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November 24, 2012

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David Ehrenstein

An exceptionally salient Robin Wood quote -- save for the finish. Nothing in Hitchcock suggests at he didn't know precisely how great an artist he was. Into the commerical cinema he carved out an individual career, bolstered by filmmkaing techniques that have never really been duplicated. Non one renders subjectivity ike Hitchcock.

As for "Psycho" while it stands out as a particular achievement, itought to be regarded in relation to Hitchcock's overall interest in crime. Prior to Norman Bates there was Bruno Anthony in "Strangers on a train."

It should never be forgotten that this, Highsmith's very first novel, was not only a massive hit on its own -- made more so by the film -- but sprang directly from her efforts to get someone to kill her own hated father for her.

Bob Rusk

How can Richard Brody wrong when he says Hitchcock was obsessed with "much that was Gein-like"?
His movies are full of stranglings, rapes, and attacks on women, from first to last.
He grew up knowing all about Jack the Ripper and reading about the latest murder trials in the newspapers; he even went to the Old Bailey crime museum.
Hitch even discusses real life serial killers in the Truffaut book.
One glance at the rape-murder scene in Frenzy lets you know this was a man fascinated by sex maniacs and the dark side of human nature.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Yeah, count me as another who isn't that bothered by the implication of camaraderie between Hitchcock and Gein. I wish the movie presented it with more wit, but given Hitchcock's tendency to torture women who wouldn't sleep with him (and occasionally their daughters), it seems pretty apt. Obviously, one can artistically present scenes of rape or murder without any desire to do either, but I think it does cinema history no disservice to be aware that Alfred was a deeply creepy fellow who did some appalling and unmistakably sexualized things to women.

What's interesting about Psycho is the way it reveals the skull beneath Hitchcock's "wrong man" trope. Lots of his films generate audience sympathy for a man hunted by the authorities, and Hitchcock alluded in the Truffaut interviews to his own terror of police. For most of Psycho, the viewer thinks it's the same classic Hitchcock plot, similar to Strangers on a Train, with poor hapless Norman frantically covering up for the real killer. Only at the end to we discover that it wasn't a wrong man story at all, except in Norman's fucked-up head.

And that may account, on a vulgar biographical level, for the extra charge of personal investment that screeches through Psycho. Hitchcock did many things that skirt perilously close to prosecutable offenses; at the very least, his antics would've gotten less powerful men roundly beaten by the young lady's brothers. He had spent his life avoiding the punishment he pretty much deserved, all while imagining a world full of innocent men wrongly persecuted. Only in Psycho (and perhaps Vertigo) does he focus on a man who's *rightly* persecuted, and whose protestations of innocence are revealed as a craven sham.

Glenn Kenny

"I wish the movie had presented it with more wit."

"More?"

I wish I could be amused by the perverted sense of justice that deems a shitty movie is justified by the degree of political correctness with which on can project the treatment of its subject.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Heh, yes, any would be a start. Though as McBride noted, the idea is so amusing it gets at least a half-point added to the score, however execrable the execution. Beyond that, I don't think it's "politically correct" to note that Hitchcock was both a great filmmaker and a real-life serial torturer of blondes; it's just a fact of life. Doesn't make the movie any good, of course, but it means the objections are of aesthetic execution, rather than fairness to the subject (if anything, the movie seems a little too generous towards that deeply unpleasant man).

Glenn Kenny

He certainly did seem to grow less pleasant as he got older.

I'd like to read a biography of Hitchcock that charted the mutation of his behavior in some coherent way. It's been a while since I read the Spoto from cover to cover but I don't think that does the trick. Aside from Selznick's famous pronouncement that Hitchcock didn't seem like an ideal companion for a camping trip (was Selznick a big outdoorsman himself?), it seems that during the early Hollywood days he had better-than-cordial relations with actors and actresses (very friendly with Carole Lombard, who did not exactly lack for blonde sexual magnetism). Then an odd cat-and-mouse thing with Grace Kelly, and then a series of sick power-struggle scenarios involving actresses under contract. If you read, say, Scotty Bowers' memoirs, you get a sense of golden-age Hollywood as a place where fetishists with sufficient money and power could wet their beaks practically without end, so Hitchcock's compulsion to bring his fetishes to the office, as it were, besides making him more unpleasant, and causing him to act in potentially actionable ways, seems also ultimately entirely self-defeating.

What we know of our most revered artists, what we'd like to believe of our favorite artists...it's all a weird ball of wax when it comes to both fandom and critical thought. The recent memoir by Pauline Butcher, who worked as a secretary to Frank Zappa from the "Lumpy Gravy" era through the early '70s, incidentally contains an incredibly ugly anecdote concerning Billy Wilder.

