Thirteen original essays by leading film scholars reveal the richness and variety of Alfred Hitchcock’s legacy as they trace his shaping influence on particular films, filmmakers, genres, and even on film criticism.
Alfred Hitchcock is arguably the most famous director to have ever made a film. Almost single-handedly he turned the suspense thriller into one of the most popular film genres of all time, while his Psycho updated the horror film and inspired two generations of directors to imitate and adapt this most Hitchcockian of movies. Yet while much scholarly and popular attention has focused on the director's oeuvre, until now there has been no extensive study of how Alfred Hitchcock's films and methods have affected and transformed the history of the film medium.
In this book, thirteen original essays by leading film scholars reveal the richness and variety of Alfred Hitchcock's legacy as they trace his shaping influence on particular films, filmmakers, genres, and even on film criticism. Some essays concentrate on films that imitate Hitchcock in diverse ways, including the movies of Brian de Palma and thrillers such as True Lies, The Silence of the Lambs, and Dead Again. Other essays look at genres that have been influenced by Hitchcock's work, including the 1970s paranoid thriller, the Italian giallo film, and the post-Psycho horror film. The remaining essays investigate developments within film culture and academic film study, including the enthusiasm of French New Wave filmmakers for Hitchcock's work, his influence on the filmic representation of violence in the post-studio Hollywood era, and the ways in which his films have become central texts for film theorists.
- Introduction (David Boyd and R. Barton Palmer)
- I: Psycho Recycled
- 1. For Ever Hitchcock: Psycho and Its Remakes (Constantine Verevis)
- 2. Hitchcockian Silence: Psycho and Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs (Lesley Brill)
- II: The Return of the Repressed
- 3. Shadows of Shadow of a Doubt (Adam Knee)
- 4. Psycho or Psychic? Hitchcock, Dead Again, and the Paranormal (Ina Rae Hark)
- III: The Politics of Intertextuality
- 5. The Hitchcock Romance and the '70s Paranoid Thriller (R. Barton Palmer)
- 6. Exposing the Lies of Hitchcock's Truth (Walter Metz)
- IV: Found in Translation
- 7. Red Blood on White Bread: Hitchcock, Chabrol, and French Cinema (Richard Neupert)
- 8. "You're Tellin' Me You Didn't See": Hitchcock's Rear Window and Antonioni's Blow-Up (Frank P. Tomasulo)
- 9. Melo-Thriller: Hitchcock, Genre, and Nationalism in Pedro Almodóvar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Ernesto R. Acevedo-Muñoz)
- 10. "Knowing Too Much" about Hitchcock: The Genesis of the Italian Giallo (Philippe Met)
- V: Theoretically Hitchcockian
- 11. Death at Work: Hitchcock's Violence and Spectator Identification (Robert Sklar)
- 12. Hitchcock and the Classical Paradigm (John Belton)
- VI: Modus Operandi
- 13. How to Steal from Hitchcock (Thomas M. Leitch)
- Notes on Contributors
The half century or so of Alfred Hitchcock's career spanned crucial eras in the history of world and, especially, Hollywood cinema: from the refinement of the silents' ability to tell feature-length stories with images in the years before the coming of sound; to the reconfiguring of film style necessitated by the conversion to "talking pictures" a few years later; to the refinements, both narrative and visual, made in the so-called Classic Hollywood text during the 1930s and 40s; to the advent in the next decade of wide-screen cinematography (which required further adjustments to "corporate" techniques); to the industry's accommodation with its erstwhile rival, television; to the changes in the marketplace that followed in the wake of the weakening and eventual abandonment of the Production Code in 1966.
