Editor's Week 2008

August 30 - 2008
No "Editor's Week" entry this week and until further notice.
(it's catching-up time for yours truly). KM

August 23 - 2008
Left hanging last time was Yves Lavandier's criticism of North by Northwest, that there's 'something a little artificial about' it - a strange criticism indeed. Someone wrote to me, '[does this mean] that the viewer is being coddled into not taking [the film] seriously[?] Tell that to [artists like] Mark Twain, Voltaire, Will Rogers, Michael Moore ...'. Lavandier has an excellent section on a spectator's 'needs', which he says are threefold: (1) emotion, (2) meaning, and (3) distraction (pp. 530-31). By the latter, he means 'a form of entertainment that diverts a person's attention from all the cares that assail him in his everyday life. ... However, greater distraction is obtained when there is more conflict. ... Distraction enables the spectator to take leave of himself, a state of mind that can be very restful [and even growthful].' Well, maybe, but there is ample conflict in North by Northwest, and as I suggested last time, practically every frame is a joy' - to the sophisticated viewer. (It is the faux sophisticated who may miss out, prompting critic Robin Wood to once write, 'Hitchcock is [sometimes] too sophisticated for the sophisticated'!) But let's just talk a little more this week about the joys of North by Northwest, both in tone and style. For example, has anyone noticed the dreamy, almost Groundhog Day-like, effect after the credits end, when we return to the same moment (and the same people) we had seen minutes before, a shot of workers pouring out of a New York city building? But this time, as we penetrate inside the building, we are gratified to spot Roger (Cary Grant) emerging from a lift, dictating in double-quick time to his secretary. He, at least, seems not just a 'figure in a landscape' - an impression which, like Roger himself, will be severely tested by ensuing events ... I noticed this moment because I wanted to check on how the in-between shots (during the credits) of workers pouring out of buildings and down subways, like a collective tidal wave, have been deliberately bleached to suggest those people's tiredness and depletion of 'life' - I claimed last time that North by Northwest is 'about "life" versus "death" in nearly every one of its frames'. Similarly, on the train, Roger's fellow passengers are generally made to appear respectable but drab and ageing and perhaps just a little smug, as in the frame-capture below. (Even Jesslyn Fax's piece of business a moment before - sometimes mistaken as a cameo by Hitchcock in drag! - as a stout lady who 'humphs' at two ticket-inspectors, fits this general pattern!) Of course, in the shot shown here we are being prepared, too, for the moment that follows in which we come upon a far from ageing Eve (Eva Marie Saint) at another table, smiling invitingly at Roger! Nonetheless, the general effect in the first two-thirds of the film is of a man - Roger - trapped in a deliberately-designed (by the filmmakers) artificial or deadly world, from which he must extricate himself by his own exertions. The effect, indeed, is positively surreal and Kafkaesque. How 'right' it is that those statues of American Presidents at Mount Rushmore should appear to look down superciliously upon all those who pass below them. These stone figures are 'idealised' in the philosophical sense, purely conceptual, not real. In a throwaway remark in his perceptive 'The Dark Side of Genius' (p. 333 of the 1983 British edition), Donald Spoto reveals that Hitchcock's original inspiration to make North by Northwest was his idea to have someone on Mount Rushmore cling from one of Lincoln's eyebrows (not hide in his nostril and have a sneezing fit, as the mischievous Hitch later gave out!). That general idea (the superciliousness), at least, is nicely realised in the finished film, accounting for Roger's remark, 'I don't like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me!' (Thanks to SR for input to this week's entry.)

August 16 - 2008
First, several readers spotted that Yves Lavandier ('Writing Drama') almost certainly got it wrong when - as reported here last time - he wrote that there is a lack of urgency in North by Northwest. DF emailed: '(1) Thornhill hasn't got unlimited time to escape his pursuers and prove his innocence - that makes up roughly the first two-thirds of the film and creates a most suspenseful and thrilling atmosphere, IMHO; and (2) at the end the clock really is ticking - Thornhill has to rescue his lady love before that plane takes off!' Quite so. Second, a couple of readers supported my related point, that Hitchcock is about style and sophistication, and that nail-biting 'tension' may be of secondary concern. (It was Hitchcock's privilege not to repeat himself, and each of his films was different. This afternoon I came across what an Australian reviewer wrote in 1976 after she saw Family Plot: that it can't be much good because you don't scream during it! Which is surely to miss the main point of this charming, relaxed valediction, again scripted for Hitch by the thoroughly professional Ernest Lehmann - on whom more below.) Dare I say that sometimes it takes a sophisticated viewer to really appreciate sophistication in a film? In support of the idea that Hitchcock is all about 'tone', SR this week wrote to our 'Seriously Alfred Hitchcock' Group: 'When Hitchcock cast Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest, he did so because, superficially, he wanted to take her out of the "kitchen sink" realism of Kazan and the Method. But far more interestingly, he cast her because - according to Lehman - he thought that her unusual bone structure suggested an objet d'art, an almost Kabuki-like alabaster mask, hence a perfect trophy for James Mason's urbane, wealthy, duplicitous character who frequents art auctions and has as a backdrop a Frank Lloyd Wright-like house. [In sum,] Hitchcock, again, is telling the story and expressing themes through look, surface, color, even the architecture of a face.' Absolutely! Nonetheless, reader MP expressed tentative agreement with Lavandier's claim that I quoted here last time: 'There is, let's face it, something a little artificial about North by Northwest.' So here's how Lavandier himself sums up his analysis: 'Opinion is divided on North by Northwest, some finding it dated, others declaring it one of the finest films of all time. Opinion is free, but one thing is certain: the script ... is a model of its kind. The whole of the preparation, the way surprise and dramatic irony are exploited, the quality of the construction and the generally simple way the story is told (no flashbacks, no subplot) should be a source of inspiration for any writer of drama.' (p. 442) Let's conclude for this week, then, with some light-hearted frame-analysis (though I want to imply that you could have sophisticated pleasure analysing just about any other frame from this, I think, timeless film). The frame below shows Thornhill momentarily stunned, for where he had expected to find liquor in Townsend's/Vandamm's liquor cabinet, he has discovered only books! This is basically an old situation, with a precedent in Hitchcock's own The Lady Vanishes (1938). But notice the style with which Hitchcock and his team have gone about their business. For one thing, Thornhill has just stepped back athletically from the liquor cabinet, crossing the frame in an instant and making it look perfectly natural, thanks to Cary Grant. (A moment later, the door will open and - cut - 'Mrs Townsend' will enter, as if on cue.) So now we have a row of five complementary 'types' (unobtrusively dominated by a background which signals 'art, money, taste' - the unobtrusiveness being partly due to how the background is just slightly out of focus, and of a neutral salmon-hue). This is where the fun is, essentially. Jessie Royce Landis, playing Mrs Thornhill, dominates the composition, as well she might. My mother, I remember, loved her performance, so spirited and true-to-type: working-class ourselves, we had wealthy neighbours on the corner of our street who rushed to the live production of 'My Fair Lady' and whose kids went to one of Melbourne's top schools. Roger's mother reminds me, a little, of theirs! Mrs Thornhill's thoughtful attire - notice the gold trinket that complements her brown leather gloves which in turn match the rest of her outfit - is subtly opposed to the burly, dumb-looking policeman in the background, swaying out of his ill-fitting suit! Edward Binns as Captain Junket on the right of frame stands tall, but he has been given a grey shirt and a patterned tie that is no match for Roger Thornhill's immaculate white shirt and plain grey silk tie. (Junket's colleague has a standard-issue pink shirt and striped tie, notice.) As for the family lawyer, played by Edward Platt, he is suitably nondescript and ageing (in a film that is about 'life' versus 'death' in nearly every one of its frames). Enough! In Hitchcock's only half-joking words about another of his films: 'Isn't it a fascinating design? You could study it forever!' More about Yves Lavandier's book next time.

August 9 - 2008
Last time, referring to an observation about Rear Window in Yves Lavandier's book 'Writing Drama', I described how Hitchcock 'took the curse off' a particular shot (of Thorwald leaving his apartment to come and confront Jeff) by distracting us with the thought, 'Oh not again! Jeff always misses seeing what is important!' This time, I want to talk about North by Northwest (1959) and an example of Hitchcock's distracting us that Yves Lavandier's book gives during its long schematic analysis (19 pages) of that film's construction. A film must present its protagonist with obstacles, notes Lavandier. Otherwise there's no conflict and no drama - no film. Analysing North by Northwest, he has a section headed 'Justification of the obstacles', and here's what he says (very perceptively): 'The film contains one implausible, or at least highly improbable, element. When Roger [Cary Grant] catches the train for Chicago, he takes one of the several trains that run between New York and the windy city. This just happens to be the one that [the villain] Vandamm [James Mason] is on. [But] the spectator is not too put out by this slight bending of the rules of logic. This is firstly because he easily accepts coincidences that work against the protagonist (unless they come as a diabolus ex machina [arbitrary, unjustified obstacle], which is far from being the case here), and secondly because the moment when we learn that Vandamm is on the train [see frame-capture below] comes as a surprise, smuggled in by the simultaneous revelation that Eve is working for him. As a result we hardly notice it.' (p. 426 - italics mine) Full marks to Lavandier for pointing out this clever use of distraction in North by Northwest. (Incidentally, I'm reminded of another instance of distraction by Hitchcock - namely, when in Saboteur [1942] Barry [Robert Cummings] sets off the sprinkler system in Mrs Van Sutton's house where he's been held prisoner, and we next see him among a crowd of onlookers in the street outside. 'Shouldn't we tell the audience how he got out?', the film's young screenwriter Peter Viertel asked Hitchcock. 'They'll never ask!', Hitchcock replied.) But I do think Lavandier is mistaken in another of his observations about North by Northwest. Under the heading 'Urgency' he writes: The lack of urgency is ... the film's major omission. There is no scene of suspense in which the protagonist has to race against the clock. The suspense is less strong than it would have been if Hitchcock had introduced a time element. There is, let's face it, something a little artificial about North by Northwest. The film is very entertaining, but ...' (p. 427) And here Lavandier names a number of films that he considers generate more tension than Hitchcock's film, among them The Abyss, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Wages of Fear (and Hitchcock's own Psycho). The trouble with this sort of comparison is that it does an injustice, I think, to the actual nature of North by Northwest, which is to be polished and elegant while entertaining and exciting us in a most sophisticated way (which Martin Scorsese underlined recently when he honoured Hitchcock's film in a brilliant pastiche for a Spanish wine company!). Rear Window is another case in point. It does generate a deal of tension but the sophisticated tone is as much the reason for the film's hold on us as anything else (the murder, after all, takes place offscreen). Significantly, among the numerous headings in Lavandier's discussion of North by Northwest, there is no heading 'Tone'. And clearly there should be (as O.B. Hardison long ago suggested in an essay on "Hitchcock's Rhetoric"). More next time.

August 2 - 2008
Books on film storytelling are legion (one that came here recently was Howard Suber's well-regarded 'The Power of Film'), but Yves Lavandier's 'La Dramaturgie' has become something of an institution in France and is now available in English as 'Writing Drama'. As my review of Lavandier's book on this site makes clear, I hope, I find much that is admirable in it. Also, it shows a good knowledge of Hitchcock's films. But something about Rear Window (1954) puzzles Lavandier. Today I'll try to answer the question he poses there. He asks: why was it necessary to show Thorwald (Raymond Burr) leaving his apartment with 'a woman in black it is impossible to identify, [followed by] a return pan to Jeff [James Stewart] asleep'? (See frame-capture below.) Earlier, we and Jeff had several times watched Thorwald by himself leaving and returning to his apartment in the rain, each time carrying a suitcase. But this extra shot 'is a source of confusion. It combines dramatic irony, at Jeff's expense, and mystery, since we are in the dark, as regards the woman in black. ... [Accordingly] we are no longer on the same footing as the protagonist and it is hard for me to identify with him [thereafter] ... [Hitchcock and screenwriter John Michael Hayes have planted] a seed of doubt. Why did they do this? I have no idea.' (p. 292) My answer to this will be threefold. Firstly, I do think we need to feel that maybe the woman in black was Thorwald's wife, whom Jeff suspects has been murdered. We need this visual reminder that Jeff and Lisa (Grace Kelly) may be making fools of themselves when they tell Doyle (Wendell Corey) their suspicions. Otherwise, if we knew only as much as Jeff and Lisa, we might soon grow impatient with them, and say, 'Come on, chuck it! It's only a mystery! Pay more attention to each other!' (Jeff has all along been wary of marrying the 'too perfect' Lisa.) But, paradoxically, because of the nagging question in our minds about what really happened in Thorwald's apartment, our interest in the mystery is actually deepened. Secondly, it wouldn't do to have Jeff see the woman in black. For then his descriptions to Lisa and Doyle of all that he had seen would become wordy and cumbersome. Thirdly, there's this. Later in the film there's another shot of Thorwald leaving his apartment unseen by Jeff, namely, when he, Thorwald, is heading Jeff's way for a showdown. Hitchcock always liked to set up key moments by leading up to them. (For example, in Strangers on a Train, there's the red-herring of a girl screaming in the Tunnel of Love before, soon afterwards, another girl, Miriam, really is killed. The earlier scream had helped prepare us for what follows.) Hitchcock called this 'taking the curse off' such moments. When we see Thorwald heading Jeff's way, unnoticed by Jeff - who at this moment is talking with Stella (Thelma Ritter) - we anticipate danger and inwardly groan at Jeff, 'Oh not again! You always miss seeing what is important!' But this is better dramatically than if there had been no audience-preparation by the earlier shot. It stops us noticing how the shot of Thorwald is a 'bogey man' shot, saying to us, 'Watch out! Your hero is in danger!' If we are too aware of the film's mechanics, there is always the likelihood of our becoming cynical about how we are being manipulated, leading to a loss of involvement. I'll have more to say about Yves Lavandier's book 'Writing Drama' next time.

