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Old November 4th, 2016, 07:23 AM
werewolf2 werewolf2 is offline
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Talking What's wrong with Hitchcock's women?

What's wrong with Hitchcock's women?

Few would disagree that Alfred Hitchcock was a master film-maker, but the female characters in his films range from stupid to cunning to traitorous, complains Bidisha


Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren filming The Birds. Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive

Alfred Hitchcock, what a ladykiller. There he is, lurking with rotund grandeur at the very forefront of film greatness, like an over-zealous restaurant manager in a PG Wodehouse novel. There are lots of reasons to love Hitchcock, of course: the style, the guile, the pace, the pitch – I realised that afresh when watching a box set of all his films, in preparation for a talk at the Southbank Centre on Sunday. Hitch knows how to frame a shot. But when it comes to the ladies, it's slim pickings. Indeed that is literally what his women do: pick their way slimly through a range of awful experiences and deceitful pathologies so extreme you'd be howling with laughter, were the art of cinema not so very serious. There's the vamp, the tramp, the snitch, the witch, the slink, the double-crosser and, best of all, the demon mommy. Don't worry, they all get punished in the end.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The chief skill of the Hitchcock heroine is to lie, inflict and then suffer untold torments without ruffling her hem. If you want some full-on misogyny, rampant woman-blaming and outright abuser apologism, look no further than Marnie. Marnie is a liar, thief and all-round uptight frigid piece of trouble who is set up, blackmailed into a forced marriage and raped by her husband. She tries to kill herself. The husband subjects her to a private investigation – raping her past. Turns out Marnie's pathology is entirely the fault of another woman, her mother, who was a prostitute, of course. One night during a storm one of her mother's johns tried to comfort Marnie, because men who use prostitutes are such nurturing guys. The mother, silly thing, totally misconstrued it and thought he was molesting Marnie, so she went for him. And then Marnie, the daft little sausage, got all hysterical watching the ensuring tussle – and killed that poor sweet innocent guy with a poker. Anyway, once we get to the bottom of all this, Marnie has a brainwave and decides to make it work with her lovely young abusive, stalking, blackmailing rapist husband. Ah, happy endings.

Hitchcock's women are outwardly immaculate, but full of treachery and weakness. But, hurrah, he doesn't kill them all. He just teaches them a thoroughly good lesson. In North By Northwest, a seemingly never-ending adventure farce about mistaken identity, double-crossing and CIA agents, Roger O Thornhill (played by Cary Grant) is the innocent fall guy caught up in the life of lying, duplicitous, butter-wouldn't-melt undercover agent Eve. Underneath, of course, Eve's just another malicious featherbrain who got into the agenting business because she was flattered to be asked to betray a secretive ex-lover. I love that combination of stereotypes: we're stupid, cunning, soft-hearted and traitorous, all at the same time. Only in the mind of a true hater can these contradictory qualities come together in the nasty piece of work that is Woman. Anyway, silly girl, Eve gets found out, her life's in danger, she falls for the fall guy and winds up dangling one-handed over a ledge. Roger saves her.

In Rear Window, LB Jeffries (played by James Stewart) is a photographer recuperating from a broken leg, idly watching his neighbours from his window. One of them is a shrew, a nagging wife. She gets a shrew's comeuppance when her husband kills her, parcels her up and disposes of her in suitcases. Then he assaults Jeffries's girlfriend Lisa when she goes to investigate, although she's saved at the last moment. Rear Window's a strange, cowardly, mean film. It ought to be about the horror of witnessing a wife-killer doing his business. Instead, the subplot is about gratuitously bringing the loving, sincere and helpful Lisa down a peg or two – and then showing how (yep) untrustworthy she is. Played by Grace Kelly, Lisa goes from being a glittering socialite to a modestly dressed girl next door who's interested in camping. In the film's final moments, though, she slyly reads a fashion magazine when her beau's asleep. Because that's what women are, you know. Sly.