Perhaps most important, however, Hitchcock's impressive oeuvre of more than fifty feature films reflects the constant (and often unexpected) evolution of cinematic subject matter and treatment, broadly conceived—both the kind of stories the cinema chose to tell and also the manner of their telling. The conventions of Victorian melodrama that held sway in his youth made way for a succession of modern forms and practices of storytelling to which Hitchcock responded in a strongly individualistic fashion. Thus Hitchcock's continually evolving approach to filmmaking, strongly influenced at the outset by German Expressionism, came to reflect not only several subsequent and distinct waves of realism, but also modernist and even postmodernist styles (the influence of the latter being quite evident in his last two projects). From his first silent features made in late-1920s Britain to his last post-studio production (1976) made in the United States, however, Hitchcock not only exemplified and reacted to changes in the cinema; he also affected the course these were to take. Of course, he was born too late (and arguably in the wrong country) to be an innovating pioneer on the model of a D. W. Griffith or Sergei Eisenstein. Yet like them, his film practice may be conceived as a dialectic that yokes entertainment and expressive forms of authorship. This instability of purpose and resulting rhetoric heavily marks his body of work and career. Specifically, any fair account of the medium's first century must acknowledge the many ways in which Hitchcock helped sustain and further filmmaking as a commercial enterprise—and as a respected art form as well.
It is thus hardly surprising that many aspects of Hitchcock's accomplishments have received a good deal of attention in recent years, as film scholars have focused their attention less on the idealism and master schemes of subject positioning theory and more on delimited historical questions. Chief among such developing historicisms have been more nuanced forms of auteurist inquiry that, avoiding the distorting excesses of neoromanticism, have attained a substantial popularity on the current critical scene, as accounts of the careers of well-known directors have proliferated. The occasion of Hitchcock's birth centenary in 1999 saw the publication of many important works, recalling the flurry of discussion his films received from the Cahiers and Movie critics nearly a half century earlier. Of course, the films, especially those made in Hollywood, have now been the subject of a constant stream of close theoretical and textual analysis for more than three decades. Scholarly interest in Hitchcock, we can affirm, is hardly slackening. In fact, his may well constitute the most discussed body of films ever made.
Because it has focused on him for the most part, however, this valuable criticism has generally acknowledged only in passing his impact on other filmmakers, on genres and fashions, even on the field of cinema studies as an academic discipline. It is an often acknowledged, but as yet largely unexamined, fact that Hitchcock's films have exerted, and continue to exert, a wider and more profound influence than those of any other director. One obvious sign of this has been that the term "Hitchcockian" has entered the international language of academicians and film publicists alike as a common way of referring to a certain kind of cinematic narrative characterized by heightened effects of "suspense," the much-debated concept that Hitchcock co-opted to describe both his designs on the spectator's emotions and his peculiar talent for engaging them. No other director has been accorded a similar linguistic honor.
How did Hitchcock come to wield the influence that he now does? The short answer to this difficult question is that Hitchcock had achieved a position of hitherto unparalleled preeminence for a director who was not also his own main performer (as in the case of Charles Chaplin). Hitchcock's prominence, at least in part, resulted for reasons beyond his control. Most importantly, changing critical fashions made his work more highly valued, often through the unsolicited sponsorship of strategically placed critics. But much of the credit for this achievement must go to Hitchcock himself.
The director-star who ceaselessly promotes himself as a brand name in order to market his films and solidify his place within the industry is a common figure on the contemporary movie scene. The prominence achieved today by many who remain behind the camera is arguably the most obvious sign of how moviemaking has changed its public face since the studio period, when directors, by and large, were more or less invisible craftsmen. Today, the director-star, above all else, plays an important role in the marketing of films, as the sophisticated are regularly guided in their viewing by the director's name above (or immediately below) the title. Associated with the New Hollywood of the post-studio era, such imprints of authorship are often (or often thought to be) reliable guides to subject matter, visual style, and themes. In any event, directors such as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, and Quentin Tarantino have become as well known and as familiar as the biggest screen stars of the current era.
Self-promoting directors, however, were also a discernible, if rarer and more problematic, presence during the Classic Hollywood period—from the beginnings of the studio system in the early 1920s through to its decisive transformation (some would say collapse) by the beginning of the 1970s. D. W. Griffith, Cecil B. DeMille, Ernst Lubitsch, and Frank Capra (just to take some of the most obvious examples) campaigned, with varying results, to make sure that their films were considered, within Hollywood and by its eager public, as decisively marked by their creative, personal touch. However, one director proved phenomenally successful in shaping his public image to commercial and critical advantage. That was Alfred Hitchcock, the British expatriate and renowned "master of suspense" (a title he may not have created, but whose use he certainly encouraged).
