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Hitchcock's Magic by Neil Badmington (review)
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Neil Badmington's Hitchcock's Magic is a fun, speculative study about why Hitchcock and his films have endured over the last several decades, while other canonical directors and their films have gotten lost amidst what seems to be a never-ending barrage of popular nonsense. Badmington introduces his work with a proud declaration: "When I was twenty-one years of age, I starred in Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur" (1). In actuality, he went to Universal Studios in Hollywood and had the pleasure of virtually "falling" from the Statue of Liberty, which led him to be thoroughly spellbound by Hitchcock. One of Badmington's greatest strengths is that while intricately weaving postmodern theory into his hypothesis about Hitchcock, his prose remains approachable. Hitchcock's films are so magical, he maintains, because of what they are as opposed to what theorists and historians impose on them:

Hitchcock's Magic keeps its distance from biography and psychoanalysis. My focus, instead, will fall upon the films themselves; more specifically, I wish to pay close attention to their textuality, to the flickering relationship that they establish with their viewers. If biography and psychoanalysis look through the films, I want to look at them....I want to draw out, through close attention to the signifier, how Hitchcock's films secrete an uncontainable undecidability, a playful plurality.


Thus he argues that Hitchcock cannot be placed into a single theoretical box, but remains accessible to all because of what is happening on the surface of his films (what he calls the signifier or the texts themselves); and by studying those surfaces, he hopes to do justice to their magical flare. Badmington, however, does not take into consideration the ambiguous nature of "magic," and the playful plurality that can also be appreciated through traditional biography and psychoanalysis.

Chapter One, entitled "Ps/zycho," uses Roland Barthes's complex text S/Z as a framework to prove that Psycho (perhaps Hitchcock's most memorable film) is one with "no absolutes, no fixed categories, no firm boundaries, even though the final reel attempts to label Norman as utterly different, clinically and legally remote" (44). Badmington continues:

Although the mystery is solved and the official judgment offered, the film secretes a chaotic, polluted, shifting alternative. The narrative is plural. The pieces of the puzzle will not stay still; they move without end, 'without warning' (to return to the words of S/Z, without respect for closure). The text 'is closed, but only partially.'


Badmington's conclusions are certainly viable when it comes to the text itself. He examines the "supernatural," the objects that we see and don't see, the shadows and circles connected to the film's ill-fated characters. And yes, the objects and the sounds and the "MarioNorman"persona (Badmington believes that Marion and Norman are linked together, hence MarioNorman) lend themselves to a much more "magical," pluralized examination of the text than one might expect; but, what Badmington does not do is recognize the irony that by using postmodern theory as a means of understanding the deceptive magic of Hitchcock, he undermines his own argument about plurality. In the act of claiming a plurality of readings, he discourages that plurality.

We recognize this negation as the text progresses. Badmington's second chapter entitled "Frame Tale: Rear Window and the Promise of Vision" lets us know that he is not looking at Rear Window as a film of "formal unity" but rather as inconsistent and incomplete (47-48). Badmington elaborates,

Perfect vision is promised, but then reeled away. The text draws audiences in with a glimpse of a glittering gift, but then withdraws what it offers. The circle is not quite complete. Vision is not whole. The viewer is not master. And here, in the maddening gap between promise and its delivery, lies the lure of Rear Window.


Badmington provides the reader with a lucid and illuminating analysis of the text, showing us how frames (not what is inside of those frames) are significant to our understanding of Hitchcock's magic. Badmington also reveals his own capacity to cast magical spells. He lulls his readers with accessible language, personal stories, and surface-level textual...

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