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Film Comment (1972) - Alfred Hitchcock: Lost in the Wood





In the past decade the "serious" or academic study of the cinema has at last achieved respectability, and film scholarship and criticism proliferate everywhere. It is, in general, matter for rejoicing, and what so many of us have, in our various ways, been working for. Yet the achievement brings with it attendant dangers, of which one concerns me here: that of the acceptance of received opinions. At this relatively early stage, the very concept of a "Pantheon" of directors seems to me premature and hazardous. When Andrew Sarris enshrines someone in his Pantheon, I'm sure he means this primarily as a provocation and a challenge (certainly that has been, by and large, its effect). And probably no-one has had a healthier influence on the critical scene than Sarris. His manner is forthright, but his assertions are never intimidating, and he never makes you feel a fool if you don't agree.

Yet the fact that an illustrious critic has named so-and-so a Pantheon director can, as the provocation loses, with age, its keenness to provoke, slip insidiously into the cultural heritage as a generally established valuation. Nor is the danger simply that of the unreflecting acceptance of over-estimates. The process does a disservice to the director himself, because the less an artist seems open to challenge, the nearer he is, not to the Pantheon, but to the museum. And there are numerous questionable valuations floating around that seem never to get challenged. An example close to hand: Sarris's two "Lubitsch in the Thirties" articles in recent issues of FILM COMMENT. The articles are based on an assumption of Lubitsch's importance which Sarris seems to consider it unnecessary to prove. Perhaps Lubitsch is a serious artist of major stature. But if it has been convincingly demonstrated anywhere, I have missed the demonstration. The best Sarris can offer is assertions, and they credit Lubitsch with little beyond "gourmet tastes." His articles serve only to confirm my suspicions that to mistake Lubitsch for a great director is like seeing no distinction between Mozart and Lehar.

With Hitchcock the position is obviously very different. For one thing, he is still a highly controversial figure about whom it would be absurd to pretend that there was unanimity of opinion. For another, he has been the object of much concentrated attention, and the subject of a whole series of adulatory exegeses, from Chabrol and Rohmer onwards. There is no lack of elaborated positions to attack. Yet the controversy is more apparent than real. The pro-Hitchcockians really have things all their own way, the opposition being mostly so disorganized and so lacking in depth and rigor that it seldom ventures beyond an uncomprehending reactionary view of Hitchcock as "mere" entertainer, craftsman, and "master of suspense" that ignores rather than answers his serious admirers. (The most striking exception to this is my ex-colleague Rupert Rathcoe, who has greatly influenced this article, which perhaps he should have written himself; he commits himself to print all too rarely.) The admirers have established beyond question that Hitchcock is some kind of an artist-rather, perhaps, as Hank Quinlan was "some kind of a man." Hitchcock's movies are too powerful, too intense, too disturbing, too thematically consistent, to be put aside lightly. Indeed, I have no desire to put them aside at all. I would even, with some hesitation, describe Hitchcock as-at least on not-too-frequent occasions-a great director. What I have doubts about is the nature and degree of that greatness.

If, casting about for a means of formulating my sense of the serious limitations and deficiencies in Hitchcock's work, I fasten on Robin Wood's book (Hitchcock's Films, A. S. Barnes, 1965), that is not only because, of the lengthier accounts, it is the most accessible (the two alternatives are both in French and still, regrettably, untranslated). I feel certain affinities, and even sympathy, with Wood's work, his apparent background, his critical assumptions, his sense of the need for values and serious standards-which could be summed up by the admission that I, like him, would feel honored rather than insulted by the adjective "Leavisian." From F.R. Leavis, Wood has inherited, along with his standards, a manner quite different from Sarris' in that it seems (though no doubt it wasn't entirely conscious) habitually calculated to intimidate; we are made to feel that, if we don't agree with him about Hitchcock, we must be very stupid. If my own tone takes on a Wood-like (defensive?) edginess at times, let the reader attribute this to the fact that, after re-perusing his book, I have something of the feeling of an insufficiently-armored apprentice knight approaching the dragon.

It is Wood's application of his "serious standards," something disturbingly equivocal in his sense of values, that bothers and teases me. At times, his specific value-judgments seem only to be relatable to his rigorous Leavisian standards by some curious and convoluted process of doublethink, so that one questions whether Wood's standards are as stable or defined as he appears to think them. His occasional comparisons of Hitchcock to Shakespeare are a case in point. What exactly does he wish them to convey? He is careful not to be tied down to any definite commitment to the opinion that Hitchcock is as great an artist as Shakespeare. Yet one feels that, if Wood were compelled to recognize just how inferior to Shakespeare Hitchcock is, he would be forced to modify his whole account and evaluation of the films fairly drastically.