In his Alfred Hitchcock: The Making of a Reputation, Robert E. Kapsis demonstrates that a full-length book could indeed be devoted to Hitchcock's efforts at various forms of self-fashioning (efforts which were substantially aided, of course, at different times by well-placed others). As a mature artist in the 1950s and 60s, Hitchcock strove to cultivate his image with both paying customers and critics, particularly those in New York and Paris, who then had the power to take his reputation within the film culture of his era to a higher level. From the very beginning of his career in Britain some three decades earlier, however, Hitchcock aimed to establish himself as a commercially successful director in a national film industry subject, because of unstable market conditions and unsustained attempts at government support, to unpredictable oscillations between boom and bust. During his collaboration with producer Michael Balcon at the Gaumont British Picture Corporation, for example, Hitchcock began to specialize in the film genre that would become most associated with his career: the suspense thriller.
This genre offered him a number of advantages, and seizing upon it as a base of practice must be counted a wise and well-considered career move. Hitchcock certainly recognized that value of this early decision, for he sought to reestablish himself in this genre after the perhaps inevitable move to Hollywood. On the one hand, the thriller's literary connections might be seen as a direct appeal to middlebrow viewers, a reflection of the director's artistic interests. In the hands of Hitchcock and Balcon, the film thriller brought to the screen one of the most popular and celebrated forms of contemporary British fiction. For his famous sextet of thrillers made at Gaumont, Hitchcock adapted for the screen, among lesser known writers of the age, John Buchan, W. Somerset Maugham, and Joseph Conrad, an impressive trio of literary heavyweights.
On the other hand, the thriller form offered commercial advantages. Thrillers could be made effectively without the expensive production values of competing American "A releases." Neither high-priced stars nor elaborate sets were necessary for success at the box office. The form could make also good use of the stylistic elements that Hitchcock, in his first films, had adopted from the German cinema of the time, particularly the emphasis on expressive images that forcefully communicate without the need for extensive dialogue. Hitchcock's desire to have himself accepted as a director with "artistic" interests was served by such Continental connections—and more directly by his cultivation of the members of the British Film Society, whose meetings he began attending as his standing as Britain's finest director became quickly established by the end of the 1920s.
Working (though never exclusively) within the confines of the suspense thriller, moreover, Hitchcock could more easily concentrate or simplify his public image as a director with talent, associating his success with an infinitely repeatable form that was, in effect, "pre-sold." It was during the early stages of his career that he also fashioned another kind of image, the semiabstract line drawing of his unmistakable portly figure that he then used for decades as a publicity device (much like the advertising icons used to simplify the marketing of today's so-called "high concept" productions). Hitchcock would later seek to define his version of the thriller through complex, perhaps even contradictory, definitions, of its affect, just as his contemporary Sergei Eisenstein sought to do with his theory of a montage of attractions. Though seeking commercial success and the various kinds of stability it would bring, Hitchcock was eager to be known as a director of quality, on the model of his European colleagues in Russia, Germany, and France. Through his association with the "artistic" directors of the British Film Society, he sought to distinguish himself from filmmakers uninterested in being more than craftsmen.
Through his several publications in the popular press, Hitchcock sought to impress those who, like himself, believed that film was an art form, not just mass entertainment. But that art form "included" the notion of a presiding creator inextricable from the very materiality of the text, as Hitchcock's eventual practice of weaving an image of himself into each new production established. This game of "find the director," as Thomas M. Leitch has termed it, made every new Hitchcock into a puzzle to be solved, one that led viewers to look eagerly for the director's now familiar face and figure (a persona and image—perhaps we should say logo—that he had carefully crafted).