July 26 - 2008
Again no actual blog this week. But in coming entries I'll be looking further at a book by Yves Lavandier, 'Writing Drama', which is reviewed on our 'New Publications' page. Also coming there soon: Tony Williams's review of 'The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock' by Steven Jacobs. KM

July 19 - 2008
Paradoxical as this sounds, one of Hitchcock's most 'ghostly' films is undoubtedly The Wrong Man (1957), based on a true case. It prefigures both Vertigo (1958) and the titles-sequence of North by Northwest (1959). The latter, which I've analysed here before (and in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story'), is likely indebted to a famous passage in T.S. Eliot's 'The Waste Land' (1922) as well as to the start of Hitchcock's own Rich and Strange (1932). The Eliot passage includes the lines, 'A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,/ I had not thought death had undone so many' - and itself takes inspiration from both Dante's 'Inferno' and some lines from Baudelaire about 'a swarming city ... full of ghosts'. So let's talk about The Wrong Man as a ghost story and about a related matter, Hitchcock's attitude to the bourgeois class. (Cf above, June 28 and July 5.) In the pre-credits and credits sequence of The Wrong Man, Hitchcock manipulates both the film's soundtrack and its editing to 'transcend' respectively space and time. (I have analysed these sequences in an article, "The Man Who Knew Too Little", originally published in 'The MacGuffin' #6, February 1992.) In particular, he brilliantly employs a succession of dissolves to show patrons at the Stork Club, where 'Manny' Balestrero (Henry Fonda) plays the double-bass, being seemingly 'spirited away' during the course of the evening. (See frame-capture below: the table in the foreground was earlier occupied.) Thus the sequence prepares us for the strange sensation that Manny himself will feel later, when accused of armed robbery, and of which he is palpably innocent. That sensation is one of loss-of-control, powerlessness, even of being a ghost passing unnoticed among the living - though the latter may themselves be ghosts. (A precedent for this sort of passage is to be found in novels by Charles Dickens, notably 'Our Mutual Friend' [1865].) During the sequence when detectives in a patrol car take Manny around the city to visit the hold-up sites, such as a liquor store, people caught in the car's headlights look like wraiths. Also, Manny and the audience are continually being given hope that his case will resolve itself successfully but then having those hopes dashed. For example, there's a moment when Manny strides purposefully across the snow at the up-state resort where he and his wife Rose (Vera Miles) had spent their summer vacation on one of the hold-up dates - but the resort's proprietors are unable to give him the alibi he had hoped for. Sooner or later, you feel, Manny may break down. In fact, it's Rose who does so. Practically all of this - I have shown in 'The MacGuffin' - has its precedents in another Dickens novel, one which Donald Spoto notes deeply impressed itself on Hitchcock's mind, and that is 'Bleak House' (1853), itself full of 'ghostly' effects. But here's my point. A contemporary of Dickens, the so-called 'father of existentialism', was the Dane Sören Kierkegaard (1813-55), who wrote: 'The bourgeois mind is really the inability to rise above the absolute reality of time and space, and as such is therefore able to devote itself to the highest objects, e.g., prayer, [only] at certain times and with certain words.' Though I haven't space and time (!) to further illustrate it here, what I think Hitchcock does in The Wrong Man is use the medium of film to both critique Manny ('the man who knew too little') and to valorise him for his faith. This time I'm reminded of another famous critic of the bourgeoisie, author Gustave Flaubert (1821-80), whose character Emma Bovary was Hitchcock's favourite character in fiction. One day, as Flaubert was walking out with his sister, they saw outside a small house behind a white picket fence the very epitome of a bourgeois family: a father playing with his typically-middle-class children while their mother looked lovingly on. Spontaneously, Flaubert exclaimed, 'Ils sont dans le vrai!' ('They are in the truth!') Mutatis mutandis, The Wrong Man is as ambivalent as Flaubert about its bourgeois family, the Balestreros.

July 12 - 2008
No actual blog this week. But there are two new 'News & Comment' items. And coming soon to our New Publications page are book reviews by Prof. Tony Williams, Bill Krohn, and Ken Mogg.

July 5 - 2008
'How ghostly!' wrote Eric Bentley about the relation of play and audience in the live theatre ('the theatrical occasion', as he called it - see above, June 21 and June 28). A well-known book on the nature of film is called 'The Celluloid Ghost'. Alfred Hitchcock was fascinated by ghost stories and plays, including his cherished project to film J.M. Barrie's 'Mary Rose'. I have suggested (see above, June 28) that there are correspondences in Hitchcock's films with the plays of Henrik Ibsen, one of which was called 'Ghosts' (the title referring in part to a 'bourgeois' tendency to put 'duty' above 'joy', to settle for hypocrisy and self-deception over honesty). Several of Hitchcock's films from Rebecca onwards have 'ghostly' elements, but especially there's his masterpiece Vertigo. I suggested last time (June 28) that Vertigo is both erotic and about something more, the very life/death force itself (Will). Coit Tower in Vertigo symbolises Scottie's eroticism (focussed on the girl Judy); the tower at San Juan Bautista, which effectively subsumes Coit Tower, symbolises Scottie's quest for the transcendental and the numinous (focussed on the 'ghostly' woman he knows as Madeleine). Today I want to suggest that Vertigo is both a ghost story and a literal detective story whose ultimate subject is the nature of the film audience - with especial reference to the nature of viewing film ('the film occasion' we might call it). It thus deals with illusion and reality, with elements drawn from both the traditional ghost story (but especially the English ghost story - I'll explain that in a moment) and from the nature of society (and epistemology and ontology), i.e., Ibsenesque elements. It is a complex, profound masterpiece indeed. Okay. In the mid-1930s Hitchcock spoke of how he made films for audiences who 'have become sluggish and jellified'. A decade earlier, Agatha Christie had dedicated her adventure-thriller 'The Secret Adversary' (1922) 'to all those who lead monotonous lives, in the hope that they may experience at second-hand the delights and dangers of adventure'. (Hmm. Thank you for condescending, ma'am!) Here's my point. In a splendid chapter on "Ghosts" in his book 'Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination' (2002), Peter Ackroyd draws attention to how, in the 1920s and 1930s, a recrudescence of ghost stories in England had coincided with the so-called Golden Age of detective fiction. He draws a particular parallel between the two forms. Ghost stories, he notes, such as those of the British master, M.R. James (1862-1936), are often reticent about sexuality. Likewise, '[t]he great English fictional detectives - Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Father Brown - are curiously sexless figures, while sex itself is the instigator of crime and iniquity. It is a very native displacement of passion.' Well, isn't this largely true of Vertigo as well? Behind the film is Gavin Elster's affair with Judy and the murder of his wife (with parallels to the story of his wife's grandmother Carlotta Valdes), but the film itself is in large measure about Scottie's attempt to solve the mystery of 'Madeleine' who has ghostly, uncanny qualities. (Hitchcock even dressed the character in grey, the better to suggest that she had just emerged, like a ghost, from the San Francisco fog.) On the other hand, of course, Scottie starts to fall in love with 'Madeleine' (and later Madeleine-in-Judy). The film might thus be supposed to give the audience everything we could want: sublimation and/or scepticism, and spectacle, but also sexual fulfilment (represented by the famous 360° shot in Judy's hotel room), while moving the narrative steadily, like an Ibsen play, to an ambiguous, multivalent conclusion (see above, June 28). This conclusion, in which Madeleine-in-Judy falls to her death, and a nun (or 'mother-superior figure') stands in for a ghost, may be read in at least two ways. Today I want to concentrate on the 'ghostly' aspects, and in a minute I'll draw again on Ackroyd. First, the nun is made to rise up, silently, like an apparition or ghost, frightening poor Judy to her death. (Judy, an accomplice in murder, has had good reason to feel scared - of the ghost of the real Madeleine perhaps.) The nun's black robes are thus apt, even as they imply - by opposition - the conventional white spectral appearance of a revenant. Next, here's something that Ackroyd points out: that M.R. James, not himself a Catholic, had studied Church history, and in particular 'the martyrdom of the saints', so that he was not untouched by intimations of the Catholic past. The vengeful ghosts in his stories might, or might not, show Catholics in a good light. One James character, who has survived a ghostly encounter, remarks wryly that events have only 'served to confirm his opinion of the Church of Rome'! But Ackroyd also writes this: '[Father] Ronald Knox established a Detection Club in 1929 for the sole purpose of excluding "Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo-Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery", an antipathy which represents an index of the English sensibility itself.' I've space only to suggest that the nun at the end of Vertigo may be either a 'bad' ghost (a representative of the old unenlightened ways) or a 'good' ghost (who takes compassion on our human failings, our misguidedness, our failure from ignorance or circumstance to grasp 'joy'). More next time.

June 28 - 2008
The 'theatrical occasion', in the hands of a knowing playwright or filmmaker, can be imbued with eroticism (see above, on Psycho, et al.). This week I want to relate such a topic to 19th-century precedents for Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958), notably Wagner's opera 'Tristan und Isolde' (1865) and Henrik Ibsen's 'symbolic' last plays, especially 'The Master Builder' (1892). 'Tristan und Isolde' (by Hitchcock's favourite composer) has been described as 'on the surface a celebration of unbridled sensuality' (Barry Millington, 'Wagner', 1984, p. 229) and - not least because of its use of the 'unresolved chord' - a 4½-hour exercise in suspense. Also, critics are generally agreed that 'Tristan' is the Wagner opera that owes most to the notion of the inimical cosmic Will (life/death 'force'), as propounded by the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Now let's consider Ibsen's 'The Master Builder', with its tower climax. As I recently pointed out to our 'Seriously Alfred Hitchcock' Yahoo Group, it's almost unthinkable that Hitchcock, an inveterate play-goer, would not have seen and been influenced by the plays of Ibsen, who almost single-handedly transformed the 19th-century theatre. (As early as 1891, in 'The Quintessence of Ibsenism', George Bernard Shaw was commending Ibsen's plays to English audiences.) Something that struck me about 'The Master Builder' was its 'biographical' elements (on which more in a moment) and also its opposing of 'duty' to 'joy'. The master builder Solness is married to the boring Aline who constantly refers to her 'duty' to be a good bourgeois. Well, in an earlier Ibsen play, 'Rosmersholm'/'The House of Rosmer' (1887), there's the famous line, 'The [dutiful] Rosmer way of life does ennoble ... but it kills joy.' And 'The Master Builder' takes up that idea. Solness, a genius, has begun to feel his powers flagging. Casting around for some means to fulfil his inner vision, and maintain both his sexual and creative energy, he is inspired - to his death, ultimately - by the young woman Hilde who has idolised him since she was a young girl. Ibsen translator James McFarlane writes: '"The Master Builder" ... is the product of a mind deeply preoccupied with the nature of power ... [and is] a study in the erotic. Potency, the capacity to exert some inherent power, is the theme to which the events ... constantly relate.' Perhaps it's merely a coincidence that in 1891, when he was 63, Ibsen had an emotional involvement with 27-year-old Hildur Andersen, a concert pianist, whom he had met when she was 10. (Another famous Ibsen translator, and Ibsen biographer, Michael Meyer, casts doubt on attempts to link Hildur Andersen with the character Hilde.) What isn't in dispute is how the play opposes 'duty' to 'joy' - of various kinds, both sexual and spiritual - and suitably climaxes when Solness climbs the tower of a newly-erected villa to place a garland of greenery there - and falls to his death. The villa's tower recalls the church tower where Hilde, aged 13, had first seen Solness, and afterwards - some scholars suggest - had her first orgasm. Nor can it be denied, I think, that there are several parallels in some of this with Hitchcock films, notably of course Vertigo. While the film's Coit Tower is an obvious phallic symbol (which Hitchcock relished), the connotations of towers and 'ascent' accrue throughout the film, suitably culminating in the tower scene at the Mission San Juan Bautista - where Scottie (James Stewart) finally loses the woman Judy/'Madeleine' (Kim Novak) who had been his 'second chance' (see frame-capture below). The ambiguity of Judy's fall to her death, after she has been frightened by a black-garbed 'mother superior' (note: Aline Solness in 'The Master Builder' is also dressed in black during Act III), has its correspondence in the multivalence of Ibsen's climax. Further, the film's Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes), who has become over-attached to Scottie with little prospect of a sexual relationship (since they broke off their engagement back in 'good old college days'), is effectively another symbol of sterile 'duty' (wasting her time 'in the underwear department', as Scottie puts it, referring to her commercial graphics), and another mother-symbol ('Mother's here', she tells Scottie after he suffers a breakdown mid-way through the film). By contrast, Judy/'Madeleine' is the film's (and Scottie's) 'potency' symbol. (For correspondent JG, I would add this. We agree, I think, that Hitchcock's films are about the life/death force, and I have shown how this applies to The 39 Steps [1935], with its motif of 'quickening'. In particular, the music for the life-goes-on shot of the chorus girls at the end, while Mr Memory - another victim of 'duty', as Hitchcock himself told Truffaut - lies dying, is taken from the film Evergreen [1934]. That is, until the music segues into a few bars from the song "Ain't She Sweet" as Hannay leaves with Pamela in the film's last shot. Anyway, compare the green garland that Solness carries up the tower at the end of 'The Master Builder' ...) Interestingly, Dr Muriel Bradbrook notes that the 'two thinkers who influenced Ibsen most profoundly, Kierkegaard and Schopenhauer, both stressed the doctrine of the Will' ('Ibsen the Norwegian', 1966 edition, p. 14n). And, describing a long dialogue passage between Solness and Hilde in Act II of 'The Master Builder', she calls it 'a sustained love duet in the manner of [Wagner's] "Tristan" ...' (p. 128). QED. More another time.

June 21 - 2008
So what did I mean last time, asks JG, by saying that not just Psycho but virtually all of Hitchcock's films are about 'passion' and finally 'passion spent'? Isn't this as true - or untrue - for any film or play or novel that includes tension-and-release and a modicum of suspense? Well, not exactly, JG (if I may quote Psycho's psychiatrist)! Hitchcock was always more knowing about what was involved than most other authors/auteurs. (You yourself paraphrase my 'Senses of Cinema' profile of Hitchcock: 'many of his films are a metaphor for film itself ... which is also a metaphor for life itself'.) However, it's true that I am talking about what Eric Bentley (in 'The Life of the Drama', 1965) calls 'the theatrical occasion'. To illustrate this, and the almost 'ghostly' relationship that actors and audience enter into once the house lights go down, Bentley speaks of how many actors feel strongly 'the need to be loved' - they may even have become actors to satisfy that need! And he continues: 'There are directors in the New York theatre who invite actors to pour out "love, real love" into the auditorium. The hope is that the audience will reciprocate. And it actually can respond with a warmth that has as good a claim to the word love as what the actor feels.' Now, I simply don't think it coincidence that Hitchcock's very first film, The Pleasure Garden (1925), begins in a theatre and shows an audience becoming involved in the erotic spectacle onstage - to the extent that one gentleman afterwards pursues one of the chorus girls to her dressing-room, with obvious amorous intentions! (Compare Bentley: 'Beware of confusion! Gentlemen who rush to the stage door and insist on making the acquaintance of the leading lady may not be strong enough to face the consequences. Marry her they may (they often have), but if they believe themselves to be marrying the lady in the play, and are only interested in marrying the lady in the play, then divorce follows, and they must pursue their will-o'-the-wisp elsewhere.' Shades of Hitchcock's 'ghost' film Vertigo, note!) Film is an erotic experience, or a close equivalent, and Hitchcock knew it. As The Pleasure Garden unfolds, we are treated to a couple of love affairs and - centrally - a honeymoon (with another implied at the end). It's fair to say, I think, that Hitchcock here gives us the wish-fulfilment of having our own honeymoon with his stars: moreover, the (almost) idyllic one at Lake Como in The Pleasure Garden prefigures (subverted) idylls in The Manxman (1928) and I Confess. I would say that there are elements of The Pleasure Garden in virtually every Hitchcock film thereafter, even if sometimes the mode is an ironic one (Mr and Mrs Smith, say, or Psycho itself). Now here's how Bentley concludes his observations on the 'ghostly' matter of play and audience: 'To say that the theatrical occasion points up the problem of illusion and reality, confusing us as to which is which and where we stand to it all, would be a gross understatement. The theatrical occasion is a supreme instance of such confusion; and [Luigi] Pirandello is its philosopher.' Well, I have often commented here on the Pirandellian elements in Hitchcock (going back to the last shot of the sound version of Blackmail), and specifically to how a line from the psychiatrist's scene in Psycho is the very quintessence of Pirandellism: 'When reality came too close, [Norman Bates] dressed up ...' That is, Norman resorted to being an actor, becoming in effect his own mother! (I took the whole matter further this week, on our 'Seriously Alfred Hitchcock' Yahoo Group, where I further likened Psycho to a surreal version of Henrik Ibsen's anti-bourgeois play 'Ghosts', with its theme of incest.) And when you look at the transcript on the HitchcockWiki site of the 'Making of Psycho' documentary, you find some revealing quotes. I don't necessarly mean Janet Leigh's remark that Hitchcock asked her to help John Gavin show more 'passion' in the opening scene (whereupon I gather she squeezed him intimately, or something!), nor even her comment on Marion Crane's 'desperate grasp at life' (meaning stealing the money to be with Sam). What particularly struck me were a couple of remarks by screenwriter Joseph Stefano. First, he mentions a deleted scene in which Lila (Vera Miles) and Sam (Gavin) acknowledge that they have both 'lost someone they love', meaning the dead Marion (Leigh). And, second, I was struck by Stefano's acknowledgement of the audience. The part of Marion needed someone of the stature of Leigh, he says, 'in order to keep the audience with her [after her character is killed]. Because at an early point in the movie, we ask you [the audience] to forget everybody you loved [Marion and, I guess, Sam] and like these people [Norman and, presumably, Arbogast].' So, yes, Psycho isn't the only Hitchcock film about 'passion' and 'passion spent'. Nearly every Hitchcock film first arouses us and then, finally, calms us down again. More another time.