I shall return to Wood and, in particular, his chapter on THE BIRDS, where my dissatisfaction with him is at its most extreme. I want to begin by considering TOPAZ, a film on which Wood has not (to my knowledge) so far committed himself publicly, conceivably because it doesn't fit too well into the pattern he finds in Hitchcock's work. TOPAZ is, in obvious ways, atypical. No-one seriously regards it as a fully realized masterpiece. It is a startlingly uneven film, and its successes and its lapses, and the relationship between them, seem to me very revealing. Let us hope for some measure of agreement as to what the successes of TOPAZ are. First, the two splendid suspense set-pieces, in Copenhagen at the start and in the hotel Teresa about a third of the way through. second, a series of brilliantly played, precisely created, minor characters, mostly traitors of one kind or another, all in some sense displaced persons: the Russian defector, the Cuban betrayer of official secrets, the flowershop owner from Martinique who bribes him, and, above all, Philippe Noiret's superb Jarre (there is a similar roster in the equally uneven TORN CURTAIN). Finally, Karin Dor and the scenes built around her, especially the sequence of her death.

All this adds up to a substantial portion of the film-almost everything, in fact, except what is structurally its center. Against the scenes and individual performances where the film comes alive one must set the dead wood: Hitchcock's total failure with Frederick Stafford, Dany Robin, Claude Jade, and Michel Subor - failure with the actors, or with the characters they play (it is impossible to distinguish). The core of TOPAZ contains scenes of stupefying banality not only in dialogue and acting but in mise-en-scène and editing, so one can scarcely argue that the banality of the characters is deliberate or has expressive meaning. Hitchcock simply wasn't interested.

Hitchcock is fond of distinguishing in interviews between "pure cinema" and "photographs of people talking"-an opposition that sounds plausible until one begins asking just what he means by either. I would want to use such a distinction to single out dialogue scenes which are felt cinematically through the techniques of mise-en-scène and editing; an example of this might well be the Norman-Marion dialogue in PSYCHO. Yet I doubt whether this is quite the distinction Hitchcock wishes to make. What he means by pure cinema seems rather to be represented by those remarkable set-pieces of violence or suspense over which he takes such pains and in which he expresses such pride: the PSYCHO shower-murder, or the crop-dusting scene in NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Though far from conclusive, I think this suggests that Hitchcock's cinematic interests (at least the conscious ones) lie in, as he says, "putting the audience through it" by all the technical means of camera movement and montage at his disposal.

One can apply the distinction quite brutally to TOPAZ. The bad parts are, indeed, mere photographs of people talking-boring photographs of very dull people talking about uninteresting things. Hitchcock is plainly bored, and his boredom communicates itself irresistibly to the spectator. I don't think what bores Hitchcock here is bad actors, because in many of his finest scenes acting is scarcely the criterion. What bores him is the subject matter. The scenes in question are the only ones in the film where one is concerned with anything approaching normal life: the relationship between husband and wife, parents and daughter. If the central relationships of life have come to matter so little to Hitchcock the artist, to what does one refer the film's intricate thematic patterns of betrayal, its sense of the necessary impurity of action in an impure world and the resulting pervasive contamination-to what standards, to what norms? For the Stafford-Karin Dor relationship scarcely constitutes a norm. Its fascination for Hitchcock seems even to depend on the fact that, by its very nature, it can't.

Wood's book seems to me assailable at many points and from many angles. We may as well begin with the most obvious-not terribly important in itself, but symptomatic: his notorious defense of certain obtrusive technical crudities, the "back projection" (or, more accurately, travelling-matte), painted back-drops, artificial sets in MARNIE. Wood finds these (somewhat selectively) expressive. The travelling-matte "gives a dream-like quality" to Marnie's horse-riding, but "no sense of genuine release." It sounds convincing, especially if the reader is not too close to actual experience of the film. But surely such an audacious use of a dubious technical device must, to work, be consistent? Isn't Wood at all worried by Hitchcock's repeated cuts from Marnie riding through natural locations in long-shot to Marnie bobbing up and down on a studio contraption (as the scenery flies past her) in medium-shot?

Even if we somehow convince ourselves to accept that (in my experience-and, I would guess, were he completely honest, in Wood's-it takes some doing), what do we do with the similar shot of Diane Baker and friend during the fox hunt? Are they also to be seen as caught in a dream from which "no genuine release" is offered? Apparently not. Here, Wood tells us (hoping we'd forgotten what the travelling-matte signified earlier?), the effect is to make them look "stupid and trivial." Now, devices like this are simply too crude and intractable to be used flexibly: I question whether it can mean one thing for one character and another thing for another. There is just no way in which the director can indicate how the spectator, even with the best will in the world, should adjust.