The Siren

Glenn -- Billy Wilder? Really? What is this anecdote? Or maybe there's a post in it. I love Billy Wilder and I don't know why I am rushing to hear an awful story about him but, there it is, now I am curious. I certainly know he was not always a nice dude either.

I re-read a bunch of Spoto recently and he makes that very point, that Hitchcock could have assuaged whatever physical needs he had in any way he wanted, and yet he apparently did not. Spoto speculates about the reasons--Catholicism, the lure of the unattainable that was such a big thing for Hitchcock, etc. etc., but I'd agree that it doesn't quite do the trick and I am not sure what would.

I will never ever forget the story Kent Jones once told in this very comments section, about someone going to dinner chez Hitchcock and being shown around the house by the great man himself..."here is the drawing room, here is the library..." They go further into the house and Hitch opens a door with, "Here is the bedroom..." and in the room is Alma sitting on the bed in her housecoat, and Hitch closes the door with, "...where nothing ever happens."

Petey

"If you read, say, Scotty Bowers' memoirs, you get a sense of golden-age Hollywood as a place where fetishists with sufficient money and power could wet their beaks practically without end, so Hitchcock's compulsion to bring his fetishes to the office, as it were, besides making him more unpleasant, and causing him to act in potentially actionable ways, seems also ultimately entirely self-defeating."

Well, if we go back to Uncle Siggy's definition of sexual sublimation per teh Wikipedia, we get: Sublimation is the process of transforming libido into "socially useful" achievements, including artistic, cultural and intellectual pursuits.

So Hitch didn't wet his beak, some actresses were subjected to unacceptable abuse as he aged, and we got a whole flock of seagulls of incredibly great movies as a result.

Glenn Kenny

Siren, the anecdote comes from Butcher' days working at a modeling agency in Swinging London immediately prior to getting the Zappa gig. She talks about going out on a date with a friend, Sarah, a "Jean Simmons look-alike" and meeting Wilder and two "overweight moguls" at a suite in the Dorchester Hotel. They dine, the Hollywood guys make disparaging remarks about "Blow -Up," then they all adjoin into the bedroom. I now quote from Butcher:

"Two of the men dropped into lavish armchairs while the one with the paunch threw himself on the bed. He called out, 'Come on in girls. Make yourselves comfortable.'
"Immediately on my guard, I hovered in the doorway. "Excuse me?"
"'Come on in,' he beckoned kindly, 'get your clothes off.'
"All three of them gazed expectantly at me and my hackles rose. Obviously, we'd walked into a lair of vultures, though Sarah was now perched prettily on the edge of the bed. I snapped, 'We're not taking our clothes off.'
"'What did she say?' he asked, as if I was talking Japanese.
"'Sarah, I think we should go.'
"She stood up, hesitating, while the guy with the bald head got out of his chair and snarled, 'Are you kidding?'"

And it goes on like that a bit more, rather frustratingly not assigning names to any of the men speaking the dialogue (is the man with the bald head Wilder?) and the punch line is that Sarah had wanted to go through with it because that was the condition upon which she had been promised a part in the film. The actions of Zappa and his bandmates seems...well, not positively chivalrous by comparison, but, um, different.

The Siren

Glenn, ew.

Wilder was, of course, married.

Aside from that, WTF does everybody have against Blow-Up? I love that movie.

David Ehrenstein

I love it too. But I imagine Old Hollywood hands were quite upset that Antonioni got to how off Jane Birkin's and Vanessa Redgrave's breasts and "got away with it."

Glenn your anecdote doesn't make it at all clear what Wilder may or may not have done at the Dorchester.

george

It can be a shock to learn our artistic heroes weren't always "nice guys." William Friedkin comes across as an utter monster in "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls."

And David Thomson seems to think John Huston had some involvement in the Black Dahlia murder case, if only by knowing more than he let on. Read this:

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/film-studies-who-killed-the-black-dahlia-415428.html

Stephen Bowie

Wilder nailed everything that moved. Tura Satana during IRMA LA DOUCE, for one.

AJ - Fantastic Travels

Funny how so little of such "the antics" come out in a biography channel showing. Yes it is very disappointing when the movie heros we all love to watch on sceen turn out to be a lot less than perfect. I'm not much into naming names but one such person comes to mind -- Initial E.F.

I.B.

"Alfred was a deeply creepy fellow who did some appalling and unmistakably sexualized things to women."

Wow.

* * *

"Mr. Wilder? There is a Ms. Nomi Malone asking for you at the reception. Shall I send her up to your room?"

