Literature Film Quarterly (1991) - Through a Shower Curtain Darkly: Reflexivity as a Dramatic Component of Psycho
- article: Through a Shower Curtain Darkly: Reflexivity as a Dramatic Component of Psycho
- author(s): Edward Recchia
- journal: Literature Film Quarterly (1991)
- issue: volume 19, issue 4, page 258
- journal ISSN: 0090-4260
- publisher: Salisbury State University
- Sloan's Alfred Hitchcock: A Filmography and Bibliography (1995) — page 576, #1030
- keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Apartment buildings, Appointments & personnel changes, Bernard Herrmann, Conventions, Donald Spoto, Drama, Edward Recchia, Films, Frenzy (1972), James Naremore, Motion pictures, Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, Musical theater, Novels, Psycho (1960), Robert Stam, Robin Wood, United Nations, New York City, New York
Through a Shower Curtain Darkly: Reflexivity as a Dramatic Component of Psycho
...the convention of realism depends for its success on our forgetting that realism is a convention. So does every other convention.
Whether in fiction or in film, O'Faolain's dictum applies: the artist must trust us, the readers and viewers, to acknowledge -- usually by agreeing to ignore -- what Robert Stam calls "our necessary complicity in artistic illusion" (35). In 1848, for example. William Makepeace Thackeray could openly refer to himself as the "Manager of the Performance," about to raise the curtain on his novel Vanitv Fair; for he knew that once the performance began, his readers, schooled in the conventions of the nineteenthcentury mimetic novel, would willingly suspend their disbelief and accept his "Amelia Doll," his "Becky Puppet," and his "Dobbin Figure" as real-life characters caught up in the romance and intrigue of the Napoleonic Wars. Likewise, more than two centuries later, when Woody Alien disrupted the narrative flow of his 1977 film Annie Hall by introducing real-life media scholar Marshall McLuhan into a scene to comment on a fictional character's ideas, he relied on much the same convention that Thackeray did: an audience's implicit acceptance of the fact that it has a defined role to play in bringing a narrative to dramatic completion. The difference is that where Thackeray relied on his readers' willing suspension of disbelief. Alien depended on his viewers' willing suspension of belief.
That difference is not simply a matter of the time span separating the two works; it is also an indication that the two artists' audiences understood the narrative conventions of their respective eras and agreed to participate in them. As Stam comments, "All art has been nourished by the perennial tension between illusion and reflexivity. All artistic representation can pass itself off as 'reality' or straightforwardly admit its status as representation" (1). Therefore, to the nineteenth-century reader of mimetic novels such as Thackeray's, the authorial presence -- no matter how intrusive -- represents merely an opaque plane, a nominal barrier to be penetrated by the imagination as the reader moves into the fictional world created by the author's words. On the other hand, the conventions of modem art -- and particularly of modern film -- allow the plane that separates the audience from the work not only to be acknowledged but to help form both text and subtext. Modern film viewers -- at least the kind who watch Woody Alien films -- can comfortably switch back and forth between empathizing with the fictional storyline and interacting with the film as a film: as a medium that both reflects and affects the views that they, as social creatures, carry into the theater with them.
If, as Stam asserts, the modern film, like the traditional novel, has served as "a school for life, an initiatory source of models for behavior" (10), then when filmmakers like Alien incorporate reflexive techniques -- techniques that consciously destroy verisimilitude -- into their films, they are also demanding that their audiences acknowledge that films like the one they are watching exercise a significant formative influence on their own social attitudes.2 Therefore, when the reflexive film "points to its own mask and invites them to examine the design and texture" (Stam 1), it also invites the public to examine the design and texture of the premises upon which their own lives are built. Increasingly, then, filmmakers have intermixed "real life" with film "reality" to show that one is not necessarily separable from the other.
By definition, reflexive films tend to exploit this interrelationship in an obvious fashion, ranging from having a fictional character directly...
Notes & References
- ↑ The Short Story 148.
- ↑ For example. Nancy Pogel explains (4-14) thai although Woody Alien's reflexive techniques derive from the asides thai earlier comedians, such as Mae West. Bob Hope, and Jack Benny, directed toward their audiences. Alien's modem brand of reflexivity has a more significant social edge: "The developing self-consciousness in [Alien's] little-man character, because it is attached to his identification not only as spectator but also as Him critic, writer, artist, or filmmakcr. heightens the reflcxivily and defamiliarizalion of the Him to the point where the spectator is also forced into additional levels of self-awareness" (14).
- Narcmorc, James. Filmguide to Pyscho. Bloominglon, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1973.
- O'Faolain, Sean. The Short Story. New York: Devin-Adair, 1951.
- Pogel, Nancy. Woody Allen. Boston: Twayne, 1987.
- Schickel, Richard. The Men Who Made the Movies. New York: Atheneum, 1975.
- Spoto, Donald. The Art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty Years of His Motion Pictures. New York: Doubleday, 1976.
- Slam, Robert. Reflexivity in Film and Literature: From Don Quixole to Jean-Luc Godard. Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1985.
- Wood, Robin. Hitchcock's Films. New York: Paperback Library, 1970.
Copyright Salisbury University 1991