But there is a deeper objection to Hitchcock's use of obtrusively artificial effects, especially if our understanding of their meaning depends on conscious recognition; and it is surprising that Wood, with his insistence on identification techniques in the films, never allows himself to become aware of the inherent contradictions in his position. Everyone I have questioned on the subject-and this includes people not particularly film-conscious-notices the painted sets and travelling-matte; and everyone finds them distracting and alienating. They cut quite against that total emotional involvement Hitchcock (the least Brechtian, surely, of all filmmakers) demands. Even if these crude devices could be shown to have, consistently, the expressive effect for which Wood argues at such (defensive?) length, they would still be indefensible in a Hitchcock movie, representing a totally alien aesthetic. I think they have to be accounted for in more humdrum terms. Hitchcock is clearly anxious to keep abreast of his audience's tastes (PSYCHO was perhaps ahead of them, and formative; FRENZY shows very shrewd judgment of fashion), but in some respects he is out of touch. He didn't realize, when he made Marnie, how sophisticated audiences had become, how quick to detect cinematic trickery. There may also have been budget problems; and, anyway, Hitchcock has always tended to prefer the security of a film studio to the hazards of location shooting.

I should add here that MARNIE is for me (as for Wood) among the most fascinating of Hitchcock's films. It occupies something of the position in his output that LOLA MONTÉS does in that of Ophuls: in both instances, leading traits in the directors' methods and styles are pushed to their extremes (or to excess, depending on taste). One may legitimately prefer more balanced and reasonable works, such as NOTORIOUS or LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, but if one responds to Hitchcock and Ophuls, one must feel admiration (qualified perhaps by a certain dismay) for the films in which they go all the way. MARNIE is the culmination of Hitchcock's concept of cinema as an artificially fabricated construct; it is also among the films in which one senses him most emotionally engaged. The paradox is only apparent: it is in the nature of Hitchcock's art that it is most intense when it leaves daily reality, the "normal," behind to explore unnatural relationships and extreme mental states, especially the obsessive-compulsive, in a kind of abstraction only cursorily disguised as naturalism. The more one recognizes its artificial nature, the easier it becomes to accept the awkward and often ugly technical devices-which is not quite the same as elevating them into triumphs of expressive artistry. The majority of spectators will continue to demand the illusion of naturalism, and on them the places where Hitchcock, probably through misjudgment, oversteps the bounds of the visually plausible will continue to jar.

To grasp the full nature of the artificiality of Hitchcock's cinema, one cannot do better than go to certain of his own pronouncements, reiterated in interview after interview. His all-out admirers always seem somewhat embarrassed by Hitchcock's interviews, feeling a need to explain the discrepancy between the way they talk about the films and the way Hitchcock talks about them. Two theories have been put forward to cover this: (1) Hitchcock is a liar; (2) Hitchcock is in fact unaware of the thematic or moral or metaphysical content of his own films, except on the most rudimentary level. The former was stated quite explicitly by Truffaut a long time ago in Cahiers du Cinéma. It always seemed implausible, and one guesses from his Hitchcock book that Truffaut himself no longer holds it seriously (or surely he would work harder at penetrating to the truth, instead of playing along so ingratiatingly with Hitchcock's usual anecdotal-cum-technical interview manner). Wood seems ready to accept the latter theory, describing Hitchcock (in the chapter on PSYCHO) as "a greater artist than he knows."

I think the truth may lie somewhere between the two, for a discrepancy between the films and Hitchcock's apparent attitude to them certainly exists. Hitchcock must have become aware, over the years, of the obsessive nature of recurring themes and motifs and situations in his work, and he may very well not want to go into it deeply. Thus his awareness of it remains vague and unformulated, and he continues to evade direct confrontations with it. Unlike Wood, I think this denial of full awareness does detract somewhat from Hitchcock's art. All great art depends for its richness and vitality not so much on subconscious impulses in themselves as on the artist's readiness to allow free intercourse between such impulses and his controlling, organizing consciousness. If the channels between the two are partly blocked, or if the subconscious urge can only get by intermittently or furtively, by means of some kind of subterfuge, then the art will to some extent suffer. Some such theory may help to account for the Hitchcock films that start marvelously, then go wrong half-way through: STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE WRONG MAN, TORN CURTAIN, and even, though far less damagingly, PSYCHO. In each of these, the action builds with great intensity and inexorable logic through a brilliant and disturbing first movement; and then Hitchcock opts out, evading the really disturbing issues and substituting much more superficial suspense pieces that largely lack the moral-metaphysical anguish of what has preceded them.

