.

June 30 - 2004
I can't stress enough the popularity of the Bulldog Drummond books, the stage play, and, in particular, the 1929 film Bulldog Drummond starring Ronald Colman and Joan Bennett. Film historian William K. Everson wrote: 'While, in retrospect, Rouben Mamoulian's Applause [...] can be seen to have been 1929's most significant movie, and academically its best, Bulldog Drummond is in many ways almost its equal.' In "Editor's Day" for 19 November, 2002, I noted several tell-tale signs in Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) of the Bulldog Drummond influence. (That is, besides the well-known fact that Hitchcock and screenwriter Charles Bennett had originally asked themselves: what if Drummond became a father and then his baby were kidnapped? The idea for Drummond's having a baby came from a passing reference in the Drummond novel 'Temple Tower' [1929] - which quite startled Drummond fans, especially as the baby was hardly ever mentioned again! As for the idea of its being kidnapped, remember that the Lindbergh baby kidnapping was, in 1932, currently making headlines around the world.) First, Drummond and his bumbling, monacled pal Algy are detectably the predecessors of Bob Lawrence (Leslie Banks) and Uncle Clive (Hugh Wakefield). By the same token, Drummond's opponents, who aren't averse to a spot of kidnapping, are roughly the equivalent of the gang in Hitchcock's film. True, another influence was Buchan's 'The Three Hostages' (1924), especially for the idea of the gang's use of hypnotism to try and extract information. (As we've seen, Drummond's villains favour torture - a method which Hitchcock had to wait until he got to tough-minded America to incorporate in a thriller, Foreign Correspondent, scripted of course by Charles Bennett.) But consider this telling correspondence. Drummond's principal opponent is Carl Peterson, and Peterson's female offsider, Irma, passes as his 'sister' - when it's clear that the pair are in fact lovers. Here, perhaps, is one source for the quirky, even kinky, relationship in The Man Who Knew Too Much between the principal villain Abbot (Peter Lorre) and his supposed 'nurse', Agnes (Cicely Oates) - when the latter seems to be in fact either Abbot's sister or his lover or both! (She also has a 'motherly' side, let's notice!) Yet complicating matters still further - did someone mention Hitchcock's 'eclecticism'? - is the clear influence on The Man Who Knew Too Much of the American film Scarface (1932), directed by Howard Hawks. Not only does Abbot in Hitchcock's film have his own prominent scar - that is, he is another 'scarface' - but in his possibly incestuous relationship with Agnes, he is again only taking after his Hawksian predecessor (I'm referring of course to the relationship in Scarface between the Paul Muni and Ann Dvorak characters). (The shoot-out climax of The Man Who Knew Too Much itself represents a merging of the climax of Scarface with the real-life incident known as the Siege of Sydney Street. For more on the Hawksian connection, see 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story.) Okay. I've run out of space tonight to mention my feeling that much of the atmosphere of the Bulldog Drummond books - typically full of nocturnal scenes (which the film versions readily copied, if only for reasons of economy) - seems to me to be related to the tension-filled atmosphere of the First World War trenches. (The word 'sapper', after all, which the author of the Drummond books took as his pen-name, refers to the military 'engineers' whose job it was to dig trenches under enemy positions and lay mines.) More tomorrow.

June 29 - 2004
More tonight about the huge influence of the Bulldog Drummond novels, stage adaptations, and films on several Hitchcock movies - about which I'm prepared to claim that they may owe as much to 'Sapper' (creator of Bulldog Drummond) as to John Buchan (yes, even in the case of Hitchcock's film of Buchan's 'The Thirty-Nine Steps'). Before I continue, though, a clarification of something I said here yesterday. Although in the stage version of 'Bulldog Drummond' (whose torture scenes created a sensation with audiences, contemporary reports indicate), and in the subsequent film versions, the old man who is tortured is the heroine's father, in the original novel it is actually a different character, an elderly American millionaire named Hiram Potts. Now, about this matter of Buchan's versus Sapper's influence on Hitchcock. The simplest and best way to look at the matter may be to remember that Hitchcock, as I've always said, was a Romantic-eclectic filmmaker. (The eclectic side of Hitchcock, despite the best efforts of 'The MacGuffin' journal and website, is still hugely under-appreciated - for example, by Patrick McGilligan's recent biography of Hitchcock!) You could certainly say that several Hitchcock films are about a Buchan versus Sapper outlook - where 'Buchan' stands for a civilised and responsible social order that must finally be acceded to, and 'Sapper' stands for what remains subversive of that order, even at the end of the picture. As an Australian, I would say that 'Buchan' is on the side of the (traditionally upper-class and landed) authorities, while 'Sapper' is almost what Australians call a larrikin-figure - a working-class and lower-middle-class type (cf. Peter Weir's film of Australia's involvement in the First World War, Gallipoli [1981]). Of course, the rhetorician Hitchcock has a bit both ways - that's why I stressed just now his Romantic-eclectic stance - but I believe that the Cockney in him secretly sides with the larrikin. Here's another parallel. We know (thanks to Bill Krohn and others) that Hitchcock had a huge admiration for the work of the famous Cockney caricaturist William Hogarth (1697-1764), and owned several original works by him. However, it's reported of Hogarth that he could never desist, even in his most 'serious' paintings, from inserting details that showed his uninhibited, fun-loving, mocking side - something that got him into trouble with the art Establishment of his time, who never fully accepted him or took him seriously. Such, I believe, was also the case with Hitchcock, whose 'Sapper' side sometimes threatened to erupt and 'mar' the more responsible, 'Buchanesque' style of his work (North by Northwest still has its detractors for that reason, whatever the 'making of' documentary on the DVD may imply!). Personally, such 'compromise' doesn't bother me in the slightest - I'm a Dickens fan, remember! (Dickens, even today, still has his detractors for making too many concessions to popular taste ...) Tomorrow: more on Sapper's influence on Hitchcock (and the influence of the First World War on Sapper).

June 28 - 2004
'The MacGuffin' (by which I mean the hardcopy journal of that name, founded in 1990) long ago pointed out that the torture of Van Meer (Albert Basserman) in Foreign Correspondent (1940) derives from the novel, play, and film versions of 'Bulldog Drummond' by 'Sapper' (H.C. McNeile). The novel appeared in 1920 and the stage version began its successful London run immediately afterwards, when it starred Gerald du Maurier as Drummond. Two British silent films of 'Bulldog Drummond' were made, the first in 1922 starring Carlyle Blackwell. Then, in 1929, came the Hollywood version, so fondly described - with good reason - by film historian William K. Everson in 'The Detective in Film' (1972). Starring Ronald Colman and Joan Bennett, the film used Expressionistic sets (that is, when not repeatedly photographing a devil-may-care Drummond in his roadster speeding through the countryside at night), these designed by William Cameron Menzies; they anticipate similar sets used the following year in Hitchcock's Murder!. Photography was by Gregg Toland and George Barnes. Now, all of these versions of 'Bulldog Drummond' - the original novel, the stage play, the film versions - include scenes in which an old man, the father of the heroine Phyllis, is tortured by the evil Dr Lakington and his boss, the master-of-disguise Carl Peterson. In each case, the old man's cries are dwelt on. And in each case, Hugh Drummond peers in through a window or skylight at the disturbing, almost incredible, scene within, as he ponders what to do. Here's how the novel describes the scene: 'A paper was in front of the man, and Peterson, who was smoking a large cigar, was apparently suggesting that he should make use of the pen which Lakington was obligingly holding in readiness. In all respects a harmless tableau, save for one small thing - the expression on the man's face. Hugh had seen it before often - only then it had been called shell-shock. The man was dazed, semi-unconscious. Every now and then he stared round the room, as if bewildered; then he would shake his head and pass his hand wearily over his forehead. For a quarter of an hour the scene continued; then Lakington produced an instrument from his pocket. Hugh saw the man shrink back in terror and reach for the pen. ...' (Chapter 2) Virtually all of this I have described here before (notably in "Editor's Day", November 19 and 20, 2002). My point was always that this famous scene in a 'classic' British popular novel and play - the latter assuredly seen by Hitchcock on its first London run - was the basis for the matching scene in Foreign Correspondent - where the old man is Van Meer, 'Lakington' is Krug (Eduardo Cianelli), 'Peterson' is Fisher (Herbert Marshall), and 'Drummond' is ffFolliott (George Sanders). (Support turns up later in the persons of Johnny Jones [Joel McCrae] and Stebbins [Robert Benchley].) Further evidence to back my contention came the other day with a television screening of another film version of a Sapper story, this time Bulldog Drummond at Bay (1937), made in England and starring the American John Lodge, but with interesting British supports such as William Dewhurst (the bird-shop proprietor in Hitchcock's Sabotage [1936]) and Wilfred Hyde-White. This time, a feature of the obligatory torture scene was the use of bright lights shone in the old man's face - exactly as in Foreign Correspondent. More tomorrow.

June 23 - 2004
We have seen how the film The Clue of the New Pin, rather than Hitchcock's Blackmail, has been sometimes cited as the first British talkie feature - but that recent checking by Jeremy Jago and others seems to show conclusively that in fact The Clue of the New Pin was not released with sound. Last night we printed an excerpt from Margaret Lane's biography of Edgar Wallace which seemed to support this conclusion. (Incidentally, Tony Fletcher has noted to me that Edgar Wallace wrote special dialogue for the film - one of several films made at this time from Wallace novels and filmed for British Lion at studios in Beaconsfield, Islington and Southall.) The film starred Benita Hume and Donald Cathrop, with a young John Gielgud in support. Jeremy Jago found this relevant passage in 'Early Stages' (1939, revised 1948, 1974), the first volume of Gielgud's memoirs (as opposed to his posthumously-published 'Letters', which have just appeared): 'My second film was an Edgar Wallace thriller, The Clue of the New Pin. In this I played the villain, fantastically disguised in a long black cloak, black wig, spectacles and false teeth, and always photographed from the back, so that I could by no possible chance be recognised, even by the most adept villain-spotter in the audience, as the bright young juvenile whom I had impersonated during the rest of the film. There was an endless "sequence" in a vault in which I had to go mad and reveal myself as the maniac I really was. These were still the "silent" days, and I thought I should really be sick by the time I had repeated a dozen times the peals of hysterical laughter, the moppings and mowings and extraordinary impromptu dialogue which the director, an actor (who had appeared in Irving's company), demanded from me at this crucial moment. ... My next film effort, Insult [1932], ... was my first "talkie" ...' Finally, Jeremy Jago (for a paper delivered in Nottingham in 2001) has looked at footage from a cut-down, 9.5mm version of The Clue of the New Pin, and reports that the images would seem to preclude the use of synchronised sound. (We noted here yesterday that the film was going to be released using the British Phototone sound-on-disc system - disc sound being essentially an unedited record of a continuously enacted scene, says Jeremy.) Here now is Jeremy's conclusion. 'In summary, several different sources of evidence state that The Clue of the New Pin is silent, and analysis of the film itself supports the same conclusion. I believe the statements that the film has sound are reproduced from previous writings without research. The origin may be anticipatory announcements, in the 1928-29 film trade press, which did not come to fruition. [Accordingly], Blackmail's status as first British feature length talkie stands unchallenged.'

June 22 - 2004
Back on May 5, I began here to inquire about whether Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929) was really entitled to be considered the first British talkie feature. After all, the distributor for an adaptation of an Edgar Wallace novel, The Clue of the New Pin, had taken out an advertisement in 'The Bioscope' as early as January 9, 1929, calling it the first British 'All-Talkie' - and, according to Tom Ryall, in his monograph on Blackmail (BFI, 1993), The Clue of the New Pin was released in March 1929 'some months' ahead of Hitchcock's film. (Cf. Ryall, pp. 9, 17, 61.) Later, on May 13, I reported how, according to distinguished film historian Rachael Low, The Clue of the New Pin used a sound-on-disc system, and so perhaps Hitchcock's film, recorded on RCA Photophone, could fairly be considered the first genuine British talkie feature. Now it looks like the case for Blackmail is even more clear-cut! Tonight I'm going to draw mainly on the research of Jeremy Jago in the UK, whom I thank unstintingly, but I must also mention my very real gratitude to such people as Tony Fletcher, Michael Walker, and Steve Taylor, who have all been very helpful in tracking down sources of information. (Tony Fletcher, like Jeremy Jago, is actually doing ongoing research in the area of British silent cinema.) First, here's what Jeremy found when he looked into what Rachael Low had written. 'Rachael Low's "History of the British Film 1918-1929" [1971] describes and lists [The Clue of the New Pin] as being in the British Phototone disc sound system (pp. 204-5, 349). But writing 14 years later [in her "Film Making in 1930s Britain"] the same author reverses these assertions thus: "It was originally intended to use British Phototone for an earlier film, The Clue of the New Pin, but this proved impracticable and when the film was trade shown in March 1929 it turned out to be silent."' Jeremy Jago, like me, has actually taken the trouble to read the original Edgar Wallace novel! He writes: 'The novel reads as a very evocative candidate for sound production, containing not only musical theatre scenes, but also highly dramatic climactic use of overheard sound. The book is better known and more available than the film. So [scholars, journalists, etc.] tend to believe the statements that the film has sound. The evidence, though, is to the contrary.' And Jeremy adds: 'The Clue of the New Pin was in production December 1928 at [studios in] Beaconsfield. Its trade show was in March 1929, 7292 ft, silent. I have failed to find any record of a trade show or release in sound.' Finally tonight, Jeremy provides this passage from Margaret Lane's biography of Edgar Wallace [1964]: '[British Lion] moved into the ramshackle, out-of-date George Clark studios at Beaconsfield and briskly set about reconditioning and equipping them. Edgar rented a furnished house at Bourne End, which was near at hand. In less than a year the studios were converted and ready for production, and silent films of "The Ringer", "Chick", "The Forger", "Red Aces", "The Man Who Changed His Name", "The Clue of the New Pin", "The Valley of Ghosts" and "The Flying Squad" were made at break-neck speed in the first eight months. Of these, Edgar directed only one, "Red Aces" [...] With 1929, however, the talkies arrived [...] British Lion, which had been in production for less than a year, was faced with the expensive problem of complete reconstruction, and soon after Edgar, as chairman, had to break it to the shareholders at the annual general meeting that the company showed a loss on the year of £49,428. Studio reconstruction occupied the next nine months ... By February 1930, the studios were ready for talking-picture production ...' More tomorow.

June 21 - 2004
Every day we experience or read evidence - don't we? - for the vagaries and the wild swings of individual human nature. Nobody who is fully alive is immune. One such vagary of Hitchcock's I've described above. (And, speaking of human nature, my thanks to Prof. TW who reminded me again in a recent email of the 1904 novel by Jack London, 'The Sea Wolf', which was inspired by London's reading of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche; the most successful film version of the novel was Michael Curtiz's, made in 1941 and starring Edward G. Robinson as the ruthless and wilfully insular sea captain who is finally defeated. In that description I can immediately see the Schopenhauerian element at work, plus links to such Hitchcock films as Vertigo and The Birds.) Well, though David Selznick once described Hitchcock as 'not exactly a man to go camping with', that isn't to deny that Hitchcock was fully alive in his own way. He always kept in touch with the invigorating power of the sex drive. Not for nothing, when writing of Easy Virtue (1927) in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', did I refer to 'Hitchcock's belief in a free-flowing Eros as the surest means of keeping us all human'. I had in mind Hitchcock's critique of the destructive insularity represented by 'Moat House' - a microcosm of traditional England, in which the ill-fated heroine goes briefly to live and which anticipates the insular aspect of both 'Manderley' in Rebecca (1940) and the Bates Motel in Psycho (1960). Okay. So let's briefly discuss Hitchcock and ... masturbation. As is well known by now, Gus Van Sant's version of Psycho (1998) literalises what Hitchcock and screenwriter Joseph Stefano weren't able to show in 1960: Norman's hand movements as he watches Marion Crane undress. Nonetheless, according to reports, Hitchcock had been aware of the nature of Norman's feelings at this point (and they're hinted at in Chapter Four of Robert Bloch's novel). Almost certainly, he had chuckled at the inherent pun in this scene. If so, there were precedents. American Dickens scholar, Prof. Eliot Engel, wrote of 'Oliver Twist': Dickens would never have named a character Charley Bates (one of the younger members of Fagin's gang of thieves) if he couldn't call him Master Bates. Likewise, as a new book - 'The Yard of Wit' by Raymond Stephanson - indicates, the writer Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) appears to have been a masturbator who regularly punned on the fact. A reviewer for the 'Times Literary Supplement' wonders if Stephanson had noticed that on the first page of Swift's most famous book, 'Gulliver's Travels', we're told that Gulliver was apprenticed to 'my good master Bates', and what Stephanson makes of that. All I want to add is that it's nice to know that Hitchcock shared the vigorous sense of humour - and of life - of these other notable creative figures ...

June 16 - 2004
Anyone who has read Patrick McGilligan's biography of Hitchcock, and what it reports about the respective libidos of Grace Kelly (before she became Princess Grace) and Hitchcock - one outgoing and ready for action, the other deeply sublimated in the telling of scabrous jokes and the act of filmmaking itself - should not find it difficult to accept Kenneth Anger's story of one fine night in Laurel Canyon. As for Alma Hitchcock's whereabouts that night, one may reasonably suppose that she was away visiting friends or relatives. (Actually, Anger's story only balances up what McGilligan reveals about a fling of Alma's three or four years earlier, with screenwriter Whitfield Cook, while Hitch was in England finishing Stage Fright [1950].) Note that I'm supposing that for all Hitch's sublimations, he still harboured lustful thoughts - exactly as you would expect of the frustrated, but powerfully creative, highly egotistical, middle-aged male he was. Nor have all the true stories about the director yet been told in public. Terry Johnson's play 'Hitchcock Blonde' copped some criticism for being hurtful to the director's family - see "Another Hitchcock-related stage play" in our News section below - but it probably tells an essential truth about him. I'll go one step further. I shouldn't be surprised if the ultimate source for the Anger story was Hitchcock - who could be as driven by what has been called (by Eric Bentley) 'the universal compulsion to confess' as any of Hitchcock's characters, such as the egotistical Brandon in Rope (1948). Witness the director's blabbing to Truffaut about his celibacy (though McGilligan, strangely, always prefers to speak of Hitchcock's 'impotence'). But, having said all of that, I must now ask: so what? In any historical perspective, Alfred Hitchcock's shortcomings were no worse than those of many other creative figures. Even the highly respectable married novelist Charles Dickens (1812-70), who prided himself on upholding family values in his publications 'Household Words' and 'All the Year Round', began in middle-age an affair with a teenage actress named Ellen Ternan that continued until his death. It is generally acknowledged that the hitherto insipid heroines of Dickens's novels only grew richer after he began the affair, and that the complex and sensual Estella in 'Great Expectations' (1862) could never have come from the pen of the younger Dickens. The same author even at times displayed his own variant on 'the dark side of genius' (to borrow Spoto's phrase about Hitchcock). If you think that the story about an unsuspecting props-man whom Hitchcock dared to remain overnight inside a deserted studio while handcuffed - meanwhile slipping him a powerful laxative - is unpleasant, what do you make of this story about Dickens that emerged a few years ago with the publication of the ninth volume of 'The Letters of Charles Dickens'? Henry Bradbury, the son of publisher William Bradbury, committed suicide by swallowing prussic acid. The firm of Bradbury & Evans were at that time publishing a journal called 'Once a Week' in competition with Dickens's 'All the Year Round'. On being told what had happened, Dickens laughed - and proceeded to write a callous letter which (the volume's editors say) 'makes embarrassing reading'. Carry on, Hitchcockians.

June 15 - 2004
No, it's not a nice story. In his very sympathetic presentation of Kenneth Anger, Australian journalist Peter Wilmoth (of 'The Sydney Morning Herald') wrote in 1993: '[Anger] found himself drawn to the stories of Hollywood that even the most virulent gossip columnists would never touch'. 'But', Wilmoth also wrote, 'if it's possible to do so, Anger believes he has reported sordid Hollywood with affection. "Anyone who takes the trouble to read ['Hollywood Babylon', Volumes I and II] will see I have great sympathy for these people," he says'. And what were some typical stories told by Anger? Brace yourself, gentle reader. Wilmoth: 'Alfred Hitchcock viewing through a telescope while the ice-maiden Grace Kelly disrobed, or the photo of Errol Flynn playing "horsie" with a teenage girl grimacing under the actor's weight.' For years, I refused to believe the Hitchcock story - at least, whenever confronted with it (by a Cinema Studies lecturer at Melbourne University or, in a letter, by top Australian columnist Phillip Adams), I would argue its implausibility - but now I find myself accepting it. I'll explain why shortly. (As for the Flynn matter, a photo is a photo. And Australian biographer Charles Highams's 'Errol Flynn: The Untold Story' [1980] confirms that the exhuberant Flynn had a very nasty side indeed ...) First, though, here is the relevant passage, from 'Hollywood Babylon II', in the section headed "Closely Watched Blondes": 'The famous fear merchant had settled down in an expansive wing chair comly to his bulk. At this point in his career, he looked like E.T.'s grandfather. His head was pressed close to the eyepiece of a tripoded, powerful telescope that poked out from a window into the soft Laurel Canyon night. A mile away, the bedroom was brightly lit. No curtains, torn or otherwise, blocked the view. The blinds were up. The future Lady Bountiful of Monaco was about to perform the single greatest act of charity of her charmed life. Slowly, thoughtfully, as if returning from a night on the town, Grace Kelly disrobed. [...] The last [item] to fall were her French lace panties. [...] Scopophilia - the gratification of sexual desire through gazing - is the cleanest of kinks. The scopophiliac is safe from flesh contact, germs, and from the squeeze plays that might court rejection. Linked as she was to him only by polished optical lenses across the abyss, the lovely ice-blond ex-model from Philadelphia had consented to indulge Peeping Al's whim just this once. It would be over in a mere five minutes when she snapped off the lights.' And that's it, gentle reader. When I first read the story, with 'scopophilia' the current catch-phrase amongst academic film scholars, I thought: this is too 'classic' to be true! Also, though I had of course read Donald Spoto's account of Hitchcock's 'dark side', I couldn't (yet) bring myself to believe that Hitchcock - let alone Grace Kelly - would ever have indulged in such 'Rear Window' antics! (The clear analogue with that film was again so 'classic' that it seemed for that very reason to make the story unacceptable!) More prosaically, I asked myself: who could possibly have known about such an event and told about it afterwards? Lastly: and where was Alma Hitchcock while this was taking place? Tomorrow: some answers.

June 14 - 2004
Underground filmmaker and author Kenneth Anger (Scorpio Rising, et al.) received an appreciative and warm welcome when he visited Australia in 1993. He even spoke of making a film here about a notorious 'witch' who had an affair with the conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra of her day. (If you're interested, you can read about Rosaleen Norton on the Web: The Witch of King's Cross: Rosaleen Norton and the Australian Media by Dr Marguerite Johnson.) Anger spoke of casting Judy Davis as the 'witch' and Barry Humphries as the conductor, though he admitted both performers 'might be a bit expensive for me'. As far as I know, the film never got off the ground. I think that's a pity. Anger's bucking of official society - as seen in his symbolic and unashamedly 'gay' films and in his two 'Hollywood Babylon' books (to which I'm coming) - can be invigorating. I mean, his work shows us something that is true. And the often seamy side of life, and official society's at-times stuffiness about it, needs exposure. A writer like Dickens (in Victorian England, no less!) knew that. And I think that Hitchcock would have admired the energy of Anger's filmmaking, may even at some stage have watched Anger's first short film Fireworks (1947) before shooting the celebrated fireworks scene in To Catch a Thief (though there were other likely influences for that, including Basil Dearden's Saraband For Dead Lovers [1948] and David Lean's Summer Madness [1955]). Fascinatingly, the first volume of Anger's 'Hollywood Babylon' was published in French while he was living in Paris in 1959 - thus coinciding with the start of the Nouvelle Vague! (The English edition of the book did not appear until 1975.) What a disparate - yet complementary - view of Hollywood to that which the young French critics-turned-directors had concerned themselves with! Instead of attempting like them to valorise Hollywood's artistry (especially the artistry of certain 'auteurs'), Anger wrote about Tinseltown's underbelly, the sordid - yet always real and human - scandals and venalities of its film people. Significantly, for the accuracy of what Anger retails in the two volumes of 'Hollywood Babylon' (the second volume of which was first published in the UK in 1986), he has only once been sued - and that unsuccessfully, by Gloria Swanson in the 1950s. Anger told an Australian interviewer in 1993: 'Gloria Swanson said I'd denigrated her reputation and besmirched her honour. She had Alzheimer's disease, and had forgotten that she'd sent a letter to [columnist] Walter Winchell in which she'd called Lana Turner a tart because she'd received all this sympathetic publicity after the death of her lover. Gloria was always extremely disappointed that after winning the Academy Award for Sunset Boulevard [1950], she didn't get any more movie offers. She went slowly insane. I can say that now she's dead. Suing me was insane, especially asking for $30 million. She was in court, elegantly dressed in black, looking like a wounded widow. Anyway I won, she lost. The judge said it was a nuisance law suit.' Tomorrow: Anger and Hitchcock (not a nice story).

June 10 - 2004
Here's an item I had meant to run here yesterday. It concerns Marnie (1964) and was forwarded to me by Michael Walker in London. (Thanks Michael, and best wishes for your Hitchcock research which will soon be shared by us all, it really does seem at last - but for the time being I can say no more about that, on your own instructions ...) 'The Guardian' last Monday, in its obituary for Ronald Reagan, quoted one of his favourite sayings: 'there's nothing wrong with the inside of a man that contact with the outside of a horse can't put right'. Apparently it wasn't one of Reagan's own sayings but one he got from American folk wisdom - leaving Jay Presson Allen, who must also have heard or read it somewhere, to adapt it for a line of dialogue spoken by Mr Rutland Snr (Alan Napier) in Marnie. In the film it is refined a little and made more diplomatic: 'The best thing for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse.' Moreover, while certainly in character, coming from the horse-riding Mr Rutland, the line also fits an elaborate 'in/out' motif that runs through the film, a motif that informs both dialogue and visuals. The motif's origin is certainly the elaborate 'doors' motif in the earlier Spellbound (1945) but in Marnie is made to have its explanation in Marnie's trauma stemming from when, as a young girl, she was frequently shut out of her mother's room and bundled into a cold bed whenever Mrs Edgar (Louise Latham) was entertaining 'clients' - one of whom (Bruce Dern) Marnie one night kills with a poker. Throughout the film, doors are made to open by Marnie - including safe doors associated with their literal or metaphoric 'golden' contents, part of another elaborate motif (with sexual overtones, of course) - and shut by Marnie in other people's faces (when not being shut in Marnie's own face). When asked by Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) about the tapping that figures in her recurring nightmares, Marnie finally explains it as the tapping on her mother's downstairs window by one of the 'clients' (invariably a sailor off a ship in the adjoining docks): 'It means they weren't in.' In other words, being 'in' is associated with privilege; and the adult Marnie takes that word in its broadest, social sense to mean whatever things - wealth, status, security, sex - she feels excluded from, and resentful about. The very look of the film is made to reflect this dichotomising in Marnie's view of how things are. Actually, I'm reminded that Dr Laurent Fiévet (see above, June 7) detects in Marnie the influence of the Dutch classical school of painters (Vermeer, et al.) - who specialised in interiors characterised by light and roominess and a special quietness - so perhaps Hitchcock saw in this element of his film the possibility of visual counterpoint. (More about this another time.)

June 9 - 2004
Apologies for mis-quoting Hitchcock last night, thereby rendering the relevance of the Schopenhauer passage less than apparent. Hitchcock of course did not speak of 'the complacency that surrounds us all' but of the 'catastrophe that surrounds us all'. (See, for example, the celebrated 'Cinefantastique' issue on The Birds.) But perhaps, in any case, I should explain what I meant when I suggested that The Birds is about awaking into what Schopenhauer called 'a better knowledge'. And the quickest way to do that may be to quote from the novel of The Trouble With Harry. I'm thinking of the passage that describes Sam Marlowe's feelings when he comes to paint the face of the dead man, Harry. Earlier, another death had occurred, that of a hedgehog, accidentally shot by Captain Wiles. When the Captain finds the hedgehog, and its two orphaned babies, '[h]is brown face was touched with dismay'. But he is distracted, and he goes on his way. It falls to Sam to next come upon the dead mother hedgehog and her babies. A bluebottle fly, which had been feasting on the mother, buzzes nearby. On seeing the babies, Sam is 'filled with a vast and overwhelming sorrow'. He buries the mother in leaf-mould under a gorse bush, then tenderly gathers up the babies, wraps them in bracken and canvas, and puts them in his pack of paints and brushes. (He later gives them to Jennifer's young son.) Then he swings around and violently slaps the bluebottle into the ground and stamps on it. Now here's the passage about the dead man, as seen by Sam: 'The dead face of this man held the millions and millions of dead faces of all the centuries. In that dead face lay all humanity; all cold history; all the odd attitudes and mistakes. He would paint the faces of the world that had been. All the thousands of faces massed together. All the staring eyes of the people as they stood wondering, laughing, weeping, and dull with misunderstanding and ignorance. The faces of the Jews and the Gentiles, the Romans and the Egyptians and the Greeks [...] all standing looking and not knowing.' And here's what I suggest. Put the above passage alongside the Schopenhauer one from yesterday: both are well nigh unfilmmable. But both, it seems to me, are complementary; and both imply what Schopenhauer called 'a better knowledge' - which in the case of the novel of The Trouble With Harry is given to the artist (and to the novelist himself, Jack Trevor Story) to feel, and to try to depict. It further seems to me that it's this privileged knowledge that is finally the subject of The Birds. Of course, it comes from within, from the better and wiser part of each of us: the sort of knowledge not to be learnt from books, but from living, loving, meditating. It is akin to the 'will-less knowledge', devoid of ego, of which Schopenhauer wrote, and that he felt great art might impart. Moreover, it does seem to me that the process of breaking down ego, the individual self, is what The Birds deals with (not least when directly addressing the viewer in a notable scene) in order to arrive at ... a better knowledge. Okay?!

June 8 - 2004
8 Last night and again tonight my topic is the relation of Edvard Munch's painting 'The Scream' to Hitchcock's film The Birds. As the BBC documentary that I mentioned last night notes, 'screaming' was very much in the air - so to speak - in the 1960s. In 1961, when 'Time' magazine ran a major story on guilt and anxiety, Munch's painting was featured on the cover. At the end of the decade, Dr Arthur Janov's therapeutic technique of 'Primal Screaming' was spreading out from California to create world-wide interest. In the early 1970s, a friend wrote to me about how impressed he and his partner were by Janov's insights. He wrote: 'If Janov is right (and I very strongly believe he is) then Hitchcock is not only the most astute observer in the history of film but also his movies are far and away the most potentially (and only potentially, because of the repressive atmosphere of our movie theatres, preventing open displays of emotion) therapeutic of all film makers.' (Thanks, Dave Minter, after all these years!) All I know is that from the opening seconds of Hitchcock's Marnie (1964), containing Bernard Herrmann's wrenching 'cry in the night' (as I always think of it), this second vehicle for Tippi Hedren becomes one of the most 'primal' of all movies. And, for some of us, one of the most anguishing. If The Birds was meant by Hitchcock and his art designer Robert Boyle to embody a version of Munch's implacable cosmos, a cosmos that causes the little figure in the painting to clap his hands to his ears and emit a scream that in all probability goes unheard, then Marnie is a more introspective, more 'psychological', depiction of the same phenomenon - and of the inner working of the same implacable force. (Incidentally, I note the estuary in the background of Munch's painting, reaching into the image from a vaster wilderness beyond; there is actually a moment early in Hitchcock's film, as Melanie in her Aston-Martin approaches Bodega Bay for the first time, when the scene closely matches Munch's setting, even to the line of a fence echoing the jetty or walkway in the painting.) All of which, as I suggested last night, is in turn Schopenhauerian, as befits its universality. And Hitchcock was insistent, more than once, that The Birds is about 'the catastrophe that surrounds us all'. So tonight I shall leave you, gentle reader, with one of my favourite passages from Schopenhauer's 'The World as Will and Representation', Vol. I, that speaks of this very phenomenon, relating it to what Schopenhauer calls the principium individuationis (principle of individuation) whereby each of us is bound in subjectivity, his/her particular time and space. Each of us is deluded, as Schopenhauer bluntly puts it. 'Just as the boatman sits in his small boat, trusting his frail craft in a stormy sea that is boundless in every direction, rising and falling with the howling, mountainous waves, so in the midst of a world full of suffering and misery the individual man calmly sits, supported by and trusting the principium individuationis, or the way in which the individual knows things as phenomenon [mere appearances, illusion]. The boundless world, everywhere full of suffering in the infinite past, in the infinite future, is strange to him, is indeed a fiction. His vanishing person, his extensionless present, his momentary gratification, these alone have reality for him; and he does everything to maintain them, so long as his eyes are not open to a better knowledge.' The Birds (and perhaps 'The Scream') is about awaking into such a better knowledge, I suggest.