For a more serious message, look to The Birds. The Birds is a resounding warning about what happens when a flirty female tries to make a joke. Melanie Daniels, played by Tippi Hedren, is a prank-player and liar (of course) who tried to gift some lovebirds to the younger sister of Mitch, the chap she fancies. The entire bird world, chagrined to be the pawn in a devious woman's game, gets its revenge. Thereafter, it's women on the verge of a feathery freak-out, all the way. The message is that women (a) are all about men and (b) can't get along because they're so busy pecking and squabbling over men. Mitch's mum hates Melanie. Mitch's mum hated Mitch's ex too, but Mitch's ex loves Mitch so much she can't bear to live far from him. Mitch's ex hates Melanie and dies. Mitch's mum is so hung up on men that since Man No 1 (her husband) left her, she's gripped by fear that Man No 2 (her son) will leave too. Melanie's own mean mommy abandoned her family. All these neurotic females get the avian thrashing they deserve, in a squawking, Jungian free-for-all of throbbing birds and fabulous hairdressing.

Speaking of hairdressing, we must mention Vertigo, a sumptuously clad smackdown of female two-facedness. To cut a long but extremely well-dressed story short, a lying duplicitous woman exploits an innocent vertigo-suffering man, Scottie, by setting him up as a witness in a murder plot. This plot involves a man murdering his wife and making it look like a suicide prompted by mental illness. Shadowing the plan mythically, and providing a kind of psychological alibi, is the tale of the wife's great-grandmother, who killed herself a century before. In this infinite kaleidoscope of mad, sad, bad, super-styled women, only one thing is certain: she who lies, dies (although, come to think of it, the innocent wife died, too). The duplicitous decoy falls in love, as ever, with Scottie, the guy she's supposed to be duping. He gets his revenge by breaking her down and making her into the image of the dead wife. He makes her re-enact the murder at the top of a bell-tower – thereby curing his own vertigo, though the film isn't really about that. She gets what's coming to her and plunges off the edge after being startled by … another woman. A nun.

And now for the biggie: the all-encompassing Hitchcockian entity known as Mother. In North By Northwest the entire drama kicks off as the protagonist is on his way to send his mother a telegraph. In The Birds, lawyer Mitch lives with his mother when he's not working. In Vertigo, Scottie chides his ex for being too motherly towards him when she's helping him convalesce. And in Rear Window, Jeffries's therapist again plays a strongly motherly, advisory role.

I think it's safe to say that little Alfred had mummy issues. Nowhere are they more apparent than in Psycho. Despite its horror and suspense, Psycho is one of the simplest of Hitchcock's films because the central dynamic is so stark. It is also psychologically realistic, despite the ghoulish trappings. Rather than the flapping Jungian panic of The Birds, you have a Freudian, tight, Hamlet-like emotional model. The shower killing scene that everyone remembers – the one with the cheap plastic curtain – is just Hitchcock enjoying his favourite game of punishing a female thief and liar, in this case a woman who has run off with some money from her workplace and signed into Bates Motel under a fake name. The real drama happens later. Norman Bates loves his mother so much that he cannot bear her desire for another man. In a fit of jealousy he kills her, and her lover. He has never grown out of his childlike Oedipal rage and his bedroom is a creepy preserved little kid's room, but as he grows older his feelings are overlaid by a very adult and pretty commonplace misogyny. He is ashamed of his sexual desires and projects his self-loathing on to the women he murders. Instead of taking responsibility for murdering women, he blames another woman, his mother. He takes on her guise to inhabit her, literally to get inside her clothes the way a lover would. And he tells himself, in another massive act of projection, that in the murders he is acting out his mother's jealousy towards the women he desires.

At the end of my DVD viewing marathon I realised how revealing Psycho is. Norman Bates is Hitchcock himself, kidding himself that women are scheming devils and men are just innocent folk, acting up because they got caught in a tricky situation.

https://www.theguardian.com/film/201...-birds-bidisha

Last edited by werewolf2; November 4th, 2016 at 07:26 AM.
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Old November 4th, 2016, 07:38 AM
werewolf2 werewolf2 is offline
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Re: What's wrong with Hitchcock's women?

I have seen only one movie of Alfred Hitchcock - it is 'Blackmail' released in 1929. But if that one movie is an indication of his entire work, then Hitchcock is a highly over-rated film-maker save for the comedy he provides in his women-bashing.

The woman protagonist character in the above movie: It's hilarious.
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