Yet Hitchcock's pronouncements deserve more attention than they usually get (certainly more than Wood gives them). If they leave the deepest levels of his films unexplained and unexplored, they throw a great deal of light on all those aspects that are fully conscious, the significance of which, for a just total valuation, the critic ignores at his peril. I would single out in particular two of Hitchcock's favorite interview set-pieces, both of which throw further light on his concept of pure cinema. The first is his repeated references to the Kuleshov experiment in which the same shot of the same actor was intercut with various objects or people he was supposed to be looking at, and spectators thought the actor reacted differently to each. So much of Hitchcock's montage technique, especially in suspense build-ups, clearly derives from this. Along with the obvious implications of the possibilities of cinematic deception, he has developed the subtler implication that the spectator "fills in" for the actor with his own reactions, which is the basis of those identification techniques Wood makes so much of.

The second is Hitchcock's reiterated boast (a most curious one for a film director) that he finds little to interest him in the shooting of his films because the real creative activity is finished with the completion of the shooting script. By then Hitchcock knows exactly what the film will look like, shot by shot-not only the dialogue, but every movement, every shot, every camera-track, every cut, is predetermined and pre-edited, and the rest is mere execution. This, of course, explains and partly counters André Bazin's dismay when he visited this great master of mise-en-scene on location for TO CATCH A THIEF and found that Hitchcock appeared to be paying almost no attention to the proceedings before the camera. I find the implications of all this extremely disconcerting-and disconcertingly compatible with my experience of the films.

Hitchcock's cinema contrasts most revealingly, perhaps, with that of Renoir or of Rossellini: indeed, one seems almost to be talking of two different art forms, radically distinct both in motivation and effect. What is so captivating about Renoir's best movies is the sense they communicate of superfluous life-superfluous, that is, to the matter immediately in hand. He can never restrict himself single-mindedly to what is necessary to express a subject or an idea, because he is too involved with life and with people, which means the actors in front of the camera as much as the characters they are representing. In the last resort, this superfluous life isn't superfluous at all, because it is the real subject of Renoir's work. Consider the function of cameramovement in Renoir-or in Rossellini. The camera, almost invariably objective, moves to exclude some characters from the frame and include others: there is a continual sense of a world out there beyond the confines of the screen, of other lives coexisting simultaneously, a world too vital and complex for the camera to contain. At the same time, although every artist in film guides the spectator's eye (and the mind behind the eye), the objectivity of presentation and the sense of a world rich in varied potentialities allow us a certain freedom of response, leave room for the flexible play of individual moral judgment.

In Hitchcock's films, I have the sense that such tendencies exist only in so far as they can't be suppressed-in so far, that is, as they are inherent in the nature of cinema, and of the camera as a recording instrument. Hitchcock's images contain nothing superfluous, and, for the most part, only the barest minimum of what is necessary: we see what he has decided we must see. His actors, apparently, get little encouragement in understanding and developing their roles; Kuleshov reigns supreme. Neither are we given much freedom of choice as to how we look at what we are shown. Everything is conceived and executed in accordance with the experience Hitchcock has ordained that we are to receive. It's an extraordinary, audacious concept of cinema, and I don't think Hitchcock has ever entirely realized it. Happily (in view of its dangers), it seems probable that it can't be realized, at least in the fiction film, very far beyond the degree of success he has achieved.

There are several reasons for this necessary failure and for the concept's aesthetic limitations.

One: an audience is a collection of individuals, who can be made to react in unison, as a mass, only to relatively crude, brutal, or simple stimuli, and maneuvered into identifying with generalized behavior-patterns rather than with characters.

Two: only a somewhat limited range of behavior-patterns lend themselves to Hitchcock's pure-cinema montage techniques. It will be clear that identification, in relation to Hitchcock, takes on a more particular sense than the word commonly carries. When we talk about identifying with a character in a book or film, we usually mean no more than that we endorse that character's moral viewpoint. But Hitchcock wants more than this; at least, his technique suggests he does. Indeed, his aims may necessitate (as at the beginning of PSYCHO) the systematic breaking-down of our moral preconceptions. Hitchcock wants us to involve ourselves emotionally with the character to the extent that we feel we are sharing his or her experiences directly. If the spectator is to identify as Hitchcock wishes, he must temporarily relinquish his free will, all his mental and moral independence, allowing himself to become passive and helpless. In such a state, to what patterns of behavior can he surrender himself? Only, I think, to conditions of mind that are themselves largely passive and helpless, characterized by obsessive-compulsive behavior and by an abeyance of the will. Nearly all those stretches of Hitchcock's films where the identification principle really works answer to such a description: REAR WINDOW, the first two-thirds of VERTIGO, the first half of PSYCHO (THE WRONG MAN, where the helplessness is more physical than mental, is a related case). The familiar technique of alternating shots of the actor and what he sees-with the camera tracking back from him, then moving ahead in his place, as if drawing him on despite himself-is evocative above all of a kind of mental and moral somnambulism, which it at once expresses (in the actor) and induces (in the spectator). The success of this particular technique depends very much on context, as Hitchcock proves every time he uses it inappropriately. It certainly doesn't help us to share experiences with Melanie Daniels in THE BIRDS, probably because Hitchcock's contempt for the character has communicated itself to us too strongly, and in both the delivery-of-the-love-birds scene and the sequence where Melanie climbs the stairs to the birds in the bedroom the proliferation of pure-cinema camera movements seems largely pointless.

