Category Archives: Hitchcock and Contemporary Art

Subject to a Film: Marnie by Stan Douglas

Stan Douglas is an artist who is famously known for reworking films.  He reworked the robbery scene in Hitchcock’s 1964 film, Marnie, in his short film work, Subject to a Film: Marnie.  Douglas in this work did a loop of the scene where Marnie robs the office where she is employed, but he modernizes the set.  For example, he changes out the typewriters with computers.  However, he does make this short film in black and white, instead of color.  The film actually slows down during the action sequences and the loop ends right as Marnie is about to leave which symbolizes that she can never escape her crimes.  In his 1995 review,  Tom Eccles describes the work as “creating the effect of a recurring nightmare” as the character, rather than escaping is “caught in the film loop, forever trapped within the confines of the office.”  The whole work is not online, however there are images of it.



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.

“Two Bedrooms in San Francisco” and “Vertigo”

David Reed is a contemporary American visual artist who is known for his canvas abstract paintings that feature multiple images of swirling brushstrokes. In the 1990’s, Reed created an art project called Two Bedrooms in San Francisco that involved producing Judy’s Bedroom in 1992 and Scottie’s Bedroom in 1994. In these art pieces, Reed inserted images of his painting into scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Reed inserted his paintings into the footage of the bedrooms of the film’s leading character’s Scott and Judy. His artwork involves playing the modified footage continuously on a television monitors next to replicas of Judy and Scott’s beds and the paintings Reed inserted into the film.

Reed wants his art pieces to be hung in bedrooms because he believes that bedrooms are where people have their most private, intimate moments and are where paintings can be most appreciated and looked upon in reverie.  Reed chose the Vertigo bedrooms to insert his paintings because they are both imaginary places that exist in the film and in the audience’s minds, but are also bedrooms located in real, public spaces. In the film, Judy’s and Scott’s bedrooms are where the two had their most intimate moments and Reed wants his art to be a part of people lives and these life-altering moments.

Bottom image is the altered scene with Reed’s painting in the background

Reed, David. “David Reed, “Scottie’s Place/Judy’s Place”. Carnal Pleasures:Desire, Public Space, and Contemporary Art.” San Francisco: Clamor Editions (1998): n. pag. Web.

Rea Tajiri: Hitchcock Trilogy, 1987

Rea Tajiri’s Hitchcock Trilogy, is composed of three short films based on scenes from Vertigo, Psycho, and Torn Curtain. Tajiri uses the soundtracks by Bernard Herman in each film to cue memories from the famous Hitchcock films. In Hitchcock Trilogy, the sound is separated from the picture, as the soundtracks by Bernard Herman are synced with a different and more minimalistic narrative than the original Hitchcock films. The music of Vertigo, is used in combination with a textual description of three postcards. Music from Psycho is put together with a static shot of these two women and Hermans unused score for Torn Curtain, can be heard while there is a montage showing a consecutive closing of curtains, borrowed from other films.

  • Created from a pastiche of cinematic, newsreel, animation and television images that are set against Bernard Hermann’s evocative score, the “endless beginnings” of Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain reveals a continuous series of curtains opening.
  • Vertigo recounts three stories, allegedly based on postcard reproductions of Giuditta, a painting by Cristofano Allori; a photo of Lu Hsun on his way to deliver a speech at Kwanghua University, Shanghai, in 1927; and a photo of a jewel box made by Archibald Knox around 1900. No images appear; the viewer sees Tajiri’s narratives as written texts that scroll down the screen.
  • In Psycho, the photographic image of two women is evocatively transformed through subtle transmutations of gesture and movement.


(Two Women from Psycho)

Watch 30 seconds of Psycho

“On the surface, Rea Tajiri’s work reads like the standard deconstruction of appropriated popular media via text to which we have grown accustomed in the ’80s. But this is a work of remarkable evocation and resonance that counterpoints and complements the scores of Hitchcock films with ‘meta-narrative’ possibilities….In each, Tajiri ‘mirrors the mirror’—she departs from her own subjective perception rather than the original, and creates a new scenario.” —Michael Nash, Reconstructed Realms (Long Beach Museum of Art, 1989)



Sans Soleil by Chris Marker

Sans Soleil by Chris Marker is a 1983 French documentary on the inability of human memory and its effect on how history is perceived. His point is that history will ever be absolutely true because of the incapability of human memory to keep these memories “pure.” Footage from Marker’s travels to Iceland, Japan, Guinea-Bissau and San Francisco make up the entirety of the film. Marker uses the idea that time and hisstory is a sort of “vertigo” in that it is dizzying and uncertain. Hitchcock also presents the theme of the past and how it is dangerous to recreateit. Another work of Marker’s is La Jetee which also was greatly influenced by Hitchcock’s vertigo and the themes of time and memory.


