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  • An Eye for Hitchcock
  • Elliot Panek (bio)
Pomerance, Murray. An Eye for Hitchcock. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2004. 306 pages, $22.95.

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In the introduction to his collection of essays from the Hitchcock Annual Sidney Gottlieb points out that as the amount of critical writing about the work of an artist grows, the signal-to-noise ratio of such information is bound to shrink. He sets forth several recommendations for reducing critical noise, namely, that critics should decenter Hitchcock studies by considering aspects of the political economic context in which the films were made. Critics are advised to maintain an openness in the field by encouraging new interpretations and a willingness to be critical as well as laudatory (Gottlieb 16, 17). There is little in the way of disapproval in Murray Pomerance's An Eye for Hitchcock. The author makes no bones about his adoration of Alfred Hitchcock's work. He considers context, and, by applying his technique to only six films, he provides the reader with a way of looking at all of Hitch's films rather than a closed, definitive explanation of meaning.

An Eye for Hitchcock is about theme rather than form (for those interested, Stefan Sharff's Alfred Hitchcock's High Vernacular provides in-depth Eisensteinian analysis of Hitchcock's style). It is a personal book in that, as Pomerance states in the introduction, it is as much about his recollections of and feelings for these six films as it is about the texts themselves. It has a flow to it that much Hitchcock criticism lacks. This flow can be attributed to Pomerance's implementation of the musical symphony as a structural model for each chapter, a conceit he recycles in Johnny Depp Starts Here. He carefully lays out the terms of engagement—no grand theories, no psychoanalysis, just close readings of six films in an attempt to discover what is so compelling about them.

This book isn't so much about Hitchcock as it is about six of his films—North by Northwest (1959), Spellbound (1945), Torn Curtain (1966), Marnie (1964), I Confess (1953), and Vertigo (1958). Other Hitchcock films are mentioned only in several too-long lists of instances of commonalities. These shared attributes are rather vague and tend to pervade society and cinema in general (e.g., films in which the consumer society is central on page 38, or war on page 66). In the introduction the author anticipates criticism that he is "finding what is not there" by reading a bit too much into the films. He's not so much guilty of that as he is of finding themes commonly found in much of Western drama only where he chooses to look, that is, within the films of Hitchcock (13). Pomerance doesn't claim to explain the sense-making processes of Hitchcock viewers; rather, he endeavors to become a part of that process. He is at pains to describe his work as one possible interpretation of a text that may increase the reader's viewing pleasure. One must approach this text as an adjunct to the film itself rather than an attempt to describe what audiences already see in the work of Hitchcock.

Pomerance gets personal, but not nearly as personal as (or "personal" in a different way from) Robin Wood in Hitchcock's Films Revisited. Wood's personal/political critiques are destined for revision because they offer a single set of meanings for Hitchcock's films. The [End Page 108] films resonate because they resist such pat explanations. They are not about a murder; they are about guilt. They are not about a class; they are about class. People can feel guilt for many reasons in an environment where there is any sort of dominant ideology. Class conflict is not limited to one continent or one era. The trouble with so-called personal readings of Hitchcock is that they do not correspond to the openness of Hitchcock's films. Such readings are ultimately as closed as literal interpretations. Pomerance avoids this single-mindedness. His revelations are suggestions rather than declarations.

Whether one views this approach as vague, noncommittal, and ultimately...


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