Three: it appears that, apart from these obsessive-compulsive states, the only characters we can identify with in the Hitchcock sense are scarcely characters at all, just nondescript ciphers-like Sam and Lila in the latter half of PSYCHO. Wood says they are "mere projections of the spectator into the film," our means of seeing things and finding out things. This works all right when we are interested in what Lila is seeing (her tour of the Bates house), but it signally fails to help us over the several dead scenes, where we have to sit and watch Sam and Lila talking about what to do next and retrieving bits of paper from lavatories. We can be interested in characters; we can become identified with certain states of mind. But here we have neither. The identification principle collapses, and leaves us nothing to look at.

I would posit two levels on which Hitchcock is involved in his art. The first is very conscious, and is bound up with his preoccupation with audience response and the concept of pure cinema. From the creative viewpoint, it is highly abstract, and closely connected with Hitchcock's practiced showmanship on the one hand and his pride in the technical mastery of his craft on the other. The second level is much more obscure, very private, partly unconscious-and from it derives the genuine power and intensity of Hitchcock's cinema. The two levels are neither separable nor unified; the second frequently masquerades as the first, with Hitchcock converting his thematic obsessions into deliberate attempts to give the audience experiences. If I am right, then, this process of conversion could be explained as perhaps the only way in which the obsessions can get past Hitchcock's own psychological censorship. He evades having to explain them to himself by thinking in terms of "putting the audience through it." On the first level, his descriptions of PSYCHO as taking the audience for a ride on the roller-coaster or a ghost train are perfectly accurate. Not only the fascination with Kuleshovderived montage and identification techniques, but the apparent contempt for actors and for the whole process of shooting seem to me intimately bound up with this split between different levels, and the subsequent conversion-process.

Where Hitchcock might be forced consciously to confront the real issues underlying his films would be in the process of shooting, if he ever allowed this process to assume the prime importance it clearly has for a Renoir, an Ophuls, a Mizoguchi, a Rossellini. He would be brought, then, into close living contact with his actors as thinking and feeling people. He would be plunged daily into situations in which he could not render the essential creative process abstract-and in which all distinctions between "pure cinema" and "photographs of people talking" would very quickly break down. He has admitted that in THE BIRDS for the first time he resorted to improvisation on the set (notably in the sequence in which the birds attack the house in which the characters are trapped, surely the finest in the film), and he seems to have found it a disturbing experience. One guesses that there was no improvisation in FRENZY.

The lack of involvement with the actors is-indeed, musf be-also a lack of real engagement with the characters. For it is surely axiomatic that the characters of a film have no real existence on paper. They exist only in the flesh-and-blood concreteness of the actors' performances-not in the planning, but in all those aspects of mise-en-scène that can't be planned. If the performances of Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren in THE BIRDS fail to interest us, that is not something for which the actors can be blamed. Conceptually, the characters have rudimentary thematic interest in Hitchcock's development; but on screen Mitch Brenner and Melanie Daniels exist as little more than pretexts for sequences of pure cinema. If in THE BIRDS it is, as Wood would have it, "the value of human life" that is on trial, one can only object that the film nowhere communicates an adequate sense of that value. Indeed, to see the value of human life embodied in the characters and relationships of the film appears callous and irresponsible.

I am not saying that a sense of value cannot be implied through quite slight, even trivial characters. I am just doubting whether the realized intentions of THE BIRDS-realized in the movement of images on the screen-can be described in such a way. It is a question not so much of the characters as of the director's attitude towards them. On the level of plot and script, Madame de ... might seem scarcely more adequate than Melanie Daniels as the vessel for the communication of a sense of the potential value of human life; her adequacy is the outcome of the tenderness and respect with which Ophuls views her. Only one character in THE BIRDS is really created, with sensitivity, sympathy, and insight: Mitch's mother (Jessica Tandy), to whom one senses Hitchcock's interest gravitated at some point, probably during shooting.

THE BIRDS ought to have been Hitchcock's greatest film. It is seriously flawed-more than any other of his works-by the split between levels. One feels that here Hitchcock came very close to total seriousness, which would involve either the integration of the two levels or the rejection of the first and conscious acceptance of the second. But Hitchcock, for whatever reasons (commercial or personal), refuses to really enter into his people, and uneasily attempts to turn his two principals into mere pretexts for the exercise of pure cinema. Of all his films, it is the one where I sense him least at ease, most disturbed. He almost wants to make the kind of intensely personal statement associated with the so-called "art-house" movie-the equivalent of a PERSONA, possibly.