David Ehrenstein

More like Tura Satana nailing Billy. We've all seen Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! you know.

jbryant

Now AJ's got me wondering about "E.F." Eddie Fisher? Eddie Foy? Edith Fellows? Edward Furlong? Elle Fanning? This is driving me nuts. To take my mind off this, I think I'll go pop in my Blu Ray of "The Adventures of Robin Hood."

I may have mentioned this before, but Tura Satana was my girlfriend's foster father's aunt. I never got to meet her, but I've seen home movies of her at various holiday get-togethers, so I know it's true.

Gordon Cameron

I guessed Errol Flynn.

Gordon Cameron

Whoops, should have read jbryant's post more clearly. Whoosh! Sorry.

partisan

Siren: I've heard that Hitchcock was actually stunned at how good BLOW-UP was.

Glenn Kenny

I could see Hitchcock admiring "Blow-Up." Like "Psycho," it's in many ways an exercise in pure cinema. It picks up Hitchcock's modernism and takes it to a place the Master could not, for a variety of reasons, one of them having to do with that Richard Lester you-stop-taking-the-bus metaphor I'm so fond of trotting out.

And: wow, that Thomson "Black Dahlia" piece is disgracefully hackish even by HIS ever-slippery standards. I wonder if he was drunk when he wrote it. I'm not saying that to be a smart ass; that's how it reads.

george

The Thomson piece appalled me too, Glenn.

There's no doubt Huston could be unpleasant, especially if you weren't part of his inner circle of boozing friends (like Bogart and Bacall). His sadistic treatment of Ray Bradbury, during the writing of "Moby Dick"'s screenplay, is well known. It led the mild-mannered Bradbury to punch Huston in the face.

But to imply Huston was involved in a notorious murder -- if only by knowing who did it, and not going to the police -- is over the top. Was the EDITOR drunk when that reckless piece was turned in?

That Fuzzy Bastard

"Was Huston a part of the circle? Can an artistic hero have been that close to murder? Will anyone take advantage of the UK's loose libel laws on this? Did Orson Welles secretly direct The Third Man? Was Christopher Marlowe actually William Shakespeare? Is the sky mauve? Could the earth have been created in 6 days? Am I actually sleeping with Nicole Kidman? I don't know. But I am a strange man." -David Thomson

JamesS

Forget Huston. There's a whole book accusing of Orson Welles of being responsible for the Black Dahlia murder
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Dahlia_suspects#Orson_Welles
http://www.salon.com/2000/08/16/dahlia/
From one of Elizabeth Short's neighbors (who was12 years old at the time)

The theory even gets a mention in Simon Callow's biography, but obviously he dismisses it

The Siren

Partisan, that makes me very happy.

As for Thomson, note that up top Thomson implicitly mocks the notion of Orson Welles' magic-act-sawing routine saying anything about whether Welles was involved in the Dahlia case. Then, in the kicker to his penultimate graf, with a flourish Thomson drags out...Noah Cross.

george

OTOH, anyone who can get a creepy, book-length mash note to Nicole Kidman published must have something going for him!

There's also a theory that Orson Welles was the Dahlia killer. You can see the clues in "Lady from Shanghai," if you watch in a state of advanced inebriation.

Ian W. Hill

Hitchcock to Charlotte Chandler in 1978: “Those Italian fellows are a hundred years ahead of us. BLOW-UP and 8 1/2 are bloody masterpieces.”

I've read a similar quote from somewhere I can't remember, with AH basically saying the same thing back in 1960 about L'AVVENTURA ("decades ahead of me in style" or something like that), noting that this led to some of his experiments in the early '60s. I've also read (again, can't remember where) that he had fallen OUT of love with Antonioni's work around the time of BLOW-UP, but maybe that was mistaken, or he had changed his mind again by '78.

HITCHCOCK seems like a film that couldn't possibly imagine that Hitch was actually watching what else was going on in the world of cinema 1960 and finding how to connect it to himself and his own work.

Oliver_C

There is still a more risible David Thomsom-related rumour: it's perpetuated by anybody who refers to him as "our greatest living film critic."

JL

Excellent article. But am I the only one who was bothered by the multiple typos (before you re-watch Psycho "this afternoon," copy-edit!)?

bill

I'm sure you all know about the book that claims Lewis Carroll was Jack the Ripper. If not, seek it out. It's magnificently unconvincing.

I remember the ridiculous Huston/Dahlia connection came up on some crime newsmagazine show years ago. Two adult siblings wanted the world to know that their rich father had been the killer, based on no evidence, and while incriminating lots of dead people they threw Huston onto the pile. Might as well, right?

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