After he moved to Hollywood in 1939, Hitchcock, as Kapsis shows, continued these activities for the benefit of his new American audience, frequently discussing in radio interviews and journal articles his theories of suspense, while taking full advantage of the Hollywood publicity machine that was well-equipped to refine his image, increasing its box office appeal. During the 1950s, Hitchcock's specialization in the suspense thriller worked against any acceptance of his films as more than riveting diversion by New York critics such as Bosley Crowther, who had become enamored of social realist forms of filmmaking in the wake of the life-and-death seriousness of the Second World War. Identified as a genre filmmaker, Hitchcock was denied the cultural and intellectual importance of directors like Fred Zinnemann and William Wyler, who in films such as The Search (1948) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) were applauded for engaging directly with the difficult social and political issues of the postwar era. Hitchcock showed little interest in this trend—even his The Wrong Man (1957), despite its authentic documentary stylizations and studied deglamorization in the tradition of Italian Neorealism, is more committed to exploring the mysteries of individual psychology than the social themes it only hesitatingly raises.
But at this point in his career, Hitchcock was fortunate to be taken up by the critics/filmmakers of the French New Wave such as FranÁois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, and Claude Chabrol, who defended him as a master stylist and as a storyteller of intellectual, even spiritual depth, whose deceptively simple narrative surfaces were held to conceal the more complex thematic meditations of the committed moralist. As Chabrol and Rohmer put it in their famous 1957 study, which was the first book-length study devoted to him, "Hitchcock is one of the greatest inventors of form in the entire history of the cinema," and, not coincidentally, "an entire moral universe has been elaborated on the basis of this form and by its rigor." The enthusiasm of the French for a filmmaker whom they saw as much more than a popular entertainer was soon shared by Robin Wood, the most articulate spokesman for a new generation of British critics, associated with the journal Movie, who also valued visual style. For Wood, Hitchcock was a master of the "cinematic," in the sense that he showed great talent in communicating meaning visually, not relying overmuch on the script. However, Hitchcock was also a storyteller of extraordinary talent who created characters of psychological depth (in the literary tradition of E. M. Forster's advocacy of "roundness"), putting them in stories that test moral values.
In Wood's view, an important element of Hitchcock's artistry was that he was able to deeply involve the viewer in these stories of moral failing and (at least often) ultimate redemption. Thus, Hitchcock's films met the criterion of thematic seriousness advocated by noted literary critic F. R. Leavis, a major influence at the time. As a popular entertainer, Wood argued, Hitchcock even bore comparison with a more famous and celebrated English genius and crowd-pleaser: William Shakespeare. In his last years, Hitchcock continued to enjoy the good opinion of academic and journalistic critics (including that of more than a few who, like Pauline Kael, had been converted to a taste for his work). He also received honors of all kinds from those within the industry. When he died in 1980, Hitchcock was, beyond dispute, the world's most famous director. He had overseen the production of a justly celebrated body of work within the radically different institutional contexts of two national cinemas—and had succeeded as well in establishing himself as an artist to be taken seriously. Thus, it is scarcely surprising that in the years since his death, Hitchcock's films have continued to exert a profound influence on other filmmakers and on film culture more generally.
. . . and After
Because of theoretical developments on the critical scene, now is a particularly propitious time for recognizing and analyzing the breadth of Hitchcock's influence, particularly the connection between his films and those of other directors. Different ways of usefully understanding and anatomizing the kinds of connections that may obtain between texts have been taken up within cinema studies in recent years, as the theoretical work of Mikhail Bakhtin, Julia Kristeva, Harold Bloom, Gérard Genette, and Fredric Jameson has emerged to prominence. And yet such key terms as influence, imitation, allusion, and pastiche (which all connect, if diversely, to the more global concept of intertextuality) have rarely, at least in a sustained and detailed fashion, been deployed to describe the "reach" that the work of any director has attained.