A part of the frustration of this impulse is doubtless due to his sense of entrapment in a commercial industry, in the necessity of producing a popular entertainment for mass audiences. He frequently uses his financial responsibilities as an excuse for compromise. I think one (perhaps unconscious) aspect of the creative impulse in Hitchcock is a desire not so much to manipulate his audiences as to assault them-to revenge himself for the sense of entrapment, and to blame them for the compromises he perhaps too easily accepts. It is THE BIRDS, significantly, that contains the most extreme and jarring expression of this hatred for the audience: the moment in the restaurant when the hysterical mother screams straight into the camera that "you" (ostensibly Melanie, really the spectator) are responsible for all the horrors. I cannot see that the crudely emphatic mise-en-scène here can be interpreted otherwise. Wood's treatment of the incident -on the principle of "Try everything and perhaps they'll swallow something"-is wildly unsatisfactory, mere intellectual rationalization after the fact that surely corresponds to no-one's actual experience of the scene.

But Wood's treatment of THE BIRDS is full of examples of a kind of critical sleight-of-hand. It all sounds so convincing. On the interpretative level (which often gets mistaken for criticism) it probably is-at least, I haven't seen a more plausible account of what the film is about. But Wood habitually practices interpretation as a screen for evading the real critical questions of value. I have heard him praised for "close reading," but his reading of THE BIRDS only gives the illusion of closeness.

He never really examines the texture of the film, or the quality of Hitchcock's involvement in what is actually on the screen. A general insensitivity to film style-to the art of mise-en-scène to which he pays such assiduous lip-service-is Wood's great weakness as a critic. His recent work (the article on Tourneur in a recent FILM COMMENT, and the little book on the APU Trilogy) suggests that he is himself becoming aware of the deficiency at last and trying to remedy it, though both pieces are flawed by minor inaccuracies, even at points where he is making a great show of precision.

Wood's chapter on THE BIRDS shows a disconcerting readiness to take the (supposed) will for the deed. In his analysis, for example, Cathy Brenner (Mitch's young sister) emerges as some kind of unspoiled natural-intuitive force that "puts the pattern of relationships in a slightly new perspective." Yet the performance I actually see on the screen strikes me as quite banal and awkward (Hitchcock's fault, not the child's). As Carl Brasher has pointed out to me, Wood attaches an importance to the use of children in the film which the realization nowhere justifies. The school, we learn, has the association of "education, of the growing and developing young, of the transmission of tradition and culture, hence of mankind's hopes." Well, I suppose it has, simply by virtue of its being a school. If we asked Wood just where in the film we look for Hitchcock's concrete embodiment of these admirable values, or for any sense that he cares about them, I suspect he would be able to point to little except the "Nicketty-nacketty" song (the maddening reiteration of one verse of which may represent some abstruse suspense device, but sounds as if Hitchcock ran out of text and hoped we wouldn't notice).

These are not the trivial points they may appear. They indicate, again, that Hitchcock's prime interest does not lie in any presentation of normality, or in the definition of norms. The latter urge can be discerned in THE BIRDS, but only intermittently, through the top level of "putting the audience through it." It rarely, therefore, manages to reach expression in the mise-en-scène, in the actual give-and-take between actors, and between actors and camera, that appears on the screen. Remove Wood's imported values from the school sequence, and Hitchcock's treatment of the children as mere instruments for the practice of pure cinema begins to look pretty callous. He himself, one guesses, felt some uneasiness, because he signally fails to see the scene through to its logical and genuinely desolating conclusion: the street should have been strewn with bloody corpses. But such artistic truth would be too terrible to be compatible with this cinema for kicks.

Wood's view of Hitchcock depends rather heavily on what he calls the "therapeutic" theme of the films: characters led to purgation and health by their experiences, with the audience (through identification) sharing the benefits of the experience vicariously. It sounds splendid, and the films, examined rather selectively, offer sufficient support to give it plausibility. Yet one is left asking, "Therapy to what end?" Hitchcock is fascinated by the abnormal. If one were to list the performances in his films that most transcend the limitations of his pure-cinema pre-planning of shots and movements by achieving complete characterizations, the list would probably be dominated by Joseph Gotten in SHADOW OF A DOUBT (until Hitchcock opts for the simplicities of melodrama and turns him into a mere monster in the last quarter of an hour), John Dall in ROPE, Robert Walker in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, and of course Anthony Perkins in PSYCHO. Here one feels Hitchcock's imagination really engaged, and he can offer only the most meager affirmations of normality to counterbalance this fascination. Even Wood comments on the hollowness of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN; but isn't this also precisely where the creation of Sam and LiIa as more than "projections of the spectator" might have given PSYCHO another dimension? Normal life, for Hitchcock the artist, is always pretty empty. One fears that, once Marnie is cured, Mark (and Hitchcock) may cease to find her at all interesting. Her animal-like, vital qualities seem to be presented as the product of neurosis.