June 14 - 2008
My thanks to reader MR who drew my attention to some Hitchcock references on the Dave Kehr website last month (www.davekehr.com). In particular, it's evident that Kehr, and critic/screenwriter Kent Jones (on the site's Comments pages), would probably support our 'Seriously Alfred Hitchcock' discussion group who recently agreed that, in Psycho (1960), the psychiatrist's scene serves a necessary function though it has often been criticised. (Hitchcock himself knew that the scene risked being 'a hat-grabber', meaning that audiences might get impatient with it.) Those critics, I once suggested, are like the people mentioned by J.B. Priestley who 'have never been into the kitchen'. That is, Priestley was comparing a play to a menu by a master chef: playgoers sometimes complain of individual scenes while forgetting that a menu has several, even many, courses, each designed with the others in mind. Kent Jones put it this way. 'Ultimately, ... it's the whole film that counts. But when you think of Psycho, do you think of [the psychiatrist played by] Simon Oakland? Probably not. Nor are you likely to think of [the sheriff played by] John McIntire telling the story of Norman [Tony Perkins] and his mother. However, the reason I've always disliked Brian De Palma's films is that he has never had the patience for such scenes - he obviously looked at Hitchcock and thought, "I think I'll leave out all the boring stuff and take what's great."' Now, Dave Kehr had this to say about the scene with the psychiatrist: '[it] is clearly meant ironically - as an explanation that explains nothing.' (It does, however, provide a breathing-space for the audience after the excitement immediately preceding it - and a bridge to the scene in Norman's cell which follows, straight after we have heard the psychiatrist say that Norman has now 'become' his mother. So we watch the latter scene with heightened curiosity ...) And Kehr continued: 'Hitchcock underlines this [irony] by framing Simon Oakland against a pitiful little hand sink in the background of his [sic] office, an appropriately impotent echo of the torrents of running water that have been used throughout the film as symbols of the characters' futile attempts to cleanse themselves [of] guilt.' Hmm. That may be the case, but I have previously analysed the scene somewhat differently, and would like to now repeat the gist of my analysis here. First, though, let's note that the shot of the hand sink (basin) occurs only briefly and about half-way through the scene. Much more prolonged and prominent is the set-up shown in the frame-capture below. Behind Simon Oakland are several objects, each of which stands in contrast to ones we've seen earlier. A photo of a motorcycle cop posing innocuously with his bike contrasts with the highway patrolman in his police car who had seemed so threatening to Marion [Janet Leigh]. A framed map of Shasta County seems tame compared with the dreamy vista of a windswept desert framed on the wall in the realty office where Marion worked (and had dreamed of escaping to 'a private island' with boyfriend Sam [John Gavin]). And a stilled electric fan contrasts with the whirring fan in the hotel room we've seen in the film's opening scene, when Marion and Sam had made love. As for the filing cabinet symbolically (or actually) reducing each police case to a banal set of jottings on a card, I think forward to how the film Marnie (1964) is another 'case study' brought to life by Hitchcock's story, defying the (deliberately) clichéd credits sequence showing pages turning (as if Marnie were a conventional literary heroine from a 1930s movie produced by Irving Thalberg or David Selznick). Similarly, the basin mentioned by Kehr is another banal object which, yes, contrasts with the dynamics of the shower scene. All of which, I've said previously, reminds me of the famous last line of John Milton's verse-drama about blindness, 'Samson Agonistes' (1671): 'And calm of mind, all passion spent'. Also, as I've previously shown, Psycho has a whole motif of 'blindness' (and 'angels' and 'waiting'), in keeping with its deliberate reference to another even more famous last line by Milton about blindness, namely, in his 16th Sonnet: 'They [certain angels] also serve who only stand and wait.' Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano once confirmed to Dr Phil Skerry that he had Milton in mind when he gave the ironic line to Marion, 'They also pay who meet in hotel rooms.' (Note. Almost certainly, Hitchcock would have studied Milton at school.) As for a Hitchcock film being about 'passion' and finally 'passion spent', isn't that true of virtually all of them? Think, say, of Vertigo (1958) with its equally ironic or ambivalent ending (and another garbed mother-figure) ...

June 7 - 2008
Gratitude to RM of our 'Seriously Alfred Hitchcock' Yahoo Group who this week reported how the ending of Stage Fright (1950) reminded him of André Breton's remark about surrealism: 'Inexplicably I saw the image of a man being cut in two by a curtain.' (In the same vein, didn't Breton once speak of how surrealism is like 'the chance meeting of an umbrella and a sewing-machine on an operating table'?) Of course this fits beautifully with both the surrealism of the film's opening scene - in which a theatre safety curtain rises to reveal a real-time view of St Paul's Cathedral, London - and the surrealism of the film as a whole. Based on our discussion of the film here lately, I suggested to the Group that Hitchcock was 'trying to sum up all reality in a parable about the stage (and the film being made about it) and people's duplicity, and the theme of illusion ...' We know that he put much thought and research into this film. In particular, as Richard Valley has shown ('Scarlet Street' #21, Winter 1996), he took the film's climax (a villain killed by a descending safety curtain - see frame-capture below) from a theatre-set novel by 'Edmund Crispin', 'The Case of the Gilded Fly' (1943). ('Edmund Crispin' was a nom-de-plume for [Robert] Bruce Montgomery, the English musician and film composer.) Moreover, Hitchcock was sufficiently impressed by Crispin's mystery novels featuring Gervaise Fen, an Oxford don turned amateur detective, that he also borrowed from them for the climax of his next film, Strangers on a Train (1951), with its out-of-control merry-go-round. The source in this case, for which Hitchcock paid a fee, was Crispin's delightful 'The Moving Toyshop' (1946). I'll say more about Hitchcock's borrowing in a moment. But first, I want to mention how well Hitchcock uses distraction in Stage Fright, perhaps because it fits the theatrical theme. For example, the film is almost half over when we learn that Charlotte (Marlene Dietrich) and her manager Freddie Williams (Hector MacGregor) are lovers - and that poor Jonathan (Richard Todd) has been Charlotte's fall guy, apparently duped into helping her merely to clear the coast for her and Freddie! (In turn, of course, Jonathan uses Eve [Jane Wyman] as his own dupe, when he goes on the run, though thereby having to admit he has been having an affair with Charlotte.) Structurally, what this piece of information does is further distract us from the possibility that Jonathan might be the killer of Charlotte's inconvenient husband, and that his story of Charlotte being the killer is a lie. (There's a foreshadowing here of Psycho.) Another instance of distraction is this. Mid-way through the film we see Jonathan slip into the theatre where Charlotte is performing onstage and head for her dressing-room. But Hitchcock doesn't want at this time to make Jonathan look weak, a flustered fugitive, and thereby arouse our suspicions that he may after all be the villain. So the film takes the unusual step of having Jonathan look directly into the camera as he moves from the wings towards the dressing-room. (This anticipates a moment involving the character Bob Rusk in Frenzy.) Now, finally, let's talk some more about the film's 'lying flashback' which has been much criticised, perhaps unjustly (as discussed here previously). Nobody, I think, has pointed out how this flashback is itself contained within a larger flashback beginning immediately after the opening shot of St Paul's Cathedral. Nor has anbody pointed out, to my knowledge, that exactly the same thing happens in another film about the theatre made the same year as Stage Fright, namely, Joseph L. Mankiewicz's All About Eve. In the latter, the main flashback begins straight after the opening scene, in which we have seen Eve (Anne Baxter) receive the Sarah Siddons Award for outstanding stage actress. The film's 'lying flashback' occurs a little later (but within the main flashback, note) when Eve tells the senior actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis) and several of her friends the sad story of her (Eve's) life to this point. (The fact that this scene anticipates Anne Baxter's flashback in Hitchcock's I Confess, and has almost certainly influenced it, is something I'll have to take up another time.) Like her namesake in Stage Fright, Mankiewicz's Eve is contrasted with the film's veteran actress, though we may infer that young Eve dreams of one day emulating, and even supplanting, her ... Also, late in Mankiewicz's film, Eve's story (like Jonathan's in Stage Fright) is shown to have been all a fabrication. (Parts of it even anticipate Marnie's lies in Marnie ...) Is all of this coincidence? I don't think so. I believe that Hitchcock and his screenwriter, Whitfield Cook, as part of their considerable research, had read the story on which All About Eve was based. That story, called "The Wisdom of Eve", by Mary Orr, appeared in 'Cosmopolitan' in May 1946. And in 1949 Orr's dramatised radio adaptation of her story was broadcast on NBC's 'Radio Guild Playhouse'.

May 31 - 2008
Hitchcock's Stage Fright, which I started to discuss last week, has Eve Gill as its central character. Eve, the screenplay tells us, 'feels all the world's a stage. and, come hell or high water, she's going to act on it!' Moreover, 'in so doing she really grows up, manages to fall in love, and learns that adventure in the mind or behind the footlights is much easier than in actuality!' Like other 'picaresque' adventure films and stories, of which the greatest may be Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975), the ultimate referent for Stage Fright is the life-journey itself. In keeping with this picaresque motif, Eve tells her father that he and Captain Kidd are her heroes - and the screenplay adds that the Commodore 'fancies himself an eccentric adventurer who might be straight out of the pages of R.L. Stevenson [presumably 'Treasure Island', inspired by Kidd's doings]'. Of course, Hitchcock's film is also 'full of psychology' (his own phrase describing the kind of stories he liked), which is something he probably got from novelists like Charles Dickens and John Buchan - who in turn both owed an immense debt to John Bunyan's picaresque parable, 'Pilgrim's Progress' (1678). But let's come to Stage Fright itself. Each of its characters wants love and appreciation, though some are more in touch with reality than others. The most effective are those who not only have dual-mindedness (see last time) but are able to see and articulate it (as a good film director must). There's a rather good gag about this in the film's first pub scene (see frame-capture below). Eve had followed Detective-Inspector Smith (Michael Wilding) there, hoping to be able to engage him in conversation about the Inwood murder. She uses her acting talents to feign a case of illness, and in due course a concerned Smith joins her at her table. At the end of the scene, he apologised to her for having 'manoeuvred' their meeting! ('Wheels within wheels', as Eve speaks of later, about life's pattern.) Another lesson of the film is that love and appreciation may indeed be attained, but that there will be disappointments. Eve does have her big moment, the equivalent of her time in the spotlight, after she has performed superbly to trick Charlotte into a confession (in front of a concealed microphone). But her sole appreciation for now comes from her father, who silently applauds her. (The Commodore, who in an earlier scene had joked, 'At last we are alone and unobserved!', stands in for the love and applause of the wider world to which Eve may, or may not, finally accede.) By contrast, Charlotte, the professional performer, seems almost bored with life, perhaps because she has been sated with luxury and applause, but has missed out on real love. (Hence her number 'The Laziest Gal In Town'.) In speaking of her murdered husband, she compares him to a dog to whom she gave love but who had turned around and bitten her. She can't help but invoke melodrama as she comments, 'It's as if my mother had struck me in the face!' But that piece of melodrama carries psychological weight, nonetheless. (Still, let's be clear about Charlotte: however ambiguously, she is the film's guiltiest party, a victim of others but also victimising Jonathan in turn. At the climax, Jonathan will tell Eve, 'They'll hang [Charlotte] too, for planning it.') As for the Commodore, he has a revealing line: 'If there's one thing I cannot bear, it's insincerity!' He's clearly an eccentric - if we were all like him, we might all be as isolated as him and complaining that we are not appreciated! The script tells us that he lives alone 'because he long ago realised he and his wife were merely a mutual annoyance society'. I take this to imply that the rather humourless Mrs Gill wasn't able to give the Commodore an appreciation of his frank and, yes, impractical turn of mind. In turn, we can say of her that she, too, is isolated, living in a world of her own, but at least, in her sweet, ladylike way, she does run an efficient genteel household for Eve and herself (with the help of a servant or two). In sum, Stage Fright gives us one of Hitchcock's 'representative cross-sections of society'. In theory, it should have been even more engaging than it is. But for all of its ingenuity and humour (worth another item here next time, possibly, in which I'll further sum up), the film never attains a sense of urgency, or of anything very substantial being at stake.

May 24 - 2008
I spoke last time of Hitchcock's dual-mindedness, his capacity to see - and be sympathetic to - the detail of individual lives while not losing sight of the bigger picture. That is very true, I think, of the misunderstood film Stage Fright (1950), in which 'the bigger picture' is represented at the very start by a view of London war ruins dominated by an unscathed St Paul's Cathedral. (Reference to the War is reprised later in the film with the theatrical garden-party, held to raise funds for war orphans.) Now, there have been some good essays on Stage Fright - Donald Spoto's on this website is one - but I must say that the one I most admire is Molly Haskell's in 'Film Comment', Fall 1970. Here's how it begins: 'Of all Hitchcock's major films (and I believe it is a major film, though in a minor key), Stage Fright is the only one to give sheer delight, unclouded by deeper disturbance or fear. As Truffaut points out, in his cursory and, I think, unjustified dismissal of the film, no character is ever in any real danger. This is registered as a defect but is actually what makes it so purely and perfectly what it is: a film about acting and the theater which never descends into commonplace, straightforward reality at all.' And Haskell notes in conclusion that the various characters - each playing a role - but notably the essentially innocent heroine, Eve Gill (Jane Wyman), together contribute to 'the grand directorial design'. By this, Haskell means Hitchcock's design but which might in turn stand for God's. (Again and again you feel this in Hitchcock. I'm reminded, for example, that The Trouble With Harry [1955] is another film that opens with a shot of a church.) Okay, the DVD of Stage Fright has a wretched short documentary whose various contributors (e.g., a film historian named Robert Osborne) are blind to what the film is actually doing - they see small details but miss the conceptual point these are making. So I must quote Molly Haskell again. 'Theatricality is not concealed but flaunted', she writes. 'The initial lie of the theater - This Is Reality - is never uttered; disbelief is not suspended but short-circuited by an ecstatic, multiple adventure into different levels and values of duplicity.' When, in his 'lying flashback', Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd) is shown going to the house of Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich), a hurdy-gurdy plays in the street outside. Hitchcock would not normally use such a cliché (cf The Magic Box, made the same year) but here he deliberately 'plays up' the theatricality involved. Also, a moment later, he uses technical trickery and 'acting' to fake Jonathan's entry through the front door. As Richard Osborne points out, Todd mimes closing the door and we hear it close, but in fact we don't see this happen (so that the effect is of the camera doing the impossible, passing through a door that has been closed to it - an effect that Hitchcock would use again in The Wrong Man [1957] and The Birds [1963]). The point here is that duplicity is the order of the day: the same goes for the 'lying flashback'. (In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' I analyse an entire sequence to show how 'theatricality' fills practically every moment of the film: e.g., Eve, 'standing in' for the absent maid, Nellie Goode, must respond 'on cue' when Charlotte summons her by a cough, itself a piece of 'acting'.) I would make one exception to what I said just now about the wretchedness of the contributors to the Stage Fright documentary. Film director Richard Franklin was quite right to compare Jonathan to Psycho's Norman Bates. For it's clear that Todd plays the mentally unstable Jonathan as like a little boy - subject to tantrums in unguarded moments - playing at being a grown man who would rise from the chorus-line to win the arm of stage star Charlotte: aspiration beyond a show's chorus-line is a motif that goes back to two of Hitchcock's earliest films: The Pleasure Garden (1925) and Downhill (1927). The fact that sometimes Jonathan's (not Todd's) 'performance' shows through is doubtless what Hitchcock intended - though not without ambiguity. For example, at one point Jonathan appears to wake from dozing in a chair, and promptly seizes the incriminating evidence, a bloodstained dress (itself a highly melodramatic object), and throws it on the fire. Had he really been dozing? Or had he overheard Eve talking with her father Commodore Gill (Alastair Sim), and realised that they might go to the police (which, appropriately, would be 'curtains' for him)? In other words, is his action here another piece of acting? Well, we can't be sure, and that's the point, definitely. In turn, Hitchcock wants us to see that we're all subjective, 'all in our private traps', as Norman Bates says. Molly Haskell puts it like this: 'We are left only ... with the distinct, occasionally overlapping truths of a group of disparate human beings.' I'll talk next time about, for example, Mrs Gill (Sybil Thorndike), who lives in a a world of her own but not dysfunctionally so (or not altogether). Meanwhile, Hitchcock as usual implies the need for a general compassion. For me, a key moment is how, even when (contra Truffaut's statement above) Eve's life is in danger, at the film's climax, she listens to the now clearly psychopathic Jonathan with pity - Charlotte had been using him all along - and exclaims, 'Oh, Jonathan, I'm so desperately sorry for you.' (See frame-capture below.) A note in Whitfield Cook's screenplay tells us that she means it. Her own life isn't everything. Eve has attained dual-mindedness. More next time.