June 7 - 2004
Yesterday I watched a BBC documentary about Edvard Munch's painting 'The Scream' (1893). Actually it appears that there are three Munch paintings of that title, as well as two pastels and one hundred drawings, but that the painting that hangs in the National Museum Oslo, is considered the 'definitive' version. (If you'd like to view it now, National Museum - Oslo.) In addition, Munch considered 'The Scream' to belong to a group of his paintings that he intended to be shown together as 'The Frieze of Life'. These works depicted 'living people who breathe, feel, suffer and love', as Munch put it in a manifesto that he had written in 1889. Now, we know that Hitchcock's art designer Robert Boyle conceived his overall design for The Birds (1963) 'from the very beginning' to reflect aspects of 'The Scream': 'the sense of bleakness and madness in a kind of wilderness expressing an inner state'. Dr Laurent Fiévet, author of two Hitchcock-related art installations shown recently in Finland, would broaden the matter out: he detects an influence on The Birds of 'the whole series of "The Frieze of Life"', whereby the film draws on 'its figures, motifs and figurative solutions, and [by the end] shifts its elements to the character of Melanie'. (I understand this to be a reference to Melanie's becoming increasingly more human during the film.) With all of this in mind, let me now offer some further observations about 'The Scream' and its relation to The Birds. An artist interviewed in the above-mentioned BBC documentary suggested that the title 'The Scream' refers to the landscape itself: that is, it's the landscape that is visibly vibrating - screaming - and that the little figure with its hands clasped to its ears is trying to shut the sound out. Personally, I see that same, open-mouthed figure as also screaming, and that this is consistent with how - to those of us who are Schopenhauerians - outer and inner are one and the same, both being manifestations of the implacable 'Will' (which, though, is both a life- and death-force, as Munch himself appears to have recognised, for after all he spoke of the people in 'The Frieze of Life' as both suffering and loving ...). And such a reading of Munch's painting also works for Hitchcock's film, I feel. (In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', I have already suggested how the film is about Will being 'turned back on itself', which was something that Schopenhauer suggested is necessary, in individual or collective cases, to achieve a form of release: in The Birds, it is the birds that are the agents of such release, being the very emblems of Will - and the initially very wilful Melanie their principal target.) The birds themselves scream - and screech - at their victims, the humans; but the latter also scream, and especially the children in the birthday-party and schoolhouse scenes. The adults scream inwardly, or silently - as when Lydia Brenner runs open-mouthed and retching from Dan Fawcett's house - but are just as powerless as the children against a force that they have always taken for granted because, being immanent and universal, it was all-but invisible. (A fish, they say, doesn't know that it's in water.) But that precisely is the nature of Will, subjectively experienced, for most of us, most of the time. I'll devote one more item, tomorrow, to 'The Scream' and related matters.

June 4 - 2004
Change of plan, or anyway emphasis, tonight, away from H-G Clouzot himself to the Boileau & Narcejac novel on which he based Les Diaboliques. That novel, originally called in French 'Celle qui n'était plus', and in English (rather feebly) 'The Woman Who Was', and which I've just finished reading, proves to hold considerable interest for Hitchcockians in its own right. Hitchcock certainly read it and, as was his wont, borrowed from it. Recall that in the novel the (apparent) murder victim is the wife, not the husband. Anticipating Hitchcock's Vertigo, at one point the husband, increasingly convinced that his wife, Mireille, has returned as a ghost, thinks he sees her emerge from a thick fog and stand beside the garden gate. (Hitchcock always said that his reason for dressing Madeleine in Vertigo in grey was that he wanted her to appear 'as if she had just walked out of the San Francisco fog'.) Earlier, there had occurred a passage which Hitchcock surely adapted as the 'echoing footsteps' sequence, set in Camden Town, for his 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much. The passage involves the private detective (who in the film Les Diaboliques is played by Charles Vanel) who has squeaky shoes and who, the husband's ears suddenly tell him, is following him home from the morgue. (As 'the MacGuffin' once noted, Hitchcock complained about how a take for the sound version of Blackmail was ruined by an actor's squeaky shoes, but added that he was thinking of using the effect in one of his forthcoming pictures. Which he proceeded to do - in Murder!, I think it was. Accordingly, The Man Who Knew Too Much 'improves' on the squeaky shoes idea!) Oh, and I was surely right when I speculated here on June 2 that the hotel scene in Les Diaboliques helped inspire the scene in North by Northwest in which Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) first encounters evidence for the existence of 'George Kaplan', who appears to suffer from dandruff. The corresponding scene in 'Celle qui n'était plus' has the husband finding evidence that his wife had occupied the hotel room; the principal evidence is her distinctive comb on the shelf over the washbasin in the bathroom - the comb even has 'some [of his wife's] golden hairs clinging to the teeth'. Finally, I mention the following for what it's worth. Driving home from the hotel (the novel's shocking climax follows immediately), the husband runs into a rainstorm. 'The windscreen-wiper flicked rhythmically backwards and forwards. Ravinel [the husband] was quite confident of not losing his way. [...] Suddenly he was dazzled by the headlights of another car, which almost grazed him as he passed. [...] He changed gear. Here was his street. He was conscious of being cold. He slipped out the clutch and let the car glide forward on its own momentum. [...] He looked up at the house. Behind the shutters lights were [unexpectedly] burning.' Okay. Given what we've previously noted here about Hitchcock's capacity to run together ideas from various sources (e.g., in North by Northwest: ideas from Ronald Neame's The Man Who Never Was and Grahame Greene's 'Our Man in Havana' - the latter about a British spy's made-up reports of a Cuban 'secret weapon' that bears a strange resemblance to a vacuum-cleaner), can one doubt that when Hitchcock read Robert Bloch's novel 'Psycho' he was reminded of the rainstorm passage from 'Celle qui n'était plus' and saw the possibility of his film's combining the passages from both books?

June 3 - 2004
First, Chris Gray quite properly suggests in an email that Clouzot's Les Diaboliques may - in addition to the Hitchcock films I listed last time - have influenced Frenzy. He mentions how 'the close-up of a hand sliding up the stairway railing at the end of Les Diaboliques is very similar to the close-up of Blaney's hand sliding up the stairway railing when he is pursuing Bob Rusk at the end of Frenzy.' Of course, a similar shot had been used as long ago as Hitchcock's own The Lodger (1926). But there's also another moment in Les Diaboliques that suggests an influence on Frenzy. It comes when the detective named Fichet (Charles Vanel) is interrogating Christina and Nicole (the wife and mistress respectively of the missing headmaster), and to shut out noise from the adjacent corridor pushes shut the door of the room - inadvertently revealing the suit hanging there that had belonged to the missing man. You think again of the end of Frenzy, where Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen) reveals himself to Rusk by pushing shut the door behind which he has been standing. Okay. So let's briefly talk about the Grand Guignol climax of Les Diaboliques. I love the way Clouzot has the hapless Christina, in her night attire, run in terror down a corridor to what she imagines is relative safety, the bathroom at the far end of the corridor. (The moment is a bit like when, in Psycho, Lila, under the stairs, sees Norman coming, so decides to retreat down to what looks like a fruit-cellar ...) But no sooner has she reached it, and shut herself inside, than she suddenly sees something in the bath - which starts to rise up from under the water. (Shades of What Lies Beneath!) The terror of this whole sequence certainly impressed another master filmmaker, Ingmar Bergman, who borrowed some of its showiest effects for the climax of his Ansiktet/The Face/The Magician (1958), a sequence, though, which maintains a certain distance, being essentially a demonstration (as we soon realise) by the magician/artist named Vogler (Max Von Sydow), who is trying to induce fear in a sceptical and supercilious doctor (Gunnar Björnstrand). Both Clouzot and Hitchcock, by contrast, put the audience in a child's position of unknowing, only revealing the exact nature of recent events when they are over. Clouzot was frank about his approach: 'I sought only to amuse myself and the little child who sleeps in all our hearts - the child who hides her head under the bedcovers and begs, "Daddy, Daddy, frighten me."' (I imagine that other 'aesthetic' effects, such as those that proceed from our understanding of the sublime and the beautiful, are also based on childhood perceptions, and are only the more 'true' for it.) But I never finished indicating other connections between Les Diaboliques and Psycho. So here are one or two more. The detective played by Charles Vanel (who would play Bertani in Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief) functions, it seems to me, in a way that combines Inspector Hubbard in Dial M For Murder and Arbogast in Psycho. Like the former, he seems initially absent-minded, even past it, but in fact is wily and astute (actually, he reminds many people of Columbo!). Like the latter, he is friendly but pressuring. Exactly like Arbogast, he is introduced as a watching presence (in the morgue sequence) before the main characters are aware of him. He is of course an essential part of the plot mechanics. Now, I even detect in Les Diaboliques the originals for the sheriff and his wife in Psycho. Upstairs in Nicole's house in Niort, a couple complain at someone taking 'decadent' late-night baths in the apartment below. (In fact, the headmaster has been secretly lured to the house in order to be first drugged and then drowned in the bathtub!) At least, the husband does. Given his irascibility about his disturbed sleeping and the fact that he wears a tartan jacket, and given the wife's more conciliatory nature, the pair seem to me to foreshadow the Psycho sheriff wearing his plaid dressing gown and angry at being knocked up late at night (by Sam and Lila), and his more sweet-tempered wife. Tomorrow: more on Clouzot, and conclusion.

June 2 - 2004
When Patrick McGilligan asked me for my favourite quote about Hitchcock, I referred him to John Houseman's 'Unfinished Business' (1986). The passage reads in part: '[Hitchcock] was an entertaining and knowledgeable companion: books and paintings, dogs, houses and politics all occupied a place in his life. But his passion was for his work, which he approached with an intelligence and an almost scientific clarity to which I was unaccustomed in the theatre.' That last sentence sprang to mind again as I compiled a list of Hitchcock's obvious borrowings from Clouzot's Les Diaboliques - as seen in Psycho, but also in Vertigo, North by Northwest, The Birds, and Torn Curtain. There are at least a dozen or twenty of them! In a press release for Torn Curtain, Hitchcock once spoke of keeping a filing cabinet of good ideas; it must have been bulging - and yet I suspect that many more such ideas were only retained in Hitchcock's head, without ever being set down on paper. (Regretably, though, neither McGilligan nor anyone else has indicated coming across such a file, let alone disclosed its contents.) Okay. What are some of those borrowings from Les Diaboliques? I'll start with the death of the wife, Christina. Tricked into having a fatal heart attack - in a terrifying Grand Guignol climax, in which the husband, Michel, supposedly murdered, appears to rise from the dead - she slumps to the floor of the white-tiled bathroom. At least one of the shots of her slipping down the wall matches closely one of the shots in the shower scene of Psycho. In other words, the two films are linked by more than broad structural similarities (not forgetting here another film, Vertigo, which has affinities with both): Hitchcock seems actually to have had individual shots from the Clouzot film in mind. Another instance: the disembodied bronze hands in Psycho echo the gloves beside Michel's typewriter that seem poised to strike its keys (which, terrifyingly, we have have just heard tapping). And again: when the two women - the wife Christina and the mistress Nicole - drive hastily away in their van, containing the supposedly murdered Michel, from the garage where they have stopped for petrol, they leave behind a suspicious garage owner who watches, arms akimbo, the van disappearing: a shot that anticipates the one in Psycho where the car salesman, his mechanic, and a policeman watch Marion drive away. I mentioned Vertigo and also North by Northwest above. The scene in Les Diaboliques set in the run-down Hotel Eden (a name that shows that Clouzot had a sense of humour, despite reports to the contrary) anticipates elements from both those films. As a part of the fiendish plan to make Christina think that she is losing her mind (cf. Gaslight!), thus softening her up for 'the kill', the scene resembles the deluding McKittrick Hotel scene in Vertigo: Christina learns that her husband supposedly led a secret life here. But when a hotel employee who appears unexpectedly from behind a door with a mirror on it (another link to Psycho since both it and Les Diaboliques are full of mirrors) says that the room's occupant is never seen, though he pays his bill regularly, the source of a striking scene in North by Northwest (the one referring to George Kaplan's dandruff!) is revealed. Tomorrow: more about the climax of Les Diaboliques; etc.

June 1 - 2004
Chris Gray emailed me that he had 'noticed how both [Les Diaboliques and Psycho] use water as a symbol of death. Think of the bathtub and the swimming pool in Les Diaboliques, and the shower and the swamp in Psycho'. He has a point, though I wouldn't call these things symbols, exactly. They're more emblems of the pessimism that pervades both films. Clouzot, particularly, seems to have wanted the 'dirty dishes in the sink' atmosphere to mirror his characters' lives, so that the dénouement, in which the evildoers are found out and punished, might seem the more grim - an 'all for nothing' sort of point. (The wife is already dead of a heart attack.) He had of course already used such an ending in The Wages of Fear. By contrast, and as I've written elsewhere, Hitchcock worked into Psycho an elaborate 'angels' symbolism with Miltonic overtones (based on Milton's sonnet called 'On His Blindness') to offset the pessimism. To my mind, this only confirms my point that Hitchcock was a 'Schopenhauerian' filmmaker, since Schopenhauer, though called a 'pessimist', allowed that art, or sheer grace, might allow particular individuals release, if only for a time. Now, water and death are certainly linked by Boileau and Narcejac, the co-authors of the original novel of Les Diaboliques and also of the novel on which Hitchcock's Vertigo was based. The novel of Les Diaboliques opens in the seaport of Nantes and stresses the presence of ocean-going liners; the equivalent town in the film, where a character will be murdered, is the market-gardening town of Niort, Clouzot's birthplace, well away from water. In the Boileau and Narcejac novel 'D'Entre les morts', the basis of Vertigo, the Madeleine character jumps into the Seine in an apparent attempt to commit suicide. But even here, water is more a symbol of life and death, Schopenhauer's 'Will', than of death alone. Next, speaking of how the film of Les Diaboliques has departed from the novel, here are a couple more crucial differences. There is no seedy, run-down, provincial boys' school in the novel, and no headmaster character - his equivalent in the novel is a fishing goods salesman! And in the novel it isn't the husband who is murdered but the wife. Clearly, Clouzot wrought changes in order to emphasise the sordidness and squalor of his characters. So what exactly did Hitchcock see in the French film, and in the Boileau and Narcejac novel, to excite him, reportedly to the point of envying Clouzot's achievement? More tomorrow.

May 31 - 2004
Among the omissions in Patrick McGilligan's corrective, but sometimes facile, biography of Hitchcock is any real appreciation of just how greatly H-G Clouzot's film Les Diaboliques/The Fiends (1955) influenced Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). But then, no-one else seems to have spoken out appreciatively of the connection either - that is, since Stephen Rebello drew attention to it in his excellent 'Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho' (1990) where he wrote of the Clouzot film's deliberate look of 'dirty dishes in the sink'. Even this website has not hitherto done justice to the connection, only briefly expanding on what Rebello had noted. So I am grateful to young Chris Gray, in Texas, for an email last week which prompted me to look again at Les Diaboliques (and also Clouzot's remarkable documentary of the following year, The Picasso Mystery, which dynamically records on film the Spanish artist's genius and the creative process at work - ironically, this reminded me of Hitchcock's own genius which is best illustrated, to my knowledge, by an anecdote of screenwriter Stirling Silliphant's during an interview with Patrick McGilligan yet is omitted from the latter's Hitchcock book). When I emailed back to Chris that the enormous influence of Les Diaboliques on Psycho (and several other Hitchcocks) had struck me more than ever this time around, he responded: 'Les Diaboliques really is a great film. The similarities of Psycho and Les Diaboliques are amazing.' From Chris, I gather that both Les Diaboliques and the same director's The Wages of Fear (1953) are now available on quality DVDs released by Criterion. So this week I am going to talk mainly about Clouzot (1907-77). Warning: spoilers ahead! If you haven't yet seen Les Diaboliques in particular, whose plot twists I must reveal, then avert your eyes this week! Okay. I'll start by quoting part of what I emailed Chris, setting out a couple of the most obvious similarities between Les Diaboliques and Psycho. (You'll recall, gentle reader, how Clouzot's film is set mainly in a seedy French provincial school for boys where the headmaster's wife [Vera Clouzot] and mistress [Simone Signoret] conspire to murder him - and how suspense is generated in the film's second half by their anxiety lest they be found out and then by the seemingly impossible notion that maybe the headmaster didn't die after all.) To Chris I wrote: 'Have you noticed how both films steer their respective audiences (in both cases, using a sequence of a long drive) in a certain direction before suddenly starting a new and unexpected - and protracted - part of the story where the attention of the audience must be diverted from the underlying deception? The influence is also seen in many separate details: e.g., a swinging cupboard door with a mirror on it that suddenly shows, or seems to show, someone else in the room ...' To be continued.

May 27 - 2004
The Farmer's Wife is one of those Hitchcock films (there are many, Rear Window being another) where the social niceties are sooner or later stripped away to reveal the struggling humanity underneath (Schopenhauer's 'Will' exposed!). It doesn't always make for a pretty picture! Only Hitchcock's subtle commentary, or wit, may stop such moments from being too distasteful, or painful, to watch. The scene at Thirza Tapper's tea-party where Farmer Sweetland, stung by his second rejection in an afternoon (and his third in about as many days!), switches tack and tells Mary, the over-ripe postmistress, some home-truths, is a case in point. The poor woman, who has evidently fancied herself still youthful and as eligible to receive a man's advances as any member of her sex, is suddenly reduced to hysterics and a baby's flailing gestures, which Hitchcock films in close-up. (Not incidentally, The Farmer's Wife, a film about ego, though also its overcoming, may contain more subjective-shots than any other Hitchcock picture. Anticipating The Birds in this respect, Hitchcock wants to leave us in no doubt that we, the viewers, are involved in the goings-on in this particular rural community.) Hitchcock manages to take the hard edge off this scene by highlighting the amazed reactions of the other people at the tea-party - who all come flocking into the room from the terrace outside. Old Coaker (the poker) says something like: 'Guy Fawkes and Angels, what's Sammy doing to postmistress?' Seeing this film again recently, though only for the first time in a quality print (the LaserLight DVD), has given me several 'favourite scenes' to savour. I've only space to mention a few. I love the long shot of Sweetland riding up a perilous hillside track, set deep amidst rolling Devon hills, to visit the Widow Windeatt, whom he confidently expects will come 'like a lamb to the slaughter' when he proposes to her. (He is mistaken.) He is like some intrepid knight going to rescue, or anyway serenade, a damsel in a remote fortress. On his way into this particular lady's house, he treats her two startled grooms with lordly patronage, as if he were already their new employer. Leaving, he rounds on them, angrily. (In Jameson Thomas's performance, though, Sweetland never wholly loses his gentlemanly dignity.) It's the equivalent of the scene in The Birds where Mrs Brenner drives over to neighbour Dan Fawcett's farm, only to find him dead. Aghast, she stumbles outside again and drives away in a cloud of dust. The tea-party scene in The Farmer's Wife is an extended comic triumph, full of clever sight-gags, several of them involving Sweetland's grumpy manservant, Churdles Ash (Gordon Harker), who has been 'loaned out' for the occasion and finds himself in ill-fitting livery whose pants he must hold up with one hand. At one point, he must single-handedly (I mean that literally!) manoeuvre an elderly lady's enormous bath chair through a doorway. Now, finally, I'll mention one of the film's notable subtleties. We don't directly see the fourth, and final, of Sweetland's rejections, this time by a buxom barmaid named Mercy (Ruth Maitland) who is certainly the prototype for Maisy the barmaid in Frenzy. A fade-out spares us that. However, we do later briefly see what had happened when, in a series of 'thinks' shots, Sweetland imagines each of his four initial 'candidates' occupying the chair on the hearth that had been his late wife's. (In Maisy's case, we see her that day at the bar thrust Sweetland away.) In a beautiful moment, the patient Minta then walks into the shot and really does sit in that chair. In a flash, a humbled Sweetland at last knows to whom he should have addressed himself all along ...

May 26 - 2004
26 The Farmer's Wife, set amidst the rolling fields and vales of Devonshire, begins with a death (of Farmer Sweetland's young wife, called Tibby), incorporates several communal gatherings - a wedding breakfast (for Sweetland's daughter), a country tea-party, a fox-hunt (predecessor of those in Suspicion and Marnie) - and climaxes with another imminent wedding (for Sweetland and his servant Minta), symbolised when Minta dons a dress left behind by Tibby. The elements of celebration and continuity are unmissable. On the whole, Hitchcock has done Eden Phillpotts's celebrated play proud. In particular, his own temperament has merged successfully with what I have called the 'sagacity' of the play (something which he achieved again - if still insufficiently appreciated, most recently by Patrick McGilligan - when he adapted Jack Trevor Story's rollicking and truly worldly-wise 'The Trouble With Harry'). Now, an apparently quite minor character in the film is the elderly gentleman, a neighbour, who sports a small white beard on his chin and who presides over the wedding breakfast for Sweetland's daughter and her smiling, fresh-faced young husband. (Sweetland, at the opposite end of the table, is subdued throughout the meal, thinking of his departed wife.) His name is Dick Coaker (Haward Watts), and I call him 'Coaker the poker'. Standing and addressing the nubile bride at the wedding breakfast, he pokes her in the chest with his walking-stick. Her husband beams his approval. It's a seemingly harmless and innocent gesture by old Coaker, but that satyr's beard he wears, and phallic symbol he wields (which Hitchcock also gives to Scottie in Vertigo!), are not accidents! Later in the film, Coaker and Sweetland fall to talking. Sweetland is again subdued, having been rejected in his advances by three (soon four) of the most-likely candidates for the new wife he has been seeking. (When he first drew up a list of such candidates, with Minta's help, he had brimmed with over-confidence. 'It seems almost indecent to see them all listed on the one bit of paper', he had remarked.) Now Coaker invokes the countryside while simultaneously sounding the voluptuous note that characterises the film (as it also characterises The Trouble With Harry, both novel and film versions). He speaks of pulling turnips, 'as round and white as a woman's bosom'. Coaker, we may guess, is obsessed with such objects! At this point, Hitchcock cuts to the hunters and hounds, in full cry on the nearby heath. The symbolism, and communal preoccupation (what Schopenhauer would label 'Will'), are evident enough. But here's the point I make about all of this in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story': 'The intention of the filmmakers is less prurient than it is to share a matter of profound importance, to let the viewer "enter in" (as the housekeeper Minta's phrase has it).' In other words, the wisdom and 'vision' I am attributing to Hitchcock emerge at this point, allowing the possibility of the 'higher' Innocence I spoke of, and they are all connected with things like our common 'Will' (life-force) and the 'continuity' that marriage signifies. The parallel film is again The Trouble With Harry. More tomorrow.

May 25 - 2004
From my observation, individual Catholics are pretty good at being both 'innocent' and worldly-wise! Doesn't Patrick McGilligan cite the case of Grace Kelly, noting how she had been raised in a girls' school run by nuns and therefore had heard 'everything' by the time she was a teenager?! Certainly Hitchcock and Grace hit it off from the start, by which I mean that she appreciated his fund of dirty stories and wasn't in the least put out by his telling them. I mention all of this in answer to one of my questions yesterday, apropos The Farmer's Wife, about whether Hitchcock's films show a 'systematic' depiction of Innocence and Experience (à la William Blake's 'Songs of Innocence and Experience'). And my provisional answer is: yes, after a fashion. I mean, it does seem to me the case that Hitchcock was imbued with a 'Dionysian' streak from his earliest days - one that is reflected in his pre-occupation with films about 'the life-force' in all of its aspects, including its darkest aspects, and that such a film (as I'll try and show) is The Farmer's Wife - but that by the same token he maintained an objectivity about such a 'force' that amounts to something between schizophrenia and, yes, 'innocence' (albeit of a rather wilful kind). I have told the story before - I forget where I got it from - about how Hitchcock once said that, as a life-long theatre-goer, he had always kept his 'innocence' of vision by never allowing himself to think about backstage matters (including both technical ones and fan-type, gossipy ones). The parallel with how he ran his life, and consequently put that vision into his films, is fairly exact, it seems to me. A part of him knew damned well that Innocence is 'lost' (from the moment we are born, some poets say; from about the age of four, Freud maintained; from when we have our first sexual thoughts, popular understanding has it), but that, as a good Catholic, he would nonetheless celebrate its possibility, as in the very title of his film Young and Innocent (1937). That is, a part of him would deny what Experience (and our reading) tells us, that we are all culpable, 'fallen' creatures - while another part of him would delight in puncturing such 'optimistic' self-deception. Nonetheless, such a 'schizoid' position does posit the possibility of a 'higher' insight, leading to a different order of Innocence, and that is why I think that Hitchcock ultimately comes close to his fellow Cockney, William Blake, in his understanding (and also, I might add, to that of Blake's contemporary, the philosopher Schopenhauer). Now, to illustrate what I mean, let's turn to The Farmer's Wife, where a lot of what I have been talking about is already either latent, or on show. Today, gentle reader, I'll leave you with this observation about the film, from 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story': life and sexuality are the film's subject-matter, and its rural images carry a voluptuous charge.

May 24 - 2004
Do yourself a favour, fellow Hitchcock enthusiast, and watch a good DVD of The Farmer's Wife (1928), such as the one from LaserLight. The latter's DVD of Hitchcock's film has been recorded at what appears to be the correct speed, and runs 129 minutes (compared with the 91 minutes or thereabouts of a tape of the film that was once graciously given me by Australia's highbrow Mr Movies, David Stratton). The LaserLight print is visually good, is well-engineered (or -jockeyed), and has a suitable musical accompaniment. At times, that accompaniment reminded me of the score for The Trouble With Harry (1955), which is apt because, as I suggest in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', the latter film has a 'sagacity' that derives from The Farmer's Wife. Here's another point, relating The Farmer's Wife to some of the things discussed here last week. By the end of the film, Farmer Sweetland (Jameson Thomas) has been humbled enough to see that the happiness he has been seeking was under his nose all along - on his own hearth, in fact - in the person of the faithful servant Minta (Lilian Hall-Davis) who has attended him and his grown-up daughter since his young wife died. Like so many of Hitchcock's films, The Farmer's Wife is about 'the lost paradise'; and, like The Trouble With Harry, in this case such a 'paradise' is the very setting of the film itself, to which its hero comes 'home' (symbolised by the hearth) at the film's end. (I have an article by Hitchcock on the murderer Adelaide Bartlett in which he equates hearth and home in the same manner The Farmer's Wife does in its recurring visual motif of the fireside.) The film was shot on location in rural Devon and, just as in The Trouble With Harry, the splendidly picturesque location filming is an essential part of the look and meaning of the film. More on that shortly. For now, notice that the spiritual lesson of the film is that home and happiness lie within - the same lesson taught by, say, The Wizard of Oz (1939) or another children's fable filmed the same year, The Blue Bird (based on a play by the Belgian Symbolist, Maurice Maeterlink). Of course, it is often said that 'we can never go home again', which is indeed what the majority of Hitchcock's 'lost paradise' films (e.g., Shadow of a Doubt [1943], and Frenzy [1972]) imply. Such Hitchcock films invariably raise the 'taboo on incest' in order to show that healthy, invigorated living requires a breaking away from hearth and home, and an immersion in the world's striving, at least for a time. If Hitchcock characters are mentally unable to break free of such a taboo - and here we go back to the Ivor Novello character in The Lodger (1926), who in turn is the prototype of Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt, Bruno Anthony in Strangers On a Train (1951), Norman Bates in Psycho (1960), and Bob Rusk in Frenzy - such a character is invariably depicted as a psychopath and a murderer. (I have argued elsewhere that the Ivor Novello character in The Lodger is indeed such an incestuous killer, though the film appears to exonerate him.) In a sense, then, both The Farmer's Wife and The Trouble With Harry must be seen as fantasies (as well as comedies), hypostatising what can only be aspired after. Nonetheless, as noted here recently, poet and engraver William Blake, for one, spoke of a progression from Innocence to Experience to (a higher) Innocence. He also once said, 'I must create a System lest I be enslaved by another man's'. Was such a 'System' also Hitchcock's? And, if so, how 'valid' was it? Tomorrow: some answers, plus some more down-to-earth aspects of The Farmer's Wife.

May 21 - 2004
I don't remember the context in which I read an interview with Hitchcock in which he said that he'd just been looking at Trader Horn (1931), and had been startled when C. Aubrey Smith suddenly turned up in the African jungle - Hitchcock felt that this was poor casting - but as the film was another of MGM's big successes and was indeed set in Africa, I shouldn't be surprised if the occasion was when Hitchcock had recently arrived at MGM and was thinking about what sort of picture he might make for them (after or instead of The Wreck of the Mary Deare). Certainly at that time he chose to look at MGM's King Solomn's Mines (1950), starring Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr (who would both also star in The Prisoner of Zenda two years later), or anyway noted it while remembering fondly the earlier British version of Rider Haggard's classic adventure directed by Robert Stevenson - who had lately (in 1955) been making episodes of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents'. I know that Hitchcock had watched Stevenson's King Solomn's Mines because it was a Gaumont picture made the same year as his own Young and Innocent (1937), and clearly the collapsing-mine-workings sequence of the latter was inspired by the climax of Stevenson's film - which in turn is echoed (or anyway the Young and Innocent sequence is) in the climax of North by Northwest where Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) hangs off the edge of Mount Rushmore. A swirl of influences, then, and I haven't even discussed yet how another 'picaresque' work, Samuel Beckett's 'Waiting for Godot', which opened on Broadway in 1956 when it starred Bert Lahr and E.G. Marshall, seems to me to have been another patent 'source' for North by Northwest - specifically the 'absurd' scene at the prairie crossroads between Thornhill (Cary Grant) and a taciturn farmer (Malcolm Atterbury). Beckett's play, about two tramps given to laconic exchanges while waiting for the fabled Godot to turn up, was already being widely held to epitomise the Theatre of the Absurd. Significantly, Hitchcock himself called North by Northwest a 'fantasy of the absurd' at a time when the word was very much in the air: for example, Paul Goodman's celebrated treatise 'Growing Up Absurd' appeared in 1960. (For related thoughts on painterly and architectural influences on North by Northwest, see 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story'.) And now notice how the 'picaresque' (journeying) motif ties together nearly all of the influences that I've enumerated this week. Even, or especially, The Wizard of Oz, in which Bert Lahr plays the Cowardly Lion. Bill Krohn's 'Hitchcock at Work' specifically mentions (p. 210) that Hitchcock had originally thought to use a tornado in his prairie scene, as if he'd just come from viewing The Wizard of Oz! And let's not overlook the spiritual message of L. Frank Baum's story, which shows Dorothy and her friends finding redemption on the road itself, in their shared adventures (cf. Thornhill and Eve). Yet, I maintain, behind nearly all of these works (perhaps even 'Godot', if at an extra remove), is John Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress'. QED?!