There seems to me one other major area to which Hitchcock's interest intuitively gravitates, and the pull is very strong. It is an aspect of his art barely hinted at in the British films, and the fact that it only reached free expression in Hollywood accounts for the decisive superiority of the American half of his career. The area is complex and difficult to define precisely. It can best be suggested by pointing to the most striking and haunting of the man-woman relationships in his films, and pondering their common elements: Uncle Charlie and Young Charlie in SHADOW OF A DOUBT; Devlin and Alicia in NOTORIOUS; Scotty and Madeleine/Judy in VERTIGO; Thornhill and Eve in NORTH BY NORTHWEST; Mark Rutland and Marnie; and the André-Juanita-Rico triangle that gives rise to the most intense sequences of TOPAZ. All are characterized by some form of romantic passion (in SHADOW OF A DOUBT-the earliest and least fully representative-hero-worship on one side and nostalgia for lost innocence on the other), rather than any realized sense of possible marital stability.

Beyond that there is perhaps no single element common to all, but several that recur and combine in various permutations: (1) the sense of the woman as mysterious, perhaps treacherous, perhaps unreal-the embodiment of a dream or an illusion (in SHADOW OF A DOUBT the roles are partly reversed); (2) extreme distrust, arising from a variety of causes but usually closely related to (1); (3) a strong sense of instability and precariousness, arising from inner tensions, outside dangers, or both; (4) attempts on the part of the man to dominate or control the woman; (5) the emotional coloring, if not the fact, evoked by the Oscar Wilde phrase of which Hitchcock is so fond, "Each man kills the thing he loves." He has quoted it in relation to both SHADOW OF A DOUBT and NORTH BY NORTHWEST. It seems to fit NOTORIOUS and VERTIGO at least as appropriately-and could almost be the motto for TOPAZ. NOTORIOUS-a film on which Wood offers little beyond a point about the two kissing scenes, borrowed without acknowledgment from Rohmer and Chabrol, and not even accurate when they made it-one of Hitchcock's most perfect works, already contains most of these elements, or variations on them.

It seems as if the very precariousness of these relationships is indispensable to the maintaining of Hitchcock's interest (as, for example, in TORN CURTAIN). The nearest thing to a major exception to this rule is the beautiful reunion among the trees of NORTH BY NORTHWEST, which helps make of that another of Hitchcock's near-perfect films; significantly, it elicits from Wood a more precise analysis of mise-en-scène and its implications than one could easily find in his account of THE BIRDS. But the reason why VERTIGO is so decisively Hitchcock's masterpiece is surely that there, and there alone, he pursues the tragic implications of this very romantic and inherently pessimistic view of life to their logical conclusion.

This theme-or complex of elements-is altogether lacking from FRENZY. If one places that film beside VERTIGO, the limitedness of Hitchcock's response to life and to human relationships is strikingly illuminated. In VERTIGO he allows free rein to the tragic-romantic side of his vision, the yearning after a higher reality that may be illusory and is almost certainly unattainable in life; in FRENZY he looks at things as (from his viewpoint) they are. The new film's great critical and popular success is to me not easily explicable, though I can understand why people might prefer it to TORN CURTAIN and TOPAZ. It is much neater, more tautly constructed, less uneven; only the Billie Whitelaw sequences, whose only distinguishing characteristic is their almost total superfluity, collapse into photographs of people talking, in the manner of the worst of TOPAZ. The film as a whole is somewhat denser in local observation than most recent Hitchcock, full of those "touches" (usually comic) for which he used to be famous. In some respects, the return to England seems to have been for him a return to the emotional climate, and minor merits, of his British films. Hitchcock, conscious that since THE BIRDS his prestige and box-office power have been slipping, has clearly brought to the new film great care and concentration of a kind-the kind, unfortunately, that, while apparently satisfying his general audiences and more superficial critics, can be accompanied by an abeyance of self-criticism on the deeper levels. To me, the intermittent richness of TOPAZ is greatly preferable to the general aridity and occasional distastefulness of FRENZY.

It is his most cynical and disillusioned film. Much has been made of Hitchcock's return to London, of his affectionate rediscovery of the British character and British mores. The affection is there, but it is everywhere colored by the film's dominant sourness. On the surface, this takes the form of satirizing or undercutting some of the more obvious and obsolescent British values and manners (as Hitchcock was already doing, more good-humoredly, in his British films in the Thirties): correct dress as the supposed expression of correct morality; old-school-tie loyalty; and even that most sacred of cows, the hearty salt-of-the-earth British working-class Mum, whose heartiness has here produced a homicidal sex-maniac.