May 17 - 2008
Still working on my 'files' (such as they are) this week, I came across an article from the 'New York Times', dated 5 September 1937. It's called "Hitchcock: Master Melodramatist" by B.R. Crisler, and was written after Crisler met Hitchcock. 'Mr Hitchcock is on his way to Hollywood (his first visit) for a two-week vacation', he notes; 'when we talked to him last week he denied that there is any likelihood of his immediate annexation by America, despite encouraging rumors.' A couple of things about the article stood out for me. First, Crisler says this: 'But the whole point of the matter - divorced from all the fine talk of camera angles, the accumulation of suspense, the trick of informing the commonplace with mysterious and terrible significance - [is that Hitchcock] is the only director alive, or active today, who does all his directorial thinking in camera terms.' Hmm. Did Hitchcock, already his own best propagandist, tell Crisler that? His point, years later, to Truffaut, that too many directors make 'pictures of people talking', is already being made by Crisler, who refers to pictures that 'talk themselves to death'. It's a point that may even be broadly true (though with apologies to, say, John Ford, Ernst Lubitsch, and Sergei Eisenstein), but at the same time I wouldn't want to downplay the Hitchcock 'trick of informing the commonplace with mysterious and terrible significance', which Crisler almost does here. Which brings me to what Crisler calls a 'purely playful idea' of Hitchcock's that is quoted later in the article. Here it is, and I think it's fascinating in the context of Hitchcock's work to come. '[O]ne thing he longs for is the opportunity to do a conventional Keystone sequence of cops being consecutively bopped on the head as they emerge from a hole (he has a Freudian complex of cop-hatred). At about the seventh cop, he would have the camera move in, showing the blood streaming down the face of the victim, then the arrival of the ambulance, the victim borne away on a stretcher to the operating table, the family waiting tearfully outside. Then back to the hole again, bopp, bopp, bopp - one flatfoot after another. He thinks it would illuminate the proceedings no end.' More than a quaint or 'purely playful idea', this is a splendid, even brilliant, exemplar of how things are in the Hitchcock universe. (Note, by the way, that it simply won't do to speak of Hitchcock's 'Freudian complex of cop-hatred', even in the context of the anecdote itself. In that very year, Hitchcock had made Young and Innocent which simultaneously makes gentle fun of cops performing their prescribed duties and gives us a sympathetic portrait of a local Chief Constable who is clearly a humane man who is open to the possibility of innocence in a man accused. He anticipates, say, Chief Inspector Oxford in Frenzy [1972].) Much more than a satire on cops, the anecdote both critiques and educates the Hitchcock audience. It shows us to be very often conditioned by what the philosopher Schopenhauer called 'ordinary consciousness' and which he, Schopenhauer, contrasted to the truer consciousness of the artist, who can see the bigger picture. Actually, I thought of a line the screenplay of Saboteur (1942), five years later, would give to one of the circus 'freaks', the one known as 'the Human Skeleton' or 'Bones' (Pedro de Cordoba), who says that normal people are 'normally cold-hearted'. (That's the element of critique in the anecdote, note. See frame-capture below.) But I also thought of something that Hitchcock remarked about the people in his film The Birds (1963), that they may normally be complacent and 'unaware that catastrophe surrounds us all' (which is pure Schopenhauer) but that when crisis comes, 'people are all right' and can rise to the occasion, as, commented Hitchcock, the British did during World War Two. (Here, as in his anecdote, Hitchcock is educating and appealing to the good nature of his audience.) Of course, as Raymond Durgnat did in 'The Strange Case of Alfred Hitchcock' (1974), you may see this dual way of thinking by Hitchcock about his audience as all rather shallow, a mere eddying back and forth, before, with the voice of the moralist, insisting that people 'grow up, a little'. But the anecdote (rather like one by Schopenhauer about a boatman complacently rowing his boat on a wide sea with a storm approaching) is too vivid and too true, to be dismissed as simple-minded, which Dugnat would have us do. Hitchcock's admirable capacity for dual-mindedness and seeing the bigger picture informs a film like Stage Fright (1950), which I'll talk about next time.

May 10 - 2008
Back on February 23 (above), I reported on how I was working on my 'files'. That work continues! Accordingly, here are some random items I came across this week, and some comments. First, according to the Paramount 'Showmanship Manual' for The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), it might seem that James Stewart and Doris Day took a risk in filming on location in North Africa. However, they were adequately protected: '[I]n Marrakech, French Morocco, ... the sinister alleys and teeming bazaars are actually too dangerous for foreigners to wander in without escort. ... With permission from the Pasha [governor], who provided armed police for protection, Hitchcock spent two weeks filming in the incredible labyrinth of streets. ... [T]he movie-goer is treated to fascinating views of the exotic bazaar called the Souks, [to] the street of sewers [sic] where veiled Arabian women ply their ancient needle craft at the most modern of Singer sewing machines, [to] the area of the dye shops where one of the local villains falls into a vat of blue dye, and [to] the luxurious Mamounia Hotel with its strange eating house.' (Elsewhere in my files this week I came across Roald Dahl's 1987 story "The Bookseller" which mentions how Winston Churchill loved the Hotel La Mamounia and often painted the Atlas Mountains from his balcony there.) Next, here's a shameful item from a Selznick publicity manual for The Paradine Case (1947): 'The skins of 250 Iceland Sheep were used on a luxurious bedroom suite in The Paradine Case. The wool of the Iceland Sheep is much like Angora, and the skins made a luxurious floor covering of light beige.' (This of course is Mrs Paradine's bedroom suite that reminded Peter Conrad of a scene from a Cecil B. DeMille film.) Finally, some thoughts on Saboteur (1942). During my filing this week, I came across a 2003 email from Michael Walker in which he provided background for why, during the cross-country car drive from the Hoover Dam to New York, a couple of the saboteurs sing "Tonight We Love" set to music from Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. (See frame-capture below.) Michael quotes musicologist Sigmund Spaeth: '[In 1941] America discovered the opening melody of Tschaikowsky's Piano Concerto in B-flat minor. The band-leader, Freddy Martin, first turned it into "Tonight We Love", with words by Bobby Worth and some helpful arranging by Ray Austin. Then came "Concerto for Two", with Jack Lawrence supplying a text for Robert C. Haring's adaptation. Eventually there were no fewer than sixteen different versions of the same tune ...'. Interesting! Bill Krohn has told me he feels that Hitchcock is subtly sending up the relative effeteness of the saboteurs, remarking that the bespectacled saboteur in the back seat has just waxed nostalgic about how, 'When I was a child, I had long golden curls ...' (Tchaikovsky of course was gay.) This makes a lot of sense. For one thing, it contrasts with how Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) had earlier in the film whistled a different, more robust tune, the so-called 'Fate' passage from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. (If the saboteurs can sing a tune composed by a Russian composer, then presumably 'our' Barry may whistle a tune composed by a German composer!) In turn, I think of further evidence for this idea. At the film's climax, Barry will come up against another of the saboteurs, Fry (Norman Lloyd), whom Theodore Price, in his book 'Hitchcock and Homosexuality' (1992), has no doubt is gay. (The Saboteur climax prefigures that of North by Northwest between Thornhill [Cary Grant] and the sinister Leonard [Martin Landau].) And tonight I was struck by the very first remark we hear spoken by socialite Mrs Sutton (Alma Kruger) when Barry is taken to the saboteurs' New York lair. As Barry enters the upstairs room where Mrs Sutton is addressing a couple of her male colleagues, she reprimands them thus: 'I have to hover over you like an old hen.' This is precisely the line Hitchcock uses in Rebecca to characterise the somewhat de-natured estate-manager Frank Crawley (Reginald Denny) - nearly all the men in the film are so afflicted - and will use again in The Paradine Case to characterise the gay Latour (Louis Jourdan). Frank Crawley is 'as fussy as an old mother hen'; Latour, we're told, had been 'like an old mother hen' to his beloved master, the blind Colonel Paradine. As John Houseman once remarked, Hitchcock approached his filmmaking with an almost scientific exactitude ...

May 3 - 2008
Apologies in advance tonight if the following shows signs of haste - my weekend has got away from me! I recently looked at the newly-released DVD print of Hitchcock's first film The Pleasure Garden (1925), largely shot in Munich. The film is now available (Region 2) from Network as part of its British Hitchcock package consisting of ten films. This newly-released print of The Pleasure Garden is tinted and is the Raymond Rohauer print - which is not exactly the same as the British NFTA print elaborately described in Jane Sloan's 'Alfred Hitchcock: a filmography and bibliography' (1995). In particular, the Rohauer print has had the beautiful Lake Como honeymoon sequence severely cut - see below - though in compensation it does contain additional footage at the end in which the heroine Patsy (Virginia Valli), after many tribulations, returns to London with a new prospective husband Hugh (John Stuart). (Incidentally, a reason I looked at The Pleasure Garden this week was to see if I could spot Hollywood star Nita Naldi - contracted to appear in Hitchcock's next film The Mountain Eagle - playing the Native Girl, as is sometimes said to be the case. I have a DVD of Naldi's first film, John S. Robertson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1920), in which she appears with John Barrymore. It's likely that Hitchcock would have watched her in that film - he admired Robertson's work - and also he may have seen her in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1924). There is a still of Nita Naldi on the IMDb. All things considered, I think it is Naldi in The Pleasure Garden. The still on the IMDb looks particularly like the moon-faced Native Girl we see in some shots.) So, why are there variant prints of The Pleasure Garden? I once speculated about this in the hardcopy 'The MacGuffin', #29, January 2004, and found a clue in something that Pat Hitchcock reported in her book 'Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man' (2003). There she wrote: 'Following the end of filming [of The Pleasure Garden], my parents had their first - and rare - disagreement. It had to do with the editing of the picture, which my mother supervised; my father said it was "flashy"! What I believe he meant was that the scenes were more edited than usual. With her editing skills, Alma had made the film more dynamic but might have overdone it a bit.' (Pat Hitchcock and Laurent Bouzereau, p. 42) 'Accordingly', I wrote in 'The MacGuffin', 'I wonder whether the film wasn't released in two versions, with Alma's cut perhaps approximating the Rohauer print and Hitchcock's version being represented by the statelier NFTA print [which, by the way, pretty well matches a third extant print, held at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas]. The latter sacrifices some comedy business with Mr and Mrs Sidey [Patsy's landlords], for example, but gives more footage to the audition scenes in the Pleasure Garden theatre and considerably extends the Lake Como sequence.' ('The MacGuffin' #29, p. 17) For the record, the full Lake Como sequence (as seen in the NFTA print) includes some charming footage in which a young man serenades his girlfriend in a boat drifting on the lake in the moonlight, while Patsy and her husband Levett (Miles Mander), who will later betray Patsy with the Native Girl, wander together at the lake's edge. But Hitchcock perhaps isn't being entirely free of irony, even here. Eventually we realise that Levett may have paid for the boat to be there, part of the bridal package which also includes the hire of the vast bridal suite itself in a large villa. And next day, to further sober us up, Hitchcock works in a shot of the same boat (or its twin), now moored and skeletal-looking. (He would use a similar night/day contrast in Downhill [1927] to characterise a Paris dance hall: first alluring and offering romance, then merely drab and deserted.) Something else I noticed when watching the film this week is a detail early in the film that is quite subtle. By means of some elaborate cross-cutting early in the film between Jill taking tea at the Sideys' house and her ambitious friend Jill (Carmelita Geraghty) somewhere across town 'trying out' a new costume with the appreciative (and lecherous) theatre manager Hamilton (George Snell), Hitchcock prepares us to see Jill supplant Patsy as the theatre's featured chorine. At the beginning of the film, we had watched Patsy in that role. Now the film cuts to Jill wearing her distinctive new costume - but this time she is wearing it onstage, while Patsy (in blonde wig) has been relegated to the chorus line behind her. (See frame-capture below.)