May 20 - 2004
I should clarify. I'm not sure that 'Pilgrim's Progress' has its hero move in a northerly or north-westerly direction - such a detail was a refinement of the plots of several of the late-19th-century and early-20th-century British adventure novels I mentioned last time (and further mention in the article on North by Northwest that's on this site), thus becoming a potentially 'archetypal' matter. (Cf. how I cited here a few weeks ago a finding by linguist Zoltan Kovecses that 'up' is universally seen as good, and 'down' as bad - the matter is a bit like that! A hero travelling north is likely to be on a journey of self-betterment!) But, in any case, as we're talking of such matters, here's something I came across in an article by Neil Hepburn in 'The Listener' for 12 May 1977, apropos a radio broadcast of the 'Pilgrim's Progress' starring John Gielgud. Bunyan's tale, notes Hepburn, 'bears the same sort of relation to almost all other works of literature as the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven bears to other music, or Chartres to other churches, striking - as such supreme manifestations of the human imagination invariably do - straight into the deepest parts of the mind apparently unmediated by the techniques employed to get it there.' (May I add: that's the sort of thing you won't find discussed in a 'making of' documentary about North by Northwest that's on some DVD or other! I mean, the fact that 'Pilgrim's Progress' was the favourite tale of John Buchan, who was the favourite author of Alfred Hitchcock, and that it thus provides a prototype of North by Northwest - because Hitchcock was essentially re-working his earlier The 39 Steps [1935] based on a Buchan novel of that title - eludes the 'talking heads' who are typically interviewed for such documentaries. And yet it may just be fundamental to an understanding of what North by Northwest is about.) All kinds of other sources besides MGM movies - to which I'm coming - inform North by Northwest. Two that I mention in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' are Ronald Neame's film The Man Who Never Was (1955) - based on a wartime incident - and Grahame Green's novel 'Our Man in Havana' (1958) - about a British spy's phony reports of rocket-building in Cuba, including a site whose 'secret weapon' bears a strange resemblance to a vacuum-cleaner - which Hitchcock had wanted to film, only Greene denied him the rights. Another source, also mentioned in my book, was Greene's earlier novel 'The Confidential Agent' (1939), which provides the business with the ladies-razor which Thornhill in North by Northwest uses in a ruse to avoid detection by the police in the Chicago railway terminal. (Incidentally, none of these sources is mentioned in Patrick McGilligan's biography of Hitchcock.) Okay. Let's come to those 1950s MGM movies that Hitchcock assuredly looked at: King Solomon's Mines (1950), Kim (1950), and The Prisoner of Zenda (1952) - not to mention Singin' in the Rain (1952). Today I'll just briefly discuss The Prisoner of Zenda. Anyone who has read Anthony Hope's celebrated story (my copy is published in Dent's 'Classic Thrillers' series), or has seen any of the film versions - there have been at least four - knows that it is set in 'Ruritania' (roughly where Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes [1938] is set) and that it concerns the hasty substitution of a 'double' for Ruritania's king after the latter is kidnapped by his evil brother, Michael. The showdown takes place in Michael's mountain fortress, and includes a duel between the hero-double (Stewart Granger in the 1952 film) and Michael's offsider, Rupert of Hentzau (James Mason in the 1952 film). I'm certain that Hitchcock got ideas for North by Northwest from Hope's story (kidnapping, a masquerade involving a decoy double, a mountain showdown), though he probably regarded the 1952 film as vastly inferior to the more-famous Selznick version of 1937, starring Ronald Colman, Madeleine Carroll, and Raymond Massey ... More tomorrow.

May 19 - 2004
One of Hitchcock's projects, while he was at Paramount, was a film of Laurens van der Post's Africa-set adventure, 'Flamingo Feather' (1955), described by the London 'Daily Telegraph' as 'Buchan's "Prester John" crossed with the cream of Rider Haggard'. Definitely potential Hitchcock material! (I'll explain further in a moment.) Moreover, the novel's in-the-nick-of-time climax involves blocking a tribal insurrection masterminded by evildoers who are plotting to take over the continent, all of which creates much suspense and spectacular descriptions of the massing tribesmen. It includes this passage: 'I didn't pause [...] but lashed his horse so smartly that it went [...] at full gallop straight for the crowd, with me, head well down, following close behind. The tribesmen seeing the horses coming at them with such determination opened up. How they did it in their packed condition I don't know, but they [...] split open as the waters of the Red Sea once parted before Moses's command.' (Chapter 17) When I read that, I knew immediately that Hitchcock had read it too, and had seen the opportunity to out-do the great Cecil B. DeMille who had lately re-made his The Ten Commandments (1956) for Paramount! (Patrick McGilligan has noted Hitchcock's admiration for early DeMille, in particular. Also, "Editor's Day" has noted other instances of how when Hitchcock was at Paramount he incorporated material from earlier, or contemporary, Paramount films in his own work.) Well, Hitchcock's project was never realised, but he certainly remembered elements of it when making North by Northwest at MGM. Not least, as the article called "'I never felt more alive': thoughts on North by Northwest and its title" (click here) shows, 'Flamingo Feather' is one of numerous stories that adhere to an English literary tradition and follow Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress' (1678; 1684) in depicting a journey that proceeds generally upwards and in a northerly or north-westerly direction! The fact that the journey has spiritual overtones - Bunyan's pilgrim, named Christian, is on his way from the City of Destruction to seek the Celestial City, via such places as the Slough of Despond (cf. Rear Window's 'swamp of boredom'!), the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the River of the Water of Life, and the Delectable Mountains - should not be forgotten. Perhaps, too, Hitchcock at MGM very quickly chose to look at one of that studio's most successful films, The Wizard of Oz (1939), based on the book by L. Frank Baum, which uses a similar formula, inasmuch that Dorothy, like Christian, dreams her adventures which finally lead her (via a cornfield at a crossroads!) to the fabled Emerald City before returning her safely home. (One more observation for now about that film: the sinister green of the North by Northwest titles, albeit in keeping anyway with Hitchcock's penchant for green to evoke ghosts or death, also happens to be the colour of the hideous-looking Wicked Witch of the West, a colour to be seen as opposing the very name, and stature, of the Emerald City ...) But certainly Hitchcock would very soon have noticed, if he hadn't already, that MGM in the 1950s had embarked on re-adapting such classic English adventure novels as 'King Solomon's Mines' (1885), 'The Prisoner of Zenda' (1894), and 'Kim' (1901). None of the adaptations had been particularly adept, but that fact would only have offered even more of a challenge to Hitchcock ...

May 18 - 2004
I have amended, and hopefully clarified, one or two things in yesterday's entry (an editor's privilege!). Notably, I have called Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest 'buffoon-like', which is in line with what I say in the essay about that film that's on this website. Of course, I don't also mean that the character isn't resourceful, quick-thinking, superficially charming, successful with women, and knowledgeable about all the worldly things (including Broadway musicals) that Hitchcock himself enjoyed; he even, by the end of the film, reveals a conscience, as when he tells The Professor that perhaps it's time the government started to learn how to lose a few Cold Wars. Nonetheless, Hitchcock has deliberately made Thornhill a total blank - a nothing - in matters of the spirit and other 'higher' things, including high art. Compared with Vandamm, he is a buffoon. Until the events of the film propel him into a situation where, perhaps for the first time, he must fend and think for himself - why am I suddenly reminded of the teaching of Pascal and Kierkegaard?! - he seems to have always behaved like an automaton. Raymond Durgnat has a good phrase about that: Thornhill is like a man who has always travelled in 'a grey-flannelled bathysphere'! Mind you, it's remarkable how well Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehmann have caught the popular American mood of the time, thereby making Thornhill a suitable opponent of the cultured Vandamm. To see what I mean, just consider this observation from Melanie Lowe's 2002 article "Claiming Amadeus", which I quoted here on May 11: 'What does seem relatively new, however, emerging sometime in the last half of the twentieth century, is middle America's sense that the code of conduct of the elite class is not genuine. Rather, the "initiated", as [Lawrence] Levine calls them, "those who had the inclination, the leisure, and the knowledge to appreciate [high culture]" - that is, the wealthy, the educated, and even the (merely) intellectually gifted - are affecting not only their appreciation of high art but the whole of their manners. In short, they're phony.' In terms of North by Northwest, then, Thornhill represents middle America (and more), and Vandamm represents all the 'phonies' in high places, both in America and abroad, who would lord it over him! (Interestingly, Vandamm is played by an English actor, has a Dutch name, and works for the Russian government.) But it's the fact that Thornhill undergoes a spiritual journey, or awakening, that is finally the most important thing, I'd say. Accordingly, when tomorrow I look at how Hitchcock appears to have researched such MGM films as The Wizard of Oz (1939), King Solomon's Mines (1950), Kim (1950), and The Prisoner of Zenda (1952) - all of which have possible connections to the archetypal 'Pilgrim's Progress' by John Bunyan - it's the spiritual aspect that I may emphasise.

May 17 - 2004
I'd say that the essay on this site, "'I never felt more alive': thoughts on North by Northwest and its title" (click here), stands up well, some seven years or so after it was first posted. But perhaps it's time for some additions. For example, I see from Bill Krohn's 'Hitchcock at Work' (2000) that a title for the film proposed by the studio's script department was It's Good To Be Alive (Krohn, p. 205) - presumably after someone read the screenplay and sensed the importance of Thornhill's above-quoted line in the pine-forest scene. (That line, I insist, goes to the heart of both 'pure film' - an analogue of what Siegfried Kracauer calls 'the flow of life' - and Hitchcock's filmmaking strategy in general, albeit in this case it needs to be understood in the context of Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress', a palpable underlying influence on North by Northwest. Bunyan's tale, beloved by Hitchcock's favourite author, John Buchan, is of course about a spiritual journey; yet the buffoon-like Thornhill - albeit he's played by Cary Grant! - seems even less aware of such things than the neglectful Scottie in Vertigo or, for that matter, the two tramps Estragon and Vladmir in Samuel Beckett's 'Waiting for Godot'. More on the film's influences, both English and non-English, shortly!) I propose, then, to spend the rest of this week on North by Northwest; tonight, I'll start by mentioning some remarks by Bill Krohn when I told him of my intention. First, Bill agrees with me that 'Hamlet' is the least of the film's influences. We both respect the explicit denial in Hitchcock's authorised biography, by John Russell Taylor: 'Any allusion to Hamlet's madness was entirely accidental.' ('Hitch', 1978, p. 248) Sure, Bill noted, studio script departments 'used to have cultured ex-journalists working for them'. (Do I detect a wry tone in that comment?!) But just because one of Kenneth MacKenna's staff at MGM came up with the film's title which might be taken to refer to II, ii, 386 of 'Hamlet' (or thereabouts, depending on your edition), doesn't mean that Hitchcock was, either consciously or unconsciously, moulding his film to accommodate some Shakespearean motif. The title just 'works' (unlike 'In a North-westerly Direction', which is what parts of the screenplay were provisionally headed), and Hitchcock accepted it gratefully. End of matter. Something else I said to Bill was that Hitchcock does seem to have made North by Northwest to fit, as it were, an MGM house-style. Yes, agreed Bill, and mentioned that he has written a piece on the film for the forthcoming 'Encyclopedia Italiana' in which he compares it to an MGM musical. Which is fine by me, because such musicals are themselves good instances of film allying with 'life'! So when Thornhill in the shower-stall whistles a few bars from Singin' in the Rain, it's (at least) doubly appropriate! But there's more. Much more.

May 13 - 2004
My thanks to various correspondents, including Michael Walker and Steve Taylor, both in the UK, who have been in touch about yesterday's item on which feature film may fairly be called Britain's first talkie. I think I see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, but I'm not sure. The most exciting news, to me, is that Arthur Maude's The Clue of the New Pin may still be available to view (and to listen to), perhaps even on DVD. For example, what do readers make of this item from the Web, which quotes Linda Rasmussen, critic of 'All Movie Guide': MSN Entertainment - Movies: The Clue of the New Pin? According to Ms Rasmussen, 'The Clue of the New Pin is a slow-paced, stagy early film effort which will mainly be of interest to film buffs because it contained one of the earliest appearances of Sir John Gielgud [...] Benita Hume, who would later marry Ronald Colman and become a star in her own right, is also interesting in her role as the murder suspect.' Although Ms Rasmussen doesn't mention the film's claim to be the first British talkie, no such reticence informs this entry on another website (to which Steve Taylor referred me): New Page 2. The entry for '1929' claims that 'the FIRST all-talking feature film made in Britain was [...] The Clue of the New Pin [...] adapted from the novel of the same name by crime writer Edgar Wallace. It was produced by British Lion and British Photophone'. Confusingly, though, the entry lists the film's release date as December 16, and, without mentioning Blackmail at all (perhaps because Hitchcock's film was without dialogue in some of its reels?), adds: 'The FIRST talkie made by a British company was released earlier in 1929. Black Waters was a melodrama [produced by Herbert Wilcox, and with John Loder - later the star of Hitchcock's Sabotage - in the cast] but was actually produced in Hollywood.' Now here's what Michael Walker found out. 'Rachael Low ("History of the British Film 1918-1929") writes: "[The Clue of the New Pin] was made for British Photophone and was described as the first all-talking British film, but aroused little interest, perhaps because it was on disc and technically rather unsatisfactory" [p 194]. Later [Ms Low] notes that there was also a part talkie The Crimson Circle released in March [1929], "[b]ut Hitchcock's very successful film Blackmail, in June, is usually regarded as the effective beginning of sound production in England" [p 205].' Note that we have two release dates for The Clue of the New Pin. Tom Ryall's BFI monograph on Blackmail (which I quoted here on May 5) says that The Clue of the New Pin was released in March 1929. (From what Michael Walker tells me, that information is also in Rachel Low.) Yet the website just mentioned gives December 16 as the release-date. Either way, though, if The Clue of the New Pin had its sound on disc, perhaps that leaves Hitchcock's film entitled to be considered the first genuine British talkie. I looked up The Crimson Circle on the IMDb. It appears to have been a German-British co-production (alternative title: Der Rote Kreis), starring Hans Albers, and in any case is listed there as 'Sound Mix: Silent'.

May 12 - 2004
No-one has emailed me in response to my cutting words apropos the recent article in 'Screen' on music-to-accompany-psychos. That is unsatisfactory enough! (Anything but indifference!) But, more importantly, I feel that my recent piece here - on May 5, above - trying to clear up what was the first British talkie feature, seems headed for limbo. And that's really frustrating! I mean, I sent a copy of the piece to Brian McFarlane, of Monash University, Melbourne, who is the editor of 'The Encyclopedia of British Film' (2003), mentioned in the piece. (Incidentally, Brian reports that the 'Encyclopedia' will enter a second edition in 2005 - it has been a big success.) He defended as 'trustworthy' his contributor to the 'Encyclopedia' who had written the entry on "Sound" which asserted that Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929) was 'Britain's first talkie, ... recorded on RCA Photophone'. The person concerned 'had a long history of involvement with sound - and with the history of sound in Britain'. Fair enough. But it was Brian's final sentence that made my heart sink: 'But, in the end, who knows?' Such a comment strikes me as a cop-out! After all, my piece had been quite specific that Arthur Maude's The Clue of the New Pin, based on a popular Edgar Wallace novel (which I have read), and running a full 81 minutes, had been released months ahead of Blackmail; moreover, like Blackmail, it had been recorded on Photophone and was specifically described by its distributor in an advertisement placed in the trade paper 'The Bioscope' on 9 January 1929 as the first British 'All-Talkie'. What could be clearer than that? So, to paraphrase John Ford, is this going to be another case of to-hell-with-the facts - keep on printing the legend? (Incidentally, the latest issue of the Web journal 'Screening the Past', emanating from La Trobe University, Melbourne, is now out, and includes a review of 'The Encyclopedia of British Film' as well as other items including a longish review by yours truly of Mark Glancy's monograph on Hitchcock's The 39 Steps. To read them, click here: reviews.) Finally, I should mention that Brian McFarlane corrected me on something I have reported here previously. Brian did not interview Madeleine Carroll (The 39 Steps, Secret Agent) but rather Googie Withers (The Lady Vanishes). It was Googie Withers who told Brian that Hitchcock, when he first worked with Carroll on The 39 Steps, needed a reaction-shot from Carroll and, to get it, after all else had failed, and with the camera rolling, 'exposed' himself to her. Cut! Print! (Googie Withers, reports Brian, told the story again in Sydney in 2003 at the launch of 'The Encyclopedia of British Film'.)

May 11 - 2004
First tonight, to briefly answer my parenthetical question at the end of yesterday's item ... I think that the reason the 'parlour' scene in Psycho reminds me of 'King Lear' is that Shakespeare's play contains Lear's great line about The Fool: 'Unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art.' Outside, of course, the storm rages (or has temporarily abated), reinforcing the 'elemental' sense of humans and Nature. 'Lear' is the Shakespeare play par excellence to show all humanity stripped of its pretence and in its naked frailty. (A fine Australian essayist, Prof. Walter Murdoch, once called Shakespeare 'a sort of universal counsel for the defence', a remark that I've often found illuminating of scenes in Hitchcock.) But we were talking of film music. Two other instances of 'anempathic' music cited by Stan Link in his recent article for 'Screen' (an article which is nicely argued but, I still feel, blinkered) are: (1) when the deranged Booth in Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986) repeatedly plays the song called 'In Dreams' ('Unlike [Hannibal] Lecter, Booth is not so much a music enthusiast as he is a prisoner of this tune, which appears to him only on his own pathological terms' - p. 12); and (2) when the couple Mickey and Mallory, serial killers, in Stone's Natural Born Killers (1994) 'brutally murder Mallory's father, [and] the action is accompanied by a nondiegetic score that clearly refers to [...] Warner Brothers' Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons' (p. 13) - leading Link to remark, '[a]n anempathic soundtrack [...] frequently serves as an evocative reminder in Natural Born Killers that "reality" is out of reach for its main characters' (p. 15). Okay, I think I've indicated the general drift of Link's article. In the space remaining, I simply want to quote from one of Link's footnotes (n.14) because, given my 'suspicion' of his writing, which I've characterised as high-brow (elitist) and blinkered, I feel - rightly or wrongly - a certain unintended irony in it. Link quotes from Melanie Lowe's 2002 article "Claiming Amadeus", as follows: 'What does seem relatively new, however, emerging sometime in the last half of the twentieth century, is middle America's sense that the code of conduct of the elite class is not genuine. Rather, the "initiated", as [Lawrence] Levine calls them, "those who had the inclination, the leisure, and the knowledge to appreciate [high culture]" - that is, the wealthy, the educated, and even the (merely) intellectually gifted - are affecting not only their appreciation of high art but the whole of their manners. In short, they're phony.' Well, isn't it strange that I feel exactly like that about the way in which Link writes so cerebrally about a medium - popular film - that seems to reduce that medium, and its art, to points to be made in an abstruse argument of Link's own devising - an argument that typically screens off nearly all of the remainder of a given film and its power to affect us? (Cf. what I said last time about Link's ignoring of the context in which the Psycho shower scene occurs.)

May 10 - 2004
10 I have never been an avid reader of 'Screen' magazine (UK), a journal too cliquy and high-brow for anybody's good, on the whole. And I am certainly not converted to a different opinion after reading (most of) an article in the current (Spring 2004) issue, an article called "Sympathy with the devil? Music of the psycho post-Psycho". Here's why. The admittedly learned article spends fully 20 pages on very little, spelling out nothing essential that wouldn't have occurred to a practising film critic and in fact be 'bleeding obvious' to such a critic, I think. And yet, to appear to be arguing a case, and to make its point, the article still simplifies and distorts the truth about the film that serves as its launch-pad: Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). I'll try to précis the article. Here goes. The music for the shower murder in Psycho refers only to a spectator's general feeling of horror at the event: it doesn't evoke the feelings or mind-set of the murderer nor evoke pity for the victim. At least, we haven't time to be aware of all these things: we're sutured into the totality. 'The dramatic aim seems to be to reproduce the affect rather than the particular subjectivity that experiences or generates that affect.' (p. 3) So the author of the article, Stan Link, calls for a mix of 'empathy' (apropos a film's 'affect') and 'anempathy' (Michel Chion's term), as the condition of a spectator's experiencing some sense of a killer's individuality. The term 'anempathy' isn't defined, exactly, but is described as 'a seemingly disparate affective relationship between soundtrack and image, narrative, action and character' leading to a certain 'indifference' (again that's Chion's term) in the spectator. (p. 6) (I think of 'anempathy' as meaning, roughly, 'antipathy to empathy'.) Accordingly, Link praises a scene in Demme's Silence of the Lambs (1991) where Hannibal Lecter is heard listening to Bach's 'Goldberg Variations' before viciously assaulting, killing, and mutilating a couple of prison guards. This use of music isn't just contrapuntal; it tells us, for example, that Lecter is intelligent, educated, and not working-class. (pp. 7-9) Link next refers to a scene in Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992) in which Mr Blonde, while proceeding to cut off the ear of a bound and gagged police officer (before getting ready to immolate him), listens on the radio to a program called Super Sounds of the Seventies whose host is cuing up Stealer Wheel's bouncy pop tune 'Stuck in the Middle With You'. Link praises how Mr Blonde's 'whimsical shuffling' to this music 'literally embodies the anempathy, making it as visible as it is audible, spectacular as well as emotional'. (p.10) He also refers to the hoodlum Alex's paradoxical love of Beethoven in Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1972). His point: 'The three figures, then, Alex, Dr Lecter and Mr Blonde, are decidedly differentiated and not at all interchangeable on a music-affective level.' (p. 11) I'll summarise the rest of Link's findings tomorrow. But I must say here that he never acknowledges how the music for the Psycho shower scene does give us, at least momentarily, the shocked perspective of the victim, Marion; and that the very energy of the music's jabbing tells us - without our exactly knowing it at the time - of the masculine power of the killer. (Cued by the music, at this moment we are more inside Norman Bates than we know.) Nor does Link bother to note how the film has gone out of its way, in the 'parlour' scene preceding the shower murder, to give us us kinds of clues, or cues, including musical ones, to Norman Bates's mindset. And how that scene draws us close to the fundamental human frailty of both Marion and Norman, in an almost Shakespearean way. (Why do I think of 'King Lear'?)

May 5 - 2004
Patrick McGilligan's 'Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light' (2003) doesn't resolve the misunderstanding - as I see it - that Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929) was the first British talkie. Nor, for that matter, does Brian McFarlane's 'The Encyclopedia of British Film' (2003). But at least the latter, in its entry on Hitchcock, helpfully describes Blackmail as 'the first fully-fledged British talkie' (then, in an entry on 'sound', muddies the waters again by calling the film 'Britain's first talkie, ... recorded on RCA Photophone'). The most mysterious of McGilligan's references to the matter is this: 'Another English director, Thomas Bentley, had already completed a "talking" two-reeler called The Man in the Street, and he sniffed in interviews that Blackmail was "only half-sound."' (McGilligan, p. 125) Well, a two-reeler is not a feature film, and indeed Bentley's film doesn't even appear in the IMDb's extensive filmography for him. (Incidentally, McGilligan doesn't mention that Bentley, actor, writer, and director, is best known for his screen adaptations of Dickens, five of them made by him between 1912 and 1915 for Cecil Hepworth.) Both books make a serious omission: neither mentions the film that does seem to have the best claim to be fairly considered Britain's first talkie, Arthur Maude's The Clue of the New Pin. This adaptation for British Lion of Edgar Wallace's locked-room mystery was released in March 1929, a good three months ahead of BIP's Blackmail, whose first trade show was on 21 June 1929. Moreover, as early as 9 January 1929, Maude's film, recorded using the Photophone process, was advertised in 'The Bioscope' by its distributor - Producers Distributing - as the first British 'All-Talkie'. (Cf. Tom Ryall, Blackmail [1993], pp. 9, 17, 61.) And while Brian McFarlane sees fit to describe Maude's work, post 1927, as consisting essentially of 'quota quickies', a look at the cast of The Clue of the New Pin suggests a certain quality: the players include Benita Hume (the switchboard operator in Hitchcock's Easy Virtue [1927]), Donald Calthrop (the blackmailer in Blackmail), and a young John Gielgud. The film ran 81 minutes. (It was made back-to-back, apparently, with another Wallace adaptation, again directed by Maude, The Flying Squad, confusingly described on the IMDb as 'Sound Mix: Silent', with a cast including Donald Cathrop, John Longden [the male lead in Blackmail], and a young Carol Reed ...) Of course, one thing is incontrovertible: Hitchcock's film has become a film milestone, and, in McGilligan's words, was 'not only a film at the forefront of sound, but a film whose subject and style were ahead of its time in every way'.

May 4 - 2004
I exhort all Hitchcock buffs to seek out, if they haven't yet done so, the all-but-forgotten 'Hitchcock' sequence in Forever and a Day (1943), a sequence in which Ida Lupino and Brian Aherne play two working-class Cockneys associated with a wealthy London household - she's a maid there, he's a distant cousin of the family - who fall in love and end up escaping to America. The household itself is presided over by a stuffy Edward Everett Horton and Isabel Elsom, and the sequence is set in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee celebration (not her funeral, as Patrick McGilligan has it). The sequence was scripted by Charles Bennett and Alma Hitchcock, as well as by Hitchcock himself (according to the IMDb), and was finally directed by René Clair after an over-worked Hitchcock had to withdraw. For those who don't know the background of this remarkable film, I gather that the original idea came from Cedric Hardwicke for a World War II charity appeals film to be called Let the Rafters Ring; eventually it became an all-star production consisting of episodes in the life of a family, the Trimble-Pomfrets, and of their London house, from 1804 (when Napoleon was in his ascendency) to 1942 (when Hitler was still in his). Many hands were involved in the script, and there was a different director for each of the seven main episodes. Almost every Hollywood-based actor with English connections took part. Critically underrated on its first release, especially in England, the film today exerts both fascination and an intermittent power and charm: 72 voters on the IMDb give the film a hefty 7.8 rating. I admit to being moved almost to tears by a sequence near the end when news comes to a couple played by Roland Young and Gladys Cooper, who are dining with an American soldier played by Robert Cummings, that their son has been killed in action. Also, the film is an almost pat demonstration of my theory that cinema can give a sense of all-at-onceness. Before the house is built, for a retired admiral played by C. Aubrey Smith, he is told by the current landowner (Edmund Gwenn) that there is sufficient open space on all sides - the site being then five miles outside London - to preclude encroachment by developers. By 1942, the house is just one of a row of buildings in a London street, and a possible target for Hitler's bombers that fly overhead each night. (I think of a comparable effect in George Pal's

The Time Machine [1960].) As for the René Clair-directed episode, running some 15 minutes in its entirety - which it seems to me may have had far more Hitchcock input than has been reported - it is easily one of the liveliest and most imaginative episodes in the film. The sequence of the street procession, which we know that Hitchcock was going to direct, and which has several things in common with the Lord Mayor's Show Day sequence in Sabotage (1936), contains at least one sight-gag that undoubtedly reflects the Master's hand: forced to watch the procession, as best she can, from a cellar window, through the legs of a bystander (Aherne), the maid Jenny (Lupino) is frustrated when some obviously important personage (Her Majesty?) passes by, and the bystander suddenly snaps to attention, bringing his legs together. But afterwards Jenny and the bystander, Jim Trimble, meet in the street, and begin seeing each other regularly: this leads to an extended sequence out in the countryside involving Jenny and Jim in the latter's horse-drawn buggy who come upon the family in their new horseless carriage (with a fringe on top) which has broken down - an obvious homage to the matching episode in Orson Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). Given Hitchcock's friendship with Welles, and the fact reported by McGilligan that Hitchcock watched Ambersons several times that year, surely Hitchcock was part-responsible for this sequence? Which raises the question: might he have been intending to direct the whole 15-minute episode?

May 3 - 2004
I was reading a 1970s article on the fake blood used in movies. Alfred Hitchcock, of course, claimed that for the blood that (supposedly) incarnadines the bathroom in Psycho (1960), they in fact used chocolate syrup. And various make-up artists for the movies do have their own 'proprietary' blood. This, despite the fact that several commercial fake bloods are available - a well-known one being Nextel from the 3M company. (Did you know that the inventor of Nextel, Philip Palmquist, who died in 2002, also helped invent the front-projection screen that allowed actors to perform in front of it without an image appearing on them, as in Stanley Kubrick's

2001: A Space Odyssey [1968]?) One such professional make-up artist, Vincent Callahan, mixed corn syrup and food colouring, believing that he got the best consistency and the truest colour that way. He claimed that his fake blood also wiped off more easily. For bruises and scars, other products served. 'A dab of latex, a smear of liquid plastic such as collodium or Tuplast, a soupçon of ordinary face make-up - and the actor looks ready for the intensive care unit.' The trick, Callahan insisted, was to observe actual wounds. When I read that, I thought of how, when I was once browsing in the Law Library at Monash University, I came across a textbook of forensic medicine that contained vivid photos of just such wounds. One, of a man shot in the face, instantly reminded me of the close-up in Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940) of diplomat Van Meer's double, assassinated on the rainswept steps of Amsterdam Town Hall. (Before that, there was Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin [1925], where a mother is shot in the face on the Odessa Steps by the advancing soldiers, and her unattended pram with its baby goes careening downwards, watched in horror by a student - a moment that may have been in Hitchcock's mind when in The Birds [1963] he showed onlookers in the Tides Restaurant helpless to intervene in time when the salesman, Mr Rawlins, lights a match near a petrol spill.) As for the scene where Psycho's private-detective Arbogast is slashed across the face by a knife, notice that the downwards scar passes directly through his left eye - a subtle reminder of the shot of the dead Marion's staring eye after the shower scene. Mercifully, perhaps, there is no attempt by the make-up artist to simulate the cut eye (à la Bunuel/Dali's Un Chien Andalou [1928], with its insert of the eye of a dead animal) - that would have to wait until the death by pecking of the farmer in The Birds where, I understand, a grape was allowed to hang from the dead man's eye socket. Another Hitchcock film to contain a scarred character is The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) where Peter Lorre's Abbot has a prominent scar over his right eye - this constituting one of several references in the film to Howard Hawks's Scarface (1932). But to return to that article I was reading. What was the most difficult make-up job ever done by Vincent Callahan? Not blood. Not wounds. Simply to achieve glamorous make-up effects for women that looked natural in daylight!

April 29 - 2004
Continuing our 'series' about films that obviously, or probably, influenced Hitchcock, I want to cite tonight the case of Laslo Benedek's The Night Visitor (1971), filmed in Sweden and, I think, Norway. Benedek, born in Budapest, Hungary, is best known, of course, for a couple of his American films, notably The Wild One (1954), starring Marlon Brando. Years ago, I noticed The Night Visitor at a local video-store. The box quoted a review in the Melbourne 'Video Age': 'A cinematic masterpiece - the director achieves just about everything that Hitchcock ever did.' Yeah, yeah, I told myself, I've heard that one often - and nearly always been disappointed. I put the video back on its shelf. Recently, though, I bought a copy at a video sale, being intrigued by the film's cast: Max von Sydow, Trevor Howard, Liv Ullmann, Per Oscarsson (the Swedish actor so good as the starving writer in the film of Knut Hamsun's 'Hunger', made in 1966) and Rupert Davies (British TV's Maigret). The chilling score, it turned out, employing a de-tuned piano (as noted by a correspondent on the IMDb), was by Henry Mancini. The Night Visitor is essentially about a prisoner (von Sydow) in a remote prison, or asylum, surrounded by snow, who somehow manages to find a way to escape each night and then return to his cell. His purpose in breaking out is to avenge himself on the people he believes responsible for having him wrongfully put away for an axe-murder two years earlier. The wrongful arrest, and the revenge motive, look forward to Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972), and indeed I'm pretty confident that Hitchcock watched Benedek's film and was influenced by it. For one thing, Henry Mancini was the composer originally assigned to do the Frenzy score. (Unfortunately for Mancini, Hitchcock neglected to give him full instructions for the type of music he wanted; and when Mancini turned in a score that was heavy on the macabre, Hitchcock replaced him with British composer Ron Goodwin.) For another thing, the first of the revenge murders is a strangulation using a necktie - the very means employed by the 'necktie murderer' in Frenzy! Hitchcock, though, gives the necktie a lightly Freudian significance - murderer Bob Rusk (Barry Foster) is basically impotent, and his murders are a virtual substitute for normal sex. Also, as Hitchcock buff Eric Carlson reminded me when I mentioned all of this to him in an email recently, the novel on which Frenzy was based contains no such distinctive means of killing the murderer's victims: the use of a necktie was one of Hitchcock's innovations. (But now, I think, we know where he got the idea.) As for The Night Visitor's being a masterpiece to rival Hitchcock, that's simply untrue - and a claim very wide of the mark. I mentioned some reasons to Eric Carlson. Among them: the film's sluggish pacing; its uninteresting characters (Per Oscarsson's doctor was particularly disappointing to me, being simply lean and mean, not at all an appealing victim who emerges as the focus of the von Sydow character's animosity); its implausibilities (the sequences of the prison break-out and break-in give us plenty of time to be aware of, and ponder, these); and a general air of vagueness and pointlessness. Also, in a possible nod to Hitchcock, a love-bird features in a couple of sequences, but far from adding a touch of humour and even charm, these sequences offended my animal- (and bird-) loving sensibilities in a way that Hitchcock, I'm happy to say, would never have done ... Okay, that's it for this week.

