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Sunday, 28 October 2012

Balancing Hitchcock

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

28 October

* Contains spoilers *

I will always make time to try to see a Hitchcock - as, broadly, with any film - in the cinema.

Often enough, it is a restoration, and the BFI has done a fair bit of that recently with his early films. There may be one screening (or a limited number), but one can usually hope to make it.

However, when the strand at this year's Cambridge Film Festival put on twelve films in the only eleven days that it ran*, there were inevitably going to have to be compromises, if trying to do all of them did not become an aim in itself, dictating that one could not see nearly as much of others' work. I therefore chose to limit myself to three (although, if domestic arrangements had permitted, I would happily have made an excuse to reacquaint myself with North by Northwest (1959)).

Vertigo (1958), I have already found time to talk about separately here, which leaves Blackmail (1929) and Marnie (1964), very different times, as we needed to be treated to piano accompaniment to the former. (Sadly, the festival web-site does not credit the pianist for his superb work, but I am able to name John Sweeney, because I have spotted his name in the programme (where I least expected it).)

I think that there may be similarities and preoccupations that I can identify, and, straightaway, is the fact that Hitchock is drawn to making the woman the criminal wrongdoer in all three films (whatever others may have done, it is her guilt and whether she can escape from it that is our point of attention): is Hitchcock giving us, deep down, what we want, or what he really wants (they may be the same thing)?

The contrast is with the Cary Grant figure, not just in NBNW, who is often enough a spy or a policeman (although, in the named film, he has to choose his allegiance, once he has worked out what is going on). I am just guessing, when I should really find out, that Hitchcock may have become influenced by, and even have experienced, the world of psychoanalysis that was so prevalent. Whether or not be believed in it, a film such as Marnie typifies the embodiment in Hollywood cinema of Freudian or sub-Freudian thinking and beliefs, for we are shown a young woman both shaped by her past and with recollections, which she cannot understand for herself, of what that past really means.

The scenes where Marnie ('Tippi' Hedren) relates to her mother (Diane Baker) - or, rather, doesn't relate to her mother, except on the most basic, human level - are almost too painful to watch: there is a torn, broken relationship, although the ties are there. The unfolding of the film tells us what really happened, why Marnie experiences what she does, and the forgetting that is usual in these films is here exposed by Sean Connery's dogged detrmination (as Mark Ruland) to find out the truth, because of the woman whom he loves. Revelation, redemption, renewal is almost the pattern.

In her book In Glorious Technicolor, Francine Stock considers, whether or not it was any more than cinematic convention, this prevalent presentation of one startling breakthrough in recollection or insight that will change everything (itself a sort of version of the American dream of anyone 'making it', and going from rags to riches, by suggesting that the transformation could be so strightforward and simple), which dominated this type of psychiatric or psychological film for a long time: the pattern, as she expounds it, is clearly there in Spellbound (1945), with, there, a male suspected of murder (Gregory Peck) and Ingrid Bergman as the psychiatrist who achieves the breakthrough.

Unlike the women in Blackmail, Vertigo, and Marnie, Peck's character is accused of wrongdoing, but is not ultimately guilty of it. Turning to the first of those, Anny Ondra (as Alice White) has left clues of what she did in self-defence, and they dog her for much of the film. When seemingly free of them, what Hitchcock clevely does is pull the rug from under us that there had been a common understanding, with her policeman boyfriend (John Longden), as to what was being covered up. It is too late, but what, maybe we wonder, will become of them, and what did he think that he was hushing up?


* Not to be critical, but this was more of a season than a strand, and I do wonder whether there might be scope for bringing some of them back together so that those who, like I, wanted to see films that may never appear can see some new ones, some maybe not so new.

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