April 26 - 2008
Stephen Rebello's fine book 'Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho' (1990), currently being filmed, mentions James Whale's The Old Dark House (1932) but only in passing, as one of the famous Universal shockers which proved 'astonishingly profitable' in the early 1930s, starting with Dracula and Frankenstein (both 1931). So here, as a follow-up to last week's entry, are some thoughts mainly about a possible direct influence of The Old Dark House on Psycho. The latter was, of course, filmed by Hitchcock at Universal (though it was released by Paramount), a connection to Whale's film of which Hitchcock would have been well aware. After all, Psycho is itself an 'Old Dark House' movie, whose predecessor was based on a novel, 'Benighted', by J.B. Priestley (who briefly worked on Jamaica Inn [1939]), whose screenplay was by Hitchcock's friend and colleague Benn W. Levy, and whose director was an earlier British expatriate in Hollywood (like Hitchcock himself). Also, the cast of Whale's film includes the buoyant Charles Laughton, who would star in both Jamaica Inn and The Paradine Case (1947). Scarcely less obvious a connection between the two films is how both of them include a rainstorm which brings their respective travellers to the out-of-the-way house (or nearby motel) in the first place, seeking shelter. The atmospheric storm, suggestive of inner turmoil, has respectable precedents in literature and melodrama, which both films in effect acknowledge (and take advantage of) while implying a sardonic distance from such 'conventions'. The expression 'tongue-in-cheek' about covers it, I think. Nonetheless, both films also employ other melodramatic devices to good effect. Remember the scary moment in Psycho when Lila (Vera Miles) is exploring Mother's bedroom and is startled by her own doubled reflection? (Earlier, we had heard Mother's voice berating her son for wanting to entertain 'strange young girls ... by candlelight'.) Well, there's an almost exact precedent in The Old Dark House when Margaret (Gloria Stuart), one of the 'benighted' travellers, has accompanied the sinister Miss Femm (Eva Moore) to the latter's bedroom in order to change her wet clothes. Rebecca Femm proves to be a cackling old puritan, who seeing Margaret in her satin underwear jabs a finger above Margaret's bosom and tells her, 'That flesh, too, will rot, soon enough.' Whereupon Rebecca goes out, leaving a trembling Margaret alone with a candle. But a moment later Margaret is even more startled when she sits down at the dressing table with its main mirror and side-wings. (See frame-capture below.) Catching sight of her several reflections, she thinks Miss Femm has come back - and, sure enough, there, seemingly reflected, is the cackling old crone, hideously distorted. (For good measure, director Whale throws in a couple of shots of the hulking family-servant, Morgan, played by a bearded Boris Karloff, as if he, too, were lurking in the nearby shadows.) Margaret flees. Meanwhile, we have learnt that the house has other bedrooms upstairs, in one of which lies the bedridden patriarch Sir Roderick Femm, aged 102, played by an actor whom the credits call 'John Dudgeon'. In fact, to suggest the character's frailty, and to give him 'a small voice, like a child's', the resourceful Whale cast the actress Elspeth Dudgeon. (The IMDb reports that she later had bit parts in Foreign Correspondent [1940] and The Paradine Case.) Here, quite likely, was Hitchcock's inspiration and licence for using several actors, both male and female, to play the voice of 'Mother' in Psycho. (For details, see Chapter 8 of Rebello's book.) Also, we learn from Sir Roderick the following information: 'Two of my children died when they were 20, and then other things happened. ... Madness came.' This statement is never altogether illuminated, not even in Priestley's novel. (There, the corresponding passage receives even less elaboration.) It hangs as a mysterious back-story over the events of the film, much as in Psycho the full story of Norman Bates's upbringing, and his subsequent history, including his relation with his mother - possibly incestuous - is never spelt out. However, one thing does become clear. The madness referred to by Sir Roderick is embodied in at least one more family member, the son Saul (Brember Wills), who is imprisoned in another of the house's rooms and who will shortly escape to attack the 'benighted' visitors. The hand-to-hand tussle of Saul with Penderel (Melvyn Douglas) in The Old Dark House anticipates the hand-to-hand tussle of Norman (Tony Perkins) with Sam (John Gavin) that climaxes Psycho. Okay. I have said nothing so far about the other member of the Femm family, the neurasthenic but essentially sane Horace Femm (Ernest Thesiger), brother of Rebecca and Saul. Roughly, he is the equivalent of the sane side of Norman Bates. And now here's some (I hope not gratuitous) information I recently learned. It's well known that Robert Bloch, author of 'Psycho', based his novel on the recent Ed Gein case. (Again, see Rebello on this.) However, less well known is that Bloch may also have part-based the character of Norman on one Calvin Thomas Beck. The latter was a horror and science fiction buff who published and edited the respected fan magazine 'Castle of Frankenstein' and was totally dominated by his mother, even after his father had passed away - in circumstances reminiscent of The Old Dark House! The whole matter has been (lengthily) written up by Tom Weaver, himself a respected horror buff, on the Web. Click here (and see in particular the paragraph beginning, '"Then she went on to say ..."'): B-Monster.

April 19 - 2008
This week I both read J.B. Priestley's novel 'Benighted' (1927) and played Dr Drew Casper's DVD commentary on Hitchcock's film Lifeboat (1944). It's interesting that Dr Casper speaks of the characters in Lifeboat as going through a dark night of the soul, something which is not the only similarity to Priestley's novel. (The latter of course was zestfully filmed in Hollywood by James Whale in 1932 as The Old Dark House from a screenplay by Hitchcock's friend Benn W. Levy.) Priestley stated that the characters who seek shelter in the house of the sinister Femm family one stormy night are representative of post-War 'types' in Britain, while the Femms themselves are collectively like an oppressive force which may destroy the visitors if they don't take stock of themselves and combine their resources to survive the night. (Significantly a central scene in the novel involves a game of 'Truth'. And one of the visitors, a decent but alienated young man named Penderel, is in fact fated to die that night.) It's fair to say that Lifeboat, adapted from an original story by John Steinbeck of some 40,000 words, belongs to a type of allegorical tale about a group of characters which already had literary precedents like the Priestley story and which Steinbeck himself would later write, such as his novel 'The Wayward Bus' (1947), set on the back roads of California. (In a 1983 book 'Steinbeck and Film', Joseph R. Millichap comments: 'Steinbeck intended "The Wayward Bus" to be a big book, his most important since "The Grapes of Wrath". Like the earlier novel it utilized the journey motif and it centred on a symbolic vehicle much like that in Lifeboat.' - p. 107) Incidentally, among the representative characters in 'Benighted' is a rich industrialist named Porterhouse (played in Whale's film by Charles Laughton); in Lifeboat there's a rich industrialist named Rittenhouse (Henry Hull) - though in Steinbeck's original story he was called Brennan. Steinbeck's story differed from the eventual film in many ways. For example, it was told from the first-person viewpoint of Bud, a young merchant seaman, who comments on the other characters and talks about his life in the Merchant Marine. In Hitchcock's film, scripted by Jo Swerling, Bud has become Gus (Wiliam Bendix), fated to die before the end. The most important character change from the Steinbeck story is in the character of the rescued Nazi seaman, who has acquired the name Willi (Walter Slezak) and been given the rank of Captain, as well as being made by Hitchcock and Swerling into a virtual Übermensch figure. Okay, here are some more of my findings about Lifeboat. Firstly, Dr Casper's DVD commentary reminded me that the film's Constance Porter, known as Connie (Tallulah Bankhead), was modelled on US writer and newspaper columnist Dorothy Thompson. This is ironic, given that the real Dorothy Thompson notoriously hated the film, and gave it ten days to get out of town. Born in 1894 in New York, Thompson began her career as a foreign correspondent, gaining recognition in 1921 when she managed to interview Empress Zita of Austria. She reported on the rise of Nazism in Europe in the 1930s, and became the first foreign correspondent to be expelled by Hitler (1934). She began writing a column for the 'New York Herald Tribune' in 1936, and continued her anti-fascist writings, speeches, and broadcasts, for which she is perhaps best remembered. She died in 1961. Lifeboat 'was the first one-set motion picture in the history of the medium' (notes Lee Israel in his 1972 biography 'Miss Tallulah Bankhead'). Nonetheless, an earlier film in which a woman is adrift in a lifeboat filled with men (but only for one sequence) was Frank Borzage's allegorical film Strange Cargo (1940), starring Joan Crawford. I was reminded of this by a passage in a true-life account of such a situation, Elizabeth Fowler's 'Standing Room Only' (1944) - an account which Jo Swerling and Hitchcock almost certainly drew on to provide important details for their film. At one moment in Fowler's book, which she narrates at first-hand, she notes how Crawford's 'torn dress had been swathed about her body with all the allure of a sarong. Her hair had been a shining halo.' In originally remembering this, Fowler 'had an irresistible desire to laugh' for at the time she had been 'oil-covered, disheveled, my hair hanging like dank seaweed over my eyes'. Lifeboat does its best to steer a course between realism and acceptable licence with details. Cleverly, it 'explains' Connie's relative lack of dishevelment by her initial extreme vanity about her appearance. Still, it does have some Joan Crawford-like moments involving Connie's hair. As I've noted here previously, a whole motif of the film involves hair, both Connie's and also that of the Red Cross nurse Alice Mackenzie (Mary Anderson) with whom the wireless operator Stanley Garrett (Hume Cronyn) starts to fall in love. A passage in the film's script which didn't survive into the film has Willi quoting Freud: when Stanley lets down Alice's hair, he is making love to her! (Meanwhile, we may surmise that the glowing shots of Constance with her hair down are a sign of her deepening feelings for the oiler Kovac [John Hodiak]. See frame-capture below.)

April 12 - 2008
Although Hitchcock's fine film of Dial M for Murder (1954) made almost no major changes from the Frederick Knott play that had recently been so successful in London and New York, it did sometimes put emphases differently. One such change in emphasis concerns the current feelings of the married Margot Wendice for crime writer Mark Halliday (called Max Halliday in the play). In the play, it's clear that, despite her passionate affair with Max a year ago (which had continued by correspondence), she now wants to keep her marriage to Tony Wendice alive, and for Max to remain just a friend. But the film depicts things differently. From the moment we see Margot - in a red dress - and Mark kissing, at the start of the film, it's clear that their relationship remains passionate on both sides. (The euphony of their respective names, Margot and Mark, subtly underlines this.) Interestingly, the film is sometimes less emphatic than the play about certain things, especially where this helps to keep audience-sympathy for retired tennis player Tony Wendice. For example, the play spells out that Tony always intended to marry for money. 'I had to', he tries to excuse himself - referring to the taste for the high life that being a tennis champion, who had travelled three times around the world, gave him. He had almost married 'a tubby Boston deb with five million dollars', but 'she threw me over for an heir to a chain of grocery stores'. Fortunately for Tony, the rich Margot had then turned up - she 'had been a fan of mine for some time'. In the film, we're given none of this detail. We simply hear Tony say, 'I know I did [marry for money]', whereupon he pauses thoughtfully, just long enough to raise the possibility that he may have regrets. Reading the play, you also notice things like how the film has streamlined some business. To enable Tony to steal Margot's key from her purse (and then leave it under the stair-carpet for the hired killer, Swann), the play includes an elaborate episode in which Max and Margot disappear into the kitchen to make paste for Margot's clippings; the film simply has Tony manipulate the key from her purse while requesting some loose change (business possibly inspired by another film involving a key, Hitchcock's Notorious). On the other hand, the film has its suspenseful stag-party scene at Tony's club, which the play doesn't have; the pay-off for the film, apart from the suspense, is that we can see Tony tell Mark to stay behind at the club - which in the play is something that hangs unexplained for a while. But of course the play is a brilliant piece of stage-craft. Here's one crucial detail I noticed this week when I read the play. Swann attempts to strangle Margot with his scarf, which he has brought with him for the purpose. The play includes this note: 'This scarf must have tassel ends, to emphasize, later, that it is a scarf and must be silk and tan colored so that Margot could mistake it for a stocking.' Naturally Hitchcock's film gets this important detail right. In the frame-capture below, Tony has recovered the scarf from near Swann's body (who was killed by Margot in self-defence) and is about to destroy it before the police arrive; in place of it, he'll substitute one of Margot's own stockings, to make the police suspect that she had hastily planted this intended murder-weapon (supposedly) of Swann's while all along having intended to kill him with scissors after inviting him to the apartment. Oh, and in the same frame-capture notice one of the apartment's two Chippendale chairs. As Steven Jacobs points out in his book 'The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock' (2007), the Wendices have a cultivated taste in artworks, including these two chairs - which are practically doubles of the two chairs that figure in another Hitchcock film about wife-killing, Suspicion (1941).

April 5 - 2008
Have found myself engaged in correspondence about Psycho (1960) in the past few days, much of it on the 'Film-Philosophy' Forum in response to someone's post about, of all things, the Old Testament narrative of Abraham and his son Isaac. That's not important. But I must say I welcomed the correpondence, which yielded some non-typical ways of viewing the nature of Hitchcock's film. True, I can't agree with BH that Norman Bates is an exemplar of Nietzschean values, but here is how he puts the matter: 'In the simplest of language, ignoring society's number one rule [against murder] for the sake of personal pleasure is about as Nietzschean as one can get.' Hmm. I thought Norman killed out of pain (berated by a jealous 'Mother' whenever he fancied another woman) rather than for pleasure, and that one of the things we know about him is that he hasn't 'grown up' but has become fixated at a level of Oedipal immaturity. Whatever pleasure he has found in placating 'Mother' comes not from killing but rather from 'secondary gains' like playing the dutiful son, or, sometimes, dressing up as 'Mother' herself and having 'conversations' with her. That doesn't sound particularly Nietzschean to me. But another correspondent, IK, really made me think about what Norman Bates 'means' to the viewer. I had trotted out my (no doubt tired) suggestion that Norman does provide an extension of 'normal' behaviour. I wrote: 'This is the lesson, after all, of Raymond Bellour's celebrated essay on Psycho, "Psychosis, neurosis, perversion". The film begins in normality, and ends with Norman (a name implying 'Nor man nor woman' perhaps? Or simply 'Not normal'?). Norman is a psychotic, the most extreme point of the spectrum that includes less extreme instances of deception and perversion and lust and aberrant behaviour. We meet four of them in the realty office at the start (see frame-capture below): impetuous Marion, soon to steal $40,000; timid Caroline, who took sleeping-pills on her wedding night; affable Lowery, who keeps a bottle of liquor hidden in his desk; and sleazy Cassidy, who defrauds the tax people and covets a dirty weekend with Marion.' What IK wrote back was this (slightly condensed and re-worded): 'Norman Bates is not only psychotic but also a coward. He preys on people and within the sanctuary of his delusional world he finds enough strength and motivation for a kill. In an apparent social context we're told Norman would not even hurt a fly. That is because being a psychotic and lacking control makes him feel low self-esteem and vulnerable. He is also envious and vainglorious, so that in his prying on others, the ones who are deviant within the acceptable norms of society, they provide him with stimulus and provocation just sufficient for him to be outraged and to kill. This again is a case of feeling empowered and being normal (balanced). Until he is faced with another provocation that makes him unleash his psychotic behavior, he feels satisfied/fulfilled and acts normal. Norman is at best an Imaginary role player ['Imaginary' in the Lacanian sense] whereby, according to his own world view (a construct), being delusional is all right (normal). Otherwise the fact that Norman is a nut-case hiding in the closet to be discovered (i.e., he needs help), and that 'Normans' can be found within all cultures and religious backgrounds, is what makes Psycho a sublime experience.' Fascinating, IK. I might quibble with some of your points (e.g., your calling Norman a 'coward'), but this way of seeing the film does seem to explain why we might almost want to 'thank' Norman for making us feel more 'alive', for showing us the 'heroism' (opposite of 'cowardice') in our own lives. Mind you, the film works on a more immediate human level, too. I was reminded of this by an email that came today from Buddhist friend BD, in which he talks about 'tranquility'. Here's the relevant passage: 'It is rather like what happens to Marion in the parlor with Norman. Suddenly, she is being compassionate and listening to another person's life. She focusses on Norman instead of herself, and this practice allows her to see her own situation more clearly. The grasping attachment that made her steal the money now appears to her as the trap that it is. Marion unattaching from her problems in a moment of compassion for Norman sets her free. She can strip and wash herself, as if the attachments were going down the drain. [The parlor scene represents] some of the most beautiful moments in all of cinema.' Indeed. Thanks, BD. And also BH and IK.