April 28 - 2004
Our Kim Novak interview (link at bottom of this page), in which Ms Novak affirms to Stephen Rebello her belief that Judy in Vertigo virtually commits suicide at the end of the film by launching herself from the mission belltower - 'she had nothing left but to kill herself' - doesn't give the whole story of the ending, of course. The apparition of the nun rising into view, which so startles Judy that she steps back into space (Ms Novak implies it's an unconscious act of self-destruction by Judy), has a somewhat different meaning to Scottie (James Stewart), and perhaps a different meaning again to us, the audience. For Judy, the figure of the nun is like her conscience speaking of her complicity in a crime, the murder of Madeleine Elster (whose identity Judy had taken over, even while the real Madeleine was still alive). For us, the nun is simply a deus ex machina filmed in such a way by Hitchcock that her shadowy apparition startles us, too. As for Scottie, the nun - or mother-superior - is a psychological entity ('I like stories with lots of psychology', Hitchcock once said), representing the forbidding Great Mother of whom Jung and Camille Paglia have both given insightful accounts. In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' I refer to Goethe's 'Faust' (Part II), a text which Jung uses to elucidate both the 'eternal feminine' archetype (such as Goethe's Helen of Troy, but also, indubitably, Hitchcock's Judy-as-Madeleine) and the Great Mother. Faust tries to materialise the spirit of his lost Helen. But, notes Camille Paglia, he retains a repressed feminine side. (Scottie is the same. Several critics have drawn attention to Scottie's need for 'mothering' and what this says about him. He himself comes to admit that he is a 'sentimentalist' at heart.) Accordingly, when he journeys to the supernatural realm of 'the Mothers', they frustrate his attempts. In Paglia's words, 'The male struggles through his sexual stages, returning to the mother even when he thinks himself most free of her.' Paglia, in other words, is describing the Psycho syndrome: 'A boy's best friend is his mother.' And indeed, the ending of Vertigo gives us a foretaste of the ending of Psycho, another moment of victory for the all-consuming mother (and one foreshadowed earlier, in comic terms, by the ending of To Catch a Thief [1955], whose last line announces that 'mother' is moving in with the newly-weds). Even the nun's words - 'I heard voices. God have mercy' - which I take to be Hitchcock's grim benediction for all the people whose lives the film has touched upon (starting with the fleeing criminal briefly glimpsed in the opening scene), has a sort of equivalent at the end of Psycho, inasmuch that Norman's inner voices are only the culmination of many such 'voices' heard earlier (notably, by Marion while driving to the Bates Motel). Kim Novak denied to Stephen Rebello that she dubbed the nun's words at the end of Vertigo, but it would have been apt inasmuch that Judy would then have been even more exactly positioned as a kind of exculpator/scapegoat vis-à-vis the other characters as Norman is, you feel, vis-à-vis the other characters in Psycho. (I listened tonight to the ending of Vertigo. In truth, the nun's words did not sound to me like they were spoken by Kim Novak ...)

April 27 - 2004
Reading Patrick McGilligan's 'Alfred Hitchcock: A Life In Darkness and Light' (2003) today, as I travelled across Melbourne by public transport (managing some 50 pages!), I was struck by a small thing. On page 112, McGilligan suggests that it was 'quaint' of screenwriter Eliot Stannard to head his master scenes '"with a hint as to their mood, joyous, tragic, equivocal, etc."', as if that were a reason why Hitchcock eventually broke off his relationship with Stannard - both professional and personal - at the time of Blackmail (1929). (Another reason may have been that Hitchcock had found himself a new dialogue writer, fresh from working with Cecil B. De Mille in Hollywood, the Canadian-born Garnett Weston, who was considered a suspense specialist. Weston is perhaps best remembered as the writer of the 1932 horror movie, White Zombie, starring Bela Lugosi. His association with Hitchcock was in fact short-lived, for he was soon replaced by Benn Levy.) It seems to me that many of Hitchcock's films, throughout his career, paid attention to just such a matter of giving individual scenes a unity of mood, which is one of the ways they make their points without explicit dialogue. In Family Plot (1976), the scene with the businessman Victor Constantine (Nicholas Colasanto) establishes him as an impatient Greek shipping tycoon, redolent of a cross between Aristotle Onassis and the character Gavin Elster in Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958). As detectives repeatedly quiz Constantine for details about his kidnappers, the scene subtly catches a macho mood that suggests an uneasy bond, for the moment, between the tycoon and his interrogators. It thus stands apart from the scene in which police visit Adamson (William Devane) in his jewellery shop and ask him whether he has seen any suspicious trading in cut diamonds lately: the creamy Adamson toys with the two policemen, even fastidiously picking a thread off the suit of one of them, while a lady shop assistant goes about her business in the background. The mood here, then, is one of uneasy decorum and civility. By contrast, again, there's the scene in which George (Bruce Dern) visits another store, an apartment store, and, pretending to be a private detective, interviews a lady shop assistant in the women's-undergarments section - as we can tell by a display of pink brassieres in the background. George immediately hits it off with the shop assistant, Mrs Hannagan (Marge Redmond), a fellow redhead. My point is that these three scenes are each different; yet they have in common an attention to unity of mood, and each is a good example of how to maintain such a unity. For example, in the scene with Constantine, note the presence of a model ship in a glass case: it speaks of the businessman's occupation, but also subtly suggests male conquest and a boy's dream realised. (Constantine is given to macho fantasy, too, in his dialogue: he remarks that he likes to think that his female kidnapper was attractive and in her twenties - though he never actually saw either her or her partner.) And I strongly suspect that Hitchcock learned to pay attention to 'unities' of mood at the level of individual scenes - whether or not such attention may be thought 'quaint' - back in the silent days, and that very likely he learned it from Eliot Stannard. Furthermore, I believe that he appreciated its expressive potential ...

April 23 - 2004
Various commentators, including me, have noticed how the start of the middle section of Downhill, called 'The World of Make-Believe', first tricks us into various impressions of Roddy (including that he is a thief - making us no better than the headmaster and Roddy's father who have both wrongfully assumed him guilty of misconduct with a waitress!) and then, as the view continues to expand, finally revealing that the action is all taking place on a stage, part of a musical performance. (Here I'm reminded both of Schopenhauer - who famously taught that all information from our senses is subjective, being mere 'phenomenon of the brain', and that the further back we stand, whether literally or figuratively, the more a 'supposed absolute reality' vanishes - and of Dickens, who in 'Great Expectations' has the worldly lawyer Jaggers tell the hero, 'Take nothing on evidence, Pip'.) What hasn't been commented on is how an emphasis on subjectivity continues right through this middle section, and beyond, and how the film thereby continues to play tricks on us, as fate plays tricks on Roddy. One shot, in particular, is remarkable for combining two 'realities' in one frame. Roddy's older rival for the attention of the musical show's leading lady, Julia (Isabel Jeans), is her co-star Archie (Ian Hunter). In the shot I mentioned, Archie, in his dressing-room, gazes into the frame while in the left-hand corner of that frame, in close-up, a hand holds a distinctive cat-shaped spray bottle. The composition anticipates shots emphasising significant foreground objects in The Lady Vanishes (1938) and Notorious (1946). But in this case, there's a further level of sophistication because the hand belongs to Julia who is in an adjoining dressing-room, where she is applying scent to her face after the performance, and the shot is evidently a 'thinks' shot representing Archie's thoughts of her. In a moment, he'll get up and leave, evidently bound for Julia's dressing-room. Hitchcock, though, has further tricks - still involving subjectivity - to play. The view changes to reveal Julia at her dressing-table, leaning back. A hand knocks at the door. Cut to an upside-down shot from Julia's point of view showing the new arrival entering (another shot that anticipates one in Notorious). We expect to see Archie. But as the view rights itself, the new arrival is disclosed as Roddy. Perhaps the upside-down shot has an additional degree of subjectivity beyond simple point-of-view. Julia is a rather flighty woman (another element in the film's strong misogyny), and she has apparently already being making a play for Roddy by leaving behind onstage her cigarette-case, knowing that Roddy will find it and bring it to her. At the same time, she carries on an affair of convenience with Archie, who pays her bills! (Archie will turn up at her dressing-room in a moment.) Now, I haven't yet said how Hitchcock had earlier shown Roddy in his dressing-room, a scene followed by a simple fade-out. That is, we never do see Roddy get up and leave - whereas we are shown Archie getting up from his dressing-table and going out. Accordingly, as I suggested yesterday, it seems possible that the rest of this section of the film, in which Roddy inherits £30,000 and marries Julia, only to lose both the money and Julia to Archie, who has been hovering in the background all along, is itself no more than a 'thinks' episode imagined by a pessimistic Roddy in his dressing-room as he wonders whether to return the cigarette-case. Certainly his 'married' state is never mentioned again in the remainder of the film, not even when he returns home and is re-united with his father! And this ingenious (perhaps over-ingenious) middle section of the film is called 'The World of Make-Believe', after all!

April 22 - 2004
Apart from anything else, I've been trying in these entries on Downhill (1927) to draw attention to things in early Hitchcock that we don't necessarily think of as 'Hitchcockian' - despite useful work done on these early films by Maurice Yacowar, Charles Barr, and others. Roddy's swaying walk across London, for instance, I've never seen referred to except in the most unfeeling, or formal, of descriptions. That's perhaps partly Hitchcock's own fault: the sequence is 'buried' amidst many other bravura sequences in the film that barely co-exist stylistically. Downhill, in other words, is a bit of a hodge-podge. Accordingly, how does one know how to respond to individual sequences, except in a slightly distanced way, as one tries to follow the plot (what there is of it)? Well, I have found it useful to think of the film as depicting - as part of its ultimate emphasis on subjectivity - 'worlds within worlds'. Just because we leave, with Roddy, 'The World of Youth' to enter 'The World of Make-Believe' and then, eventually, 'The World of Lost Illusions', doesn't mean that a bit of make-believe isn't already present from the beginning (of course it is) and still present at the end. Perhaps that's the point of the last shot, with its punning reference to Roddy scoring another (rugby) 'try', as he is allowed after all 'to play for the Old Boys'. Life is a game (as Vandamm in North by Northwest [1959] knows to his cost), only it is played in deadly earnest. To find that out is to enter maturity (a theme of several Hitchcock films, including Spellbound [1945]); and Donald Spoto's point about the theme of a 'second chance' being present in the work of various Catholic artists, including Hitchcock, is relevant here, obviously. I think, too, of the Blakeian concept of 'innocence regained': William Blake saw a progression from Innocence to Experience to (a higher) Innocence. So again we can say that Downhill is a film about 'universals'. (True, Orson Welles said of his film The Trial [1962] that its 'greatest weakness is its attempt at universality'. And he added: 'Perhaps at one level a picture always loses by being deliberately universal.' But at another level, those 'universals' may provide the safety-net I spoke of yesterday.) A further element of 'worlds within worlds' was present in the film's original West End run: as Charles Barr found out, for the scene where Roddy and his friend Tim are confronted by the Headmaster in his study with the accusation of the waitress Mabel, the film was stopped and the real actors performed the scene live onstage. (The film resumed at the point where the boys afterwards walk dejectedly back down the cloisters.) But it was in the middle section of the film, with its title referring to make-believe, that Hitchcock apparently felt most liberated to play with the viewer, to the point where it's just possible that this whole central sequence is a dejected fantasy on Roddy's part. I'll explain tomorrow.

April 21 - 2004
Now to qualify some of my remarks so far about Downhill, including my disparaging observations about its over-schematic final section ('The World of Lost Illusions') in which Roddy is first delirious in Marseilles and on board ship, then exhausted during and after his stumbling walk home across London to his father's house. That walk, performed out of 'blind instinct', as a caption says, would be one of the best things in Hitchcock were it not (to my mind) so vitiated by the fatuous schematics of this part of the film. It is lovingly done by Hitchcock, in overlapping successive images of people and streets rushing towards and past the swaying camera: notice, for example, how one passer-by does a little dance as the camera goes by. I don't know how Hitchcock achieved some of these shots (with actors? - surely not), but I do sense that these images of his beloved London entranced him. 'Home, sweet home', indeed. ('Going home', or its opposite, 'not going home', would figure importantly in such other Hitchcock films as Rich and Strange [1932], Shadow of a Doubt [1943], The Trouble With Harry [1955], and Frenzy [1972].) And in its subjective conception, I would compare this scene with episodes from Dickens, such as David Copperfield's memorable walk from London to his Aunt Betsy Trotwood's house in Dover. My evoking of Dickens yesterday was deliberate. At least two other moments in the final section of Downhill remind me of Dickens. First, when Roddy slumbers in an attic in Marseilles, attended by a black mammy ('an earth mother', as Maurice Yacowar chooses to call her) and two men, one black and one white, who discuss who he is and what to do with him, I think for some reason of the opium-den scenes in 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' (1870) in which the 'Princess Puffer' speculates darkly to herself about the recumbent form of cathedral organist John Jasper, who is paying a surreptitious visit to London from Cloisterham (Canterbury). And when, on board ship, Roddy stirs and thinks he sees the various people who have taken advantage of him during the course of the film, playing cards and laughing at him, and Hitchcock suggests the churning state of Roddy's delirium by cutting in shots of the ship's engines turning over, I think of the scene late in 'Great Expectations' (1862) in which Pip, exhausted by events, falls into a fever and imagines himself 'a small beam of a vast engine, clashing and whirling over a gulf' (Chapter 57). Now, the film's 'moral' had been implied at the start with its title referring to a pact of loyalty by two schoolboys, one of whom 'kept it - at a price'. (This holier-than-thou aspect of Roddy, although ambiguous, is itself Dickensian.) In turn, this reminds me of the 'moral' attached to the front of The Manxman (1928) asking, 'What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?' Unfortunately, perhaps, not too many modern viewers are interested in soul-drama; perhaps they never were. For all of Downhill's attempts to incorporate 'universals', perhaps these were never going to be more than a safety-net if all else failed to hold a viewer's interest. So what else did the cunning Hitchcock do to make his film 'interesting'? Tomorrow I'll look at its middle section called 'The World of Make-Believe'.

April 20 - 2004
Let me see if I can't formulate immediately my main point, or two, about a film like Downhill in the light of what I've been saying here about Hitchcock's 'instinctive gravitation to universals'. Later this week, I'll try to fill in the details. Okay, here goes. Downhill, which I've just watched again, is a relatively jejune, or insubstantial, work as compared with later Hitchcocks like Spellbound and Vertigo which it nonetheless anticipates. By 'jejune', I mean such things as the naked misogyny and moralism of the scene in a Paris dance-hall managed by the woman whom a caption calls 'Madame, La Patronne, expert in human nature'. At the end of the scene, young Roddy (Ivor Novello) quits his job as gigolo to La Patronne's desperately unhappy customers - such as the muscular Poetess (Violet Fairbrother, who would play the equally bare-armed and formidable Mrs Whittaker in Hitchcock's next film, Easy Virtue) - and plunges further downwards into a delirium, ending up (ironically) in an attic in Marseilles. Unfortunately, the fact that we're not told how he got there, including what exactly brought about his condition, only makes more obvious the pre-conceived nature of the 'lesson' that the film seems to be inculcating - round about here, you may be reminded of a temperance lecture ('don't let this happen to you') crossed with the unmitigated paranoia of Uncle Charlie from Shadow of a Doubt ('the world is a foul sty') - but without the 1943 film's saving maturity and sense of positive value. True, Roddy eventually manages to return to England, whereupon a caption speaks of the 'blind instinct [that] led him HOME' - but it is all relatively schematic. (Nonetheless, I'll qualify these remarks shortly.) I was reminded of the way in which early Dickens lacks a convincingly flesh-and-blood heroine and doesn't always rise above its basis in stock melodrama. On the other hand, Dickens's genius was never suppressed for long, including his capacity to give you a sense of both the panoramic and the kaleidoscopic (as Grahame Smith's 'Dickens and the Dream of Cinema' has recently reminded us). Something like this, then, is also what I have in mind re Hitchcock, namely, that he was already too good an artist not to give his films a form and a texture that generates a 'dignity of significance' despite a relative crudity of local vision at times (and even then, never for long). Not only does the 'downhill' metaphor work this way - see my remarks yesterday about multiple and universal meanings of 'falling' - but Hitchcock's very English interest in psychological states, and the limits of subjectivity, was already showing. If it's true, as I've suggested here recently (e.g., April 7, above), that Hitchcock's films typically acknowledge the urge to 'escape' or 'transcend' one's subjectivity, to fly from 'private traps', then the inevitable cautionary aspect of such a motif is already inherent in Downhill. Its three parts are called respectively, 'The World of Youth', 'The World of Make-Believe', and 'The World of Lost Illusions'. I'll be less abstract tomorrow.

April 19 - 2004
19 I meant what I said on April 5, above, about Hitchcock designedly dealing in universals, such as a fear of heights, acrophobia - vide the skiing sequence of Spellbound or several sequences of Vertigo - rather than, say, fear of confined spaces, claustrophobia, such as Brian de Palma seeks to incorporate in Body Double (1984). One sequence in particular in the latter film has always struck me as verging on the risible where, to try and convey a character's nausea in a claustrophobic situation, the camera simultaneously zooms in and tracks back (yes, the Vertigo technique) - but leaving me, for one, totally disengaged (I'm not a claustrophobe) and conscious mainly of the de Palma bombast. (Please don't misunderstand me: I otherwise find much to admire in de Palma's films.) Claustrophobia is not innate in the way that fear of heights is innate, I believe, in nearly all creatures: a day-old kitten knows not to step off a cliff, and a baby bird somehow knows not to climb out of the nest. But I think that claustrophobia is much more of a conditioned fear. (Accordingly, gentle reader, can you see why once again I might want to draw an analogy between Hitchcock, the filmmaker par excellence who deals with universal emotions and promptings, and the philosopher Schopenhauer, who had a similar concern?) And now there's a new book, called simply 'Falling', by Garrett Soden, that puts a spotlight on just how universal is a concern with matters of falling and gravity. (Gravity is itself a manifestation of the world's Will, claimed Schopenhauer.) To read a review of Soden's book, and an extract from it, click here: Guardian Unlimited Books | Review | Down to earth. In turn, I'm reminded of how Frenchman Roger Caillois, in 'Man, Play, and Games' (trans. Meyer Barash, 1961), which I read long before encountering mention of it in Thomas Leitch's 'Find the Director and Other Hitchcock Games' (1991), classified the appeal of games-playing into four broad categories, one of which was ilinx/vertigo (e.g, the game of ring-a-roses, or various rides in an amusement park). (The other categories of games-playing were: agon/competition, alea/chance, and mimicry.) Here, then, are some of the things I learnt from Soden's book - tomorrow I may broaden things out by looking at such Hitchcock films as Downhill (1927). First, in paraphrase: 'We are fascinated by falling - you probably enjoyed your first laugh as a result of being tossed up in the air and caught again.' Note how close this comes to Hitchcock's explanation of why most of us can enjoy being scared: 'It all goes back to when a mother first says "Boo!" to her baby.' Next, here's a paragraph in which Soden comments on the metaphorical - and universal - power of notions of 'up' and 'down': 'Linguist Zoltan Kovecses has pointed out that metaphorically "up" is good, "down" is bad. So healthy is up; sick is down: Lazarus rose from the dead. He fell ill. Conscious is up; unconscious is down: Wake up. He sank into a coma. Happy is up; sad is down. I'm feeling up today. He's really low these days. Virtue is up; lack of virtue is down. She's an upstanding citizen. That was a low-down thing to do. This idea seems to be universal. Researchers have checked three unrelated languages - English, Hungarian, and Chinese - and found that all described happiness with "up" metaphors.' Tomorrow: why Hitchcock's melodramas, such as Downhill and Vertigo, can't help but have, in Goethe's phrase, 'the dignity of significance' - given Hitchcock's instinctive gravitation to universals (and despite a caveat by Orson Welles about the dangers of universality in films!).

April 16 - 2004
Hitchcock said that he chose Salvador Dali to design the dream-sequence of Spellbound 'because of the architectural sharpness of his work' - and no doubt for his ability to render, in Jacques Dopagne's phrase, 'the cosmic anguish of "space-time"' (qualities, too, of the 'metaphysical' paintings of Giorgio di Chirico, much influenced by the thought of the philosopher Schopenhauer). Note that we arrive inside the dream (and the gambling room) by mean of a forward tracking-shot which is a virtual 'cosmic' journey: initially, there's a dissolve from Ballyntine to a shot of several star-like points of light (echoing, too, other glinting objects seen earlier, from knives to coffee-pots) which, in turn, become a succession of realistic, though disembodied, eyes located in space; only next to we finally arrive in the gambling room with its grotesque, staring eyes painted on, or nestling between, the labia-like drapes hanging on the walls. All very Dali-esque, and suggestive, in a multi-valent way! Appositely, in this male-dominated 'gambling room', which might almost be a bordello (cf. a scene in John Huston's Freud [1962]), a scantily-clad girl enters and runs from table to table, kissing the male card-players; the tables themselves have carved 'female' legs (against which the card-players' legs brush and rub); while on the tables are swaying metronomes with eyes painted on them (an old idea of Man Ray's), further suggesting copulation or masturbation. Eyes in this sequence are essentially a feminine symbol, so that when we see a man at the end of the room wielding a giant pair of phallic scissors to slash an equally huge eye (cf. the opening scene with the eye and the razor of Dali/Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou [1928]), an elemental symbolism applies. But that's only the beginning. For example, as the actor playing the man with the scissors is Norman Lloyd, seen earlier as Ballyntine's alter ego, Mr Garmes - the patient with a guilt-complex - at 'Green Manors', where he had run amok with a razor, a further level of symbolism suggests that somehow the scissors represent would-be 'escape' - yet after they have cut through the eyes painted on the drapes, all that's revealed is another, solitary and stern-looking, eye peering in from afar ... Subjectivity again, or (in a phrase from Psycho) 'private traps', befitting this part of the dream which represents 'simple wish-fulfilment' or masturbation (something also mentioned by Marian Keane on the Criterion DVD), before John begins to sense the task ahead, of overcoming his fears of women and proving himself to Constance. Lastly, here are some other pointers to the complexity, and cleverness, of the dream-sequence. That initial journey past a cluster of stars and (realistic) eyes to arrive inside a room that obviously represents a distorted reality, recalls the passage from Shakespeare that prefaced the film: 'The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves.' When in the dream the bearded man (representing the late Dr Edwardes) demonstrates his skill at playing 'twenty-one' (also known as blackjack), he may be thought to be asserting his 'maturity' and 'superiority'. Yet, next minute, he seems, with his blank cards, to be somehow an 'impossible' figure - which is exactly how Dr Brulov describes him to the police at Rochester. No wonder that the masked 'proprietor' (representing the head of 'Green Manors', Dr Murchison, whom we see masked in the operating-room sequence) accuses him of cheating! As for the eyes on the drapes representing also 'the guards at "Green Manors"' (as Murchison will interpret them), that's still not the end of the matter: they may further be seen to represent 'society' as characterised in the film's New York sequence, with its prying house-detectives, bell-boys, and railway ticket-inspectors. Spellbound is a film that combines expressionism, surrealism, and a special kind of suspense defined by Jean Douchet as 'suspending' the audience 'between darkness and light'; and it is exemplary.

April 15 - 2004
Someone this week gave me a copy of Ronald Bergan's 'Anthony Perkins: A Haunted Life' (1995). I see that Perkins, basically homosexual, 'was appalled at the thought of having sex with a woman, until he was in his fortieth year [and deep into psychoanalysis]. "I saw women as beautiful predators," he explained.' (p. 7) Forgive me if I note here a confirmation, of sorts, for my reading of the dream-sequence in Spellbound - to which I'm coming now. Yesterday, I ended by saying that the dream-sequence has often been misunderstood, or mis-described, by woolly-minded critics. For example, Leonard J. Leff refers in his 'Hitchcock and Selznick' (1988) to a pair of 'phallic' pliers that Selznick removed from the sequence; but in fact the pliers are still visible and are not so much 'phallic' as 'castrating'. The final part of the sequence, in which the pliers appear, and in which John is chased down a slope by a winged predator, represents John's 'Oedipal' fear of what marriage to Constance may involve. (And not for nothing does the first part of the dream, set in a 'gambling room', allude to a father-figure reaching 'twenty-one', i.e., manhood, ahead of everyone else, including John.) As I note in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', fear of 'castration' (and/or fear of women) becomes a common fear in Hitchcock's heroes after Spellbound. For reference, here are the four parts of the dream, including its cut segment (about which, James Bigwood, whom I mentioned yesterday, has done valuable research). 1. The gambling room. 2. Two men on a roof. 3. The ballroom. 4. The downhill-uphill segment. And now let's not mince words. That first part of the Salvador Dali-designed dream takes place in what is essentially a man's domain - the gambling hall features round objects (on pedestals) which are emblematic of testicles, precisely what the pliers in the final segment are designed to grasp and crush. (Check out the sequence for visual confirmation of this.) No wonder that John is running away! Of course, the winged figure who pursues John in the dream is both harpy and angel (as Brulov notes); and indeed the whole film is built on an opposition between what is 'devilish' (e.g., psychoanalysis itself, as subjectively seen by John and others, who regard it as 'devil-talk') and what is 'angelic' (which is a significance of 'Gabriel Valley', Gabriel being the archangel who presided over the gates of Paradise in the work of another English poet, Milton's 'Paradise Lost'). Indication that Hitchcock was not exactly oblivious to all of these connotations may be found in Psycho (1960), which, as I've shown here and elsewhere, is full of allusions to Milton, to angels, and to predatory birds, such as those that 'hover' over Norman's head when he is confronting Marion in his 'parlor'. That will do for tonight. Tomorrow: more on the 'gambling room' segment of the dream.

April 14 - 2004
Apropos nothing much, except that we have been talking here recently about producers, such as David Selznik, not understanding or appreciating what directors are aiming at, I must say that there's a marvelous chapter in Jack Cardiff's 'Magic Hour: The Life of a Cameraman' (1996) that illustrates exactly this topic. (And Cardiff, I would say, is more specific and articulate than Hitchcock ever was about the obtuseness and short-sightedness of producers.) I refer to Chapter 17, called "Expectations Fulfilled", dealing with Cardiff's own directorial triumph, his adaptation (with T.E.B. Clarke and Gavin Lambert) of D.H. Lawrence's 'Sons and Lovers'. That great 1960 film, made in black-and-white Cinemascope for Twentieth-Century Fox, had two official producers: Jerry Wald in Hollywood (who never once visited England where much of the film was shot) and Tom H. Morahan (the talented former artist and set-designer who did the sets for Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn [1939]). But the real villain, or pain-in-the-butt, for Cardiff during shooting was the head of Fox's London branch, one Robert Goldstein, who launched the project in the first place. Reader, obtain Cardiff's book for yourself (and also treat yourself to a viewing of Sons and Lovers); I will just quote one sentence by him that sums up everything. 'It was this constant battling with Goldstein', he writes, 'that brought out in me a cunning I never knew I possessed.' (p. 228) Now let's return to Hitchcock's Spellbound. I want to say about the dream-sequence: it has never been satisfactorily analysed. (James Bigwood, a filmmaker and media writer, has spent years, on and off, researching and reporting on the sequence - for example, it is to Bigwood we are indebted for finding out that Ingrid Bergman considerably exaggerated the amount of footage cut from the dream showing her covered in ants and emerging from inside a statue - yet never once has he ventured the slightest interpretation of what the sequence is actually about! Exemplary Americanism! Indeed, Bigwood reminds me of Jack Cardiff's description of how 'the affable Jerry Wald' would have modified a sequence in Sons and Lovers to deal with censorship objections - 'all the force diluted to the level of a child's primer'! [p. 223]) In all modesty, I must say that the few pages in 'The MacGuffin' #15 (i.e., the Spellbound issue, February-May 1995), dealing with the dream-sequence and the Gabriel Valley sequence, are easily the most analytic I have yet seen: those pages form the basis of a couple of paragraphs in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' (UK edition, 1999 - the US edition was 'censored'). Okay. All of the above is preamble. And so, in a sense, is my next point. Something I have never seen interpreted - not even in 'The MacGuffin' - is what Constance (Bergman) is referring to when, at Rochester, she mentions that one of her patients had dreamt of her as an eggbeater. (When John asks her what that dream meant, she tells him, 'never mind'!) Perhaps the meaning of such an image - castration - is too obvious to need interpreting. The trouble is, such 'coyness' or 'tastefulness' by critics and scholars leads to obfuscation about the film's own dream-sequence, and a reduction of our responses to it to ones of vague 'enjoyment'. Or, worse, to a condescending denial of its having any significance (except what is provided in the film itself by Constance and Brulov and, later, Murchison). Also, the critics - some of them seeming to follow David Selznick in this - proceed to actually misunderstand the dream's imagery because of their (self-imposed?) woolly thinking. To be continued.

April 8 - 2004
To fully appreciate Spellbound, I always think it necessary to imagine its playing before packed houses on the mammoth screen at the Radio City Music Hall. Can't you just hear and feel the collective appreciation of such audiences for the film's every nuance? The splendid Criterion DVD restores to the film the lead-in and lead-out music, further reminding us of the pre-David Lean blockbuster aspect of its original presentation. In addition, think of what must have been the generally euphoric or, at any rate, optimistic mood of those immediate post-War audiences - not for nothing does a close-up in the 'Green Manors' library include a title, 'Recent Advances in War Neuroses' - and of how the film's emotional sweep plays to that mood. (David Lean's own first post-War film, Great Expectations [1946], did something similar apropos British audiences.) The fact that there are actually very few 'crowd' scenes in the film, which is quite as 'intimate' as any of Hitchcock's romantic thrillers, only goes to show its director's mastery, and control. In the early scenes, he simultaneously advances and undercuts the romantic element - one of the several things during shooting that producer David Selznick never fully understood or appreciated. The deflating (yet somehow valorising) 'mogo on the gogo' line, already mentioned, comes just as Constance and John, in the Vermont countryside, no less, arrive at a fence that is as un-picturesque as you could get: just a few strands of old barbed wire, some of it in a tangle! (By contrast, think of the sunny Kent uplands, filled with birdsong, depicted in Hitchcock's Young and Innocent just eight years earlier; not to mention autumnal Vermont displayed in all its glowing majesty in The Trouble With Harry [1955].) And when Constance surveys the landscape, and asks, 'Isn't this beautiful?', Hitchcock's camera, rather than show us the view, stays on her face as the pair prepare to picnic. John: 'What'll you have - ham or liverwurst?' Constance (her voice still full of mood): 'Liverwurst!' (The film's script is transcribed in 'Best Film Plays - 1945'.) 'Still full of mood' - subjectivity again, notice. Think, too, of the 'transfer of affects' scene at Rochester, and also of Brulov's disquisition there on male vs female ways of seeing. But of course, as I indicated yesterday, the whole film, like other Hitchcocks, is about worldly imprisonment and the perennial 'lost paradise' theme that Hitchcock and Welles both drew on. Hitchcock, unlike Welles, follows conventional wisdom, including Hollywood wisdom, in positing marriage as a way out. But not for a moment does he offer any guarantees. Meanwhile, the film's treatment of the 'imprisonment' motif is complex and profound. At one level, it works at the level of fairy tale and myth. The title Spellbound relates both to the 'like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing' ambience of the credits-sequence and to the 'vegetation myth' pervading the 'Green Manors' sequences, already mentioned (April 6, April 5, above). Exactly the same construction had operated in Hitchcock and Selznick's Rebecca (1940) where, as I've shown in 'The MacGuffin', Arthurian legend is evoked (befitting the Cornish setting) - in particular, the story of the 'dolorous stroke' that had devastated a realm that now awaits a saviour to put it to rights. (From the outset, 'Manderley' is depicted as under a spell. For more on this, see 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', UK edition.) Then there are the film's 'realistic' references to 'imprisonment', perhaps including that tangle of barbed wire in Vermont. But it's at the level of symbolism and wider meanings that Spellbound is most inspired, not least in the dream sequence. More next week.