During the last decade, cinema studies have witnessed the move, as Robert Stam characterizes it, from "text to intertext." This change of focus takes as its point of departure Bakhtin's central observation about language: namely that every utterance, in ways too innumerable to anatomize, responds to those that have come before, even as it is answered, in turn, by those that follow. What Stam refers to is the shift away from analyzing individual works (formerly conceived as discrete and self-contained entities) to the relations of different kinds that obtain between texts:
In the broadest sense, intertextual dialogism refers to the infinite and open-ended possibilities generated by all the discursive practices of a culture, the entire matrix of communicative utterances within which the artistic text is situated, and which reach the text not only through recognizable influences, but also through a subtle process of dissemination.... The intertext of the work of art, then, may be taken to include not just other artworks in the same or comparable form, but also all the "series" within which the singular text is situated. Any text that has slept with another text, to put it more crudely, has necessarily slept with all the texts the other text has slept with. Intertextuality theory is best seen as an answer to the limitations both of textual analysis and genre theory.
In its exposure of the artificiality and permeability of textual "boundaries," the intertextual perspective provides a powerful description of the textual flow that characterizes the cinema. Intertextual theory certainly finds a suitable object in the multifarious relations of Hitchcock's films to those produced by filmmakers who are in some sense "after" him. In its more radical forms (particularly those developed by Julia Kristeva and Roland Barthes), intertextuality describes the ground of instability and infinite deferral of meaning that characterizes all uses of language in defiance of any individual's attempt to fix the sense of what s/he says. In a more restrictive sense of the term, taken up particularly by structuralist theorists like Gérard Genette, intertextuality provides the tools for analyzing the various relations that obtain among texts whose connections are established by the maker's (or remaker's) intentions. It is this less global meaning of intertextuality that the contributors to this book explore, as they demonstrate that it indeed does provide, in Stam's words, "an answer to the limitations both of textual analysis and genre theory."
The present volume takes a first, collective step toward an assessment of the textual "field" that those who followed Hitchcock have created. Hitchcock's films have been remade (even those of his British period such as The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes), provided with sequels (as in the Psycho "franchise"), made the object of respectfully humorous parody (Mel Brooks' High Anxiety, for example, is a take-off on Vertigo and Spellbound), and been redone in complex gestures of repetition and rejection (Francis Coppola's The Conversation is connected to the Hitchcockian thriller in general and Rear Window in particular). All subsequent productions of this kind are Hitchcockian in some sense; that is, they belong to the textual field that Hitchcock's films have inspired—and they exhibit his influence in some way.
The thirteen essays in this book, all published here for the first time, explore various aspects of that field, commenting on the forms that directorial influence can assume. The concept "after Hitchcock" organizes this book in two ways: as shorthand for "in the manner of" (as in the French concept of aprËs) and as a historical signpost. Thus, the contributors to this volume have taken Hitchcock's career as an arbitrary point from which to measure the kind of textual reproduction that characterizes the cinema (and, of course, as intertextual theory has taught us, all forms of language). Most obviously, perhaps, such a heuristic reminds us that the cinematic present may always be understood by a glance backward (with the present text seen as containing, reusing, or challenging those of what Robert Stam terms the matrix in which it is situated). But it also positions textual production to be approached in the opposite direction, looking forward, as it were, and thus encouraging critics to ask interesting questions about both displacement (the rejection or transformation of models) and also succession (the installation of "new waves"). This makes a fundamental point about the role that Hitchcock (both the man and his texts) has played in film history. Thus, for the current generation of filmmakers, the famous director's accomplishments have been not only a source of inspiration or recyclable plenitude, but also at times a roadblock to individuation and growth into self-expression.
These opposed values of the Hitchcockian legacy are most famously (or notoriously, depending of your point of view) illustrated by Brian De Palma's engagement with some of Hitchcock's more celebrated films (and the themes such as voyeurism and misogyny that are often extracted from them). De Palma has often been thought a too-sincere admirer of the director he honored as his maÓtre with a series of controversial films that are ostentatiously in the Hitchcockian vein. And yet De Palma's career garnered a huge amount of attention because he so straightforwardly confronted the difficulties and opportunities involved in rewriting Hitchcock through simultaneous gestures of imitation and displacement. Viewers of Obsession, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, and Body Double are forced to retrace along with De Palma the paths back to Hitchcock's Psycho, Vertigo, and Rear Window, even as they discover that these paths finally lead to quite different destinations.