March 29 - 2008
I am indebted and grateful to Stephen Youngkin, author of 'The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre' (2005), for the rare production still from The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) included below. It shows Leslie Banks, Lorre, and Hitchcock on the set of the sun-worshippers' chapel in Wapping where the anarchist gang make their headquarters and stage their final shoot-out with London's police. Note the old-fashioned stove with its ornamented flue behind Lorre: during the chapel-service scene, attended by a motley congregation of mainly old women and housewives, Uncle Clive (Hugh Wakefield) burns his hand on it - one of many indignities he suffers during the film. In an earlier scene, he has had a perfectly-good tooth extracted by a sinister dentist (Henry Oscar) and now, during the chapel-service scene, he must submit to being hypnotised by the equally sinister Agnes (Cicely Oates), a forerunner of Mrs Danvers in Rebecca. Youngkin quotes a script note about Abbot (Lorre), describing him as 'an invalid ... helped by a rather straight-faced woman [i.e., Agnes] who is apparently [his] nurse'. In fact, 'Nurse Agnes' - towards whom Abbot shows great tenderness when she is shot dead by a police bullet - may be his sister or even his mother (?!). Meanwhile, he has controlled his gang - 'my children' in the script - with what Youngkin calls 'a malicious grin rather than an iron fist'. Note the possibility of a perverted Oedipalism here. Charles Barr has correctly noted how the film's plot grows out of the exaggerated tensions of a nuclear family (Bob and Jill Lawrence and their daughter Betty) implied in the opening scenes at St Moritz; what he doesn't note is the counterpoint by which an underlying sterility and perversion is implied by scenes more reminiscent of Fritz Lang's film about a child-murderer, M (1931), starring Peter Lorre, and Howard Hawks's gangster classic Scarface (1932) in which Tony Camonte (Paul Muni) is incestuously fixated on his sister Francesca (Ann Dvorak). Hitchcock of course gives Abbot a scar of his own, as well as a wide streak of white hair which may be either some sort of fashion statement (in keeping with Abbot's tie, waistcoat, moleskin jacket, and chiming-watch) or a hint of albinoism. (As for underlying sterility and perversion, Rebecca works similarly: for example, Manderley has come under the dominance of Mrs Danvers, while meanwhile all of Manderley's menfolk seem to have become impotent and denatured. For more on this, see my 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story'.) The chapel scenes are masterly, well worthy of study for how Hitchcock controls every element in them for maximum expressiveness. The comedy of 'the battle of the chairs' while Mrs Sprocket (Clare Greet) plays the organ - to cover the noise - is a highlight: it comes close to every choirboy's fantasy of running riot in church! G.K. Chesterton would have appreciated it, I'm sure. Lorre's minimalist acting is used to the hilt here and elsewhere. Youngkin quotes Hitchcock's belief in 'getting good actors who know how to express a mood or intention with [just] the slightest gesture or change of expression'. Throughout the chairs episode, Abbot simply leans against the wall, watching. Only when he sees Clive making a getaway through a window that has become uncovered by a flying chair, does his composure even begin to slip. And when, afterwards, he takes his annoyance out on Bob by pushing him, he immediately apologises, in his almost obsequious, Uriah Heep voice: 'Sorry, please forgive me.' (But Hitchcock repeatedly gives Abbot a sense of humour that Heep never shows.) Let me mention just one other scene for now. During the climactic siege of the gang's headquarters, the police crowd into nearby buildings, including a confectioner's shop whose proprietor watches speechless when one of the police officials, Binstead (D.A. Clarke Smith), in hat and coat, helps himself to some of the merchandise. The proprietor is played to good comic effect by Charles Paton - a change of pace for him after having played Alice's shopkeeper father in Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929). Hitchcock further milks the scene for comedy when Binstead's boss (H.G. Stoker), in bow tie, arrives. The police chief takes Binstead aside and asks him for news. In an ambiguous moment, Binstead visibly swallows - no doubt some guilt at being caught eating on duty is mixed with haste to give his boss the information sought! But he is deferential and efficient, a good-natured moment which harks forward nearly 40 years to Frenzy (1972) when Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen) tells Sergeant Spearman (Michael Bates) that he looks 'positively glutinous with self-approbation'. (Check out the respective scenes. You'll see what I mean.) One more instance of the wise saying that (Hitchcock's) style is often just self-plagiarism.

March 22 - 2008
The great production designer and art director Robert Boyle, aged 98, recently received a special Academy Award for his work in films, not least several for Alfred Hitchcock. Now someone has sent me a DVD copy of the 40-minute documentary called The Man on Lincoln's Nose, directed by Daniel Raim and originally released in 2000 - but recently updated (I gather). The main thing is, it's lovingly made and nicely informative, and I would like to discuss it here. (To see a brief trailer for the film, paste the folowing URL into your browser: http://www.lincolnsnose.com/) Naturally I paid particular attention to what Boyle - who appears throughout the documentary - has to say about the films he did with Hitchcock, starting with Saboteur (1942) and culminating in Marnie (1964). But in fact something that first caught my ear was Boyle's remark that he originally worked with a man named (Henry) MacRae on Universal serials like Don Winslow of the Navy (1942). In my book on Hitchcock, I note the little-known fact that some of the music in Saboteur is taken from that very serial. About Saboteur itself, Boyle is lucid, drawing for us lessons about creating suspense based in ordinary human experience. For example, he cites the scene where Barry (Robert Cummings) arrives at the hermit's cabin in the forest. It is raining, and the fugitive Barry is hungry - obvious, if partly inadvertent, foreshadowings of Psycho - and throws himself on the goodwill and hospitality of the cabin's occupant, Phillip Martin (Vaughan Glaser), who turns out to be blind. Nothing much happens, except that we feel strongly the scene's humanity. This is in keeping with what Hitchcock once told Boyle about the importance of 'penultimate moments', that is, the moments leading up to some incident or action. In this case, the warmth Barry feels in the cabin (in two senses) preceeds the moment when Phillip's daughter Patricia (Priscilla Lane) arrives and suddenly, with a small gasp, notices the handcuffs dangling from Barry's wrist. (Another important 'penultimate moment' in Hitchcock, cited by Boyle, is the conversation at the prairie crossroads in North by Northwest between another fugitive, Roger Thornhill, and the man waiting for the bus. As soon as the man has boarded his bus and disappeared into the distance, Roger finds himself being attacked by a crop-dusting plane armed with a machine-gun!) Boyle notes the importance of minimal distraction. 'The flashier aspects of making a fine-looking set', he notes, are often the last thing on your mind when designing films for Hitchcock, who mainly wanted the audience to be able to identify with the hero or heroine. Suitably, Boyle's reputation was for 'scrupulously detailed' sets and 'absolutely appropriate' touches (as fellow production designer James D. Bissell tells us). On Norman Jewison's period films Gaily, Gaily (1969), set in old Chicago, and Fiddler on the Roof (1971), set in the old Ukraine, Boyle was meticulous and brilliant. Planning the latter film, he boarded a plane with Jewison to choose filming sites in Europe. (Boyle, whom Jewison calls 'a charming Irishman', had a Jewish wife, so he was probably already familiar with Sholom Aleichem's story in particular - and certainly with Jewish culture in general.) They travelled widely to towns and villages -including in Rumania, Hungary, and Israel - looking for the most suitable spot to film. Amusingly, Boyle remembers how, wherever they went, they took with them a tape of the show's musical numbers. After arriving in each prospective location, they would play the tape and, if the music didn't seem to fit, would quickly move on. One small thing troubled me in the documentary, and that was Boyle's discussion of his work on Marnie. At one point, Boyle and cinematographer Robert Burks went to Hitchcock and said that they would like to re-shoot the scenes with the ship at the end of Mrs Edgar's street. But Hitchcock replied, 'I don't see anything wrong with [the look of] the ship, Bob.' So the scenes stayed as they were. Boyle cites the critical storm that blew up after the film's release about just those scenes, and the backdrop of the ship in particular, and we are left with the impression that the director had made an error. I can't accept that - it was the critics who were wrong. The whole discussion of this matter in the documentary is simplified. In particular, no mention is made of how the initial high-shot of the street is clearly not one that used the controversial backdrop but consists of an absolutely beautiful painting by gifted matte artist Albert Whitlock, with Marnie's arrival by taxi matted into the middle-distance. (See frame-capture below.) As for Boyle's backdrop (whether or not the problem concerned its supposedly phoney look in general or whether the problem was more about how light glinted from the backdrop at a certain angle), the effect was still highly apt, inasmuch as it concerned the symbolism of Marnie's shut-in world and that of her no-less psychologically damaged mother - whose side of the street never gets the sun, notice. But Boyle should have the last word here. Ironically, he talks near the end of this fine documentary about how set designers are artists. '[We should] try to get back to the essence, which children instinctively know.' Films these days 'are too concerned with climaxes [rather than penultimate moments]'.

March 15 - 2008
My thanks to SC of Melbourne whose recent email mentions, in passing, 'dirty jokes' in Hitchcock. For example, SC suggests that in The 39 Steps when Hannay (Robert Donat) is lying on the bed handcuffed to Pamela (Madeleine Carroll), Hannay's use of a nail file is symbolic of masturbation. I think that's a bit like the suggestive knife in the Psycho shower scene. Asked whether the shower scene was meant as a rape, Hitchcock replied delicately, 'Well, I think that you get that [connotation] in any case, don't you?' Certainly, in The 39 Steps, an audience senses what's what from the moment that Hannay and Pamela find themselves handcuffed together on the misty moors and their dialogue includes remarks like this: She: 'You're a big bully'. He: 'I like your pluck.' Or, later: He: 'Now place yourself on the operating table.' She: [visibly objects.] He: 'All right, this is Armistice Day, remember?' (That last is a nice piece of defusing, but Pamela isn't about to be let off the hook. For example, as the pair lie on the bed, Hannay starts reminiscing about his Great Uncle Penruddock, 'the Cornish Bluebeard', who killed three wives and a suspicious mother-in-law.) Of course, the mood of licentiousness had been established early in the film, when the stranger called Annabella (Lucie Mannheim) had asked Hannay in the street to be allowed to go home with him. And it was continued on the train (where Hannay first encounters Pamela) in the conversation of the two corset salesmen. Also, Hitchcock admitted that the scene in the crofter's cottage between Hannay and the sweet young wife Margaret (Peggy Ashcroft) was inspired by a certain bawdy tale about a guest for the night who, when given his chance, preferred chicken pie to the hostess's bed! (In the film, notice the tragic fade-out on Margaret's face after Hannay kisses her a hasty but heartfelt goodbye.) Now here's something else I admire about The 39 Steps. The scene in Professor Jordan's study between the Professor and Hannay is a tour de force on everybody's part, but not least the actor who plays the Professor (Godfrey Tearle). What I say is: keep your eyes on his hands! Early in the scene, he takes out a tobacco pouch and starts to make himself a roll-your-own cigarette. Obviously Hitchcock gave the actor this bit of business in order to emphasise his hands. At a certain moment during his preparation of the cigarette - meanwhile Hannay himself holds a convivial drink in one hand and a lighted cigarette in the other - the Professor holds up his right hand and, in a cut to close-up, we see that the top joint of the little finger is missing. In other words, the Professor is the head of the foreign spy ring whom Annabella had warned Hannay against. Naturally Hannay is shocked. Now the Professor asks him what is to be done. By this time, the Professor has finished rolling his cigarette and has inserted it in a holder which he grasps elegantly in his left hand, while his right hand is placed in his pocket so that we might almost suspect that a gun was concealed there. (See frame-capture below.) Indeed, he will shortly suggest to Hannay that Hannay should take his own life with a gun the Professor will give him. But Hitchcock must have sensed that this wouldn't look quite right visually if the actor was still holding his cigarette. So now we get a further bit of business which is managed with the utmost dexterity by the actor. In a neat flurry of movement, he somehow disposes of the (presumably unlit!) cigarette and its holder into his left-hand breast-pocket, then returns his right hand to its trouser pocket and - the topper - produces a gun where we least expected to see it, in his left hand! (One moment he is holding a cigarette there, the next a gun!) There's a further topper. Almost immediately, the Professor's wife (Helen Haye) appears at the door to ask whether Hannay will be joining them for lunch. 'I shouldn't think so', the Professor says. Mrs Jordan nods, having presumably noticed the gun in her husband's left hand (but he now holds it less threateningly, as if he had been merely feeling its weight), and goes away. An audience may never notice but a 'continuity error' follows. No time has elapsed but when we cut back to the Professor, the gun is now in his right hand, pointing at Hannay! But enough of that. Coming back to the suggestive nature of the film, did you know that it ends on a shot of Hannay and Pamela holding hands (the handcuffs are still dangling from his wrist) and the soundtrack suddenly plays a few bars of 'Ain't She Sweet?' That tremendously popular song was composed by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen in 1927 (and had recently been featured in the 1933 Marx Brothers film Duck Soup). Nice touch, Hitch!

March 8 - 2008
At the end of last week's "Editor's Week", I compared a moment in The Lady Vanishes with a moment in The 39 Steps. Both moments show a character suddenly finding out that his/her doubt about a would-be partner has been needless. In both cases, Hitchcock has separated the two characters for the moment of discovery, then brought them back together. The general principle here has many applications, and indeed Hitchcock once remarked (to Truffaut, I think), 'You can save a lot of time by getting away from something'. He meant, for example, that in order to avoid wordy explanation, often an effective procedure is to cut forward in time and let the audience infer the 'missing' details. Or an 'insert' detail (such as destination labels on suitcases) may imply a whole period of elapsed time (a honeymoon abroad, for instance). But let's come back to the moment in The 39 Steps. When Pamela returns to the bedroom, where Hannay is still asleep, a new romantic aspect to their relationship is signalled by the music that now starts up. Pamela settles herself uncomfortably on a narrow sofa to spend the rest of the night (after taking the blanket that has been covering Hannay!) but it's as if the pair were properly sleeping together at last, if you follow me. There's a variant on this scene in Torn Curtain (1966): the infamous, stagey-looking 'hillock' scene. Professor Michael Armstrong and Sarah are engaged, but on a trip to East Germany he has seemingly betrayed his country by offering nuclear secrets to the Communists. Prior to the scene in question, Hitchcock, instead of first separating the pair spatially, has simply separated them emotionally, leading to the moment at Leipzig University where a distraught Sarah has refused to tell a faculty committee about her work with Michael. Whereupon, Michael accompanies her outside the lecture theatre and up a grassy hillock, away from their Communist 'minders' (who effectively correspond to the foreign agents in The 39 Steps). Now Sarah learns the truth about Michael - from Michael himself - that he is actually working for the American government (but for security reasons hasn't even told his fiancée). Here the camera itself figuratively brings the couple together, by suddenly moving from long-shot into a sweeping close-up of Sarah's relieved, tear-stained face (see frame-capture below). As in The 39 Steps, the film's romantic music starts up, and again it's as if the couple had just made love, or were ready to do so (the sweeping, circling camera recalls typical Hitchcock kissing scenes in, for example, Notorious, Vertigo, and North by Northwest). Even before The 39 Steps, in Rich and Strange (1932), Hitchcock had used the getting-away-from-something principle in a different way, to bring out an emotional change in two people. On a cruise to the East Indies, Emily has a brief shipboard affair with Colonel Gordon (while her husband, Fred, is meanwhile having a shipboard affair of his own, with the woman known as The Princess). To signify the moment when their affair becomes serious, Hitchcock shows Emily and Gordon slipping away to an out-of-bounds part of the ship, at the stern. To get there, they must step over some ship's tackle lying on the deck, and we sense that they are doing something faintly 'illicit' by passing this point. (Romantic music is here provided 'diagetically' by an accordian we see being played by a seaman in the crew's quarters). Arriving at the stern, and realising that things have changed emotionally for them, Gordon looks back at the main part of the ship, and comments to Emily: 'Like to see a ship where we were once passengers?' But of course what I have called the getting-away-from-something principle is also used by Hitchcock on a much larger scale. I mean, for example, that in many of his films he separates two people for a considerable period of time, only to bring them (back) together in an emotionally satisfying climax or finale. Rich and Strange is itself such a film, re-uniting husband Fred and wife Emily in the last part of the film as they go through the ordeal of shipwreck together. Rich and Strange is a form of 'remarriage comedy' (like also Hitchcock's Mr and Mrs Smith) in which a 'gap' or 'gulf' between two people (signifying an absence) is finally overcome. The 'something' that has been got away from here is happy marriage, which is thereby posited as valuable without words being spoken about it. So again we have been talking about Hitchcock's flair for 'pure cinema'.