April 7 - 2004
Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1940) may, or may not, be one of the greatest movies ever made; it is certainly one of the showiest movies ever made! It is visibly a great big movie (in the sense that a skyscraper is visibly a great big building); and it crams one helluva lot of effects and moods into its two-hours running-time (very like a top-line circus in that respect). Above all, it proclaims itself as the story of a man's life or, even more sententiously, the story of a man (though here I think of that very Wellesian disclaimer in Touch of Evil [1958], 'What does it matter what you say about a man?'). The fact that shadows, both literal and metaphorical, are everywhere in Kane is also part of its effect (so it actually depicts not so much the story, as one vast shadowy expanse, of Kane's life). Overall, its note of Significance comes from its arch 'MacGuffin', the search for the meaning of Kane's dying word, 'Rosebud' (which has both mythic and sexual significance yet is still, in Welles's own phrase, 'dollar-book Freud'). Well, most of these things are also in Hitchcock's Spellbound - which even has an allusion to Kane in a shot of falling snow slowly covering the tracks of a child's toboggan - yet perhaps because it deals with the subject of psychiatry, and allows itself an un-Wellesian degree of seeming flippancy (like the 'mogo on the gogo' line I quoted yesterday, or the scene with the drunkard and the house-detective in the Empire State Hotel), continues to be marked down in many people's estimation (including the estimation of many critics). Also, the supposed happy ending is held against it. I would immediately make two observations. The first is that psychiatry, and specifically the attempt to solve the case of John Ballyntine's amnesia, is just the film's MacGuffin. There is indeed a hefty amount of psychiatric knowledge (and wisdom) distilled into Spellbound but - and this strikes me as apt - much of it isn't on the surface. In particular, the full 'meaning' of Ballyntine's dream is never elucidated. The second observation I would make immediately is this. There is in Spellbound a degree of real human feeling, connected to the same urge to 'escape' or 'transcend' individual human subjectivity as informs later Hitchcock masterworks like Vertigo and Psycho, yet it is easily mistaken - as the filmmakers no doubt intended - for 'mere' narrative. Moreover, the ending of Spellbound is no more 'happy' or 'escapist' than, say, the ending of Howard Hawks's remarkable comedy Man's Favourite Sport? (1964) which has the great last line, referring to another pair of newly-weds, 'Well, they're beyond help now.' A line in Spellbound that may seem absolutely banal and routine - like the police's caution to John, 'Anything you say may be used against you' - may turn out to have a second, deeper meaning that is arguably at least as brilliant and profound as anything in Kane. I'm sure I cannot change in a few sentences anyone's opinion of Spellbound ('A man convinced against his will/ Is of the same opinion still', as someone said - quoted with approval by Schopenhauer!), yet I urge my readers to consider this, if they will. Look at the Rochester sequence of Spellbound in the same way that you would attend to, say, a piece of chamber music, purely for the appreciation of its aesthetic virtues and the limpidity with which it is performed (in this case by that esteemed actor Michael Chekhov - no mere 'character actor' could have given the performance he gives here, ably 'supported' by the film's two leads), and see if you don't consider it masterly. More tomorrow.

April 6 - 2004
Repressed Constance (Ingrid Bergman) in an early scene of Spellbound makes fun of what she sees as the exaggerated depiction of love by poets - but soon she, and the film, will be endorsing the irrationality of love and the (aspect of) truth it represents. The film's reference to poets isn't fortuitous. For example, as I point out in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' (whose essay on Spellbound, in the uncut UK edition, is one of its better pieces, I think), the radiant whiteness behind the film's opening doors, a symbolic image of freedom, is in keeping with time-honoured associations found in poetry, such as Shelley's 'Adonais' with its 'white radiance of Eternity'. The film's credits-sequence, with its leaves being blown from trees (a symbolic image of mutability), also seems indebted to Shelley, i.e., the famous lines in 'Ode to the West Wind': 'O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,/ Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead/ Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing.' Now, when Constance makes her charge against the poets, the response of John (Gregory Peck) is to accuse her jokingly of suffering from 'mogo on the gogo'. And I'm aware that the phrase comes from W.C. Fields, who used it in several of his films. But I can't help thinking that the line, inserted here in Spellbound by the brilliant Ben Hecht, has another connotation: a reference to one of the great works of amour fou, George Du Maurier's 'Peter Ibbetson' (1891), and its 1935 film version, directed by Henry Hathaway, the latter work beloved by Luis Buñuel and the Surrealists (including, presumably, Salvador Dali). The hero of that novel/film is called, strikingly, 'Gogo'; and his undying love for his childhood sweetheart Mimsey, who later becomes Mary, Duchess of Towers, forms the subject of one of the most haunting of works about impossible love, prefiguring aspects of Hitchcock's Vertigo - and, for that matter, Spellbound. Such a reference to it, inserted in Spellbound (by Hecht, but very possibly on Hitchcock's suggestion - as I'll discuss further in a moment), comes precisely as Constance and John are falling in love, something which is simultaneously celebrated and mocked by Hitchcock's film in other ways besides the 'mogo on the gogo' line. Moreover John will be thrown, like Gogo/Peter, into prison, from which it seems that he can be rescued only by the continuing faith in his innocence of the aptly-named Constance. I'm going to make a small detour now. I have no doubt that Hitchcock was familiar with George Du Maurier's novel and/or its stage version written by John Nathaniel Raphael: George Du Maurier, father of Hitchcock's close friend, the actor Sir Gerald Du Maurier (himself the father of Daphne Du Maurier), wrote and illustrated for 'Punch' for more than thirty years, and also authored the phenomenally successful 'Trilby' (1894). Equally, I'm sure that Hitchcock would have seen the film version of 'Peter Ibbetson', not least because another of Hitchcock's friends, actress Constance Collier, helped adapt it for the screen. Indeed, when in Hathaway's film, Mary's husband, the Duke of Towers (John Halliday), accuses Gogo/Peter (Gary Cooper) of making love with Mary (Ann Harding) 'behind my back', the line matches exactly the one Hitchcock gives the crofter (John Laurie) in The 39 Steps, filmed the same year. As 'The MacGuffin' has repeatedly shown, Hitchcock loved to 'borrow' from other films in this way. Was this an instance of that? In any case, I'm simply suggesting that the 'mogo on the gogo' line in Spellbound has dream-like (read: over-determined and Freudian) associations when spoken there by Gregory Peck. Tomorrow: Spellbound and nothing else!

April 5 - 2004
Not before time, and as promised above (March 31), tonight I'll begin by quoting some comments by Bill Krohn prompted by the recent note here on director Don Siegel. 'Hitchcock', remarks Bill, 'was the major influence on Siegel. One has only to think of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) with its British understatement ("I've got something odd on my pool table"), and black humor, to realize it. When I interviewed Siegel, he immediately launched into a criticism of AH's use of storyboards to contrast his own working methods - closer than either of us then realized to the reality of Hitchcock's. I recently resaw Telefon (1977) and thoroughly enjoyed it - the scene in the bar with the rattlesnake is brilliant. After that I interviewed Lalo Schifrin, who wrote the music for Telefon and other Siegels, and he confirmed DS's musical knowledge (he was a lutanist) and interest in musical form in film. Charlie Varrick (1973) is still my favorite. I can't imagine that AH didn't get a kick out of it. (Watch and listen to the opening montage of small-town life - Lalo created a montage of musical Americana to match the images - quite nice.)' Thanks, as always, Bill. Now, prompted by a recent article in the 'San Francisco Chronicle' on the topic of 'boredom' (We try our best to avoid it, but ...), tonight I was going to talk about how fundamental to Hitchcock's plots such a condition is. (And I was going to mention how Schopenhauer, too, saw boredom as part of the perennial human condition, part indeed of the 'suffering' he regarded as our common lot, or anyway a spur to all of us as we try to avoid it: e.g., by going to the movies.) Think of the start of almost any Hitchcock movie (e.g., Rich and Strange [1932], Rear Window [1954], Psycho [1960]) to see boredom exemplified, typically linked to frustration and a relative absence of 'life'. Hitchcock was probably influenced by British spy fiction going back to Erskine Childers ('The Riddle of the Sands' [1903]), and after him 'Sapper' and John Buchan, whose adventure tales or 'thrillers' typically begin with the hero bored in London (yes, that city of which Samuel Johnson famously said: 'If a man is bored with London, he is bored with life'!). Here is further evidence, I would argue, to support my belief that Hitchcock liked to base his films on universals (e.g., a fear of heights rather than, say, a fear of cheese graters). Such matters activated most fully in the individual spectator those 'forms of the inner world' to which I made reference here last time (and Hitchcock's preoccupation with them brought him the more inevitably into the ambit of a philosopher concerned with universals, Schopenhauer). Also, I was going to focus on the 'Green Manors' scenes in Spellbound (1945) as exemplifying, in an almost expressionistic manner (e.g., playing cards as symbols), the iconography of boredom. (The point about this particular psychiatric institution is that, for most of the film, it belies its name because it is stagnating under an evil patriarch who won't accept 'reality' - the film incorporates 'vegetation myth' as set out, famously, by Sir James Frazer in 'The Golden Bough' [1890], which then influenced Freud and Jung.) But on looking again at that brilliant film (on the superb Criterion DVD), I was overwhelmed by how remarkable and complex a film it is. For example, the 35-minutes-long Rochester sequence, featuring Michael Chekhov, is surely one of the best things in Hitchcock. So I'll probably spend the rest of this week just discussing Spellbound ...

April 2 - 2004
Far from tidying up, as I had hoped to do today, I may only muddy waters that are already not crystal clear! Can't help that, though. It's in the nature of where we've arrived. All this talk in the past couple of days about the supposedly unknowable 'real', i.e., the noumenal realm (as opposed to the everyday world of appearances, the phenomenal) - intimations of which I take to be the subject, deep down, of Hitchcock's Vertigo - only leads me to further reflection on what I see as unresolved matters in our discussion. For example, I said above (March 31) that in citing Hugo Munsterberg on 'the forms of the outer world', we're only talking about matters of perception. 'We're not talking of the laws of physics.' Also, I spoke (on March 24) of the scene at the end of Psycho, where Norman in his cell refuses to harm (even) a fly, as offering 'a religious image'. Here, Norman presents himself as the ultimate goodie-goodie - seemingly totally passive - yet obviously imbued with the cunning of madness. He's (still) giving a performance. And a moment's thought shows that Norman is (still) no ideal role-model! No more, say, than the almost equally passive Lina (Joan Fontaine) would have been in the ending Hitchcock said he wanted for Suspicion (1941), in which she would have submitted to be poisoned out of love for her murderer, i.e., her husband Johnnie (Cary Grant). That Keatsian 'love-death' (a case of her 'ceas[ing] upon the midnight with no pain') would, it's true, have had its own irony: not quite totally passive, Lina would have arranged for Johnnie to be apprehended afterwards (for society's sake). Now, Keats himself famously conceived the principle of perception that he called 'negative capability' - 'when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason' - yet retained an ambivalence about it. According to Douglas Bush (in 'English Romantic Poets', ed. M.H. Abrams, 1960): 'As artist [Keats] fluctuates - and is aware of his fluctuations - between belief in the poetic efficacy of a wise passiveness [i.e., negative capability], and belief in the active pursuit of rational knowledge and philosophy.' Which leads me to ask this. Speaking of 'uncertainties', am I the only person to sense an equivalence - a poetic equivalence, let's say? - between Keat's principle of 'negative capability' and, in physics, Heisenberg's 'Uncertainty Principle' (which my viewing of a recent BBC three-part series, 'Testing God', showed me to be still much cited)? Note that I'm assuming that Keats's 'negative capability' principle needs to be viewed with the same uncertainty of which it itself speaks, namely, 'without any irritable reaching after fact and reason'! That is, perhaps it doesn't apply all of the time - exactly as Heisenberg says about observations of the world, and the cosmos, made by quantum mechanics! Irrationalty is part of our very existence. Accordingly, Hitchcock's comment to journalist Oriana Fallaci, 'There's nothing more stupid than logic', emerges as, dammit, perfectly reasonable! Now look at the two Hitchcock endings I described above and see if you don't regard them with increased admiration. Hitchcock has effectively tweaked both of them so as to 'have a bit each way' (in Australian betting parlance). And that leads me to my final observation for today. Keats's contemporary, Schopenhauer, himself happy to assert the power of great art to skin the eyes of the viewer up to a certain point (see yesterday's entry), nonetheless insisted that in this phenomenal world of ours, we remain bound in subjectivity. Which sounds to me very like what the recent BBC program I mentioned said is the predominant view today from the standpoint of physics! The universe depends on us being here! Us. Me. The real miracle of the universe is that we're here to witness it. That I'm here to witness it. So that Hitchcock's 'pure cinema', aimed four-square at each individual viewer (the real meaning of the term regularly applied to that cinema, 'subjective'), has a poetic rightness not always appreciated ...

April 1 - 2004
A passage in my 'MacGuffin' essay on The Wrong Man begins: 'For a certain kind of imaginative artist, time and space are major raw materials to be worked.' With due respect to my friend Dr Tag Gallagher, who emailed me overnight, we're already talking here about a certain kind of visual and/or kinetic artist, rather than a literary or verbal one - though the novelist Charles Dickens certainly achieved in his novels effects that might be called 'proto-cinematic' (as such Dickens scholars as Taylor Stoehr and Grahame Smith have indicated). When I quoted Hugo Munsterberg yesterday on how cinema overcomes 'the forms of the outer world' and adjusts events to 'the forms of the inner world', I had in mind (like Munsterberg, I believe) the capacity of cinema to give an especially vivid illusion of a 'real' world that nonetheless follows its own rules and involves the spectator actively, reinforcing the illusion by appealing to his/her 'attention, memory, imagination and emotion' (Munsterberg's listing of the forms of the inner world). The typical film spectator enters the cinema 'sluggish and jellified' (but expectant), noted Hitchcock. It is the power of cinema (in the right hands) to give an especially satisfying sense of heightened 'life' and even, finally, an illusion of overcoming all subjective limitations (our normal 'sluggish and jellified' condition?) to achieve a sense of what I call all-at-onceness (elsewhere, I have recently cited the camera obscura scene in Michael Powell's A Matter of Life and Death [1946] to illustrate what I meant) - with metaphysical and/or religious and/or spiritual connotations, if required. I believe that Vertigo works like this. Gavin Elster awakens Scottie's expectations by seeming to promise him 'colour, excitement, power, freedom', i.e., the heightened 'life' I spoke of. And the film spins a story (as does Gavin) that appeals to, precisely, 'attention, memory, imagination and emotion'. Our attention is rivetted from the opening moments: the rooftop chase and Scottie's 'suspension' in a life-death situation that the film as a whole will essentially be about. Our memory is soon appealed to by centring the narrative in an evocation of San Francisco's colourful past (which officially began at none other than the Mission Dolores), personalised in the story of Madeleine's ancestor Carlotta (a story which we see test the memory of 'Pop' Liebel in the Argosy Bookstore). Our imagination is both challenged and called into play by the possibility that here indeed, in the situation of Madeleine (Kim Novak), normal rules of time and space and causality don't apply. (S. S. Prawer's 'Caligari's Children', pp. 121-22, has a fine passage dealing with prototypes of 'the uncanny'. It begins with an observation that always reminds me of Vertigo: 'We need think only of Schopenhauer's celebrated analysis of the terror we feel when some apparent exception to the law of causality makes us doubt the principle of individuation ...') And of course Vertigo arouses our emotion - and uses that emotion like an electrical battery - not least by having Scottie (James Stewart) fall in love with, and pursue, and seemingly almost capture for himself, the alluring and mysterious Madeleine. In Schopenhauerian terms, Vertigo (or Madeleine/Judy) seems to lead us through the phenomenal world of appearances in order to arrive at (the supposedly unknowable) noumenal world of absolute Will (Kant's Ding-an-sich), symbolised by the belltower of the last sequence. Of course, the whole thing is no more than an analogue of the real (even Schopenhauer was forced, as I see it, to invoke Plato's notion of ideal forms in order not to have to say that art, meditation, etc., might give actual knowledge of the real). But at no point does Vertigo falsify its depiction of 'the human story' (to come back to Munsterberg). For ultimately 'pure film' is itself a (Platonic?) analogue of Will and willing, and Hitchcock remains true to, and keeps citing (e.g., in the dream sequence), that analogue. Tomorrow: I'll try to tidy up.

March 31 - 2004
Okay. Bear with me today. The German-born Hugo Munsterberg, who became a professor of experimental psychology at Harvard University under William James, wrote in 1916: 'The photoplay [i.e., the film] tells us the human story by overcoming the forms of the outer world, namely, space, time and causality, and by adjusting the events to the forms of the inner world, namely, attention, memory, imagination and emotion.' By 'overcoming the forms of the outer world', I understand Munsterberg to mean 'transcend normal rules of how we perceive the outer world'. Note the aspect of perception involved here. We're not talking of the laws of physics but of Schopenhauer's three necessary categories for perceiving the outer world. (His three categories greatly reduced and streamlined Kant's dozen or so categories.) And by 'adjusting the events to the forms of the inner world', I understand Munsterberg to be referring to the individual's experience of Will, Schopenhauer's term for the life-force that flows through each of us (and through all of Nature). My interpretation here fits, I think, with Schopenhauer's explanation: 'In observing his own self-consciousness everyone will soon be aware that its object is always his own volitions. By this one must understand, to be sure, not only the deliberate acts of will which are immediately put into effect and the formal decisions together with the actions which follow from them. Whoever is capable of somehow discerning the essential element ... will not hesitate to include among the manifestations of will also all desiring, striving, wishing, demanding, longing, hoping, loving, rejoicing, jubilation, and the like, no less than not willing or resisting, all abhorring, fleeing, fearing, being angry, hating, mourning, suffering pains - in short, all emotions and passions.' (Arthur Schopenhauer, "Essay on the Freedom of the Will", quoted in Bryan Magee, 'The Philosophy of Schopenhauer' [1983], p. 126.) Incidentally, or perhaps not, Schopenhauer here praises St Augustine whose 'The City of God', Book XIV, Ch. 6, includes this passage: 'For the will is in them all [i.e., desire, fear, joy, sadness]; yea, none of them is anything else than will [i.e., volition] For what are desire and joy but a volition of consent to the things we wish? And what are fear and sadness but a volition of aversion from the things we do not wish?' (Quoted in Magee, p. 126, footnote 10.) Now, I interpret Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1957) to be about someone, Manny Balestrero, a good Catholic, who never transcends the normal rules of how we perceive the outer world. Accordingly, so to speak, he puts his trust in the power of prayer and blind faith. By contrast, in Hitchcock's next film, Vertigo (1958), its would-be hero, Scottie, is an almost Faustian (or Ubermensch) figure who aspires upwards, ever upwards, driven by his sense of weakness to seek a personal self-overcoming and an almost literal transcendence of time and space (and causality - perhaps this is another significance of the McKittrick Hotel scene, discussed here previously). Tomorrow: what's in all of this for us, the film audience (and the forms of our inner world)? [Note. My thanks to Bill Krohn for his kind comments on the entries here of the past couple of days. In particular, Bill interviewed Don Siegel and is adamant that 'Hitchcock was the major influence on Siegel'. I'll try to print Bill's comments here in full, soon. KM]

March 30 - 2004
I wasn't talking lightly, I trust, when I said above (March 24) that Henry Fonda's character in The Wrong Man (1957) 'never comprehends the events that befall him, because everything moves so slowly and what philosophers call the time-space-causality nexus hides "reality" from him'. First of all, my long analysis of that film in 'The MacGuffin' #20 showed how during its opening two sequences (Hitchcock's introduction, in which he addresses us from a shadowy soundstage; the credits sequence, set in New York's Stork Club) the film designedly 'transcends' first space, then time. In the introduction, Hitchcock's distant figure addresses us in a voice that sounds close-at-hand, confiding; in the credits sequence, which also functions as a memento mori, a series of near-invisible dissolves shows the Stork Club's patrons being 'spirited away' (an evening's entertainment has been condensed into a couple of minutes of screen time). After that, in the film itself, where police and legal procedures are consistently drawn out to the point of interminability (à la the interminable lawsuit in Charles Dickens's 'Bleak House'), Manny Balestrero (Fonda) never fully grasps what is happening to him; however, the film establishes that his 'living nightmare' does give him at least a momentary insight into what would have been needed. For instance, when, after his release on bail, Manny looks at the sidewalk where the police had arrested him, we hear him say, 'It seems like a million years ago' - his customary, bourgeois sense of time (and, it turns out, space) is shaken during the course of the film. Okay. I may shortly put up on this website my 'Dickensian' - and 'Schopenhauerian' - analysis of The Wrong Man, plus a link to my recent review of the book 'Dickens and the Dream of Cinema', containing further pertinent thoughts. But now, speaking of Schopenhauer, that great post-Kantian philosopher, and his concept of the time-space-causality nexus in which we all find ourselves 'imprisoned' (the subjective human condition, only slightly exaggerated by Norman Bates in Psycho [1960] when he speaks of how 'we're all in our private traps' ...), here is one of my favourite wisdoms about film, made by S.S. Prawer in his excellent book 'Caligari's Children: The Film as Tale of Terror' (1980). In turn, Prof. Prawer is referring to the work of pioneer film theoretician Hugo Munsterberg, on whom more later. Prawer begins by asking: is not the cinema itself a machine 'put into the service of magic, of making the contents of the human imagination visible, projecting into a darkened room images of men, women, and objects whose "reality" is elsewhere, if it exists at all'? And Prawer continues (his words seem to me to bear directly on The Wrong Man, or even more, Vertigo): 'One of the earliest theoreticians of the film, Hugo Munsterberg, formulated this insight in a way that has still not been bettered. "The photoplay", he wrote in 1916, "tells us the human story by overcoming the forms of the outer world, namely, space, time and causality, and by adjusting the events to the forms of the inner world, namely, attention, memory, imagination and emotion."' (p. 209) More tomorrow. Meanwhile, to read more about Hugo Munsterberg, click here (WayBack Machine): Hugo Munsterberg, The Photoplay; A Psychological Study

March 29 - 2004
Director Don Siegel (1912-91) was educated at Cambridge University and studied acting at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (where Patricia Hitchcock later attended). His first film as director was The Verdict (1946), set in fog-ridden 1890s London and based on the famous 'locked-room' story 'The Big Bow Mystery' (filmed twice previously) by Israel Zangwill. Like many others, I have followed Siegel's films with interest, including of course Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Killers (1964), The Beguiled (1971), Dirty Harry (1971), etc., etc. I remember with affection The Lineup (1958), set in San Francisco and featuring a particularly nasty villain named 'Dancer' (Eli Wallach) who pushes a man in a wheelchair off a balcony in an arcade; and there's a thrilling car-chase climax, that has been copied more than once since, on a freeway that leads to an unfinished overpass ending in mid-air. I notice, though, that critic Blake Lucas writes: 'Thrillers like The Lineup do not possess the poetic iconography of their predecessors.' I guess that's true, and Siegel could certainly be droll at times, but I imagine that he 'mellowed' later when he made, for example, Telefon (1977), which I finally saw recently. I was very pleasantly surprised. For that thriller, screenwriters Stirling Silliphant (always brilliant, and a professed admirer of Hitchcock) and Peter Hyams gave Siegel a Communists vs Americans storyline, set mainly in rural USA, that definitely has a poetic underpinning. Consider the 'trigger' words - some lines from Robert Frost's 'Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening' - that out-of-control KGB man Dalchimsky (Donald Pleasence) speaks over the telephone each time he sends a pre-hypnotised undercover operative on a 'suicide' mission against an American target. In particular, the phrase 'miles to go before I sleep' has both a literal and a poetic connotation. The literal connotation is obvious: each operative must jump into a car or truck or helicopter to reach his target and blow it (and typically himself) sky high. But also it's clear that the film has an almost Hitchcockian (or Keatsian) life-death ambiguity. Its central couple are two Russian agents, played by Charles Bronson and Lee Remick, posing as husband and wife in order to try and head off and eliminate Dalchimsky before he manages to start World War III. (Like Hitchcock, Siegel was never bothered overmuch with sheer likelihood of plot details.) Roughly speaking, they and their situation remind you of John Gielgud and Madeleine Carroll teamed together in Hitchcock's Secret Agent (1936) or Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint combined in North by Northwest (1959). I'll come back to them. Something that impressed me was how each operative is associated visually with 'deferred repose'. For example, we're introduced to the first operative after a high long-shot of Denver, Colorado, backed by snowy mountains afar off (the shot reminded me of the opening shot of Phoenix, Arizona, in Hitchcock's Psycho [1960] or of some of the veldt shots in Howard Hawks's Hatari! [1962] ...); another, female, operative, lives in an isolated modern house somewhere in rural New Mexico with an extensive and colourful rock-garden outside while, inside, the lady is calling to two unseen kids upstairs that she'll get them toast in a moment ... Several of these shots take place in late afternoon sunlight, as evening draws on (an effect beloved of Rembrandt, by the way). Back in Russia, the effect is paralleled with shots of snowy streets and interiors of old, ornately-furnished apartments, again in sheety afternoon sunlight. Okay. I'll skip straight to the film's end. There's a clever plot-twist that sees both Bronson and Remick (a double-agent, it turns out) pulling out of the world of the political death-dealers (cf. the line in North by Northwest where Grant tells the CIA/FBI that maybe they should start learning how to lose a few cold wars). As I say, up until now they've been posing as man and wife - that old Hitchcock ploy - and staying in one motel or hotel room after another, but not mixing business and pleasure. Now, on a highway, they come to a small pink billboard saying something like 'restful cabins for couples, 10 miles ahead'. They smile, sigh, and head straight there. It's the equivalent of the endings of both Secret Agent and North by Northwest ...

March 24 - 2004
In Psycho (1960) Norman Bates says, 'They moved away the highway!' - a remark dead in line with my thesis that Hitchcock's films are about a greater or lesser degree of 'life' flowing through his main characters. (I've just finished an article distinguishing between a film like North by Northwest [1959], in which Roger Thornhill undergoes a 'quickening' process, and exclaims, 'I never felt more alive!', and a film like The Wrong Man [1957] where Manny never comprehends the events that befall him, because everything moves so slowly and what philosophers call the time-space-causality nexus hides 'reality' from him. To penetrate that nexus - cf. what the Hindus call the Veil of Maya - would take a 'miracle'. But 'miracles take time' says a nurse at the end. Maybe a miracle has happened in the film, but Manny, as I say, can't grasp it. But Hitchcock doesn't criticise Manny for that - at least not on-camera. [Off-camera, he is known to have referred to 'the moron millions'!] Instead, he shows Manny putting his trust in God, and praying. Nor does Hitchcock criticise Norman in Psycho, and what else is Norman's cell at the end of that film but a religious image? Cf. earlier remarks by a couple of the characters about Norman's 'hermitting'. Norman, wrapped in a blanket, and refusing to take the life of a fly, is like a Buddhist monk intoning a mantra - or a prayer. Of course, he's now quite mad. Isn't he?!) Anyway, reader Joel Gunz (whom I thank) has a good line of his own about Norman's 'They moved away the highway!' remark. To read it, and about the historical context - the era following President Eisenhower's Interstate Highway Act of 1956 - click here (WayBack Machine): Anvil - Eggcidental Tourist

March 23 - 2004
My friends sometimes send me stuff - or otherwise express themselves - with a marked anti-academic slant. Can't think why. Anyway, here are two quotes that have come my way lately. The first is the start of a book review by FF for the current issue of 'Senses of Cinema' (on the Web). It reads: 'Film scholars have rightly become sceptical about the value of books published under the imprint of an American academic institution. Too often we encounter yet another in-house doctoral dissertation dutifully displaying familiarity with current theoretical issues and mechanically deploying the grid on the chosen field of research. The realists among us know that most of these publications are discursive exercises tailored to the tenured track in the institution, and that they have little to say that is new or interesting.' Got that?! (FF goes on to praise the book under review, on Japanese documentary film, for actually being written with 'personal conviction and a passionate commitment to its subject'. Quite exceptional!) Now, here's a pithier observation, sent to me by AM, which he found in a German university film journal, published online. (It is part of an introduction to a special issue on "Tears in the cinema".) It reads: 'Oftentimes tears turn into laughter ­ and with that one arrives at the affect produced by the academic pursuit of film studies itself.' Love it! (Thanks, FF and AM!)

March 22 - 2004
Back again but, for a couple more days or so, only with token entries. Today, for instance, I'll just note that I've been watching a most interesting documentary on the actors and drama teachers Michael Chekhov and George Shdanoff. The documentary is called From Russia to Hollywood. Chekhov, son of the elder brother of playwright Anton Chekhov, studied with Stanislavski and was told that he would go far. He did. His own school of acting was highly respected. In the 1930s he was teaching in rural England, at Darlington Hall, and noted that his English pupils, compared with his Russian ones, were inhibited. This accords with what I've long said - that Hitchcock's particular approach to his actors, both male and female, in England was very much the outcome of how he found them so restrained as compared with their counterparts in the Hollywood movies that he loved and admired. English actresses, in particular, were inhibited by aspects of the English class system. Much of the legend - and myth - about Hitch's misogyny arises from the fact that he was determined to 'break 'em down at the start - it's much the best way', as he put it. (Madeleine Carroll was a particular 'recipient' of Hitch's methods ...) Okay, back to Michael Chekhov. Remember the great moment in his performance as the excitable Dr Brulov in Spellbound (1945) when, exasperated at Constance (Ingrid Bergman), he's unable to light his pipe and ends up spilling his matches over himself? According to Anthony Quinn, interviewed for the documentary, that moment occurred following take after take in which Chekhov would simply pocket a single match. The business with the spilt matches was unplanned, and occurred on the 26th take. Everyone on the set applauded!

