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Showing posts with label Dr. Alex Brülow. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dr. Alex Brülow. Show all posts

Monday, 30 January 2017

Whatever you mean by calling something ‘sexism’, take a look at Spellbound (1945)

Whatever you mean by ‘sexism’, take a look at what Spellbound (1945) shows us...

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

29 January (last updated, 20 February)

Whatever you mean by calling something ‘sexism’,
take time to look at what
Spellbound (1945) shows us
[watched last year at The Arts, and since on DVD release]...

Our story deals with psychoanalysis, the method by which modern science treats the emotional problems of the sane.

The analyst seeks only to induce the patient to talk about his hidden problems, to open the locked doors of his mind.

Once the complexes that have been disturbing the patient are uncovered and interpreted, the illness and confusion disappear... and the evils of unreason are driven from the human soul.

Not necessarily always put in the context of what happened when her affair with Roberto Rossellini was made public (which Stig Björkman’s documentary Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words (2015) does well¹ [shown in 2015 at The Arts (@CamPicturehouse), and also at Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (@camfilmfest)]), Ingrid Bergman’s remark, about her career (as well as strongly-held disapproving attitudes towards her life), that she went from being a saint to a whore and back again is often quoted.

Even if Kim Newman [interviewed on the Hitchcock series of DVD releases] thinks of Spellbound (1945), unlike Notorious (1946) (where Bergman plays opposite Cary Grant), as more David O. Selznick’s film than Hitchcock’s, both have plenty to observe on how women are regarded (and they were written by / credited to Ben Hecht) : the latter has Bergman (in the role of Alicia Huberman) as a woman who is ‘notorious’, because of 'who she is' and 'what she does' (whereas a man need not be). As if marrying a man to spy on him were not enough to demonstrate her loyalty to anti-Nazi causes, she needs to prove herself worth Devlin’s (Cary Grant’s) love and respect (despite what is unjust cynicism, rooted in jealousy, on his part) - whereas the former’s Dr. Constance Petersen is, as a female psychoanalyst, actually seen treated with... no more respect.

At Green Manors, which sounds very formal and proper, is where we initially see her putting up with the attentions of Dr. Fleurot (John Emery), one of her fellow analysts, and who even has the nerve to kiss her to see whether he can interest her in him : this action is, of course, partly exaggeration for effect, the effect being both to show that her colleagues are boors (as we later see, when she has spent the afternoon with the presumptive Dr Edwardes, and has to listen to their condescension and mocking), and that Constance, somehow (and contrary to what the world will later criticize in Bergman’s private life), has not hitherto experienced desire for a man [which even Dr. Petersen's peers 'jokingly' want to see as frigidity, and, after the fake Edwardes has disappeared, Fleurot calls her the human glacier, and the custodian of truth : shortly after which Murchison says that Fleurot's colleague and he are offending by their callousness, and 'retain the manners of medical students'].

Hitchcock and Hecht both know that these are the public ways of the world then, that men think themselves so irresistible that they either scorn a woman for not choosing them, or force their advances on her by making her tolerate being kissed : in disguising this behaviour as the so-called battle of the sexes, neither is necessarily colluding with it, but it is in meeting the character of Constance’s psychoanalytic mentor, Dr. Alex Brülow, that the origins of her attitude towards her own sexuality become clear.

Centre shot, Dr. Alex Brülow (Michael Chekhov), casually waving a large paper-knife around...

Hearing Alex Brülow, played by Michael Chekhov, as a typical Germanic Jung-type figure², we may nonetheless realize, behind what he says, that he has always been sexually attracted to her³, but knows that he is so much older, and that her affections for him – as a teacher, and father figure – are different³ (though, as he sees it, she patronizingly thinks him incapable of seeing through her ruse of presenting JB and herself as on honeymoon, though they do not even have any suitcases, etc., etc.).

So, Alex tells her that he is glad that she is there to make his coffee the way that he likes [Cook me my coffee in the morning, and the house is yours, at which Constance, out of sight, grimaces], and he is keen to say things to the same effect that (as his friend Zannenbaum used to say) Women make the best psychoanalysts, until they fall in love - after that, they make the best patients, etc., etc., all of which is a clear indication that, all along, Constance has been behaving to please him, to be 'a good analyst'.

(The name implies being constant, after all – just as it does in Chaucer, in The Clerk’s Tale – but Ingrid Bergman does, as in Chaucer, stretch our credulity by the extent to which she is prepared to trust Gregory Peck, despite all the signs – put in her and our way – that he may be dangerous, and not worthy of her trust. Even Murchison, in the closing scene with Constance, says Charming loyalty – one of your most attractive characteristics, Constance !)