March 1 - 2008
Hmm. Consider that last item from last week about how '[a]rtists enjoy seeing themselves as raffish outsiders, people of dubious morality'. I'd say that goes for audiences, too, up to a point - approximately just past the half-way point of a film, to be more precise. I listened this week to film historian Bruce Eder's generally solid commentary on The Lady Vanishes - full of good insights like how the carriage sets were rocked to subtly suggest the train's movement - but felt that he was unnecessarily prim early on about the adulterous relationship of the barrister Todhunter (Cecil Parker) and 'Mrs Todhunter' (Linden Travers). The fact is that audiences almost want a bit of the illicit and the offbeat in the early stages of a screenplay, and are prepared to suspend moral scruples in the interests of indulging curiosity and what I call the amoral nature of the Will in each of us. Surely both Rope and Rear Window offer classic Hitchcockian cases of what I am suggesting? In Rope, the film actually begins by making us privy to a heinous murder but far from being merely repelled by this, we watch with curiosity to learn what drove the two murderers to commit their crime - can they possibly 'justify' it? - and what slips they may make that will lead to their undoing. Even then, it isn't clear that we have merely suspended normal morality. About half way through the film, as the serving-lady Mrs Wilson (Edith Evanson) begins to clear the table-cloth from the chest containing the body, we realise with a gasp that maybe the murderers are now about to be found out - and a part of us involuntarily wants to warn them, or is anyway relieved when suddenly Brandon (John Dall) appears in frame and tells Mrs Wilson not to bother about the clearing-up. So do you see why I felt that Bruce Eder sounded over-proper about the Todhunter relationship in his TLV commentary? It isn't what audiences are caring about at this stage of the film. (We are also gratified by some good-natured 'daring' shots and hints in the early hotel scenes. Not mentioned by Eder: a glimpse of Margaret Lockwood's panties; the gag that American audiences don't seem to understand, involving Charters and Caldicott averting their eyes when the maid dives under the bed and they think she is retrieving a chamber-pot but which turns out to be just a hat-box; and the hint that Gilbert [Michael Redgrave] may have been a 'kept man' - a lady had paid for his room at the inn ...) Even so, Eder does redeem the situation when, citing the Todhunters, he speaks of how, before the end, the film will challenge its English characters (and by implication, the audience) not to 'hulker down' and withdraw from reality but to stand up and be counted. This is to recognise how the film has changed gears and invoked a 'higher morality' - which I think is very Hitchcockian of it. There's an anticipation here of, say, Saboteur and Lifeboat, I think. Certainly Todhunter will be condemned by the film not for adultery, nor even for his craven concern earlier not to jeopardise his reputation as a judge, but for his seeking 'appeasement' (cf Neville Chamberlain at Munich) with the enemy whose true nature he still doesn't recognise. I am reminded of something that Hitchcock said about The Birds: that it initially shows people who are complacent - 'unaware that catastrophe surrounds us all' - but 'that when catastrophe does come, when people rise to the occasion, they are [generally] all right'. Another good point by Eder was how the business of Miss Froy's name on the window, which suddenly vanishes (like the lady herself!), is topped by the business with the label from her distinctive brand of 'Harriman's Herbal Tea'. Hitchcock holds back the pay-off on this motif until a deliberately quiet moment when, after Gilbert has wandered away from Iris into the train corridor, only half-believing her story that Miss Froy was on the train, he sees a kichen-hand throw out the train's garbage (see frame-capture below) - and there on the outside of the window, for a moment, is the tell-tale label. This moment reminded me of at least three earlier moments in other Hitchcock films. For example, the shot of the kitchen-hand shows him to be totally unaware and nonchalent about what he is doing (throwing out garbage into a passing field!), which seems to combine the unawareness of the cymbal-player at the Albert Hall climax of The Man Who Knew Too Much and the indifference of Hitchcock's cameo in The 39 Steps where we see him play a litterbug who nonchalently tosses a candy wrapper onto the footpath! (My point is the clever use of counterpoint in these moments.) But most of all I was reminded of another moment from The 39 Steps. Suddenly Gilbert in TLV is absolutely won over to Iris's point of view, to the truth of her story, just as in The 39 Steps, upstairs at the inn, Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) overhears a conversation downstairs and suddenly all of her remaining hostility to Hannay (Robert Donat), asleep nearby, melts away and she absolutely believes his story about spies. Hitchcock nearly always knew exactly what he was doing, and this finely-judged moment in TLV is exemplary.

February 23 - 2008
Am literally putting my house in order at present. Which means, cleaning up. 'My house is my filing cabinet', I told an inquiring editor. Accordingly, here are some miscellaneous items which I happen to have come across. First, some excerpts from an interview with Hitch by Peter Lennon for 'The Sunday Times', 1 August, 1971, when the director was in London making Frenzy. 'Over a long day's chatting [Hitchcock] emerges as one of nature's innocents. Innocent in politics: When he took out American citizenship he gave as a reason that he wanted to have "the constitutional right to sound off acidly on all the ludicrousness around me in America." But it was just a schoolboy raspbery; he has never made a genuinely political film. Lifeboat, which he thinks was political, was just war-time propaganda.' Hmm. I also came across someone's (Jim Davidson's?) excellent report on the Hitchcock Centennial Conference held at NYU, 13-17 October, 1999. I read this: 'The notion of Hitchcock's need for control was echoed in the opening plenary session of the Conference by Robin Wood, who stated that Hitchcock's working methods suggested a form of fascism. Despite this, Wood voiced his admiration for Lifeboat, which he called underappreciated, and commented that the film offers a compelling critique of the American free enterprise system in its depiction of the wealthy character Rittenhouse and his [effective] complicity with the Nazi.' But back to the Peter Lennon interview with Hitch. The director mentioned working with a difficult Charles Laughton on Jamaica Inn (and later on The Paradine Case). '"What was wrong with Laughton?" "'Fraid of himself," said the Master. "scared. Very frightened man, but very nice man."' Again I was reminded of the Hitchcock Centennial Conference. 'Again and again as the Conference went on, particularly during the plenary session mentioned above, a variety of Hitchcocks seemed to emerge. To [Donald] Spoto, who was quick to point out that he actually knew Hitchcock later in his life, the director "lived his 80 years in an envelope of unimaginable pain." Spoto believes that Hitchcock wanted to be thought of as a respectable bourgeois, but that at home he sometimes lived the life of a crude, vulgar Cockney. This account was contradicted by the person at the Conference who knew Hitchcock best, his daughter Patricia, who stated that home life with her parents was quiet and orderly.' Now here's something else I came across. The actress in North by Northwest who plays the woman reading in bed whom Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) disturbs when he climbs through her hotel window, was Patricia Cutts, the daughter of director Graham Cutts with whom Hitchcock had worked in the 1920s. (I was also reminded that in 1935, when Hitch was making The 39 Steps, 'there were some odd extra shots to be done, [so to speed things up] the producer suggested that someone else handle them, and mentioned Graham Cutts. Hitchcock at first refused, saying that he used to work for Cutts and that they would both be embarrassed. However, when told that Cutts hadn't worked for a while and needed the money, Hitchcock showed his magnanimity by agreeing.') Okay, perhaps that's trivia. But I also found this, mentioned on the website www.artsjournal.com, and summarising an article that had originally appeared in 'The Observer' (UK), 6 October, 2002. I find it interesting for the light it may throw on the director of Suspicion (where a crime writer says that her real heroes are her murderers) and Rope (in which Brandon says that murder, too, can be an art): 'OF CRIMINALS AND ARTISTS: A controversial theory suggests that artists and criminals have a lot in common: they both break the rules. Both "express a primal rage. Love, hate, fury, despair and passion can be given utterance with brushes and pens, or with guns and knives. Artists enjoy seeing themselves as raffish outsiders, people of dubious morality."' Gentle reader, do you detect a pattern, or thread, in what I've brought together here?

February 9 - 2008
In both the 1936 novel called 'The Wheel Spins' and Hitchcock's 1938 film of it, called The Lady Vanishes, the governess Miss Froy tends to chatter sweetly about her fancies. (Early in the film she bores Charters and Caldicott into near-drowsiness!) Talking to Iris on the train, the novel's Miss Froy reveals that she's a spinster, the daughter of a clergyman, but claims to 'still have the excitement and hope of the eternal quest. I never forget that a little boy is born for every little girl. And even if we haven't yet met, we are both growing old together, and if we're fated to meet, we shall.' This life-optimism is partly what the novel and the film are both about. But there's also a down-to-earth aspect. For example, here's how the novel continues: 'Iris thought sceptically of the mature men who refuse to adhere to the calendar, as she listened [to Miss Froy's chatter] with rising resentment. She wanted quiet - but Miss Froy's voice went on and on, like the unreeling of an endless talking-picture.' Or like an interminable train journey! Both the novel and the film draw comparisons between films and trains - and life. The novel's very title attempts to link its train setting with a wheel of fortune, and also the novel contains further allusions to the nature of film. At one point, Iris has 'the impression that the whole scene was flickering like an early motion-picture. The waiters swung down the rocking carriage balancing trays. Scraps of country flew past the window.' And, a few moments later, as she sits opposite Miss Froy, 'Iris [growing dizzy] watched the smoke curling up from her cigarette. Occasionally she saw a vague little puckered face swaying amid the haze, like an unsuccessful attempt at television.' (It's hardly a stretch to imagine that the spinning 'wheel' of the title could also be a film spool unwinding ...) Certainly Hitchcock was aware of these various parallels and gently took advantage of them, both in this film and later ones. (For example, whenever Hitchcock's characters go on a journey, typically at the start of a film, it's as if the audience were embarking with them.) Of course, various film theorists have lately emphasised trains as a metaphor for cinema. Slavoj Zizek begins his documentary, 'A Pervert's Guide to the Cinema' (2006), with a clip from Clarence Brown's Possessed (1931) showing a young Joan Crawford waving goodbye in the street to her yokel boyfriend Wallace Ford, then walking away. Next moment, at a level-crossing, she watches a luxury train with its screen-like windows slowly passing by, and her mind starts to race. (Soon she'll be heading for the big city and the arms of Clark Gable.) I shan't spell out the various physical correspondences between (watching) a film and (going on) a train journey, and how a certain dreaming and/or 'lowered consciousness' (Siegfried Kracauer's term) is induced by both experiences. And how a director like Hitchcock then paradoxically challenges his audience into 'mindfulness', so that not only the very narrative of TLV is about vigilance but at least one scene is built on Iris and Gilbert's need to stay awake. (If Hitch had filmed Frederic Brown's s-f novel 'The Mind Thing', as he nearly did before turning instead to Daphne du Maurier's short story 'The Birds', that novel's climax is posited on the hero's need to defeat the alien by staying awake - and no doubt Hitch would have included the episode in his film.) But I would like to insist, once again, on how Hitchcock was a Symbolist director, just as much as he was an expressionist one. ('For a while I even had Symbolist dreams', he once said.) The train journey in TLV is an unstressed metaphor for 'life' in at least two senses. Miss Froy's life-optimism, as I've called it, corresponds to what the philosopher Schopenhauer famously called 'the life-dream of the man who wills', i.e., of every one of us. Interestingly, when the film's Miss Froy makes her escape from the train near the end, she farewells her new friends by saying, 'I do hope and pray ... that we shall all meet again one day.' That sounds more than this-worldly and actually quite close to something Hitchcock would tell interviewer Charles Higham in the 1960s. Mentioning his project to film J.M. Barrie's play 'Mary Rose', the director revealed his belief that at some time in the future scientists would have found how to atomically disembody people and then later reassemble them so that we could be transferred 'to another place and come together there again'. (Higham and Greenberg, 'The Celluloid Muse', p. 103) Amazing! But TLV is also a metaphor for the down-to-earth aspects of 'life' I mentioned above. (My thanks at this point to Joel Gunz who reminded me during the week of a salutary observation by Joseph Campbell: 'life is like a movie to which we arrive late and leave early'.) For the first half of the film, Iris wears a monogrammed scarf with her initials, I.H., embroidered on it (see frame-capture below). It's a symbol of a certain narcissism and self-centredness. But after the baggage-car scene which - I suggest - functions in the narrative like a wake-up call to both Iris and Gilbert, and the moment when they cease being antagonists and start to feel the need to work together to save Miss Froy, Iris's scarf is seen no more: from that moment until her arrival back in London, she wears a sensible, modest cardigan. The theme here (roughly, of 'growing up') is one that will recur in such films as Lifeboat, Shadow of a Doubt, North by Northwest and The Birds.

February 2 - 2008
There's an excellent online appreciation by film historian Geoffrey O'Brien of The Lady Vanishes (1938) reproduced from the notes accompanying the new Criterion DVD release of Hitchcock's film ("All Aboard!" by Geoffrey O'Brien). For a start, I like O'Brien's observation that the film resembles 'the perfect matrix for the kind of paranoid melodrama that would proliferate ... in the forties (in films like Phantom Lady, Gaslight, and My Name Is Julia Ross), [only] here the dark shadows of conspiracy are countered by a brightness and brilliance of tone almost Mozartean in its equanimity'. More on that idea in a moment. O'Brien's sharp eye also spots how a scene early in the film, at the inn, comes straight from Top Hat (1935) - as I remember noting myself in 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story'. So was Hitchcock imagining his film as a kind of musical-on-wheels? Music certainly plays an important role in the film (as Michel Chion, Jack Sullivan, and others, have shown). We can talk about that idea, too, in a moment. But here's something else that O'Brien and I undoubtedly agree about. '[The] insistence [of the heroine Iris Henderson] on the reality of what she has seen', writes O'Brien, 'is the only sure guide through a labyrinth of false impressions, even as the insidious Dr. Hartz tries to convince her that the vanished Miss Froy is "merely a vivid subjective image."' Yes! (In the novel, Iris says to the engineer Max - the musician Gilbert in the film - 'Oh, can't you understand? If I didn't [find Miss Froy], I could never feel that anything, or anyone, was real again?' Incidentally, the novel, by Ethel Lina White, also contains the business of Miss Froy's name written on the train window which provides the first proof that the old lady has indeed been on board. It anticipates the writing on the piece of paper found in the toilet-bowl in Psycho, a concrete reminder that Marion has indeed been at the Bates Motel.) Of course, when Hartz is confronted with the apparent return of Miss Froy, he sounds like a peeved academic whose pet-theory has been attacked (the novel includes among its characters a rather supercilious professor): 'My theory was a perfectly good one, the facts were misleading', he says. More to the point, the film fits with the several others by Hitchcock, some of which we've noticed here recently, where incidents seem almost ghostly or phantasmagoric for a while. The baggage-car scene in TLV (with Doppo the Illusionist), the McKittrick Hotel scene in Vertigo (another 'vanishing lady' scene), and the Mrs-Bates-at-the-window shots in Psycho, are all deliberate teases by Hitchcock designed to to throw us off the scent - or to put us on a false scent. Even more to the point, TLV looks forward to Hitchcock's greatest train thriller, North by Northwest, for both are about 'getting real'. In 'The Alfred Hitchcock Story' I show how the NxNW titles sequence evokes a passage in T.S. Eliot's 'The Waste Land' (1922) - a work hugely influential among British intellectuals of the 1920s - whose 'Unreal City' is inhabited by death and ghosts. But at the end of the film, we hear the villain Vandamm (a descendent of Hartz) complain, 'That wasn't very sporting of you, using real bullets!' By contrast, in TLV, after Iris and Gilbert and Miss Froy have escaped from Hartz and his gang, he gazes after them from the pine forest (predecesor of the one in NxNW), and says sportingly, 'Jolly good luck to them!' (See frame-capture below.) For deliberate ironic effect, Hitchcock, almost on the eve of World War II, was evoking a nobler era dating back to Kipling and early John Buchan, when wars and spies were still part of what the British called 'the Great Game' - an extension of the playing-fields of Eton and Harrow and the cricket-fields of Lords and The Oval! Whereas, set at the height of the Cold War, NxNW is very much about 'realpolitic' - even as, like TLV,it sees in the romance of hero and heroine the sternest and noblest test of all. I'll go into more detail next time and talk about trains (and music) as a metaphor for cinema (and life). But let's not overlook for now how very astute and even prescient Ethel Lina White's 1936 novel (originally called 'The Wheel Spins') is. Geoffrey O'Brien calls it 'a rather unthrilling thriller', which is misleading. It intrigues by the very details that Hitchcock would borrow to use in TLV and subsequent films. It even calls Miss Froy at one point 'the phantom lady' while having Iris say, as she admits she's dreading going home to her circle of friends, 'There's not one real person among the lot of us ...'. What it doesn't have are Charters and Caldicott or a baggage-car scene ...