March 15 to 21 - 2004
[The genial Editor must meet a deadline this week, and consequently there will be no "Editor's Day".] Meanwhile, some of our readers may like to ponder further on those two pieces of sculpture, or statuary, in Torn Curtain's art gallery sequence. The first of them, in white marble, can't be of the archangel Michael grappling at the gates of Heaven with the fallen angel Satan, as one of the figures is definitely male, the other female! As for the second piece of work, in black marble (or ebony?), it may possibly represent Prometheus grappling with the eagle that pecked at his liver while he was chained to a rock by the gods in punishment for his seeking to steal fire for humankind - such a theme would certainly fit with the imagery and thematics of Hitchcock's film (even the Elmo Bookstore is perhaps a reference to fire, and there was a similar fire motif running through Saboteur) - but neither chains nor rock seems in evidence. If anyone has thoughts, or information, about this or other aspects of the sequence, or the film as a whole, by all means contact the Editor whose email address is . He would be most grateful to receive such information. In any case, he'll be back next week. And if meanwhile any Hitchcock-related news should occur, or arise, it will be posted in the News & Comment section. [KM]

March 12 - 2004
To appreciate Torn Curtain's art gallery sequence, set in what is now known as the Alte Nationalgalerie (Monuments de Berlin), we need first to note the film's theme of 'division' - linked to a 'Tower of Babel' motif. Not for nothing does someone comment, in Copenhagen, Denmark, on the anomaly of the French name 'Hotel d'Angleterre'. And though we learn that Copenhagen is hosting an International Congress of Physicists whose common 'language' is mathematics, by the same token, the simplest everyday communication may strike language difficulties - as Sarah (Julie Andrews) finds when she asks a waiter for directions to the Elmo Bookstore. (That's the bookstore whose religious-books section, we hear its hard-of-hearing proprietor say, is 'in a 'ell of a shambles'.) And again, though another feature of these Copenhagen scenes is their colourfulness, it's something which Hitchcock seems deliberately to undercut by making the scenes so 'touristy' and by his particular use of English composer John Addison's score (the scenes have music resembling the signature-tune of one of J. Arthur Rank's popular program-fillers of the time, the 'Look at Life' documentaries - whose title-logo showed a china rooster with vari-coloured tail feathers, and whose sub-title was 'This Colourful World' - but invariably these shorts were rather trite). In sum, Armstrong travels from a Western bloc nominally 'free' and 'united' and even 'happy' (how the German philosopher Schopenhauer would have scoffed!) to a country in the Eastern bloc divided against itself politically, and where, in East Berlin, all colour seems drained away. The question, then, is: how much difference is there, really? (After all, the credits sequence had included Armstrong and Sarah among the generally 'suffering' humanity seen on the right of screen - cf. yesterday's entry.) Consider the art gallery sequence. The sequence is built on the sound of echoing footsteps, and much of the building's interior consists of a floor-design of alternating black and white squares. (I'll return to this in a moment.) Also, it is built on absence. The gallery seems strangely deserted, evoking for me a city of privation whose citizens have no time for a cultural heritage stored, rather forbiddingly, in a building designed like a Roman temple. Significantly, when Armstrong exits the gallery the first person he sees is a lone Hausfrau trudging about her business. In truth, the sequence reminds me of one in Orson Welles's Le procès/The Trial (1962), namely, that in which Joseph K (Anthony Perkins) wanders at night past a giant shrouded figure of Christ while, nearby, silent, miserable, half-naked people stand motionless. (There are still considerable differences between the two sequences, of course.) Further, Hitchcock's sequence marks a move towards depth by Armstrong. This is perhaps the main significance of the moment when, inside the gallery, he pauses at the centre of a magnificent tiled mandala, symbol of psychic wholeness (as Jung spent many years exegeting). I analyse this aspect of the film in my article in 'The MacGuffin' #27, mentioned earlier (March 8); there, I also note parallels in, for example, the art gallery and sequoia forest scenes of Vertigo. Which brings me to my next (and penultimate) point: this is also the sequence in which we, and Armstrong, 'put on' the city as a whole. This is the sequence where we start to feel involved in depth. It leads directly to the murder sequence. And while I wouldn't put the matter so strongly as to say that there Armstrong kills his 'brother' Gromek, nonetheless some such implication arises. In the art gallery, two significant pieces of sculpture are featured: one, in white marble, shows two angels grappling (I'm reminded of the 'angels' imagery in Psycho [1960] which, it seems to me, manages to evoke both the Catholic doctrine of the communion of saints - see review on our New Publications page of the article, "The Catholic Vision in Hollywood: Ford, Capra, Borzage and Hitchcock", by María Elena de las Carreras Kuntz - and Schopenhauer's notion of our oneness in Will). The second, in black marble (i.e., implying that its subject is the inverse of the first), again shows two grappling figures - this time a man and an eagle. (But whether that eagle is German or American, who can say?! Or is it a Divine figure?) The art gallery sequence thus tells us, I think, that Armstrong and Gromek - who will soon grapple.and fight to the death - 'echo' each other; more generally, like the film as a whole, it seems to imply (as I said on March 9), 'We still have a long way to go'.

March 11 - 2004
Nearly every Hitchcock film contains, if only symbolically, references to 'life' or the 'life-force'. Think, for example, of the opening of Psycho (1960), set in Phoenix (the name of a fabled bird that would not die) with its image of an office block being built, and of the very movement (continuing the dynamism of Saul Bass's credits) of the panning and zooming camera. Or recall the opening of Spellbound (1945), in which the camera enters an estate whose double-gates bear the legend "Green Manors" and moves towards a large front door (the first of many doors in the film, all of which prove penetrable) - thus nullifying the implicit message of the credits sequence featuring leaves being blown from an almost-bare tree. Often, the trajectory of a Hitchcock film is towards the attaining of 'more life' (as in Rich and Strange [1932] and North by Northwest [1959]) or to an epiphany in which 'life' is either encapsulated (as in the theatre climax of The 39 Steps [1935]) or revealed in a new light (as I think the closing scene of Rear Window [1954] manages). But other Hitchcock films may be more downbeat, and none more so than Torn Curtain (1966). Actually, this maligned film contains some of the most thoughtfully conceived scenes in all of Hitchcock, starting with the beautiful and powerful credits sequence. The latter is about nothing less than creation myth (that in which the sun originated in an inexplicable primeval streak of mist), life and mortality, the One and the Many - or, in more philosophical terms, Will and Representation, which is also the concept informing the film as a whole. (Thus the murder scene - designed, as Hitchcock said, to show how difficult it is to kill a person - evokes nothing less than the power of Will itself; while the wonderful scene on the bus, set to galumphing, lurching music, is all about its motley group of passengers, the equivalent of the circus troupe in Saboteur [1942], who appropriately represent what democracy is supposedly about: diversity, including diversity of people and viewpoints, yet all of them 'yearning to be free', and ultimately the very situation of Representation itself, which is the obverse of Will - the Many that corresponds to the One.) Another key scene is the one in the art museum, but before I turn to that (tomorrow?), I must slow down and pay further tribute to the wonderful credits sequence. Here, then, is how Torn Curtain begins. The screen swirls with grey mist (the film will also end in greyness). Electronic rumblings are heard. Out of the mist emerges a spurt of flame. The flame continues to burn, sun-like, on the left, while, on the right, a succession of faces is seen as if through the mist. Simultaneously, and significantly, it is at this point that the main-titles music occurs - a lurching yet urgent theme for horns and xylophones that will also accompany the bus scene. And here is Hitchcock's description, to Mel Sattler - who designed the sequence, which in turn was inspired by the work of Julio Le Parc (Biography of Julio Le Parc) - of what he wanted: 'the subliminal appearance of various heads taken from the picture and optically printed so that we do not get a vivid, but only a faint impression [of them]. Some heads are in pain or in agony, some heads are unemotional, some are romantic, etc.' (Bill Krohn, 'Hitchcock at Work' [2000], p. 268)

March 10 - 2004
Firstly, tonight, DF suggests that, in point of fact, not all East German farms were collectivized (see yesterday's item), and the presence of a spy ring like 'Pi' would have been perfectly possible, though it might have looked and functioned a little differently than shown in Torn Curtain. However, DF has also submitted his own list of 'implausibilities' that mar Hitchcock's film. He writes: 'I submit that part of the film’s weakness stems from the sheer unlikeliness of the story. A physicist goes off on his own to obtain a state secret? This is far less believable than the James Bond plots.' [Editor's note. In that case, would you also make the same criticism of Fritz Lang's Cloak and Dagger (1946), which seems a source of inspiration fror Hitchcock's film? There, Gary Cooper plays an American physicist sent to Switzerland to discover whether the Germans are developing an atom bomb; ferried into Italy, he has some adventures with Resistance workers who are effectively predecessors of 'Pi'.] Next, DF comments: 'Red Army soldiers entering the bus to rob its passengers is sheer silliness; crime committed by soldiers, whether Soviet ones or American, tended to be individual crimes; they did not band together and the Wild West stagecoach atmosphere of the scene is quite ridiculous.' [Editor's note. I have to admit that this did not occur to me. I took on trust that Hitchcock had done his research and that there were precedents for the scene.] And again DF is critical: 'The shooting scene in Berlin, with police or militiamen firing machine guns at all and sundry, is risible. This sort of thing was simply not possible. There was a civil society in East Germany, too - not that I wish to defend the former state of the German Democratic Republic - yet you feel in this scene more than a little of that prejudiced view of others so well known through the ages (I think of the nineteenth-century London woman who was surprised to learn that the poor in the East End did not live in railway carriages and did not sleep standing up).' In general, says DF, Torn Curtain has some basic problems. 'Paul Newman and Julie Andrews just go through the motions in a spy story which simply does not work; its premiss, as stated above, is just too improbable.' DF prefers Hitchcock's Topaz (1969). 'Topaz certainly has something of the realism of a good spy novel (rather like Len Deighton - there’s the spy author for my money, and, yes of course, Ian Fleming!), but Torn Curtain is too disdainful of reality too much of the time.' So does DF have anything good to say about Torn Curtain's use of its German setting? Yes! 'Torn Curtain has a number of very good scenes. Even Paul Newman yelling "Fire!" in English (in a theatre packed with East German citizens who would not necessarily be conversant with English) is not quite the mistake it might seem - the word is still close enough to the German word to be understandable (the German is "Feuer", generally pronounced a bit like "foyer" but in some regional pronunciations virtually identical to the English pronunciation). Oh, and the Stasi men are very well portrayed indeed!' Tomorrow: KM on the Torn Curtain art gallery scene, and more.

March 9 - 2004
If you are determined to ridicule Picasso, you will have no shortage of material - given that he 'obviously' coudn't paint real women or real horses for the life of him! 'Technically sloppy' is a phrase you might want to borrow from Ulrich von Berg, a phrase which he uses to describe Hitchcock's filmmaking. But before coming to tonight's instalment of Mr von Berg on Torn Curtain, I want to note my conviction that the real subject of Hitchcock's film is not the Cold War; rather, the film's subject is much more akin to that of Howard Hawks's The Land of the Pharaohs (1955), whose last line is, 'We still have a long way to go'. (More on that another time.) According to Bill Krohn's 'Hitchcock at Work' (2000), when Hitchcock was informed by an expert that East German farms, being collectivized, could not hide a spy network, he onetheless went with the isolated farm we see in the film. As Krohn puts it, Torn Curtain gives us a poetic vision of the communist world. This, however, was after voluminous research, including smuggling microphones into East Germany to record ambient sounds. On such a note (of technical sloppiness?), let's now turn to Mr von Berg's remarks (printed in the book 'Alfred Hitchcock' [1999], edited by Lars-Olav Beier and Georg Seesslen). Apparently Torn Curtain was the first Hitchcock film he ever saw, at the age of 14; though he found it quite entertaining, he says that it gave him the unshakeable conviction that Hitchcock cannot have been quite right in the head. Now here is the adult Mr von Berg's view of Hitchcock's films in general: 'The director had only one theme or subject: fear, fear of this, fear of that, fear of fear and fear altogether. Fear just had to be present, as an existential threat or as the prerequisite for the plot to get moving. Anyone not willing to subjugate himself to this prerequisite, and who found Hitchcock’s films, aside from their technical sloppiness, to be hypocritical, inhibited and full of arch-Catholic, reactionary messages, illogical, humourless and predictable, had bad luck and could look forward to 90 minutes of excruciating boredom.' (Translation from the German by DF, whom I thank.) Yes, well, nobody said that Hitchcock is for all tastes - no more than, say, Kafka is for all tastes. On the other hand, Patrick McGilligan ('Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light' [2003]) has a point, I think, when he reminds us that what appealed to Hitchcock's millions of fans over the years was precisely the enjoyment of fear (and its anticipation). But we began by talking of the alleged implausibilities in Torn Curtain. Here are two more, as listed by Mr von Berg. (1) The scene where Gromek is killed is thoroughly unrealistic (that's in addition to the presence of the telephone, as noted last time), because nobody suffering the injuries Gromek does would do so silently. (2) The ruined cityscape seen through the office windows of the Minister of State Security, Herr Gerhard (Hansjörg Felmy), suggests the late 1940s, not 1965 - even in East Germany. Tomorrow: correspondent DF's own list of the film's implausibilities. (You ain't heard nothin' yet!)

March 8 - 2004
I like Hitchcock's Torn Curtain (1966) a great deal, and have written an extended analysis of it (in 'The MacGuffin' #27, pp. 17-28) to show that there is both great beauty and considerable profundity in it. Of course, there are implausible passages - I'm told, for example, that East German farmhouses in the 1960s simply didn't have telephones - but, frankly, many of those objections strike me as unintelligent and philistine, of the same order as criticising Picasso for not painting photographic likenesses. (In any case, what is the point of criticising Hitchcock for showing a telephone in the farmhouse scene? After all, it has no central function in the scene. Clearly Hitchcock put it in there for the ignorant viewers who would otherwise criticise him for making things too easy for himself: 'You cheated, Mr Hitchcock. Gromek could easily have telephoned for help, only you didn't put a telephone in the farmhouse.' So Hitchcock included it in the scene just so he could show Gromek start to use it and then the farmer's wife ripping it out. It wasn't Hitchcock who was in error, it was his critics - as was usually the case, I might add.) None the less, as Hitchcock freely admitted, the film was compromised. He would have preferred, for example, an even more downbeat ending than the present one. (See article on Torn Curtain in Furhammar and Isaksson, 'Politics and Film' [1971], p. 141.) And there are, I gather, many moments that 'the plausibles' (to use Hitchcock's term) would question. I freely admit that some of these had passed me by. Others I would dispute, just as I have disputed above the matter of the telephone. Anyway, I am very grateful to DF in Heidelberg, Germany, who has sent me the substance of a strongly critical article on Torn Curtain by Ulrich von Berg that was published in 'Alfred Hitchcock' (Berlin, 1999), edited by Lars-Olav Beier and Georg Seesslen, pp. 418-424. Here, tonight, is the start of what DF sent me, and I'll print further extracts here later this week - perhaps with a few interpolated comments by DF and/or me. The first of von Berg's criticisms concerns the blackboard scene between Professor Lindt (Ludwig Donath) and Professor Armstrong (Paul Newman). Mr von Berg writes: 'The viewer receives a demonstration, with impressive scribblings, of how it could come to pass that atom bombs will soon be raining down about him. Promptly beads of sweat appear upon his forehead - not owing to the looming end of the world, but because such a huge helping of complete and utter nonsense on a single screen cannot be endured for very long.' [KM's comment. My, that's a very analytical comment, Mr von Berg. Personally, I regard what you say as complete and utter nonsense! The scene is a beautifully choreographed contest of minds featuring two scientists. Perhaps Hitchcock based it on the time when, researching Notorious (1946), he and scriptwriter Ben Hecht had called on Dr Millikan at Cal Tech to ask him about uranium - and Dr Millikan had denied that it had any relevance to bombs. The fact is, the lives of thousands or millions may indeed be directly linked to what a lone scientist - or for that matter a lone artist (e.g., Picasso, Hitchcock) - is carrying inside his head. So that's another beauty of the scene. Oh, and surely the suspense in the blackboard scene deliberately comes not at all from the nuclear/post-nuclear issue but from the fact that the East German authorities have arrived in the building and are looking for Armstrong and his fiancée? It's surely Hitchcock's film we should be discussing here, Mr von Berg, not the - no doubt excellent, and perhaps even superior - one that you would have made!]

March 5 - 2004
In Taylor Stoehr's words, the circus child Sissy Jupe in Dickens's 'Hard Times' 'clearly knows what a horse is, and knows it in a way that [the aptly-named] Bitzer cannot even comprehend, not as "factual" data abstracted from life, but as past and present experience of the real thing, met at first hand in daily life'. (p. 260) Not incidentally, Taylor Stoehr is an academic whose words I respect. After writing his Dickens book, he went on to become an authority on the work of Paul Goodman (1911-72), the radical writer and social critic, author of 'Growing Up Absurd' (1960). Of course, some academics write like they were 'Bitzers' (and some of them write articles and books on filmmakers, and you wish they hadn't). Though Hitchcock's watered-down criticism in Torn Curtain (1966) of Professor Armstrong (Paul Newman) and his assistant Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews) consists just of telling us that they still have some 'learning' to do, earlier he had criticised in The 39 Steps (1935) the hapless Mr Memory for being an automaton and a slave to 'facts'. Mr Memory's opposite number in that film is Hannay (Robert Donat) who, with Pamela (Madeleine Carroll), engages at first hand not only with Britain's enemies, the spies, but with the very 'state of the nation' which proves on the whole to be fairly moribund - whereas Hannay, for his own survival, has to shuck off his lethargy and learn flexibility, courage, improvisation, and the capacity to play a variety of roles. Note that Hannay at the start of the film has become out of touch with 'life', just as Jeff has at the start of Rear Window and Norman Bates has when we encounter him in Psycho - though in Norman's case, of course, his role-playing is part of his problem. It is no good just 'talking to yourself'; you need a real audience. Significantly, Taylor Stoehr both criticises and finally praises Dickens for his role-playing 'in his life and in his identification with all the characters in his novels'. In living out in this way his 'dream', Dickens both finds and shares his 'humanity' with us. (p. 287) I have said something similar in the current 'MacGuffin' (#29) about Hitchcock's role-playing (including even his penchant for practical joking) and how it let him have his cake and eat it too, including keeping intact his non-rational self and his 'sentimental' side. That's why Hitchcock's last film, Family Plot (1976), about a (phoney?) spiritualist, makes such a good testament. Like Dickens, Hitchcock finally chose not to have to choose. He was more than a 'realist' as that term is usually meant. Here again, for comparison, is Taylor Stoehr: 'Dickens does not create a representationalist world. On the contrary, his world is romantic, fantastic, even mad; [...] Dickens' vision combines literal report with magic and miracle, as in dreams. This can scarcely be described as acceptance of things-as-they-are, what we sometimes call "being realistic."' (pp. 259-60) I said at the outset that this was a huge topic, and I'll return to it another time.

March 4 - 2004
In the light of the above, let's now think forward to the last of the Hitchcock-Stewart pictures, Vertigo (1958). Taylor Stoehr ('Dickens: The Dreamer's Stance') speaks of the conundrum facing Victorian reformers - it was an age of such reformers and their utopias - that may remind us of Scottie and his quest to save 'Madeleine' (and himself) from the mundane, mortal world: 'The hallmark of nineteenth-century reform is its oscillation between sentimental hopefulness and hardheaded expediency.' (p. 264) Scottie eventually tips over into sentimental obsession whereas for Hitchcock - as for Dickens - the trick was to strike a balance that goes to the heart of the 'dreamer's stance' of a certain type of artist. (A different type of artist was exemplified by George Eliot, whom Stoehr, p. 277, sees as principal apologist for the 'relativism' of values that set in during Victorian times.) Recall, too, that Scottie is initially tempted by the 'Mephistophelian' Gavin Elster who makes him an offer he can't refuse, of heightened 'life': 'colour, excitement, power, freedom'. Versions of the Faust legend in late-Victorian times included Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' (1891) and the virtual riposte to it called 'The Sorrows of Satan' (1895) by Marie Corelli - both of which Hitchcock read. Interestingly, Corelli's book, a 'bestseller' of its day, inveighed against precisely the 'sensual egotism' and the 'relativistic' morality of the day, particularly among writers such as Wilde. In Corelli's case, she simply called for a return to the Christian faith, adopting a far less sophisticated 'stance' than that of Dickens whose literary manner Stoehr characterises as an almost cinematic 'supernaturalism' marked by non-exclusiveness - a dream-like mode in which it may seem that 'everything exists at once'. (p. 19) There was more to Dickens's dream-manner than this, of course, but Stoehr's emphasis is certainly on how Dickens sought not to choose and rather to criticise all choices that excluded aspects of life. In this, surely, there is an anticipation of Hitchcock's emphasis on his love of 'pure cinema' (cf. Wilde's 'art for art's sake') and how he once said that 'no considerations of morality' could have stopped him making Rear Window in which 'pure cinema' is epitomised. Now, we were discussing the Victorians' preoccupation with the thingness of things. Dickens both went along with this up to a point, inasmuch as his novels are full of 'things' and what Orwell once characterised as 'unnecessary detail' and - rather in the manner of Hitchcock - simultaneously criticised 'the popular deification of fact'. (p. 260) 'Hard Times' (1854) begins with the famous scene in the schoolroom in which Dickens gives us Sissy Jupe and Bitzer, representatives of 'fancy' and 'fact', who are both asked for their definition of 'horse'. Smart little Bitzer has got it down pat - 'Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth' - whereas poor Sissy, who comes from the circus (representing lived life) and has known and ridden and cared for horses since infancy, is hard put to say just what it is that constitutes a horse. In this I see an anticipation of Hitchcock's themes in a film like The 39 Steps - about which I'll say more tomorrow.

March 3 - 2004
3 I must be careful not to lose the thread I have been following here these past couple of days, focussing for now on what Taylor Stoehr ('Dickens: The Dreamer's Stance') says about the Victorians' perverse delight in the thingness of things. So I'll just note briefly how sexuality-as-threat is an ingredient in Dickens's fiction, just as it is in Hitchcock's films (see what I was saying at the end of yesterday's entry about Norman Bates not being in touch with his sexual nature - which eventually erupts in violence). Stoehr has a slightly mystifying three pages or so (pp. 266-69) on this topic, and it reminds me of Hitchcock. For example, just before he comments on the melodramatic episode towards the end of 'Great Expectations' (1861) in whch the hero Pip is held prisoner on the marshes by his punitive doppel-gänger named Orlick, who tries to kill him - Orlick here is a sort of 'bad' father-figure and the episode is one that 'has puzzled critics because it seems so tangential to the story' (p. 268) - Stoehr has evoked the Bower of Bliss in Edmund Spenser's 'The Faerie Queen' (1596) and the allegory of Nathaniel Hawthorne's 'The Scarlet Letter' (1850) to suggest other notable literary instances in which sexuality is somehow emblemised, evoked but not dealt with realistically (if I may so put it). This observation apropos Hitchcock has been made in only slightly different terms by Robin Wood, I fancy. But now notice the connection in Dickens's case to the Victorians' preoccupation with the thingness of things. The Victorians were clearly sublimators in a somewhat distracted, even hypocritical, way. At the same time, they aspired to believe in something that was more or other than material and factual, and predictably espoused some strange concerns (e.g., the occult) which we can see as heavily sexualised. Here I want to quote another of Stoehr's observations about photography. He writes of 'the general hunger of [Victorian] artists, photographers, and the public alike for representations of real things, bits of truth which might be hung on the walls as a mirror of their own world, only more so'. (p. 258) To the extent that this seems to me an evocation of photography as trophy-hunting, in which the object is not so much to 'bring 'em back alive' as to bring back emblems of 'life' itself, I'm powerfully reminded of Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954). There, as I've pointed out before, photographer Jeff (James Stewart) works for 'Life' magazine and is shown in his apartment whose walls are covered with souvenirs of his travels. Notably there's an African (?) artifact which is one of the most blatant sexual symbols, evoking the female pudenda, ever seen in a Hollywood movie (though I'm reminded of its equivalent in another Paramount film, Josef Von Sternberg's The Scarlet Empress [1934], in the famous 'Hot Voodoo' scene). Significantly, Jeff seems for much of the film to be literally as well as figuratively impotent (one of his legs is 'frozen' in a plaster cast), and before the end he must engage in a melodramatic encounter with a 'bad' father-figure named Thorwald (Raymond Burr) who invades his would-be 'bower of bliss'! Tomorrow: some implications.

March 2 - 2004
Characterising the Victorian age (into which Alfred Hitchcock was born, and of which he was an heir), Taylor Stoehr sees it as torn between 'the poles of fact and fancy' (see yesterday's entry) - in other words, torn between an allegiance to the primacy of hard fact and a need to have something to inspire its imagination at a time when religious faith was at a low ebb. Writing in 1965, Stoehr even says: '[I]n spite of differences, it is clear enough that we are the heirs of the Victorian age, and that the gap between what is dispiritedly believed and what is hopelessly desired appears wider than ever.' (p. 285) (1965 was the year in which 'Time' magazine, in its October 22 issue, ran an article quoting an academic from Emory University who claimed, echoing Nietzsche, that 'God is dead'. The following year, the magazine took up the same theme, asking on the cover of its April 8 issue, 'Is God dead?' I have noted elsewhere how such a theme is implicit in Hitchcock's Psycho, made six years earlier, a film which very definitely deals with a society that is torn, or split, between facticity, as I'll call it, and a seeming loss of religious faith - as the scene outside the Fairvale Church, whose congregation is mainly elderly, manages to suggest.) 'Our main palliative [continues Stoehr] - the great art form (such as it is) of the twentieth century - has been the movies, and it is therefore not surprising that Dickens's novels should have proved so notably translatable into the film medium.' (p. 285) This is a huge topic, so I'll deal first with what Stoehr refers to as the 'perverse delight [of the Victorians] in the thingness of things, in appearances, even, finally, in Pecksniffian hypocrisy'. (p. 256) (It is said of Mr Pecksniff, in Dickens's 'Martin Chuzzlewit' [1844], that he 'was a most exemplary man; fuller of virtuous precept than a copy-book; some people likened him to a direction post, which is always telling the way to a place and never goes there'.) The Victorian era was one that provided 'plenty of examples of the collector's mania which we observe in Dickens [...] People went in for imitation things, flowers that turned out to be iron candelabra, bookcases that turned out to be painted doors (Dickens had such a door in his own house). In the Victorian parlor, almost anything might turn out to be a papier-mâché imitation of something else. At the beginning of the century Londoners marveled at Daguerre's diorama, which made reality seem rather a poor show by comparison; they took similarly to panoramas, magic lanterns, stereopticons; by the end of the century the stereoscope has made the wonders of Niagara Falls and the Killarney Lakes available in every Victorian household.' (pp. 255-56) I trust, gentle reader, that you sense with me the relevance of the foregoing to Psycho and to how Norman Bates had been trained from childhood to be a dissembler (as well as a collector ...), thinking that he was 'more than happy' but in reality not in touch with his real nature, which was sexual. For him, and others like him - which might be everyone, to some degree or other - all things were 'MacGuffins', i.e., diversions or distractions, from the essential nature of the world and how it goes (what the philosophers call Will). Tomorrow: on photography and Rear Window.

March 1 - 2004
Bear with me this week as I further try to show how Hitchcock inherited much of his 'vision' from the world of Victorian England and how his art was formed in relation to that world - though his resulting 'stance' (a term I've borrowed) was perhaps shared by only a few of the greatest Victorian artist-figures such as the novelist Charles Dickens and the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I shall want to refer to the 'theatricality' in Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935) and to the concept of photography implied by his film Rear Window (1954). I will be heavily indebted in what I say about the Victorians to a remarkable last chapter called "Faith in Dreams: Some Notes on the Victorians" in Taylor Stoehr's fine book 'Dickens: The Dreamer's Stance' (1965). But first, as some earlier notes here on The 39 Steps are about to disappear off the top of this page (the entry for February 4), here is a crucial passage from that particular item:

As some of you know, I have a 'Bergsonian' (or 'Schopenhauerian') theory about this film - that Hitchcock involves us in a (literal and metaphorical) 'quickening' process during it, culminating in the Palladium climax, where Hannay finally 'intuits' the truth about his opposite number Mr Memory (who knows only 'facts') and finally, in the very last shot, spontaneously holds hands with Pamela instead of the two of them being merely handcuffed ('yoked by violence'?) together. The Palladium is like a microscosm of the wider world, in which we and Hannay have just been immersed: note, for example, the presence in this scene of policemen, whose counterparts have been pursuing Hannay all through the film (e.g., on the moors), plus the presence of all the major characters (Hannay, Pamela, Mr Memory, the Professor). Thus the effect of this theatrical climax - where even the knockabout onstage comedy seems apt - is to suggest all-at-onceness, [contributing to] a feel-good conclusion in which everything is resolved and nothing less than the 'meaning', or quintessence, of life seems momentarily captured. And finally, onstage, the girls of the chorus perform a number from the film Evergreen.

Now compare that passage to something that Taylor Stoehr says about Dickens's 'dream manner' (which I'll describe later) and how it relates, first, to Dickens's attempt to give his Victorian readers a sense of wholeness regained. Stoehr begins by referring to Dickens's 'The Pickwick Papers' (1837): 'Remembering that the Pickwick Club had its birth as a mere vehicle for a proposed series of comic drawings, [...] we can see how naturally [Dickens] falls into place with the artists we have been examining here [such as Rossetti], not only in his struggle with the poles of fact and fancy, but also in his concern with the representation of his dream-like quality in the line and shadow of [his illustrators].' And of Dickens's 'dreamer's stance' itself, Stoehr continues by tracing it 'especially to his habit of "seeing" all the visible aspects of a scene, his hypostatizing of such scenes, so that they offer themselves to the imagination almost cinematically, in tableaux and "all-at-once."' (p. 283) Continued tomorrow.

February 25 - 2004
Corrections! First, It's not Midge in Vertigo who says that Gavin Elster's shipyard is in the Mission part of San Francisco; indeed no-one says quite that. Scottie says that he got a call from Gavin who has a Mission telephone (?) number - and Midge comments on how that's Skid Row, isn't it? Second, I was dead wrong to say that the oldest living thing is the bristlecone pine (of which there are several varieties in parts of America). The bristlecone pine I mentioned yesterday has reached just the tender age of 4,700 years! But much closer to where I'm typing this - down in remote southwest Tasmania - grows a plant known as King's holly, Lomatia tasmanica, estimated to be 43,600 years old. You must admit that's really old! (However, its age was not known in 1958, when Vertigo came out, so Scottie's saying that the 2,000 years old Sequoia sempervirens was the oldest living thing wasn't quite the whopper of a mis-statement it now looks. Indeed, although the age of the bristlecone pines growing in an area known as Methuselah Grove was known by 1956, an article about them wasn't published, in the 'National Geographic', until March 1958. In other words, Scottie could be forgiven for telling 'Madeleine' what he did. After all, he'd had quite a few other things happening to him round about that time - like nearly falling off a rooftop - so reading the latest 'National Geographic' may not have been among his priorities that year. And the fact that some eagle-eyed viewers of Vertigo have spotted a copy of 'Playboy' in Scottie's apartment is neither here nor there, I imagine.) Okay. One other thing today. I wrote here last month how the memorable moment in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951) when Guy joins Bruno behind a barred gate as the police arrive to question him (Guy), thus symbolically placing himself with the killer Bruno in defiance of the law, has its precedent in the Robert Siodmak film Criss Cross (1948). And how there's a 'criss-cross' motif in Strangers on a Train itself. Well, I went back to Siodmak's film noir the other day to see if I could spot the scene which I had been referring to (based on an old memory of the film). I'm pretty sure I've found it! It comes early in the film when the detective friend Pete Ramirez (Steve McNally) of Steve (Burt Lancaster) arrives in time to break up a fight between Steve and the gangster Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea) - and Steve crosses over to stand with Dundee. Michael Walker, writing in 'The Movie Book of Film Noir' (1993), describes the moment as follows: 'As he says that he won't swear out a complaint against Slim, [Steve] and Slim are framed in a two-shot facing Ramirez: morally, he has joined the gangsters.' (pp. 139-40) My point, then, is two-fold. First, Hitchcock seems to have noted this moment and worked a similar one (with the iron-barred gate) into his own film. Second, and more broadly, Criss Cross has a motif involving 'fate' versus 'chance' which seems to oscillate through the film and give it the criss-cross rhythm of its title. I haven't space to describe the motif here (by the way, it seems to have impressed Stanley Kubrick, too, who does something similar in The Killing [1956]), only say that Hitchcock appears to have adapted the idea to his own purposes in Strangers on a Train where a different kind of criss-cross motif is set in motion ...