Such a critical perspective benefits from the pioneering work of Harold Bloom, who in his A Map of Misreading (which refines the perspective presented earlier in The Anxiety of Influence) makes a strong case for the oedipal nature of "belatedness," the sense that a new generation has of "coming after the event." If we substitute the term "director" for Bloom's "poet," then his description of the successor's artistic dilemma usefully describes those who are "after Hitchcock":
A poet... is not so much a man speaking to men as a man rebelling against being spoken to by a dead man (the precursor) outrageously more alive than himself. A poet dares not regard himself as being late, yet cannot accept a substitute for the first vision he reflectively judges to have been his precursor's also.
In A Map of Misreading, Bloom combines rhetorical and psychoanalytical concepts to anatomize the ways in which succeeding texts can be read as answers to those which have come before. The usefulness of such a theoretical model for analyzing the practice of Hitchcock's successors has just begun to be explored.
Across the films produced by the current generation falls Hitchcock's imposing shadow. Similarly, the essays collected here simply cannot avoid discussing Hitchcock even if their official concerns are elsewhere, thereby illustrating a central aspect of intertextuality: its multidirectionality, its de-privileging of what philologists once termed "the source." In his Palimpsestes, Genette anatomizes the different forms of "transtextuality," the relations that can obtain between texts, of which the most common—and important—is "hypertextuality." Genette's most important contribution to the current theoretical examination of these issues is to be found in his discussion of this transformative connection, the way in which what he terms "hypotexts" are turned, in a variety of ways, into "hypertexts." Unlike older source theory, the hypo/hypertextual perspective is relational, never reducing what is transformed to inert "material." Similarly, the contributors to this book all return to the director's films from perspectives that relativize them by refusing them the status of art objects that exist somehow "in themselves," as analyzable outside the textual field whose creation they enabled.
In other words, the essays in this book contribute substantially to the continuing evaluation and analysis of the director's oeuvre. In tracing the Hitchcockian element in films that are so different in terms of both narrative and theme, the essays often highlight aspects of the famous director's own work that previously have either been neglected or required further discussion. And, of course, the look forward from the end of his career inevitably leads back to a consideration of its enduring value, providing both new perspectives for analysis and also different frameworks for judgment.
This book does not attempt to survey the entire range of Hitchcock's influence—an impossible task for any single volume. What it does attempt is to offer close analyses of the director's impact on particular films, filmmakers, genres, cycles, and even study of the medium itself. The different essays have been chosen to suggest something of the diversity and range of Hitchcock's impact, and their subjects include Italian, French, and Spanish works, as well as other Hollywood films. The topics considered here range, in historical terms, from the classical Hollywood of the 1940s to filmmaking to the contemporary post-studio, postmodern era. And they vary in kind from a focus on individual films, such as Gus Van Sant's "imitative" shot-by-shot remake of Psycho, to the more diffuse effect of Hitchcock on the subsequent history of the thriller, and even to the prominent place his films and the theories about them have come to occupy within the field of cinema studies, generating texts that are not films but theoretical tracts.
Thus, the focus in this volume is not always textual, narrowly conceived. The connection between Hitchcock's films and political violence in the 1960s is examined, as is his importance in the formation of cinematic poststructuralism, particularly as seen in the writings of Raymond Bellour and Slavoj Zizek. From current theoretical perspectives, this volume addresses fundamental questions of authorship and authority, genre and nationality, avant-garde as well as mainstream filmmaking. Our hope is that we have demonstrated here that Hitchcock's hard-won prominence in commercial filmmaking by no means dissipated with his death more than two decades ago, but has been kept alive within cinema culture by the many who have fallen under the spell of his genius and enduring accomplishments.
“All in all, After Hitchcock is a readable and informative anthology that dares to present a different take on Hitchcock.”