January 26 - 2008
I want to follow up the last entry and talk some more about affinities in Hitchcock's films with 'Buddhism'. (I have put 'Buddhism' in quotes because I'm convinced that Hitchcock sought to give his films 'universal' narratives but containing 'hooks' that viewers of various persuasions might feel were meant for them - and perhaps mistake for the entire 'meaning' of a particular film! As I see it, Hitchcock was thus both a master rhetorician and, however inadvertently, someone attuned to what C.S. Lewis once called 'The Tao' - a distillation of the ethical principals taught in common by various world religions and schools of thought. Recently on our 'Seriously Alfred Hitchcock' discussion group there have been attempts to interpret North by Northwest as a Buddhist film - because, for example, Roger allegedly becomes a no-person and thus accedes to a higher consciousness. That's an interesting interpretation, but I don't think that such a Buddhist reading is necessarily the ultimate, or even the right, one. Talking recently about The Birds, I had occasion to refer to how 'self-forgetting' is a valued character trait in society generally. But at such times some observers would say that self-realisation is at its height. And doesn't Roger in North by Northwest start out as a no-person, in a sense, and only gradually find himself? In saying to Eve at the end of the film, 'Come along, Mrs Thornhill', he is affirming his own identity as well as that of his new partner. Anyway, I trust the reader sees my point ...) Now, last week I compared Hitchcock's Vertigo to both Mizoguchi's Ugetsu Monogatari (the respective protagonists lose their way and pursue a ghost or chimera) and, up to a point, Naruse's Floating Clouds (both are love stories in which the lovers literally 'wander' together seeking happiness, but the man is burdened by guilt - Scottie by what happened when he found out he had acrophobia, Kengo by Japan's defeat in the recent War, not to mention the fact that he is already married). I ran out of space last time to describe exactly how Floating Clouds ends. It is both like Vertigo and different. Yukiko dies on the island where she has followed Kengo after his wife died. (Scottie, too, is afflicted by two women's deaths in the course of Hitchcock's film, though not in quite the same way as Kengo is afflicted.) In the last scene Kengo takes out a lipstick that had belonged to Yukiko and tenderly paints her lips. The gesture recalls their kiss earlier in the film when - magically - past happiness had merged with the present, as more-or-less happens at one point in Vertigo. This ending of Naruse's film, though, is much more like that of Ugetsu than it is of Vertigo. In both of the Japanese films (both of them made by Buddhist directors), the man finds strength to carry on, forgetting himself in his memory of the woman, whom he feels is encouraging him from beyond the grave. Of course, Scottie at the end of Vertigo feels only devastation at Judy's loss (and isn't comforted by the nun's tolling the bell); Hitchcock once said that he expected Scottie would throw himself from the tower, too. (On our 'Seriously Alfred Hitchcock' discussion group, someone argued that the whole film is an attack on misguided Western, or Romantic, values, whereas North by Northwest is designed by Hitchcock to show a Western man, Roger Thornhill, who finally sees the light and turns to Eastern, or Buddhist, thinking and ways.) Finally, I'd like to come back to the Hitchcock film, Rich and Strange, that I suggested last time initiated his attempts to tell narratives with universal (or anyway wide-ranging) values, thereby 'outflanking' his audiences of an occidental mindset alone. I suggested that it wasn't an interest in Buddhism and other Eastern beliefs, per se, that interested Hitchcock in those days. In fact, I see that John Grierson wrote of Rich and Strange that Hitchcock's 'sense of space, time, and the other elements of barbarian religion, is almost nil'! Unduly harsh words, I'd say, and it will be instructive to think further about the whole concept of the voyage in Rich and Strange. More particularly, think of the ship, late in the film, on which Fred and Em nearly perish. It becomes in effect a 'ghost ship', with only Fred and Em left on board (together with the ship's cat). Shades of Buster Keaton's The Navigator (1924). But this 'ghost' is real inasmuch that it serves as a symbol of how the shared 'life' of Fred and Em has been hitherto unfulfilled and drifting. I think of both The Birds (the bird attacks demonstrate to the principal characters how empty has been their existence so far and their need for each other) and of Charles Dickens's beloved tale 'A Christmas Carol' (where the miserly Scrooge is shown the error of his ways by a succession of ghosts, including The Ghost of Christmas Past). Further, Hitchcock uses this image to show Fred and Em the comparative 'indifference' of the world, especially a world where they are away from their own friends and society. (The frame-capture below shows Fred and Em watching helplessly as Chinese looters come on board.) We may recall that in the course of the film Fred and Em have lost nearly all of their money, leaving them with just themselves. A similar 'lesson' will be taught to the Tallulah Bankhead character, Connie, in Lifeboat. So here's my point: yes, Rich and Strange contains 'Buddhist' elements (mentioned last time) but those same elements can also accommodate quite 'universal' lessons. How you see the film depends on what you bring to it.

January 19 - 2008
Adrian Martin has challenged me to compare Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) to some Japanese films of that period, notably Mikio Naruse's Floating Clouds (1955), adapted from the best-selling novel by 'feminist' writer Fumiko Hayashi (1903-1951). And, implicitly, to say something about the 'Buddhist' qualities of Vertigo and other Hitchcock films. Well, it's a challenge I don't think I'm really up to, although (taking a hint from Donald Spoto) I have always thought that Hitchcock's Rich and Strange (1932), about a sea trip to the Orient, deliberately incorporates 'Eastern wisdom' about life as a brief voyage, about vainglorious pursuit of illusion, and about death - which we in the West tend to make a hullabaloo about (whereas the drowning of a Chinese sailor in Rich and Strange is watched by his fellow sailors almost with indifference). In other words, that film provides an early example of what I call Hitchcock's 'outflanking technique', and there is no reason to suppose that at the time he otherwise took Buddhism and other Eastern beliefs especially seriously. (Vertigo may be quite a different matter.) More precisely, Rich and Strange reminds me of Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu Monogatari (1953), made three years after that director's formal conversion to Buddhism. The phoney princess (Betty Amann) in Hitchcock's film, who deceives poor Fred (Henry Kendall) and nearly causes the breakdown of his marriage to Em (Joan Barry), is a precursor of Mizoguchi's ghostly Lady Wakasa who beguiles the potter Genjuro and indirectly causes the death of his wife Miyaki. But of course Ugetsu is still closer to Vertigo. It, too, tells a story that moves almost imperceptibly into phantasy, the correlative of its protagonist's ambition and diseased state of mind, but told with as much verisimilitude as its director can muster - a very great deal. And the backstory of the beautiful-but-remote Lady Wakasa whose family had been victimised by a rival clan arouses our sympathy for her much as does the story of the abused Carlotta for 'Madeleine'/Judy (Kim Novak): Lady Wakasa proves to be a ghost just as 'Madeleine' does (a phoney creation designed to deceive Scottie [James Stewart]). Thus the words of Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) in Vertigo - 'Was it a ghost?' - prove particularly fateful. But let's turn now to Floating Clouds. It isn't a thriller or suspense film but rather a poignant tale of two lovers who seek to re-create the happy state they had known earlier, when both were stationed in Indo-China during the Second World War. In the frame-capture below, that's Kengo (Masayuki Mori) on the left, and Yukiko (Hideko Takamine) on the right; but now they are in post-War Tokyo, 'wandering' incessantly through streets and parks as they attempt to reconcile the differences that have come between them (for instance, not only is Kengo married but, like so many other Japanese men, he feels stigmatised by Japan's defeat in the war). Right there are a couple of parallels to Vertigo. In both films, 'wandering' is what the protagonists do, recalling the Buddhist notion of samsara, which means 'wandering' or 'transmigration'. Also, if the male has a cloud hanging (rather than floating) over him, so, too, does the woman: both Yukiko and 'Madeleine'/Judy become a married man's mistress and eventually are forced by economic circumstances to take whatever jobs they can get (for Yukiko that includes some actual prostitution). The man, for his part, is at times less than sensitive towards the woman: Kengo has several affairs, though his love for Yukiko remains strong underneath. In short, we are in what Buddhists call the saha world, the world that must be 'endured'. Meanwhile, the respective directors seek (e.g., visually) to bridge the gulf between the protagonists, as the latter do by means of their love. (Aspects of Floating Clouds also remind me of Hitchcock's Under Capricorn [1949], which quotes the biblical phrase, 'a great gulf fixed'.) Both Hitchcock and Naruse were absolute masters of expressive technique, as of course was the great Mizoguchi. The famous scene in Vertigo of the 360° tracking shot that bridges past and present as Scottie and 'Madeleine'/Judy embrace has its equivalent early in Floating Clouds when the two lovers kiss and Naruse cuts to an almost identical shot of them kissing in the past; at the end of the film, as Yukiko lies dying, there is another sudden flashback to those same Indo-China days, whose effect is heart-rending. But I can't omit an equivalent moment from Mizoguchi. In Ugetsu, when Genjuro returns chastened to his village, but not knowing that Miyaki is dead, he peers into his cottage and from inside we can see that the hearth is empty and cold; the camera pans left to show him peering through a window and then follows him towards the door so that we are effectively back where we were a moment ago - but now, by some miracle, Miyaki is within, tending the fire which is burning cheerfully, their child asleep nearby. That piece of 'technique' is one of the great film moments. Like the Naruse and Hitchcock moments it speaks of the power of love, and of memory. Which is my cue, finally, to come back to the end of Floating Clouds. It takes place on a remote Japanese island, where Kengo, whose wife had earlier died of tuberculosis, has a new job. An ailing Yukiko has accompanied him there by ship. Shots of people on the mainland waving to departing relatives and friends and singing 'Auld Lang Syne' (cf Kon Ichikawa's Harp of Burma [1956]) are but a prelude to shots of the island itself, whose mist-covered mountains we see drawing closer. It will be a fitting place for Yukiko to die, and for Kengo to finally realise how deeply he loved her. (I was reminded of Kaneto Shindo's allegorical The Island [1961], and of Michael Powell's exquisite I Know Where I'm Going [1945].) Yes, this is a work to rank very near to Vertigo, and I thank Adrian (and our mutual friend Freda Freiberg) for compelling me to seek it out.

January 12 - 2008
Looks like Donald Spoto's forthcoming 'Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies' will be pushing the Hitchcock-as-repressed-homosexual line. The synopsis now up on the Amazon.co.uk website (and Dave Pattern's hitchcockwiki.com site) speaks of Hitchcock's 'strange marriage to Alma Reville, his distance from his daughter, Patricia' and how he 'undeniably felt a certain attraction-repulsion toward his leading ladies' so that 'he would have been repelled if any of his fantasies had been realised, for he hated and feared that which he thought he most loved'. For Spoto's sake, I do hope that his new book recovers some of the credibility his 'The Life of Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius' (1983) cost him in some quarters - though the tone of his new book sounds as outspoken, or intransigent, as ever. (More on this in a moment.) I count Spoto as a good colleague and mentor, who has been kind to me recently, and whose revised chapter on Hitchcock's Stage Fright, from 'The Art of Alfred Hitchcock' (1976; 1999), has lately been added to our EXCERPTS feature. He tells me his new book 'is set for publication in the UK and Australia/New Zealand on June 5 and in the USA in September'. So we are on good terms, I would say, though I did note a certain cooling after I wrote Spoto the following email two months ago at about the time he left for Los Angeles to see Tippi Hedren, Diane Baker, Karl Malden, et al.: 'Dear Donald. I'm very conscious - and not unsympathetic - re your defensiveness about the Herb Coleman book ['The Hollywood I Knew: A Memoir 1916-1988'] which I read when it came out a few years ago. But I'm also conscious that 'The Dark Side of Genius' does tend to push its negative presentation of Hitch's failings to a point where the reader sometimes asks: hold on, couldn't this matter be seen another way?' Here I cited some facts about the author Charles Dickens, which I had once included here in "Editor's Day". Then I added: 'genius - your own term for Hitch, which I don't dispute - has traditionally been given a certain leeway in terms of moral, etc., behaviour. Yet 'The Dark Side' seems strangely reluctant to take that position [...] In sum, Hitch wasn't so bad, comparatively!' Now, my review of the Herb Coleman book is on this website's New Publications page (there's a link at the foot of this page), and it includes Coleman's accusation: 'Donald Spoto's numerous misquotes, mistakes, and outright inventions [in 'The Dark Side'] damaged and destroyed many close friendships.' Those are strong words, and one person who would support them is Bill Krohn, author of the award-winning 'Hitchcock at Work' (2000). Krohn has emailed me as follows: 'Well, first of all there are some flat untruths in the "Dark Side" account, like the invented episode of Pat [Hitchcock] being left dangling [by her father] on the ferris wheel for an hour and being let down hysterical with fear. I saw the source [Spoto] used - it's a part of the [Warner] PR file on Strangers on a Train at USC - and he totally made up the incident (added as a late footnote): She was with two men friends, and the gag lasted one minute and didn't scare her one bit. Spoto should try meeting Pat (I'd recommend wearing a disguise): she's not "the getting hysterical type." Ditto for the "Mommy in a coffin" incident re Hedren, debunked by [Camille] Paglia's interview, and the distortions introduced into [Herb] Coleman's quotes [in 'The Dark Side']. The excessive trust placed in [screenwriter John Michael] Hayes' outrageous lies is simply part of a pattern: "If it fits my negative theory of Hitchcock, it's true. If not, I'll invent." Someone asked Tania Modleski about ['The Dark Side'] at the Block Museum Conference [on Hitchcock, held recently at Northwestern University]. Modleski, a dour academic who doesn't refer to her subject as "Hitch," said that Spoto's first book ['The Art of Alfred Hitchcock'] was good, then he seems to have decided to go into the celebrity tell-all business to make money. She paused thoughtfully and added: "It's trash." Well, it isn't all trash - there's some good biographical research mixed in with the lies. But when someone does what Spoto did, one is then obliged to crosscheck everything he says before using it. That's why what he did simply isn't done by professional scholars, and why Modleski said "trash" — by the standards of her profession, it is trash. [...] I tend to agree with what Pat McGilligan said to me while finishing his [Hitchcock] bio: "I think [Hitchcock] was a normal guy, until he started losing his health." I would add that AH suffered from three maladies: a lifelong anxiety condition (Robert Boyle: "He was afraid of everything. If he looked out a second story window his palms would start to sweat"), which he self-medicated with alcohol, there being no treatment then, and eventually Alzheimer's. I think that the anxiety condition makes his risk-taking on things like The Birds (or constantly bucking Selznick and other producers) appear especially brave. [...] Feel free to post this whole reply.' Well, I've posted much of it. On the understanding that all publicity is good publicity, I hope it may help sell copies of Spoto's new book. Also, this column is open to further input on the matter. Next week (hopefully): Hitchcock and Buddhism ...