Beyond this, however, the cynicism is expressed in the whole treatment of human relationships and human potentialities. The marriage bureau (its achievements typified by the couple we see leaving it) emerges as a central image. "Everything's perverted in a different way," Hitchcock once permitted himself to say in an interview. This remark could indicate a tragic, searching view of life; in the light of FRENZY it takes on an air of complacency. No-one in the film is allowed much stature, or even dignity, except in the most superficial "British" sense. No-one, except perhaps the Anna Massey character, really cares or seems capable of deep involvement. Billie Whitelaw's remark to Jon Finch not to "playact" (in response to the news of his girl-friend's death by strangulation) seems almost risibly superfluous, since he is showing scarcely any reaction whatever. The only, rather flimsy, justification for the Billie Whitelaw scenes seems to be that they furnish the film with yet another empty marriage.

If one searches for some kind of affirmation, the best one can come up with is the relationship between Inspector Oxford and his wife. One can certainly agree with Hermie Wallack that Hitchcock treats this with "great affection"; the two gourmet dinner scenes are the most endearing in the film. But when that emerges as a human norm, is one not forced to reflect that something, somewhere, has gone seriously wrong? The Oxfords would seem to represent, for Hitchcock, the workable alternative to those disturbing romantic relationships best summed up by VERTIGO: a relationship built on the negative virtues of patience and forbearance, and the suppression of everything else.

Wood stresses the unpleasantness of Hitchcock, referring us to Eliot on Blake and his "terrifying honesty." Wood's argument-that the disturbing quality of many Hitchcock movies has positive force, to undermine complacency-has obvious validity. FRENZY is a reminder that there are different kinds of unpleasantness in art, and that they can often co-exist side by side in the same artist so closely as to be very hard to distinguish. In FRENZY Hitchcock tries to go one better than PSYCHO: this time two successive heroines-apparent get horridly murdered just as our sympathies (in so far as they are aroused at all) are gravitating towards them, leaving us with a problem of re-adjustment. PSYCHO survives the murder of Marion Crane because of our interest in and concern for Norman Bates; but when the Anna Massey character disappears from FRENZY there isn't much left, unless we are satisfied by a somewhat arid recapitulation of Hitchcockian themes. But the worst thing is that she doesn't strictly disappear. Hitchcock's treatment of the dead Marion was characterized by a somewhat ambiguous brutality. We could find the scenes in which Norman disposes of her body callous or terribly desolate. In fact, until FRENZY I (like Wood) hadn't questioned the purity of the effect. At least, in PSYCHO, Hitchcock didn't invite us to laugh as the body of the girl who had so engaged our sympathies was dragged across a floor, wrapped in a shower-curtain, stuffed into the trunk of a car, and submerged in a swamp.

Anna Massey seems to me clearly the most attractive character of FRENZY-plucky, loyal, forthright. I know that a dead body is just so much useless matter and it's no use getting sentimental about it; nonetheless, my sensibility revolts violently against FRENZY'S already-celebrated potato-sack scene. It sums up for me everything in Hitchcock that is morally most suspect. It's not just the callousness with which he treats the character, but the callousness with which he treats his audience, by cynically violating our sensibilities. Audiences with whom I have watched the film never know whether the scene is meant to be funny or not; perhaps Hitchcock isn't too sure himself. But I sense a kind of obedience in their uneasy laughter. The impression is that Hitchcock was amused, and we wouldn't like to lag behind him in sophistication, would we? So we laugh, too, thereby doing ourselves a moral injury and injustice in compliance with the Master's dictates. The dangers of pure cinema and its techniques of audience manipulation have never been more apparent. And don't tell me, oh brother and sister critics, that I shouldn't confuse cinema and life, and write about characters as though they were real people-because when you ceased to engage with movies at this old-fashioned human level, at that same moment you lost all touch with the way in which the audiences for whom the films were made experience them. You invalidated your critical position at the very moment when you thought you had purged it of impurities.

Doubtless this overstates the case against FRENZY, by isolating certain aspects at the expense of others. It has the distinction of which even the worst works of a great artist are likely to partake. For Hitchcock is, at his best, a great artist, if of neither the kind nor degree that Wood implies. His work is too far removed from any healthy concept of normality, or from any sense of potential norms, to have the kind of Shakespearean centrality Wood suggests. MARNIE is not, even remotely, The Winter's Tale; leave that to late Mizoguchi. The profoundly disturbing intensity of Hitchcock at his best-though remarkable in its way-is of another, and lesser, order.

George Kaplan, a retired government employee, teaches film at Archibald Leach Junior College in South Dakota.