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Literature Film Quarterly (1991) - Women Watching Hitchcock




Review of "The Women Who Knew Too Much" - by Tania Modleski

In contrast with Robin Wood, though, who defends Hitchcock's directorial authority even as he explains Hitchcock's subversion of patriarchal authority, Modleski claims that a feminist reading of Hitchcock exists for the most part in spite of - and perhaps because of - Hitchcock's evident concern with mastery over the feminine in his films. Nonetheless, Modleski's discussion of Rebecca is a successful attempt to demonstrate how Rebecca "offers a striking instance of a film that follows quite closely the female oedipal trajectory outlined by Freud" (p.44)-pointedly taking exception to Bellour's generalizations about Hollywood's male oedipal preoccupations.\n Moving into a realm even more unsettling for male spectators is Hitchcock's Vertigo, in which male identity comes to be defined by the central character's identification with the woman he is obsessed with.


Women Watching Hitchcock

Tania Modleski, The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory. New York and London: Methuen, 1988. 149 pp. $27.50 hardbound; $10.95 paperback.

The project at hand in Tania Modleski's book The Women Who Knew Too Much is to reveal a feminist perspective from within the work of Alfred Hitchcock, building upon recent feminist criticism by Theresa de Lauretis, Susan Lurie. Robin Wood, and others, which searches for a silver lining to Hitchcock's clouded view of women. Modleski's study directly opposes the structuralism of Raymond Bellour, wherein he finds all Hollywood films serving male oedipal themes as "machines for producing the couple." She also questions Laura Mulvey's highly influential essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." which finds the female spectator of Hollywood films restricted to taking masochistic pleasure in the voyeuristic and fetishistic perspectives the male fantasy - which those films construct for (male) audiences. Instead, Modleski argues that Hitchcock's films reveal "a thoroughgoing ambivalence about femininity" (p. 3), a confusion which prevents them from being read simply as means of reasserting patriarchal dominance. In other words, Modleski finds that male authority is subtly questioned in Hitchcock's films, undercut by a clear, subversive message which gives women spectators a foothold from which to resist assimilation into patriarchal systems. Defining this feminist viewpoint is the task Modleski comes to grips with in The Women Who Knew Too Much. In contrast with Robin Wood, though, who defends Hitchcock's directorial authority even as he explains Hitchcock's subve...

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Rebecca Abbott, Sacred Heart University