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Imperial Valley News (21/Dec/2008) - Female Influences on Alfred Hitchcock's Films

(c) Imperial Valley News (21/Dec/2008)

Female Influences on Alfred Hitchcock's Films

Hollywood, California - Much has been written about how Alfred Hitchcock’s leading ladies endured a tortured existence both on his movie sets and as characters portrayed in his films.

But if you look beyond the cinematic terror - cue pecking birds and crimson water circling the shower drain - you might find how reliant he was on women for many critical aspects of his life’s work, according to Tania Modleski, the Florence R. Scott Professor of English at USC College.

As part of a new USC grant program called “Advancing Scholarship in the Humanities and Social Sciences,” Modleski is researching women’s contributions to Hitchcock’s work - from storyboarding and editing to writing and costuming.

In her research, Modleski debunks the notion that Hitchcock’s films are based solely on his genius, and she sheds light on how current reports of his seemingly hostile relationship with women are oversimplified. As with most of Hitchcock’s work, she said, there is more than meets the eye.

“Recent books have suggested that he was very nasty toward women - a misogynist,” said Modleski, a four-time author with a background in feminist film theory. “It was much more complicated than that. He seemed to identify strongly with women and put male characters in compromising positions in his films.”

She cites the 1964 psychoanalytic Hitchcock thriller Marnie, starring Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery, and written by Jay Presson Allen, who is a woman. In one pivotal scene, the movie’s heroine is raped by Mark, her ex-boss who has trapped her into marriage.

During the scene, the camera zooms in on Marnie’s face, frozen with fear. With this camera technique, Hitchcock is able to emphasize how painful the situation is for the woman while significantly compromising the character of the man.

In addition to his treatment of women in films, Modleski examines his collaboration with women on the production of his films. She looks at the extent to which original storyboarding by a woman, art designer Dorothea Holt, dictated certain scenes; the prevalence of core psychological messages from feminine literature in his films such as Rebecca; and the extent to which Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville - an accomplished film editor in her own right - steered his creative decisions.

A shot in Vertigo, Modleski said as an example, was cut after Reville thought it made actress Kim Novak’s legs look fat (sending Hitchcock into a tailspin for fear that his wife didn’t like the film at all).

“There is so much female talent that is often overlooked. Hitchcock is always thought of as the sole author, but I know there were many women who contributed to his work. They should receive proper credit for helping him create ‘his’ vision,” she said.

Modleski’s research, which continues a Hitchcock dialogue she began with her 1998 book, The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory, will be completed in May.

In the meantime, Hitchcock fans will have to wait in suspense.