Author Archives: mythiot

Hitchcock in Mad Men

The popular television series Mad Men is a period drama  set in the 60’s about the corrupt executives of an advertising agency and their personal lives. It has won many awards and received critical acclaim for its intelligent writing and themes of identity, corruption and gender roles. The creator of Mad Men, Matthew Weiner, stated that Hitchcock’s films were a significant influence on the show’s visual style. This is perhaps most noticeable in the opening sequence, which is animated very similarly to Saul Bass’s artwork.

The silhouette of a businessman, presumably the main character Don Draper, falling to his death is highly reminiscent of the dream sequence in Vertigo. The skyscrapers the silhouette falls past also resemble the skyscrapers from the opening of North by Northwest.

Double Take

Johan Grimonprez is a Belgian artist and filmmaker whose works often address the effect the media has on our perception of reality. His 2009 film Double Take depicts Alfred Hitchcock, on the set of his 1962 film The Birds, as he inexplicably meets a doppelganger of himself from 1980 the year which Hitchcock died. The two Hitchcocks have a conversation which is marked by a deep paranoia as both are afraid of what the other may do. Primary themes in Double Take include the fear of the unknown/future, as well as the paranoia surrounding the Cold War and the television’s effect on it.

I believe that there are three primary reasons why Grimonprez chose to center his film around Alfred Hitchcock and The Birds. First, The Birds depicted a deadly threat to humanity coming down from the skies, which was a popular way of depicting Communist Russia’s threat to America. Second, The Birds was released in 1962, which was arguably the height of Cold War paranoia, as the Cuban Missile Crisis took place around this time. Third, The Birds was the last great critical and commercial success Hitchcock would have before his career would take a downturn, giving Hitchcock a very good reason to fear his future.

Vertigo: The Greatest Film of All Time?

In 2012, Sight and Sound ended the 50 year reign of Citizen Kane at the number one spot of the greatest films of all time and crowned Vertigo in its place. I think that this was a good decision, not necessarily because I think Vertigo is a better film than Citizen Kane, but because it’s good to change with the list a little in order to encourage discussing great films. While I wouldn’t put either of them in my number one spot, they’re definitely in my top thirty, and I believe that Vertigo is a respectable choice for the greatest film of all time.

 

 

An essay published in The Guardian praised Vertigo’s spot at number one, stating that, “Ultimately the beauty of Vertigo cannot be so captured and pinned; it is more akin to the butterfly garden, in which we all wave our own nets. Everyone’s catch will be different, and different each time.” This is an apt description of the film’s brilliance as different people will find different reasons to enjoy the film. Roger Ebert spends a large amount of his review analyzing Judy’s role in the film and the pathos of the pain and humiliation she endures, stating  “From the moment we are let in on the secret, the movie is equally about Judy: her pain, her loss, the trap she’s in.” I agree with this, and believe that the final third of the movie from the point where we’re in on the secret to end is the strongest part of the film. Not only does it contain the most emotionally powerful moments of the film, the technical aspects shine as well, particularly the kissing scene when Judy is transformed into a perfect replica Madeline. Judy’s ghost-like appearance when she first emerges, the haunting music, and the rotating camera trick come together to create cinematic perfection. In a film full of fantastic scenes, this one, in my opinion, is the most memorable.

There are many more scenes and motifs in Vertigo which I would love to analyze, but the bottom line is that Vertigo is a wonderful film which I think falls somewhere between Ebert’s declaration as “one of the two or three best films Hitchcock ever made,” and the BFI’s ranking of Vertigo to be the best film anyone ever made.

The Unhealthy Family Dynamics of Shadow of a Doubt

      Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt features the Newton family, who at first glance appears to be an ideal happy, average family. However, beneath the surface, the Newtons experience a number of problems which they try to hide with their facade. Among Hitchcock’s dysfunctional families, the Newtons are probably the most outstanding.

The relationship between the heroine Charlie Newton and her sinister uncle Charlie is taken at face value by the other characters as nice and normal. However, critics have observed subtle incestuous undertones between the two. In his article “All in the Family,” James McLaughlin states that “Incest is a barely suppressed presence in the film…” At the beginning of the film they are both shown lying in bed in the exact same position, signifying their connection to one another. The film also depicts the pair as having a quasi-telepathic link, which is often associated with lovers. Perhaps the most blatant hint at incest would be the ring, originally a wedding ring, which Uncle Charlie gives our heroine when they meet. Hitchcock inserts this subtext into the film to convey an uncomfortable atmosphere to the scenes with the two Charlies and to exemplify the problematic family dynamics of the Newtons.