February 24 - 2004
As we all know - don't we? - Hitchcock was not concerned with strict realism but only with what made a particular world on film, a world whose details were cumulative and whose outcome was a richness of effect. Take Vertigo (1958). In recent days (February 12, 23), we've noted here a significance of the '8 miles per hour' sign outside Gavin Elster's shipyard (a token of banality, representative of what the hero, Scottie, will shortly attempt to 'transcend') and the 'meaning' of the McKittrick Hotel episode (a put-up job by Gavin Elster in cahoots with 'Madeleine' and the hotel's landlady, presumably intended to convince Scottie - or anyway the film's audience - that he has stumbled into a pretty strange state of affairs, almost a Lewis Carroll realm). As the McKittrick Hotel business goes to show, plausibility for Hitchcock was not his main concern - the 'effect' was. Furthermore, in the case of Vertigo, the world had to be 'immaculate' (whereas the world of Psycho could be more 'ragged' - cf. February 18, above). To that end, the truth might be bent a little. Someone has said of Hermann Melville's 'Moby-Dick' that 'it does not make much difference to know that the sperm whale is not, contrary to Ishmael's assertion, the largest of mammals. It is only important that the sperm whale be so regarded in the book ...' (Taylor Stoehr, 'Dickens: The Dreamer's Stance' [1965], p. 36) Likewise, it doesn't matter - does it? - that Scottie is wrong when he tells 'Madeleine' that the sequoias are 'the oldest living thing ... 2.000 years [old], or more'. In point of fact, the distinction of oldest living thing appears to belong to another California species, the bristlecone pine, Pinus longaeva, known to be 4,700 years old! Hitchcock, one supposes, felt it important that (a) Scottie explain to 'Madeleine' that the name Sequoia sempervirens means 'always-green, ever-living', and (b) that Scottie claim the trees are the oldest living thing (which they're not - though they are the tallest living trees!). In turn, one supposes that Hitchcock absolutely wanted the reference to green (perhaps for its contrast with the colour of the Golden Gate Bridge) and that he wanted the sequoias to be the ultimate - not the penultimate! - in living things for the same reason that everything else in the film connected with Madeleine and her ancestor Carlotta is distinctive. (I have talked before here, too, of Hitchcock's 'outflanking technique': cf. Mrs Bundy's reference in The Birds [1963] to Archaeopteryx, considered the earliest known bird. Another example: the applied sublime, terror mixed with delight, which Prof. Dennis Perry notes as a feature of Hitchcock's style, probably inherited from Poe. That's a case of emotional outflanking!) So the film has a key scene set in the Mission Dolores, which is where San Francisco began. And that reminds me of another instance of Hitchcock's using artistic licence. In the book review on our New Publications page of Kraft & Leventhal's splendid 'Footsteps in the Fog: Alfred Hitchcock's San Francisco' (2002), I mention how Midge in Vertigo says that Gavin Elster's shipyard is in the Mission area of the city - when in fact there are no shipyards there for the simple reason that the area has no waterfront. Presumably, Hitchcock liked the reference to 'Mission', so was prepared to cheat a bit ...

February 23 - 2004
Just some desk-clearing tonight. First, there's now a review on our New Publications page of a book about Hitchcock and Edgar Allan Poe. Bill Krohn made an interesting point about Poe to me in an email: "The Cask of Amontillado" would have made a perfect 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' episode. Actually, in one of those wild claims that academics are often given to, Dana Brand of Hofstra University has written that the first two episodes of 'AHP' that Hitchcock directed - "Breakdown" (with Joseph Cotten) and "Revenge" (with Ralph Meeker and Vera Miles) - are essentially modern versions of Poe's "The Premature Burial" and "William Wilson" respectively. I'd be surprised if Hitchcock ever thought about, or even noticed, the connection during production - especially in the second case! Also now up on the Web, on our FAQs page, is my promised note on the McKittrick Hotel scene of Vertigo (1958). I think there may also be something about that scene elsewhere on our site. I recall writing about the actress who plays the duplicitous hotel landlady - Ellen Corby (1911-99) - that apart from her later regular appearances in 'The Waltons' on TV, she had long specialised in playing nosey neighbours and prim spinsters, and that perhaps Hitchcock had seen her in I Remember Mama (1948), set in San Francisco and starring Barbara Bel Geddes, which he seems to have watched just before casting and making Vertigo. And again, something else I've just recently added to our FAQs page - in the entry on the classic 'AHH' episode called "An Unlocked Window" (filmed using the Psycho house) - is a link to the script of a 1902 play by André de Lorde which may well be the basis of Ethel Lina White's short story. Playwright de Lorde is remembered for his association with the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Paris: I've read that between 1901 and 1926 he wrote over a hundred plays for that venue (named after the notable French puppet character, and thus literally meaning 'big puppet show'). In several ways, Hitchcock's Psycho owes much to Grand-Guignol theatre, associated with violent, sadistic, or otherwise 'extreme' effects. For example, one of the first plays staged at the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, in 1897, was an adaptation of Guy de Maupassant's 'Madame Fifi' whose obnoxious title-character, a Prussian military officer in occupied France, is stabbed in the throat by a French prostitute. The passage in Maupassant reads (in part): 'The word he was saying was cut in half within his windpipe; his mouth fell open, his eyes gave one horrified look.' The patrons at the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol would have roundly applauded that scene, I bet!

February 18 - 2004
In further discussion with Eric Carlson about Psycho, and its more-or-less deliberate look of 'raggedness' (as Eric says), I noticed how closely Arbogast (Martin Balsam) and his car (a Ford - am I right in thinking that everyone in Psycho drives Fords?) are identified. When Lila Crane first enters Sam Loomis's hardware store, a car is approaching the curb behind her - a car which I take to be Arbogast's. A moment later his image looms at the shop door and soon we hear his voice suggesting, 'Let's all talk about Marion, shall we?' Later on, for the montage that shows Arbogast doing the rounds of Fairvale hotels, boarding houses, and motels, looking for records of Marion, the first image is of Arbogast's car in the foreground. Then when he arrives at the Bates Motel, the camera begins on Norman in his rocker on the motel verandah before pulling back to accommodate the arrival of Arbogast's car in the bottom of the frame. Finally, there's the elaborate shot (see February 13, above) which introduces Arbogast's last visit to the motel. After Norman exits into shadows, the camera moves down slightly, anticipating the arrival of Arbogast's car. When it arrives, it looms in the foreground. (Note: just about all of the males in the film are associated with looming: one of them is even named Loomis! But there are also the arrogant Cassidy sitting on Marion's desk, the threatening highway patrolman in his dark glasses, and the burly sheriff.) After giving the matter thought, I'm convinced that Hitchcock felt it was necessary to introduce the arrival of Arbogast's car with the slight downward movement of the camera - even though this contributes to the 'ragged', not-quite-perfect look of the film. The camera's downward movement effectively discovers (as well as announces) the new piece of action that is about to begin, which would otherwise come across as too clever, too 'timed'. Another instance of where a 'raggedness' works for the film is when Norman runs down from the house to the motel after Marion's murder (we've just heard him cry out, 'Mother! Oh God! Mother, mother! Blood, blood!'), and a sound-cut introduces a few bars of suitably dramatic music as Norman reaches the motel verandah: the fact that the first note or two has been chopped off is surely deliberate, being a 'raggedness' that is all the more effective for being less-than-perfect in formal, aesthetic terms. Okay. Finally, I did some research into those cheaply-made American International Pictures (AIP) horror films whose success seems partially to have inspired Hitchcock to make Psycho. These were the brain-child of James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff who in 1956 had decided that there was money to be made in catering to the teenage drive-in trade. A 'seminal' teen-terror drive-in double feature was AIP's I Was A Teenage Werewolf and I Was A Teenage Frankenstein (both 1957). 'The latter [reads a note on the Web] became an almost instant teenage-pop culture icon as well as a runaway hit and introduced Michael Landon as the beastly teen just before he hit his own bonanza with TV's "Bonanza". The former flick's outright ludicrousness was spiced with a dollop of gore - at around the time England's Hammer Studios was splattering their horror films (Curse Of Frankenstein, Horror Of Dracula, 1957 and 1958, respectively ) with the same red stuff that nightmares are made of. Ironically, the shift to teen horror films by the independent film producers was, in part, sparked by the strong public reaction to the showing of Universal's horror classics on TV ... the same classics Hammer Studios was reanimating in Technicolor.'

February 17 - 2004
The unquenchable Ric Menello has sent two more very interesting emails! The first, concerning the 'non-smooth edges' of parts of Psycho (see yesterday's "Editor's Day"), propounds a theory of Ric's that Hitchcock was maybe influenced by seeing some French New Wave films (or harbingers thereof) that were just starting to appear - such films as Chabrol's Le Beau Serge (1958) and Les Cousins (1959) and Louis Malle's Ascenseur pour l'échafaud/ Lift to the Scaffold (1958) 'which plays sometimes like a Hitchcock TV episode'. Ric notes: 'These New Wave films were especially known for being made quickly, on the run as it were, utilizing guerilla shooting methods and often being intentionally "careless" in details. And it is known that Hitchcock saw many of these films and [that he] mentioned in particular his enjoyment of the films of Malle and Truffaut in interviews.' Interesting! Of course, it is also known that Hitchcock was impressed by the box-office success of cheaply-made horror pics by such companies as American International Pictures and Hammer; and that he felt rivalry towards 'Old Wave' French director Henri Georges Clouzot whose hugely successful Les Diaboliques/ The Fiends (1954) with its 'dirty-dishes-in-the-sink' look (as Stephen Rebello has called it) provided one model for Psycho. Nonetheless, Ric may have a point. After all, I think that Hitchcock was also looking around at this time at the work of someone like Ingmar Bergman whose The Magician/ The Face (1958) contains horror elements. In other words, he was very conscious - perhaps more than he let on - of new trends in cinema that threatened to leave him behind. Now here's Ric Menello's other message which I'll quote at length. 'The one time I saw Hitchcock drop his "persona" of being reserved and dignified [says Ric] was in the extract from a French interview which came with the laserdisc release of North by Northwest (I think it was the Criterion version) and which I assume is also on DVD. In this French interview Hitchcock is discussing his films in fluent French and seems very animated and excited, perhaps because he is among people who truly admire him. Likewise, Philippe Noiret once said that he thought Hitchcock treated his American actors on Topaz (1969) with professionalism but without great affection, whereas he was positively animated and downright friendly with such French actors as Noiret and Michel Piccoli on the set. Noiret theorized that this was because the French were the first to give Hitchcock his due as a great filmmaker and that the French actors considered it a privilege to be directed by "The Master". Of course, Noiret and Piccoli repaid Hitchcock by giving the best performances in the film! Noiret even said that working with Hitchcock was one of only two times in his career that he felt a director was using the camera to intensify and improve his performance as an actor. He said that the only other time besides Topaz he felt the camera was being used in this manner was with Claude Chabrol on Masques (1986), a film rife with Hitchcockian references and touches. I guess Chabrol learned his lessons well.'

February 16 - 2004
The least I can do today is share some of the information imparted to me last week by Ric Menello in a number of emails. (I thank you for them, Ric.) The first concerns Psycho. 'Am I the only one to note [asks Ric] that in one scene when Norman gets out of Marion's car and slams the door shut, there is little or no car door sound? It's mixed much lower than the rest of the sound effects and is downright bizarre.' And Ric adds: 'I am just mentioning this to show that you can find many silly little bits in great films and remark on them.' Well, that's true, and what you mention does seem to have no explanation except that the sound-mixer overlooked it - which is consistent with Psycho's economies and .the use of a TV crew. There are other instances in the same film - some non-smooth edges in the film's shooting, framing, and editing - that show relative carelessness in inessentials. Other matters raised by Ric concern Claude Chabrol, the so-called French Hitchcock (and co-author of a landmark book on The Master). Ric writes: 'In various interviews Chabrol has said that he actually patterned his career after Hitchcock's to the extent of creating his own "public persona" much as Hitchcock did, based on his real personality but exaggerated. And how did he do this? He said he just looked at Hitchcock's persona and "reversed" it so that in press interviews Chabrol made himself excitable, somewhat loud, and constantly laughing.' Intriguing! That does sound like the Chabrol that comes across in the few interviews with him that I've seen. And, also, it seems to have worked! How about this pertinent fact mentioned by Ric Menello: 'Chabrol became so identified with thrillers in the (French) public's mind, like Hitchcock did in America, that he hosted his own TV anthology suspense show entitled "Seurs Froides" ("Cold Chills") - for which he co-wrote several episodes and also acted in some of them.' Fascinating! Finally, as we've been talking of Psycho, I thought I'd just throw in something that Richard Franklin, director of Psycho II (1983), told me recently. I passed on to Richard a friend's admiration of his film - including the manner of the death of the Vera Miles character, who gets stabbed in the mouth! Richard responded: 'I took that from [Brian De Palma's] Sisters [1973], and thought it appropriate considering Lila's vocal opposition to Norman's release [from an institution]. However, I have not been generally praised for it, indeed most disliked what they saw as a lapse. Of course, what I was also doing there was pulling the rug [from the audience's feet] at the Second Act curtain, rather than at the end of Act One, which would have been plagiarism [cf. the stabbing death of Marion early in Psycho].'

February 13 - 2004
Back to the matter of people exiting cars in Psycho, and specifically the detective Arbogast (Martin Balsam) exiting his car - on three occasions, as Eric Carlson notes in an intriguing email. Eric lists the occasions, and adds his comments, as follows. 'Arbogast is shown getting out of his car three times: (1) When he first arrives to question Norman on the motel porch. Arbogast slides all the way over to the passenger side. It's not raining - but this allows Hitchcock to keep Balsam in the frame with Perkins. (In the remake, William H. Macy realistically grunts with physical effort as he slides himself across the seat. Method acting.) (2) When he gets out of his car to enter the phone booth and call Lila, Arbogast gets out of the car correctly this time, on the driver's side. Again, this allows Hitchcock to hold actor, car, and phone booth comfortably in the same frame. (3) Finally, when Arbogast returns to the Bates Motel for his final, fatal visit, he again slides over and gets out on the passenger side with no need to do so. This keeps actor Balsam in the frame during one of the great unsung single-shots in Psycho ... Hitchcock opens on a long shot of the motel with the house behind it. Mother's window is well-lit, burning brightly. With the camera following him, left-to-right, Norman walks along the porch with linen, sees something [the camera pauses] - and [as the camera resumes moving] scurries into the shadows of the motel, screen right. Then the camera moves down slightly, anticipating the arrival of Arbogast's car. Arbogast gets out of the car - on the passenger side, which puts him on a direct diagonal path to the motel office ahead of him and the house beyond that [the camera now moves with Arbogast, right-to-left]. This elegant single-shot - complete with Arbogast's slide-out from the passenger side - allows Hitchcock to misdirect the audience (Mother's up in her room screen left, Norman's off in the shadows screen right) and to foreshadow Arbogast's long walk to his doom. The shot also pays off later when Lila goes into the area where Norman went in the shadows: this area provides access to the house. That's how Norman got up to the house to await Arbogast.' As Eric Carlson adds, 'nothing's arbitrary in Hitchcock' (or, if it is, it's controlled arbitrariness - see February 11, above). There, readers, that should send you hurrying to your DVD-players or VCRs! A couple of comments from me. In (1), Arbogast's exit on the passenger side, right in front of Norman in his rocker on the porch (where Mother herself maybe used to rock on sunny days?), seems most accommodating of him, as if he were keen to start talking to Norman, with minimum formality. In (2), Arbogast is almost already in the phone booth as the dissolve-in ends - keeping things tight and flowing. Oh, and a question about (3). The quality of my DVD image isn't good enough to tell: is Mother's silhouette visible in that lit-up window? It isn't, is it? And yet it had been during Arbogast's earlier visit, when he had moved to the end of the motel porch to look up at the house - and Norman had come hurrying up to him ('Oh-uh, change your mind?'), anxious to distract him (and us, on Hitchcock's behalf!). The comings and goings of Mrs Bates up at that window of hers are almost enough, in themselves, to 'animate' her, a dead person!

February 12 - 2004
I can't drop this matter of objets trouvés in Hitchcock's films just yet. I wrote yesterday's entry with half an eye on another of Hitchcock's establishing shots, that of Gavin Elster's shipyard in Vertigo, featuring Hitchcock's walk-by in which he is seen carrying a musical instrument case and, in the background, an '8 miles per hour' sign appears. It was the latter that struck university teacher MF some years ago and - he being perhaps one of those 'madder academics' I referred to here on February 10 - was convinced must 'mean something'. So much so that he insisted that I explain it, and then when I did - saying it was precisely one of Hitchcock's objets trouvés! - he couldn't accept the explanation. 'All right, then', I said, 'it's really two circles, one above the other, which, if superimposed, would be another spiral image!' That quietened him but, gentle reader, you haven't heard the half of the matter yet! MF had argued that '8 miles per hour' signs don't exist in reality - so he alleged - and that 'fact' in itself was evidence for intentionality on Hitchcock's part in choosing that particular sign. So I made inquiries on a Hitchcock newsgroup and someone from Canada, I think it was, remembered such a sign in a rural timber-yard from his boyhood. When I reported this to MF, he grew snooty, saying, 'What would this person know - why, he's even misspelt "timber-yard" [or whatever the word was]!' True! Meanwhile, a real film aficionado - bless 'em all - had written in. Actually, he reported, the sign was simply already there on the Paramount lot - it features, too, in (Frank Tashlin's) Hollywood or Bust (1956), starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Hmm! That was about five years ago. But do you think that MF has let the matter drop, chalking it up as a lesson in where common sense (and a more informed appreciation of Hitchcock's working methods) would have been useful? Not a bit of it. I was amused to see MF inquiring recently on a couple of academic newgroups, including 'Film Philosophy', for help in avoiding such errors in future. Briefly mentioning the Vertigo business, he asked: '[I]n looking at a text - any text - how can we determine what features are "readable" and what features are not?' He then proceeded to formulate his question in other terms - that is, asking the same thing over again, but differently (which, strangely, made me think of someone head-butting a brick wall!) - ending with this lame observation: 'I suppose one could talk about some textual features as being "signs" [in the linguistic sense] while other features are not signs, but perhaps there is a better formulation than this.' (I haven't read all of the correspondence that resulted but, at a glance, it was predictably of the order of 'let us analyse your terms'!) Okay. Here is my own further thinking on that shot in Vertigo - which is on the screen for all of five (or eight!) seconds at most, I estimate. In truth, it is emphasising pedestrian-ness, workaday-ness, slowness, and grounded-ness. Hitchcock walks by, someone asks directions at a guardhouse, a sign emphasises (dead slow) speed restrictions, the sound of lumbering cranes (significantly, vertical objects) is heard. Thus, by his mise-en-scène, Hitchcock is setting us up for the story, about to unfold, in which the hero Scottie will aspire ever higher, for transcendence, release, and, in Gavin Elster's words, 'colour, excitement, power, freedom'. Maybe MF had a point, after all! The '8 miles per hour' sign does have a non-literal 'readable' meaning! Tomorrow: back to Psycho.

February 11 - 2004
Ric Menello followed up his earlier emails about the matter of Marion's exiting her car at the Bates Motel in Psycho (I've only quoted a small part of Ric's emails so far - he has some fascinating things to say about Chabrol, too) with another, which is quite impassioned. Ric writes: 'As for Hitchcock sometimes deliberately letting a detail go and something being unconcious, I agree. Actually I remember Hitchcock once saying something like, "I strive for perfect imperfection." He knew you can't be perfect and be an artist. Orson Welles correctly diagnosed filmmakers who were too perfect in every detail as being ultimately good craftsmen but dead artists - like he felt Fred Zinnemann or George Stevens often were. He called it "painting in a corner", spending so much time on one detail that the whole thing ends up monstrously perfect and lifeless. And one thing is damned sure, Hitchcock's films are not lifeless!' Indeed they're not, because they're both lively (in a rather profound sense which I've been trying to analyse here lately) and life-like. ('It must look real but it must never be real', Hitchcock once stated as one of his filmmaking principles.) And that's why Hitchcock's on-location establishing shots, if no others, might contain plenty of moody detail for its own sake, including objets trouvés, found objects, as I'll call them. Within the parameters of the script, Hitchcock could be entirely flexible (as his actors have attested). Some of the establishing shots in To Catch a Thief (1955), such as those showing the beach-front at Cannes, allow 'life' to almost sing out from the screen. (The film begins with an advertising sign in a tourist agency window: 'If you love life, you'll love France.') The choice of time-of-day, of filters, of film stock might control, or direct, our responses to some extent; as does the score by Lynn Murray. Nonetheless, people and objects (yachts, etc.) are allowed to be their natural selves in these shots! The same goes for establishing shots in, say, The Farmer's Wife (1928), Psycho (1960), and Frenzy (1972). (Watching filming of the latter's Covent Garden exteriors one day with a journalist who was interviewing him, Hitchcock boasted: 'I may be growing old, but my film has so much life!') Ah, but talking of objets trouvés, what about, say, the 'Direction' ('One Way') signs that open I Confess (1953), filmed on location in Quebec City? Here, the matter is a little different. In this case, Hitchcock has, so to speak, picked up on these signs and run with them! (The film repeatedly features architectural and other details, such as black smoke rising above the city from the ferries on the seaway, for dramatic emphasis - the things were there to start with, Hitchcock noticed them, then worked them into the script in an emphatic way.) The 'Direction' signs become a pun, referring not just to Hitchcock's but also God's possible controlling presence in the film - the film is, after all, about a priest and the matter of free will versus predestination (as is To Catch a Thief, to some extent). Already, in these shots, the editing is taking over to assert something, including an emphatic rhythm. Okay, we've come a long way from the matter of alleged 'arbitrary' exits from cars! More tomorrow.

February 10 - 2004
I try to avoid trivia here, if only because it panders to the image of this website that some people still want to hold to! I'll say no more about that - except that I'm not someone to think that 'trivia' must necessarily be for, or by, the trivial-minded! (Equally, I hope I'm not someone who writes 'seriously' for the sake of being seen as serious! I just want to formulate with reasonable precision the things that I see in Hitchcock and/or his films, and to do justice to Hitchcock's own elaborate 'mind-games', as I may call them. These were sometimes far more complex and remarkable than, say, his daughter, now in her 70s, has ever understood. She is obviously a lovely lady, but 'insiders' tell me that she is blind to many of the deeper, let alone darker, aspects of her father's films. And I'm not referring to her disdain for the madder academic promulgations about Hitchcock because, dammit, I think she is right to feel that way! But she remains anchored to an 'enthusiastic' view of her father's work, with a wealth of stories to tell about him, that largely stays on the outside of the films themselves. More on that topic another time.) Now I come back - it seems to me worthwhile - to the 'trivia' item raised here last week (February 3) about films in which drivers of cars 'unnaturally' exit their particular vehicle on the 'wrong' side. DF of Heidelberg, Germany, writes: 'In many, many films (e.g., The Big Sleep, to name just one) this happens - people get out of the passenger's side of automobiles, both left and right drive. I think there must be some reason for it - perhaps something to do with the camera work? But I cannot really accept that either.' I asked Richard Franklin (Psycho II) for a comment. He responded: 'When cars had "bench seats" (as opposed to "bucket"), it sometimes made it easier (for the camera and staging) to send a character out the passenger door.' And why not? People in real life do behave with a certain unpredictability, don't they? That's (Chabrol expert) Ric Menello's essential point in an email. He writes: 'In life we have literally thousands of reasons for getting out on one side rather than the other, and we don't think it is necessary to explain it to people who see us exiting our cars. Actually this sounds like a case of what I usually describe as "middle-brow" film criticism - where people look for the most tiny possible mistakes and then crow about how the filmmaker "screwed up".' Quite so, and I am one of those people who happen to believe that Hitchcock, for one, was a director who sometimes deliberately allowed a bit of the unpredictable into his 'mise-en-scène'. But I have had to almost fight with some of the madder academics about this. 'No', they insist, 'we have heard that every detail in a Hitchcock film is meaningful and deliberate.' Maybe - but, in Robin Wood's immortal words, Hitchcock was often too sophisticated for the sophisticated (to appreciate). Like, when he deliberately decided to be arbitrary! Not that Marion's exiting her car on the passenger-side when she arrives at the Bates Motel is a case in point. (See February 3, above.) I'll return to this.

February 9 - 2004
Some interesting correspondence - not all of it serious! - has come in response to the 'trivia' item here the other day (February 3) about people in films getting out of their cars on the passengers' side. But I'll save it up until tomorrow (probably). I want first to follow up the item here last time (February 4) about (a) Hitchcock striving to give in his films a sense of 'life' in its fullness, and to arrive by the end (e.g., of The 39 Steps) at a point where, just for a moment, the quintessence of 'life' seems captured; and (b) his attitude to gay characters. There is a connection, I think. Apropos (a), I was reminded yet again of the remark by Paul Klee, Hitchcock's favourite artist, which I have quoted here several times, about 'that Romanticism which is one with the universe'. It really does seem to have been a concept that Hitchcock took to heart, perhaps because it concerned creativity, whose white heat might provide the synthesising energy to make such a thing seem feasible, or (a rather different, more Schopenhauerian view) provide the necessary self-effacement (in the act of creation) to allow direct knowledge not of the world's Will but of the essences of things (their Platonic forms). Now compare what I quoted last time from Spoto: Hitchcock's belief that subjectivity, and feeling, 'transcended gender'. Which brings me to (b), Hitchcock's attitude to gay characters. Several of his 'villains' are bisexual or transsexual (or anyway transvestite). In the latter category I think of Handel Fane in Murder! (1930) and Norman Bates in Psycho (1960), and I do suggest that the finales of their respective films (the circus finale in Murder!, Norman in his cell in Psycho) show attempts - significantly, failed ones - to become at one with the universe. As for the bisexuals, I'm thinking of the haunting (but dead and absent) Rebecca in the film Rebecca (1940) and of the genuinely sophisticated Van Damm in North by Northwest (1959). These latter two characters, in their way, do stand for 'life in its fullness'. But both are defeated by conventional, 'straight' society with its (heterosexual) 'rules' and 'games'. No wonder that Van Damm is finally heard to say, 'Games? Must we?' (whereas his 'straight' opponent, a handsome buffoon named Roger Thornhill, has just said, 'I never felt more alive!'). Now, a character who is something of the equivalent of Van Damm is the bisexual Alex Sebastian in Notorious (1946). Both he and Van Damm find themselves on the losing side politically: Van Damm is spying for the Russians, Alex is a Nazi. In a way, Hitchcock makes light of the actual politics (and moralities) involved; and he even has a gaoled Nazi say at the start of Notorious, 'Next time ...' Ah, the Schopenhauerian 'categories' of time, space, and causal connection! If we could transcend these, we might really have the all-at-onceness that otherwise only (Hitchcock's?) art can give us!

February 4 - 2004
Have been writing about The 39 Steps (1935) lately. Here, then, are some 'outtakes'. As some of you know, I have a 'Bergsonian' (or 'Schopenhauerian') theory about this film - that Hitchcock involves us in a (literal and metaphorical) 'quickening' process during it, culminating in the Palladium climax, where Hannay finally 'intuits' the truth about his opposite number Mr Memory (who knows only 'facts') and finally, in the very last shot, spontaneously holds hands with Pamela instead of the two of them being merely handcuffed ('yoked by violence'?) together. The Palladium is like a microscosm of the wider world, in which we and Hannay have just been immersed: note, for example, the presence in this scene of policemen, whose counterparts have been pursuing Hannay all through the film (e.g., on the moors), plus the presence of all the major characters (Hannay, Pamela, Mr Memory, the Professor). Thus the effect of this theatrical climax - where even the knockabout onstage comedy seems apt - is to suggest all-at-onceness, a feel-good conclusion in which everything is resolved and nothing less than the 'meaning', or quintessence, of life seems momentarily captured. And finally, onstage, the girls of the chorus perform a number from the film Evergreen. The same idea, and effect, can be seen working in North by Northwest (1959) from the moment when Thornhill in the pine forest says 'I never felt more alive!' and proceeds to go to the rescue of Eve, with whom he has fallen in love. You could almost say that the effect is 'Wagnerian' - Schopenhauer was an influence on both Wagner and Bergson. In 1854 Wagner wrote: 'The highest satisfaction and expression of the individual is to be found only in his complete absorption, and that is only possible through love. Now a human being is both man and woman, and it is only when these two are united that the real human being exists ...' Likewise, reports Donald Spoto ('The Life of Alfred Hitchcock', UK, 1983, p. 86), 'Hitchcock always told his actors that they really had to be part masculine and part feminine in order to get inside any other character. Subjectivity, he felt, and feeling, transcended gender.' This is a truth that applies to gay people as well as heterosexuals, of course. Or just about: Hitchcock was always aware, to judge from his films, that gays had to additionally contend with the sheer prejudice against them of society-at-large. Hence the near-sadism with which gays and transvestites are typically treated in Hitchcock's films (e.g., Murder! [1930], Psycho [1960]) - by other characters, that is, rather less so by Hitchcock. Now, in The 39 Steps the 'factual' Mr Memory is somewhat anti-life (why do I always think of Mr Gradgrind in Charles Dickens's 'Hard Times' [1854], whom the novel calls 'A kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts'?!), but at least his theatrical role allows him to be a facilitator of life in others. So Hitchcock treats him gently at the end. Whereas the anti-life figure of Leonard in North by Northwest, who is established as gay, has few redeeming qualities inasmuch as he has no public role and is not a facilitator of life in others (except for the bisexual Van Damm, one supposes). He is a killer. So that's presumably why Hitchcock kills him off at the end. It has nothing to do with his gayness per se.

February 3 - 2004
I'm on the fly today, so here are just a couple of things I've run across lately while researching other information. First, about Elstree Studios (cf. yesterday's entry). I was looking up 'Isobel Elsom' (the English actress who plays the innkeeper in Hitchcock's The Paradine Case [1947], and who made several appearances in episodes of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' - her first film role had been in 1915) in 'The Encyclopedia of British Film' (2003). My eye wavered to the opposite page to take in the entry on 'Elstree Studios' and I learnt as follows. The first studio (of an eventual complex of six) to open its doors near the small town of Elstree, north of London, was Neptune Studios in 1914, in its day responsible for numerous patriotic films but which closed down in 1921. The entry is ambiguous about whether there was any film activity in the area until BIP opened in 1927. Anyway, there's a book about Elstree which I remember reading with enjoyment a few years ago. It's Patricia Warren's 'Elstree: The British Hollywood' (1982). Worth seeking out. (I think it mentions one or two more examples of Hitchcock's practical joking while at BIP!) And now here's the other thing. For years, various Hitchcock newgroups have repeated the question, 'Why does Marion Crane in Psycho (1960) get out of her car on the non-driver's side when she arrives at the Bates Motel? Did Hitchcock make a mistake?' (Another perennial question, which I think I have answered in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story', is: how did 'Madeleine' in Vertigo [1958] disappear from the McKittrick Hotel after Scottie followed her there and saw her go inside? I promise to put my answer to that question on our FAQs page shortly.) Well, a friend sent me a DVD of Psycho which arrived yesterday, and while I was checking it out I decided to look at the Bates Motel scene. So here's my profound answer to that intriguing question. No, Hitchcock did not make a mistake. When Marion arrives at the Bates Motel it is raining - heavily. Marion slides across her car's front seat in order to exit on the passenger side, which is nearer the verandah of the motel. In other words, she gets out on that side so as not to have to go around the car and get wet.

February 2 - 2004
In 1927 a Scottish solicitor, John Maxwell, opened the huge new Elstree studio in Hertfordshire, England, and formed British International Pictures (later Associated British Pictures). On a shoestring he set about rivalling Hollywood's product. Almost immediately he achieved a coup by importing the German director E.A. Dupont (Variete [1925]) to make such films as Moulin Rouge (1928) and Picadilly (1929), the latter scripted by novelist Arnold Bennett. In 1929, a young Welsh actor named Reginald Truscott-Jones (later Ray Milland) got his start at BIP in a couple of 'quota quickies'. Meanwhile, Alfred Hitchcock had also signed with Maxwell. Between 1927 and 1932, Hitch directed eleven films at Elstree, including parts of the review Elstree Calling (1930). The atmosphere around the studio was generally high spirited. Practical joking was not unknown, and Hitch was one of the ringleaders. On occasion, just to alleviate boredom, he might light a fire under a chair in which an actor was dozing between takes, or have someone's new car gaily striped in washable paint. Someone else who had just started at BIP was Ronald Neame, still a teenager. Hitch (himself nicknamed 'the boy genius') always referred to Neame as 'one of my boys' - see 'News' item below. Neame was employed as a 'gofer' to run errands and make himself generally useful to whoever needed him. Perhaps, though, he was sometimes too energetic and still a bit wet behind the ears. One day someone asked him to go over to another production that was shooting and get the 'sky hook'. Young Ronald jumped at the chance to be of use and went around asking for this strange device. But everyone he approached said that they had given it to the next production down. The last set Ronald visited was that of Hitchcock's The Farmer's Wife (1928). Neame remembers seeing Hitch but being too intimidated to approach him. Instead, he went up to the cameraman, Jack Cox, and repeated his question about the whereabouts of the 'sky hook'. Cox responded by inquiring very nicely if Ronald was 'new' and then told him that there was, in fact, no such object. He recommended that Ronald return to his set and tell everyone that 'the studio has sold the sky hook because no one was using it!' (My hearty thanks to Mark Norberg for this story, told by Neame when he spoke last week at the Hollywood Heritage Museum.)