John Ballantyne (Gregory Peck), after Dr. Brülow has knocked him out with bromide

In essence, the sexism that Hecht and Hitchcock exploit most is that of Alex Brülow [we actually see Constance smile at the house detective at the hotel, who thinks that he knows ‘human nature’, and can read her as a librarian, or a schoolteacher, and is, later, irritated to have been deceived by his own prejudice as to who she was, and why she was there...] :

Alex has more than ‘mixed motives’, at least³, for wanting to discourage Constance in believing in John Ballantyne, but is passing them off as disinterested doubts. He is supporting her, despite them [he bluntly says, of her, Look at you : Dr. Petersen, the promising psychoanalyst, is now - all of a sudden - a schoolgirl, in love with an actor - nothing else !], because he does not wish to alienate her (and really hopes, as indicated at the end of the film, that she will be proved wrong⁴ ?). Of course, none of it is, in any sense, plausible, but we enter into it as in a film, where Salvador Dalí has been a contributor to a dream world, and where the psychoanalytic process can be ‘hastened’, and can do its work just with one night’s sequence of dreams ?

Unwittingly, we hear these origins alluded to on the train to Gabriel Valley, after they have left Alex. When Constance Petersen says the following words to John Ballantyne (Gregory Peck), he is distracted – as she eats – and becomes visibly more and more anxious, but she has faith in him, and so is not troubled : yet it is an insight, albeit underscored in this way by the man who sits opposite, into her nature, and how it has come to be, such that quite a short scene actually seems quite longer (and we then pass over how the night is spent, and they arrive the next day).

I always loved very feminine clothes, but never quite dared to wear them.

I’m going to, after this, I’m going to wear exactly the things that please me. And you.

Even very, very funny hats.

You know, the kind that make you look like you’re drunk.

Less plausible than any of the truncated dream-interpretation is that Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), knowing what he did to Dr. Edwardes and where he left John Ballantyne, leaves all of this to unfold before us – if we know the film, we see him make small touches that attempt to distance himself from Edwardes or what happened⁵, and yet they are not convincingly those of a man who must know that his best chance of surviving as head of Green Manors is by other than what he allows to happen, or does... ?

Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), ensuring that the note from 'JB' reaches Constance

Essentially, Murchison leaves it to the improbability of what we see unfold - just as the film would have us credit Constance that she is, all along, doing the right thing - and that he hopes to elude being detected by maintaining a poker face⁵, as at The Twenty-One Club.

End-notes :

¹ Though Björkman unobligingly does not properly name Bergman's non-famous initial or third husbands [and, not unusually, IMDb (@IMDb) cannot say who they are either], which is not the least of his film's flaws...

² In this fairy tale of a film (we believe it, because we do not know any differently), where psychoanalysts all sleep / live on the premises, and naturally ‘go into theatre’ when one of the patients has injured someone.

³ Yet is there a hint that Alex may have drugged Constance, as he does JB, and have had sex with her in the room in which she used to stay, and which she says looks different to her, now that she is there with Ballantyne-to-be… ? [Seeing them off to bed, Alex ambiguously says Any husband of Constance's is a husband of mine, so to speak... Near the end of the film, Alex has reintroduced Constance to Green Manors, and the physical intimacy is there between them once more. And, right in the closing shot, he has to reiterate this comment, and relinquish Constance...]

(Constance talks as if she know what she is doing, in such a situation, that the couch is for her, and the bed for Ballantyne – which is what we see. But what sort of fairy-tale notion of being a doctor to the man with whom she is in love has her believe that doing this is some sort of useful norm for such a professionally unacceptable position ? [If, just if, Alfred Hitchcock had ever meant us to forget for a second that this was Ingrid Bergman on screen, would he have cast her – and not someone relatively anonymous (though she was one of producer David O. Selznick’s 'discoveries', and so casting was pretty much settled) – to be utterly convincing as this psychoanalyst, who actually breaks (as far as one can judge) all the professional rules in the book ? !

When Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote Good Will Hunting (1997) (and both appeared in it, the latter as ‘Chuckie’ Sullivan), can we any more just take at face value that Dr Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) really is literally to be taken to represent even some sort of maverick psychologist – any more than Constance can be a practising psychoanalyst of any age, who has never been in love before, but falls for John Ballantyne (first, in the mistaken guise of Dr Edwardes) within a matter of hours ?]

Seemingly, the film was marketed in Italy as io ti salverò ('I will save you')

⁴ Alex wakes JB (Gregory Peck) roughly, just after Constance has pleaded with Alex, getting very close, face to face, and he has said that he will pretend that what he is doing makes sense, if she makes him coffee - very reluctantly, Alex drops her hand, as she goes towards the kitchen : You don't like me, papa, JB says, soon after Alex has engaged him in conversation. [In the dream-analysis, where Constance again momentarily looks away, Alex enthusiastically says, to her, If you grew wings, you would be an angel !, just after telling her that JB is the patient, and that You are not his mama - you're an analyst!]

⁵ When Dr Edwardes' secretary arrives at Green Manors, Murchison declares that the imposter has certainly killed the real Dr Edwardes, and describes his trying to take Edwardes' place 'to pretend that his victim is still alive' in these terms : This sort of unrealistic act is typical of the short-sighted cunning that goes with paranoid behavior. (And yet Murchison makes sure that Constance sees JB's note, and that her responses to Fleurot's 'callousness' are not overlooked, as if willing her to follow JB where he has gone...)

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)