Uncle Charlie putting the ring on his niece’s finger

Hitchcock portrays the Newton’s facade as phony and unsatisfactory. Early on, Charlie displays dissatisfaction with her family, stating that she wishes to “cure her family,” in her opening scene. Her spirits are temporarily lifted when Uncle Charlie comes to visit, but are crushed when he brings a number of problems to the Newton household. The manners which the Newtons deal with these problems best exemplify the film’s criticism of how families with fake images react when this image is threatened. For example, there is the dinner scene where Uncle Charlie rants about how terrible rich widows are and how they deserve to die. While initially shocked, the Newtons then pretend that he had never said anything out of the ordinary. The family, with the exception of Charlie, chooses to be willfully ignorant of Uncle Charlie’s malevolence because they don’t want to give up their preferred happy image of Uncle Charlie. Even Charlie doesn’t reveal the truth about him after his death.

The maintenance of this facade and the refusal of the Newtons to confront their own problems is what causes much of the grief within Shadow of a Doubt. Because of this, the Newton household remains a “foul sty,” as Uncle Charlie put it.

McLaughlin, James. “All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.” In A Hitchcock Reader, Second Edition, 145–55. Blackwell Publishing, 2009.

 

Love Triangles in Hitchcock’s Lodger and Blackmail

A staple in romantic fiction since its inception, the love triangle was implemented by Hitchcock in his early romantic thrillers The Lodger and Blackmail. However, Hitchcock uses the love triangle in vastly different ways in these two films.

In The Lodger, the love triangle is played traditionally between the three lead characters: Daisy the model, Joe the policeman, and the titular Lodger. At the beginning of the film, Joe tries unsuccessfully to win the affections of the beautiful Daisy, who does not return his feelings. A mysterious man soon takes up rent in the house of Daisy and her parents. It does not take long before Daisy and the Lodger begin to fall in love.

The Lodger and Daisy bonding over a chess game

Jealous of the Lodger’s relationship with Daisy, Joe accuses the Lodger of being the Avenger, a serial killer who targets women. His jealousy, and the measures he uses to remove his competition are typical of the antagonistic corner of the love triangle. Eventually, the real Avenger is caught, and Daisy and the Lodger live happily ever after.

Joe confronting the Lodger

In Blackmail, we are introduced to Scotland Yard detective Frank Webber and his girlfriend, Alice White. They get into an argument while on a date and Alice runs off with Mr. Crewe, an artist whom Alice agreed to meet with earlier. Here, it appears that we are going to have another traditional love triangle.

Alice and Crewe at Crewe’s studio

However, this love triangle is “resolved” half an hour into the film when Crewe attempts to rape Alice and she defends herself by stabbing him with a nearby knife. Feeling both scared and confused after the situation, Alice flees the room, but leaves behind her gloves. One is recovered by Frank, who wants to prevent Alice from confessing, and the other is found by Tracy, an unpleasant fellow who threatens to turn Alice in if his petty demands are not met.

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Frank and Tracy negotiating the blackmail deal, with Alice in the foreground

Here we have a twisted parody of a love triangle, with two men, Frank and Tracy, fighting over the destiny of the same woman. Alice is caught between turning herself into the police, or living with guilt for the rest of her life; two equally unpleasant fates which the men represent. Unlike a traditional love triangle where the woman has the final word in the matter, neither Frank nor Tracy lets Alice have any choice, instead taking Alice’s fate into their own hands.

When Tracy is framed for the murder and dies fleeing the police, Alice’s option to turn herself in dies with him, as she tries to confess to the murder only to have Frank prevent her from doing so. This is a tragic twist on the usual ending to a love triangle, with Alice seemingly stuck with a bad “choice,” over which she has no real control.

Alice confessing to Frank, who prevents her from telling the police

The comparison of the love triangles in The Lodger and Blackmail shows how Hitchcock grows as a storyteller. He takes a well known trope he used in a previous film and plays around with both it and the audience’s expectations