Girardet and Müller’s “Phoenix Tapes”

Müller was already an award-winning filmmaker by the time he began working on his collaboration piece with Girardet, “The Phoenix Tapes,” which would be released in 2000.  The pair worked very well together, and would release ten more collaborative films by 2011.  The “Phoenix Tapes” is a series of six films, each focusing on compiled snippets of different Hitchcock motifs.  The first tape, “Rutland,” focuses on Hitchcock settings such as spaces inside houses, urban street scenes, landmarks (ex: the Golden Gate Bridge in Vertigo), and empty, eerie landscapes.  The second tape, “#2- Burden of Proof,” focuses on more material Hitchcock images, such as keys, rings, monograms, weapons, and notes.  These objects are all plot advancers in Hitchcock’s films, and illustrate the violence and treachery that follows the peace and beauty of part one.  Hitchcock’s fascination with the human psyche and Freudian psychology is highlighted in part 3, “Derailed,” which shows clips of restless sleepers, trains, carousels, and scared children.  The classic Hitchcockian depiction of odd or overbearing mother-son relationships (and in the case of Marnie, a mother-daughter relationship) is shown through clips in “#4- Why Don’t You Love Me?”  In the fifth installment of “The Phoenix Tapes,” “Bedroom,” relationships between men and women in bedrooms are shown, which include both scenes of harmonious pleasure, and  scenes of disturbing force and violence.  The last tape, “#6- Necrologue” shows images of people in various states of death and sleep.  By showing similar shots and subjects from various Hitchcock films in close succession, Muller and Girardet were able to explore and visually explain how Hitchcock made his films so instantaneously recognizable.  Repeated images and and similar cinematography echoes throughout all the film clips.  The two filmmakers also created a work of art in their own right, taking the viewers of “The Phoenix Tapes” on an emotional roller coaster of enjoyment and fear alongside appreciation of the visual composition of the film clips.



“Phoenix Tapes (Christoph Girardet and Matthias Muller, 1999).” Make Mine Criterion. 9 Aug. 2014. Web. 5 Dec. 2014.

Elsaesser, Thomas. “Phoenix Tapes.” Thomas Elsaesser. 1 Nov. 2013. Web. 4 Dec. 2014.

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.

Lovely Memories

Created by Laurent Fiévet in 2007, the most prominent aspect of this piece is a large mound of potatoes stacked so that they partially obscure a television set. This television plays montage in which parts of the film Frenzy is played. These extracts are of Brenda Blaney being unable to escape an armchair from which she cannot escape.

The potatoes and Brenda

Also in the exhibit is a swing that is positioned facing the screen. Visitors are invited to sit on it and even swing. However, should a visitor swing high enough – enough to be over the television set – the set switches scenes to a different montage. Extracts of pivotal and violent scenes from the film are presented and then introduced with a voice from the set with the word “lovely.” This is repeated multiple times, each time with different voice inflections to fit the scene. However, since these scenes are often visceral in nature, the voice tends to become increasingly aggressive.

The swing with a view of the initial screen

The new, more sinister montage

By having the exhibit be interactive, Fiévet is essentially putting visitors into the role of Robert Rusk, the necktie killer. The potatoes are a reference to Babs and how her body ended up in the bed of a potato truck. By having them partially obscure the screen, the piece reminds the visitor of the way Babs was hidden by something so mundane as a potato and that Rusk (or rather, the visitor) is so detached so as to liken a human to nothing but a vegetable.

Indeed, the visitor is sure to be unnerved, but when one activates the second montage, the identification with Rusk is pushed further. The swing takes effort to get over the screen, simulating the effort required to rape and murder Brenda. In addition, when the visitor has reached the peak of the swing, he or she is now over Brenda, highly symbolic of the relationship that Rusk feels he has with women as a whole. This furthers the identification with Rusk and is designed to make the visitor feel uncomfortable and unsettled.

Similarly, Hitchcock loved to unnerve his viewers and play with the concept of voyeurism. In this piece, Fiévet has taken the opposite approach and does not allow the audience to be merely a spectator, but rather, a participant in the act.


Alex Prager and Hitchcock

Alex Prager, born November 1, 1979, is an American filmmaker and photographer who draws inspiration from Hitchcock’s works with many references to The Birds (1963). 
Among the photographs she produced inspired by the film include a collection of photos she shot for W Magazine entitled “Spellbound.”


spellbound 2 spellbound
Prager also took a series of photos for an advertisement with Bogetta Veneta in 2011 that also pulls inspiration from Hitchcock’s film.
alex prager spring 2011 bog bog2 bog3
In addition to these, Prager also has an image in her own collection, The Big Valley (2008) entitled “Eve”
The inspiration is obvious in each of the photos.  The birds loom ominously and swoop similar to Hitchcock’s film.  They seem similar to the original film, obvious to our eyes that the birds were edited in after the photos were taken.  The women depicted are dressed in retro styled clothing with hair and makeup to match, with the exception of the Bogetta Veneta set.  The woman depicted in “Eve” is even wearing an ensemble similar to Tippy Hedren’s eau de nil green outfit from The Birds.

The Bridge (1984)

Victor Burgin’s The Bridge was made in 1984 it is a painting featuring the Golden Gate Bridge and a dead/dying girl.  It references Sir John Everett Millais’ Ophelia but more importantly for this course, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.  The Bridge is a painting that resembles the scene where Madeleine tries to kill herself by the Golden Gate Bridge. We also see the resemblance of Madeleine in the water to the girl in the painting.