Author Archives: bwhipkey

Monstrous Mothers: The Mother/Son Relationships in “North by Northwest” and “Psycho”

Abstract

North by Northwest and Psycho, though seemingly very different films, contain a number of common Hitchcockian themes, such as the presence of a mother-figure whose sanity and moral integrity is questionable at best. This paper discusses the similarities and differences of the mothers in these classic films, as well as the connections to Hitchcock’s childhood present in both films. The personalities and actions of both the sons and the mothers are analyzed in the context of their own films, then compared to those of their counterparts from the other picture. Additionally, the relationships between the mothers and sons are investigated, revealing the dysfunctionality of their relationships. In North by Northwest, the mother is excessively controlling and superficial, while in Psycho, the mother is merely a murderous side effect of the antagonist’s growing insanity. These maladjusted bonds, as well as the antagonistic nature of both mothers (though each expresses this trait in a vastly different way than the other), are compared with the similarly abnormal relationship which Hitchcock supposedly shared with his own mother during his childhood.

Martijn Hendriks – “Give us Today our Daily Terror”

The first thing that comes into one’s mind when one thinks of “The Birds” is, of course, birds. The entire film revolves around the horror inflicted by the avian creatures upon the human residents of Bodega Bay. Martijn Hendriks, a Dutch artist, decided to find out what “The Birds” would be like with no birds. The result is an ongoing project by the name of, “Give Us Today our Daily Terror,” a digitally-edited version of “The Birds” with every bird painstakingly removed.

Tippi Hedren, birdless

The effect is eerie: characters run and scream, chased by nothing. It seems almost as though a mass insanity has descended upon them. With this realization, one begins to wonder: if the birds do not exist, what killed these people? The only possible answer, without delving into the supernatural, is the people themselves.

Attacked by an invisible assailant – or insanity?

Hendriks, Martijn, Give us Today our Daily Terror, 2008, film. 1.37:1 aspect ratio. Ongoing project – not currently on display.

Vertigo: the Best?

Alfred Hitchcock’s famous film, Vertigo, was ranked as the “Greatest Film of All Time” by the British Film Institute in 2012; the question becomes, then, does this movie deserve its dizzyingly high position on this list? I believe that it does.

Vertigo is an unusually good film, even for Hitchcock. The characters in particular are excellent; few people are who they seem to be, and fewer still survive through the entirety of the plot. One rather atypical feature of this film was the lack of emphasis on the murderer; the plot is primarily driven by the interactions between Scottie and Madeline/Judy, while Gavin appears only twice and is never really developed. This, I believe, is intended to focus the audience on the love angle of the film, in a reversal of the typical Hitchcock formula of “MacGuffin, killer, romance.” Nobody expected that from Hitchcock at the time, and first-time viewers of Vertigo will find it very different to his other classics such as Psycho and The Birds. Hitchcock, however, proves that he can play both Cupid and the Master of Suspense at once, managing to maintain the romantic plot even through twisting deceptions, mental breakdowns, and eventually murder and possibly suicide.

The cinematography of Vertigo is, at least for me, the most memorable aspect of the film. The theme of voyeurism, already a common Hitchcock element, is accentuated by the use of the camera as Scottie’s eyes; the audience is Scottie, and we see exactly what he does. Only twice does the camera break from the protagonist. In Judy’s flashback the camera goes where Scottie cannot, making the audience more powerful than the protagonist. The audience does not object; we desire to see more of Judy’s inner thoughts, as if we were observing a rat in a laboratory. Soon afterwards, Judy dies, right as Scottie overcomes his acrophobia. He gets what he wants, but only at the cost of his love’s life. Similarly, we get what we want (the truth of the mystery), and by doing so we kill Judy. The shot of Scottie looking down at Judy’s body brings everything back together: the suspense, the mystery, and the romance are all over and done with. We do not know what happens to Scottie, and if we did then I believe the film would not be worthy of its position on the British Film Institute’s list. The genius of Vertigo is that it does not require additional closure; the audience is not supposed to be comforted by a definite ending. All together, Vertigo is, without question, the greatest film ever made.

 

Lust, Murder, and the Crime of Disbelief: an Analysis of the Newton Family

In Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, the outwardly normal Newton family is revealed to be deeply dysfunctional and in serious danger of falling apart. Though Hitchcock does explore this theme in other films, such as Strangers on a Train and Psycho, it is in Shadow of a Doubt that he makes the most direct commentary.

The most obvious problem with the Newton family exists between the two Charlies; specifically, the strongly implied incestuous relationship between uncle and niece. From the start of the film to Uncle Charlie’s death, the two are connected in an almost supernatural manner. When we first see both of them, for example, they are each lying on a bed in the same position, and Young Charlie soon after decides spontaneously to invite Uncle Charlie to stay with the Newtons for a while. Uncle Charlie, at the same time, leaves for the Newton’s house to evade the police. This kind of parallel thinking continues until the uncle falls from the train and breaks their psychic connection. This mental rapport the pair maintains sometimes extends into the physical, quite inappropriately: they often touch one another for too long, too much to be considered normal for family, and Uncle Charlie’s gift of the ring to Young Charlie is a blatant reference to marriage. Even when Uncle Charlie grabs his niece violently (“You’re hurting me!” she cries on two occasions), the camera angles suggest that the action could be part malevolent and part lusting, perhaps a peculiar fetish of the psychopathic uncle. The rest of the family, meanwhile, remains oblivious to their relationship.

Incest is not the only thing wrong with the Newtons. They grow apart from one another at every turn; the sexist father regularly ignores his younger daughter, Young Charlie, and even his wife on occasion, preferring instead to converse with his son and Uncle Charlie. The youngest daughter, on the other hand, has grown estranged of people and spends her days reading and learning, to the dismay of Mr. Newton. Nobody but the Charlies, however, notices anything wrong; their denial is both a symptom and a cause of their fragmentation and lack of communication. Their divide is so great that they cannot put together all the clues that point to Uncle Charlie’s true nature, and so they steadfastly oppose any notion of the insane uncle’s crimes. The Newtons, excluding Young Charlie, go so far as to obstruct the police, in a way criminalizing them as unknowing accessories.

McLaughlin, James. “All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.” A Hitchcock Reader, 145-155. 2nd ed. Blackwell Publishing, 2009.