Academic journal article CineAction

Looking at the Birds and Marnie through the Rear Window

Academic journal article CineAction

Looking at the Birds and Marnie through the Rear Window

Article excerpt

It was my intention not to contribute to this issue. While my admiration for Hitchcock's work has deepened over the years, I felt I had nothing more to say. Which is not, of course, to suggest that I have said everything there is to be said: Hitchcock's films exist as fixed physical entities on celluloid (give and take a bit of wear and tear), but the perception of them will vary from viewer to viewer and from age to age: in that sense there will always be more to say (or sometimes to retract or reject). I have also come somewhat to feel that I have been type cast. It is thirty-four years since the publication of the original Hitchcock's Films (a work with which I am now dissatisfied, though it had, I think, a certain historical importance in gaining Hitchcock serious critical recognition). Many seem still to prefer it (to me incomprehensibly) to the far more aware and sophisticated chapters I added to it for Hitchcock's Films Revisited. But other members of the collective seemed to feel that a contribution was expected of me, that I have a certain duty, and I have let myself be persuaded.

There was, however, another immediate stimulus, and it has given me a fresh enthusiasm for what I initially saw as just a `job'. I was invited to participate in the documentaries that are to accompany the forthcoming DVDs of Rear Window, The Birds and Marnie. The invitation came as something of a shock: I had never before been asked to work within such a commercial framework, aside from a number of aborted TV offers of interviews along the lines of `Hitchcock is always called the Master of Suspense. Would you talk about this?' (No); `Psycho is the movie that led to all this emphasis on violence in the cinema. Would you talk about this?' (No.). I was wary at first, but then I realized that the interviewer was someone who both loved Hitchcock and respected my work, and that I would be allowed to say what I wanted to say. I felt surprised, honoured and challenged: I didn't want simply to repeat myself, and I also sensed an opportunity to address a wider audience than my books are likely to have reached. I had the great pleasure--the great joy--of reseeing the three films in question, and they sprang to life all over again: it wasn't exactly that I felt I was seeing them for the first time, the feeling was more that I was now really seeing them. This article has grown out of the experience. I can't promise that I am saying anything I haven't already said in some form, but I hope I may be saying it in a somewhat new way.

If the films remain the same, as images impressed on celluloid, `Hitchcock', the meaning of the films, changes as the culture changes. We may see less, or more, but we see it differently, through the prism of a modified consciousness. I take my own work as a convenient example. My early book interpreted `Hitchcock' primarily in terms of `the human condition': the films presented a world of superficial and precarious order constantly threatened, often undermined, by some metaphysical `chaos' that may erupt at any moment from beneath. This still seems to me a tenable way of looking at the films: I don't find it `wrong' exactly, and it continues to be my starting-point in discussing The Birds. But I also don't find it very helpful, unmodified, in my attempts to confront contemporary reality and find ways of dealing with it and, hopefully, move toward change. I prefer today to view the films as a particularly incisive and radical critique of a particular (but very lengthy, with a history going back virtually to our beginnings) phase in our cultural evolution, with an emphasis on male/female relations. This need not necessarily mean that I don't believe there is such a thing as `the human condition'. But I don't see how we can know this either way until we have fully investigated the workings of social construction and determined just how much of what we used so confidently and casually to call `human nature' is subject to change and is therefore changeable. …

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