January 28 - 2004
Hitchcock during his Selznick years (1939-1947) read Heinrich Heine's verse play 'William Ratcliff' (1822) several times, probably with the thought of filming a superior, tragic version of Gainsborough's The Wicked Lady (1945). Here's a synopsis: 'Maria has lost two suitors to the murderous hand of William Ratcliff, whom she fears but really loves. Her latest groom, Douglas, succeeds at defeating and wounding Ratcliff. But Ratcliff finds Maria, kills her father, then her, and then he himself dies.' Heine later referred to the tragedy as a 'dramatic ballad', and apparently it was influenced by the famous Scottish ballad 'Edward' (the one that begins with a mother's question, '"Why dois your brand sae drap wi bluid, Edward, Edward,/ Why dois your brand sae drap wi bluid,/ And why sae sad gang yee O?"'). David Stivender reports that the tragedy consists of four acts: the first ends with the delivery of Ratcliff's challenge (to Maria's suitor Douglas?); the second ends with the appearance of the wraiths (that of Ratcliff's father, for one - see entry for January 26); the third act features a duel (presumably the one in which Ratcliff is wounded by Douglas), after which Ratcliff 'falls into a delirium' and has a dream (of his ancestors?); and the final act ends with the double slaying and Ratcliff's suicide. From all of this we can see readily enough that Ratcliff is driven by inner demons (as, in her way, Hitchcock's Marnie will be) and by a kind of idealistic revolt against society (Marnie again?). In 'The MacGuffin' #29 I characterise Hitchcockian suspense as like an analogue for what it means to be human - both driven and riven - and one may sense that 'William Ratcliff' would have lent itself to such a depiction (thus making its tragedy all the more potent). Presumably Maria's secret fascination for the murderous Ratcliff would have appealed to Hitchcock, while another part of him would have gone out to (have identified with?) Ratcliff himself. The clue here is David Stivender's likening of Ratcliff to one of Colin Wilson's 'Outsider' figures, participants in, or heirs to, a special kind of Romantic outlook. Stivender feels that Wilson's description of the famous French murderer Lacenaire (1800-1835) fits William Ratcliff perfectly: '[He] was a highly intelligent man, driven by self-pity. His intellectual perception of the social injustice around him did not lead him to plan to overthrow the social order, it led to an ironic and embittered defeatism. He was a true romantic; looking at the world in which he found himself, he decided that his situation was tragic, and that this was inevitably so. So there was an odd fatalism about his crimes. In his own eyes, they were always justified.' In sum: to study the reasons why Hitchcock read Heine's "William Ratcliff' several times is to gain valuable insights into the director's art and attitudes. Notice, too, that Heine (1797-1856) was exactly contemporaneous with the pessimistic philosopher Schopenhauer (1788-1860) whom I continue to insist can give us some of the very best pointers to understanding Hitchcock and his films. (But now it may be time to lighten up a bit! I'll see what I can do next week!)

January 27 - 2004
Hitchcock was not joking when he once said that he liked 'stories with lots of psychology'. Yesterday I started to discuss how, during the 1940s, he read Heinrich Heine's tragedy 'William Ratcliff' (1822) several times. The story is set in 17th century Scotland. Here again is a synopsis: 'Maria has lost two suitors to the murderous hand of William Ratcliff, whom she fears but really loves. Her latest groom, Douglas, succeeds at defeating and wounding Ratcliff. But Ratcliff finds Maria, kills her father, then her, and then he himself dies.' Notice that the woman is called Maria, making her (potentially) yet another of Hitchcock's heroines whose name begins with the letter 'M' - suggestive of both the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene. (I'll come back to this. There's also discussion of this particular matter on our 'Hitchcock and Dickens' page.) I strongly suspect that Hitchcock saw parallels in Heine's story with some of the Gainsborough period romances that were being mounted at the time, notably The Wicked Lady (1945) in which a married milady (Margaret Lockwood) grows bored and becomes the mistress of a highwayman (James Mason). (I have mentioned here before how The Wicked Lady seems to have influenced Hitchcock's Notorious [1946] at a couple of points, notably a scene of a bolting horse.) David Stivender says that Ratcliff identifies 'with highwaymen and thieves', suggestive of Heine's own inclination to defy smug middle-class attitudes by taking unorthodox friends such as one Joseph Levy who had a notorious reputation as a usurer. Next, notice in the above synopsis the reference to Maria's 'latest groom'. Instantly you think of Hitchcock's The Paradine Case (1947) in which Maddalena Paradine - another 'M' heroine - seduces her blind husband's manservant Latour whom Hitchcock sometimes called a groom - and as Flusky in Under Capricorn (1949) was in fact when he ran off with his employer's daughter, Lady Henrietta. 'Lots of psychology' indeed! Nor are we finished! Apparently Ratcliff sets himself against all laws, mundane and celestial, thus again representing Heine whom Max Brod ('The Artist in Revolt') described as 'standing on an eminence from which he looks down with a contempuous smile on the swarm of insignificant humanity milling below'. Is this where Hitchcock got his concept of 'the moron millions' perhaps, a concept one can see working in Vertigo (1958) in the aspiration of Scottie to 'ascend' from his everyday condition to something 'higher'? (Once again this is something discussed further on our 'Hitchcock and Dickens' page.) More tomorrow.

January 26 - 2004
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) and E.T.A. Hoffman (1776-1822) were not the only German Romantic writers whom Hitchcock read, probably in their original language. There was also the poet and journalist Heinrich Heine (1797-1856). According to Donald Spoto, Hitchcock read Heine's early verse tragedy 'William Ratcliff' (1822) 'several times during the Selznick years' - again almost certainly in German. I have not been able to obtain an English translation of the play (and I doubt that Hitchcock obtained one, either), but here's a synopsis. The action is set in northern Scotland in the 17th century. Maria has lost two suitors to the murderous hand of William Ratcliff, whom she fears but really loves. Her latest groom, Douglas, succeeds at defeating and wounding Ratcliff. But Ratcliff finds Maria, kills her father, then her, and then he himself dies. Okay. Heine described the play as a 'great act of confession', so clearly we are entitled to look for the psychological meanings in it. For a start, Ratcliff is literally haunted by a sense of his ancestors being still present, just as Heine reportedly was. Father-figures torment or oppose Ratcliff. There's Maria's father, obviously. But also there's the wraith of Ratcliff's own father. At one point Ratcliff cries out: 'Cursed double, nebulous being,/ Stare not at me with those vacant eyes -/ With your eyes you would suck up my blood,/ Make me stiffen, pour ice water/ In my burning veins, make my/ Body become a night phantom ...' Hmm, shades of the ghost of Hamlet's dead father! More broadly, I would detect Hitchcock's perennial theme, the struggle of a character to come fully alive (impossible, but never mind!) and with the implication that it is the dead hand of the past that holds one down, finally. The classic figure in Hitchcock who feels such an aspiration to be invigorated and to 'be free[d] of the past' is, of course, Scottie in Vertigo (1958). And the classic victim of the past in Hitchcock is surely the figuratively (if not quite literally) cadaverous Norman Bates in Psycho (1960). In between Norman and Scottie comes Roger Thornhill in the comedy-fantasy North by Northwest (1959) - the Thornhill who late in the film is heard to say, 'I never felt more alive!' Now back to 'William Ratcliff'. Its author, Heine, once wrote: 'It is so hard to realise that people we love so much are dead. But then they are not dead, they live on in us and dwell in our soul.' According to commentator David Stivender, 'it is this same intuition that draws Ratcliff on to his final tragedy.' Note the implication that we feel pity and/or sorrow for Ratcliff. This is something that Hitchcock would have vibrated to, if I can put it like that. We know, for example, how moved he was when he read a biography of the sad life of Edgar Allan Poe. Equally, he was greatly moved by J.M. Barrie's ghost play about a young girl who stays ageless while her parents age and die, 'Mary Rose' (1920). On the other hand, it was typical of the realist in Hitchcock that he mocked all attempts to live in a never-never world of memories and an idealised past. The liberated Mark Rutland in Marnie (1964), destroying a cabinet of artifacts that had belonged to Stella, his dead wife, comes to mind. Tomorrow: more on 'William Ratcliff'

January 21 - 2004
I recently kidded a friend that her attitude to me had somehow cooled since I moved from East Melbourne to Box Hill - from an inner to an outer Melbourne suburb - a few years ago. It was like I had literally gone behind her back, for she was situated between the two suburbs but was used to mentally facing towards Melbourne, if I can put it like that. 'You're like James Stewart in Rear Window', I joked, meaning that he, too, is used to looking in a certain direction - out his main window to the courtyard and the apartments beyond - but must finally confront his would-be nemesis figure, Thorwald, who comes at him from the opposite direction. Looking out the window is psychologically empowering for Jefferies, the Stewart character, whose position is almost god-like and for whose eyes numerous 'performers' seem to play out roles. Moreover, in true Schopenhauerian manner, each of the apartments across the way is seen by Jeff in terms of some condition or disposition of his own (e.g., Miss Lonely Hearts would seem to represent the inverse of Jeff's present situation with his literally ideal partner, Lisa, or perhaps he's seeing her as Lisa but with him away overseas ...). In other words, Jeff sees things subjectively. 'The world is my representation' wrote Schopenhauer, famously. In the case of Thorwald, Jeff increasingly projects onto him (and onto Jeff himself) a father-son antagonism, an Oedipal rivalry, with Jeff as the rebellious son. (See the Rear Window page elsewhere on this website.) So when Thorwald finally comes calling, via the street door and then the sole door to Jeff's apartment, it might almost be a social call, except that this one is in deadly earnest. 'What do you want of me?' Thorwald asks, almost helplessly and almost as if Jeff has lately begun to make outrageous demands on him. This is the human dimension of Thorwald, seen in actual close-up for the first time (by both Jeff and us). But Thorwald is also Jeff's dopple-gänger, a force emanating from Jeff himself, so the business with the flashbulbs has a peculiar appropriateness. Not only is Jeff a photographer (a formal reason for the scene) but the film's constant business of looking, as well as the Oedipal significance in this case, make the assault on Thorwald's eyes (while he tries to maul Jeff physically) expressive of everything that has been going on within the film, so to speak. The eyes are a Freudian symbol (as in Spellbound [1945]), and the threat of castration has been hanging in the air. Now it is shown up as the literally fantastic thing it is, and the flashbulbs seem a pitiful enough weapon against Thorwald's actual physical bulk. But I would make a couple of other points about this scene. It is Hitchcock's big climax and he gives it a sensuous fullness: the bright orange flashes, the afterglow slowly fading to darkness (the effect is superbly managed), the metallic popping sound of each flash - these things, too, are all splendid. (I think of the term 'synaesthesia', where one sense triggers another, and which Marshall McLuhan once defined as 'all the senses get into the act'!). Also, the fact of Thorwald's crossing the space of the courtyard, albeit via the adjacent street, and entering Jeff's apartment from behind him, as it may seem, is another coup, aesthetically. (It will be topped a moment later when Jeff is thrust physically out of his window and plummets down to the courtyard, in something like a symbolic rebirth.) This makes the film three-dimensional in a most satisfying way. As our architect friends will appreciate, Hitchcock's art designer Robert Boyle once said of the Mount Rushmore house in North by Northwest (1959): it was designed to be shot from all around, to exploit its many angles and to allow the greatest possible 'coverage'. Another case of Hitchcock dealing himself the best hand and then not missing a trick.

January 20 - 2004
Last night I emailed a friend who knows the critic Robin Wood. Mentioning the 'argument by citing authority-figures' which I described here last night - and which I think is a slight to the critical tradition in which Wood is an exemplary figure - I said: 'I do miss Robin whose every point is an actual insight - or at least strives to be - and who really does provide a developing argument [not just a construction of citations!] to give an additional, broader sense of intelligence at work. Robin would be ashamed unless he rendered each piece of information into something meaningful, in fairly empirical terms. No?' Well, the good news is that Wood's monograph for the BFI on Howard Hawks's Rio Bravo (1959) has just appeared. Now, back to where I left off last night. And first, here's a piece of information from critic Bill Krohn that - very properly - calls Rear Window Hitchcock's most 'spatial' film, something which no-one would quarrel with, I take it. Also, the rest of what Bill reports fits nicely, I think, with what I've just said about 'actual insights'. Bill writes: 'Manhandled (1924), an Alan Dwan film with Gloria Swanson, contains two scenes anticipating Rear Window: Swanson and her marriage-shy beau look at the people across the way (window to window - not a multi-window setup) and see people quarrelling. This is followed by his departure from her life, which triggers the film. When he returns and proposes, they see a happy couple across the way. Dwan's cinema is very geometric (cf. my "Senses of Cinema" website article on him), and in Manhandled he anticipated - or helped inspire - Hitchcock's most "spatial" film.' Thanks, Bill. Dwan's film was made for Paramount, where Rear Window was filmed, making a direct influence that much more likely. (Which reminds me ... In 'The MacGuffin', I once suggested that Byron Haskin's The Naked Jungle, being made at Paramount at practically the same time as Rear Window, may have been another influence. In both films, a man seems strangely reluctant to consummate a relationship with a beautiful woman until external events bring matters to a head.) Coming back now to the 'spatial' aspect of Hitchcock's film, and to get away from purely 'literary' readings of it (cf. last night's item), I wonder as follows. What sort of feelings do we attach to the fact that Thorwald eventually visits Jeff's very apartment to wreak his wrath on his tormentor (Rear Window is another Hitchcock film with at least one scene of near-sadism), and in particular the fact that Thorwald enters from the reverse direction to which Jeff so far has been directing most of his attention? I'll try and answer that question tomorrow.

January 19 - 2004
Okay, here's one of the Editor's notorious stream-of-consciousness pieces. (Bet you've been missing 'em, huh?!) Australia's 'Mr Movies' (on cable TV), Bill Collins, once quoted in some context or other Lady Gregory of Dublin's Abbey Theatre telling a young W.B. Yeats to savour the warmth of his girlfriend's body and to enjoy his new fame as a poet, for 'one day you will find yourself alone in life's Arctic wastes' - a comment on what fame and a special genius can entail. Well, I wouldn't know about that, gentle reader! Nonetheless, I know that specialisation has its risks. I was trained in literary criticism while simultaneously (as an undergraduate and afterwards) keeping an active interest in movies and 'film culture' (the name of a journal to which the great Andrew Sarris was a contributor!). And my Mum's influence was such that I always valued what used to be called 'general knowledge' (a subject for which Mum once won a prize at university!). So although I soon became an Alfred Hitchcock admirer, and specialist, I always tried to keep the broadest possible perspective on things. My yoga training, under Shri Vijayadev Yogendra, facilitated that attempt, I believe. I wanted to remain receptive to as many valid and worthwhile 'ways of seeing' (in John Berger's phrase) as I could. Not necessarily by being all things to all people - dissipation was never for me! - but by simply keeping an open mind. Well, I still try to do that, and I am aware of the temptation to be unduly impatient with seemingly closed minds! Nonetheless, I'm full of self-doubts! Take what happened tonight. I was reading on the Web an essay on Hitchcock's Rear Window written by an architect. The essay has the obligatory citations from Walter Benjamin, and is full of references to artists from Velazquez to Edward Hopper. Impeccable! And yet I found myself growing impatient at the constructed nature of the piece. (Yes, I know, it's by an architect!) It seemed to me to be all erudition and claims for significance, rather than to offer realised insights and detailed analysis of how the film actually works. (One exception: the excellent point that Hitchcock shows us the wife-murderer wrapping up a saw and knives while counterpointing the image with the sounds of children playing nearby.) When a friend rang up and asked me what I was doing, I quoted to her the passage on Velazquez I had just that instant read: 'The complicated relationship between the watcher and the watched in Rear Window brings to mind Velazquez's painting "Las Meninas". The location and role of the watcher have been the subject of philosophical contemplation in both [cases].' That's all! That's the author's whole point about Velazquez and Hitchcock! I must confess that I proceeded to earbash my friend with a complaint at how inadequate I thought it! Why, I said, I could have guessed that there are paintings - probably hundreds in fact - that have the theme of watcher and watched! Simply naming one such - showing off the author's erudition - leaves me decidedly undernourished, and unimpressed. But I can't help asking myself: is there something wrong here? Am I, with my literary training, simply blind to what excites many readers of essays by artists and architects? More tomorrow.

January 14 - 2004
Hoax! Still apropos Rear Window: there's a reference on our New Publications page, in the review of James Vest's 'Hitchcock and France', to a film made in 1927 by 'Dadaist filmmaker, Maurice Burnan' which was said (originally by Georges Sadoul) to have anticipated Hitchcock's film in several ways. Vest's book reads: 'Each [film] had as a main character a man with one good leg, who, along with a female companion, was engaged in looking out a large window. In each there was much ado about a woman whose dismembered body was never seen, and both films featured a memorable scene showing a glowing cigar in a dark room.' (Vest, p. 119) That sounds Dadaist enough, I remember thinking! Vest's book then goes on to comment: 'Sadoul [whom we've been consistently informed was bitterly opposed to the large claims for Hitchcock appearing in 'Cahiers du Cinéma' and who himself wrote for the rival journal 'Positif'] concluded that [...] Hitchcock owed more to Burnan than that professional liar [i.e., Hitchcock!] would ever admit. [...] Corroborative evidence for such claims was scarce, since Burnan's film was shown only once to a small audience, including Sadoul.' (Vest, p. 119) Well, it now appears that Vest's phrase 'only once' is an exaggeration! Australian critic Adrian Martin informs me that 'Maurice Bernan does not exist!!! "Positif" made him up in an essay that parodied the fashionable modes of criticism in 1955 - mainly [in] "Cahiers" of course.' Thanks, Adrian, and I fell for it! Mind you, I'm still not sure whether Vest himself realised that he was reporting a hoax! (He sent me an enigmatic email when I forwarded him Adrian's comment!) Hell, after I originally sent a copy of my review of Vest's book to a friend who writes for 'Cahiers', no mention was made of any hoax! And films do disappear for many years (as the one by 'Maurice Bernan' seemed to have done)! For example, Michael Walker in London has just seen a very rare screening of Arthur Robison's The Informer (1929), made in England six years before the John Ford version of Liam O'Flaherty's novel. Michael writes (there's a Hitchcock connection): 'It begins unpromisingly, but soon picks up and the last half hour, as all the threads are drawn together, is simply tremendous. It reworks the story as a melodrama, and is so much the better for it. It's certainly more powerful overall than the Ford, and it's in the script that the key improvements lie. The reason I'm telling you about it is that the [principal] scripwriter was Benn Levy.' Thanks, Michael! Levy of course later scripted Lord Camber's Ladies (1932), produced by his friend Hitchcock, and would eventually be summoned to Hollywood to work on Hitchcock's ill-starred Kaleidoscope project in the 1960s. [Note: I'll leave my review of James Vest's book unchanged for a few days on our New Publications page.]

January 13 - 2004
Speaking of the importance Hitchcock attached in Rear Window to giving a representative cross-section of humanity ... I have been struck by the similarity (and relevance) of two statements about 'all-inclusiveness' . The first comes from a wonderful entry on "Romanticism" by Jacques Barzun which he wrote for 'The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural' (1986). Here is is, somewhat truncated: 'Far from being a rejection of reason itself, Romanticism was a search for all the elements that the human mind and human sensibility could perceive. [...] To put it another way, the Romantics refused to rule out any fact or possibility a priori. This resolve - often an instinctive attitude - meant first of all a suspicion of the abstract, the generality, and a love of the concrete and particular. (p. 356) The second statement comes at the very end of Peter Ackroyd's powerful book 'Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination' (2002). '[T]he history of the English imagination', Ackroyd sums up, 'is the history of adaptation and assimilation. Englishness is the principle of diversity itself. In English literature, music and painting, heterogeneity becomes the form and type of art. [...] The English have in that sense always been a practical and pragmatic race [...] This native aptitude has in turn led to disaffection from, or dissatisfaction with, all abstract speculation.' (p. 448) Okay. Coming back to Hitchcock, various further comments by him leap to mind. First (to Truffaut): 'Directors who lose control are concerned with the abstract.' Second (to Chabrol): the screenplay is secondary to form - it must be made to conform to a holistic conception in the director's (i.e., Hitchcock's) head. Hitchcock's avowed distrust of 'logic' (cf Keats's 'consecutive reasoning') fits in here, albeit he could be logical when it was required of him. Logic has its place. Nonetheless, a film like Family Plot (1976) is sympathetic to its 'fake' spiritualist heroine Blanche (Barbara Harris) and that should tell us something - as I argue in the latest 'MacGuffin'. Although there are many brilliant passages in both Rear Window and Family Plot (e.g., their respective opening scenes), profundity of direct statement is nowhere to be found in them (not even when Stella in Rear Window quotes the 'Reader's Digest'!). Nonetheless, they both ultimately satisfy (I like Family Plot a great deal). The analogy I draw in the latest 'MacGuffin' is with how psychologist and psycho-therapist Carl Jung regarded the medieval practice of alchemy: for Jung, alchemy was never just phoney 'science' or 'chemistry' as we use those terms today - rather, its formulae and practices embodied the timeless quest for individuation, wholeness. It's no accident, for example, that alchemy contains numerous psychologically potent mandala symbols. Likewise, I see in both Rear Window and Family Plot a Romantic microcosm and much distilled British wisdom - and pragmatic filmmaking.

January 12 - 2004
Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) may be even more about the nature of cinema than some of us had realised. In a fascinating article which has just appeared on the Web (The New York Review of Books: In the River of Consciousness), Oliver Sacks quotes the famous opening of Christopher Isherwood's 'Berlin Diary' (which Jay Presson Allen scripted as Cabaret [1972]). It could easily be the start of Rear Window: 'I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.' Suddenly, it makes sense to me why Hitchcock gives us a view at the start of his film in which we're shown things that photographer Jeff (James Stewart), asleep, does not see (though he is conceivably aware of them, in his pre-waking consciousness, for being routine they are thoroughly familiar to him by now ...). This is the world - Jeff's world, that is - before his subjective consciousness goes to work shaping and interpreting it. For as Sacks reminds us: '... we deceive ourselves if we imagine that we can ever be passive, impartial observers. Every perception, every scene, is shaped by us, whether we intend it, know it, or not. We are the directors of the film we are making - but we are, equally, its subjects too: every frame, every movement, is us, is ours ...' Sacks isn't talking idly here but reporting the fruits of new research into how the brain assembles discrete impressions to give a sense of unbroken continuity and coherence, pretty much exactly as William James and Henri Bergson had speculated a century ago using analogies from the zoetrope and early cinema respectively. (Did you know, by the way, that apparently a frog doesn't have such a capacity to assemble discrete images? It shows no active attention, and no visual following of events. It has only a purely automatic ability to recognise an insect-like object if this enters its visual field, and to dart out its tongue in response.) Writing his article in a café on Seventh Avenue, and looking around him, Sacks, a Schopenhauerian from way back (see his 'Awakenings' [1973]), notes that 'it is not just Seventh Avenue that I see, but my Seventh Avenue, marked by my own selfhood and identity'. Of course, in making Rear Window, Hitchcock had to give a universal significance to what he shows us - or, rather, bring out (develop, print, fix?) the universal significance that is already inherent in this particular archetypal plot and situation. That's undoubtedly a reason why, as he told François Truffaut, he considered it essential that the apartments across the way from Jeff's give a representative cross-section of humanity. Perhaps, too, it's why the film contains a sequence in which Jeff studies single frames, taken with his still camera, for a clue to the murder he believes has occurred over the way. (Significantly, the single frames yield only the barest of clues.) To me, both Rear Window and Hitchcock's last film Family Plot (1976) finally succeed in achieving what artist Paul Klee spoke of: they 'embrace the life force itself [to] emerge [into] that Romanticism which is one with the universe'. There's more about this in the new hardcopy 'MacGuffin', by the way. (This "Editor's Day" item is for Adrian Martin and his 82-year-old Dad.)

January 7 - 2004
The 'criss-cross' motif in Strangers on a Train is strong in the film - far more than in Patricia Highsmith's novel - and is made explicit by Bruno when he speaks gaily of 'swapping' murders: 'you know, criss-cross'. The only such reference in the novel, I believe, is an innocuous mention of a 'criss-cross wire fence' outside a school, early in Chapter 3. But Hitchcock had recently seen his fellow director Robert Siodmak's film noir Criss Cross (1949), starring Burt Lancaster and Yvonne DeCarlo, and he wasn't going to pass up an opportunity of having fun with such a suitable phrase. The motif forms the very basis of the 'exchange of guilt' idea that runs through Hitchcock's film (and which French critics would later interpret as a conscious intention of countless other films by him - though he seems to have been amazed when they first pointed it out to him). It is literally signalled, very cleverly, by the railway crossing sign we see when Guy disembarks from his train at Metcalf; it practically forms the raison d'être of the central scene of Guy's championship tennis match (in the novel Guy is an architect, not a tennis player) which is cross-cut with Bruno's attempt to extricate a cigarette lighter from a storm drain. And another key scene in the film - the moment when Guy joins Bruno behind a barred gate and he speaks the line, 'Now you've got me acting like a criminal' - is Hitchcock's invention, after a fashion, not Patricia Highsmith's. I say 'after a fashion' because in fact the moment is taken from Siodmak's film Criss Cross! True! Hitchcock was never one, in such matters of professional eclecticism, to follow Polonius's advice, 'Neither a borrower nor a lender be'! Particularly when it came to his friendly rivalry, it seems, with Siodmak. I have previously pointed to this rivalry in an article elsewhere on this website called "Out of Hitchcock's filing cabinet", and how it seems to have originated in a couple of things: (1) Hitchcock's natural interest in following the work of German expatriate filmmakers such as Siodmak, Billy Wilder (with whom Siodmak had collaborated on Menscen am Sonntag [1930]), Fritz Lang (of course), William Dieterle, and Curtis Bernhardt; and (2) the fact that, for a period of time in the 1940s, Hitchcock and Siodmak shared a producer, Joan Harrison, who had come out from England in 1939 as Hitchcock's assistant. Scholar Jeanine Basinger has noted that Harrison produced two Siodmak films for Universal: The Suspect (1944) and Uncle Harry (1945). She writes: 'In both films a seemingly ordinary and/or innocent man is drawn into a tangled web of murder, while retaining the audience's sympathy.' That's another good reason, one supposes, why Hitchcock may have had Siodmak in mind when making Strangers on a Train. (He probably still had him in mind two years later when making I Confess: when a woman munches on an apple while watching Father Logan nearly mobbed that detail is borrowed from the courtroom climax of Siodmak's Phantom Lady [1944] - though it, in turn, comes from E.A. Dupont's famous German film Variete [1925].) Next week I may have something further to say about 'eclecticism' - which Peter Ackroyd has lately categorised as a very English thing ...

January 6 - 2004
There's nothing new about unusual 'cameos' such as Hitchcock's inclusion of his composer Bernard Herrmann as the conductor of the Albert Hall concert in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). It is sometimes said that Charles Dickens wrote 'Oliver Twist' (1838) as a suitable vehicle for his friend, the artist George Cruikshank, to illustrate. In the novel's final courtroom scene (Chapter LII) - Dickens was always fascinated, like Hitchcock after him, with forensic matters - there's a passage describing a young man in the public gallery sketching Fagin's face 'in a little notebook'. That man is Cruikshank, and the reference is 'an inside joke between two good friends' (reports Norrie Epstein in her wonderfully readable 'The Friendly Dickens' [1998]). Well, I thought that I had found another unusual cameo in a Hitchcock movie when I recently read on the Web a 'review' of Strangers on a Train (1951) by Roger Ebert. (Here's a link: STRANGERS ON A TRAIN.) Ebert cites a Hitchcock fan's claim that the author of the original novel, Patricia Highsmith, appears in the film as an assistant in the music store who is making an inventory of the stock and writing in a notebook. That sounds plausible, I thought. But on re-visiting the scene, which occurs about 12 minutes into the film, I was disappointed. The woman in question has a much more 'working-class' face than the intellectual-looking Highsmith! (To see a photo of Highsmith at about the right age - she would have been 29 at the time - visit Google and type "Patricia Highsmith" into the 'Images' box.) Which makes good sense. Hitchcock was a stickler for correct casting. As Ebert himself says in his piece: 'Hitchcock said that correct casting saved him a reel in storytelling time, since audiences would sense qualities in the actors that didn't need to be spelled out.' Actually, I suspect that the woman in question is the actress Mary Alan Hokanson. The IMDb gives a full cast list for the film ('verified as complete' says a heading) and Hokanson is listed as 'Secretary (uncredited)'. Okay. Something else in Ebert's piece struck me: his claim that Hitchcock 'always used the convention that the left [i.e., the 'sinister'] side of the screen is for evil and/or weaker characters, while the right is for characters who are either good, or temporarily dominant'. I first heard that claim when I was a teenager, listening to the radio one night. It was what first turned me on to Hitchcock! Wow, I thought, this Hitchcock must be smart! I think the radio program was from the BBC. Anyway, I never heard the claim again - until now, reading it in Ebert. And I think the reason I hadn't heard it in all of those intervening years is that it doesn't really stand up. Nonetheless, readers may like to check it out for themselves. Something I noticed tonight is that in the opening scene on the train, Guy (Farley Granger) is consistently shown on the left of screen until the very end, when he exits right from Bruno's apartment, leaving behind his cigarette lighter. The film's 'criss-cross' pattern working, perhaps?

January 5 - 2004
The Editor has returned! What is it, six months since I was last here? Well now, let me begin with an anecdote or two because that is something I like to do as often as possible - provided that I can illuminate Hitchcock's filmmaking in some way. (Also, I will try to put something absolutely new, or original, in every "Editor's Day" post - which is our boast and tradition, after all!) Hitchcock was a great admirer of diva Maria Callas (1923-77) who was born in New York of Greek parents. He told the story of how he had dreamed the opening scene of one of his pictures - never made - in which Callas, onstage at the Metropolitan, hits her highest note ever, which is really a scream, because she has just seen a man surreptitiously killed in one of the theatre's boxes. Afterwards, she hurries back to her dressing-room, and, picking up the phone, begins to dial a number. Hitchcock said that he had no idea whom she was dialling ... but that he was satisfied that the scene already had sufficient elements to drive the remainder of the film wherever he might decide to take it. Now, the real-life Callas, already famous in the 1950s, once arrived in New York where she was booked into one of its best hotels. With her she had her beloved pet poodle. But the hotel's management had issued a strict rule: no pets (or 'animal companions') allowed. On being told this by the hotel manager, Ms Callas, clutching the poodle, immediately turned around and went straight back through the hotel's front door and got into a limousine waiting outside. 'Drive away!' she ordered. Her tone admitted of no refusal. The driver did as he was told - even though he was not Ms Callas's driver but had been waiting for someone else! Ms Callas's entourage then followed in another limousine, hastily summoned. Sound familiar at all, gentle reader? It should do, for Hitchcock must have heard the story and decided that he and screenwriter Ernest Lehman could use it in their upcoming picture North by Northwest (1959). There, of course, the people in a hurry to leave the hotel are Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) and his pursuers with homicide on their minds, two of the henchmen of Van Damm (James Mason). And that's the Plaza Hotel I'm talking about (where Cary Grant himself sometimes stayed, including during the making of Hitchcock's picture), though I'm not sure whether or not it was the same hotel as Ms Callas took off from in such peremptory fashion. Tomorrow: Strangers on a Train and other matters.