Alfred Hitchcock: Immersed in Victorian Values?
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 25, Numbers 1-2, 1995
- p. 70
- Additional Information
Fyrie | Alfred Hitchcock: Immersed in Victorian Values? Robert Fyne Kean College Alfred Hitchcock: Immersed in Victorian Values? Paula Marantz Cohen. Alfred Hitchcock: The Legacy of Victorianism. The U P of Kentucky, 1995. (224 pages. Cloth, $34.95. Paper, $14.95) Ever since his death in 1980, the cinematic reputation of Alfred Hitchcock the British-born, Jesuiteducated , pear-shaped filmmaker remains indomitable. Beginning with his modest 1926 first movie, The Pleasure Garden until his final 1976 production, FamilyPlot, Hitchcock's photoplays have enthralled audiences everywhere with their scary, distorted, and macabre storylines. What is the reason for such esteem? Why have these titles become such staples with viewers? Is it the bloody shower curtain, an unceremonious fall from the Statue of Liberty, or the strangled woman bobbing in the Thames? Maybe it is the man-versus-biplane dual in the Prairie Stop cornfield, a sky darkened with predatory blackbirds, or a serrated knife protruding from someone's back. What, in essence, makes his stylized motion pictures tick? Look no further than his Victorian legacy suggests Professor Paula Marantz Cohen in her latest study of Hitchcock's fifty year career. Here was a man, Dr. Cohen explains , whose Victorian parents, living in complacent Britain , spent hours inculcating their young boy about family and moral life. Eventually, Hitchcock would carry these childhood teachings into cinema, "transformed them in the process, and then proceeded to transform cinema through the continued infusion of these values." In short, Dr. Cohen explains, Hitchcock's career attempted to balance the two faces ofVictorianism. On one side, the masculine notion oflaw and hierarchy vying against the feminine idea ofunderstanding and imagination. Why wouldn't he? Growing up as an overweight boy from the lower middle-class, Hitchcock experienced vulnerability and defensiveness during these early school days. Standing alone on the sidelines while his chums played ball was a frequent memory of the future director. Years later, he would order and shape the world to his specifications. He would recreate and thereby control the schoolyard from which he was excluded . Look at his films. Don't plot and action take precedence over feeling and relationship? Other points are, similarly, illuminating. Misogyny, feminism, irony, and patriarchy permeate many ofhis screenplays suggesting that Hitchcock's motifs reiterate his Victorian background. Likewise , film should only be defined as a visual and dynamic medium. Only use dialogue when it is impossible to do otherwise ; don't expect your actors to emote! Why should they? After all, Professor Cohen writes, Hitchcock's pictures were a reaction to the nineteenth century novels that employed descriptive language to foster vitality for their characters. Cinema, however, works as an antitheses, it reduces dependence on language. Overall, Professor Cohen has written an excellent study about a director who once bragged that "actors should be treated like cattle," and her careful research is laudable. With emphasis on the rise of the narrative film, the fatherdaughter relationship, the role of psychoanalysis versus surrealism , plus the auteur theory, her book offers much insight into the career of a movie maker whose moods vacillated between benevolence and megalomania. Indeed, this is a provocative study that offers a fresh interpretation about a man steeped in ambiguity. What was Alfred Hitchcock's legacy? Professor Cohen's book provides much information. 70 I Film & History ...