Of Phobias, Philias and Manias.
Human desires, fears and identities reside in the head. Alfred Hitchcock knew it too well and attempted to render it on film, boldly much later in life as the censors re-calibrated their limits of interference. Like an adolescent boy diddling with the discovery of penile erection, he went hunting.
Self confessed facts abound about him; fear of anything authoritative, conflicting love for Alma Reville (wife) as well as his blonde leading ladies and a maniacal obsession with his craft; an artist of contradictions playing mind games with an eclectic sense of black humor.
If John Ford explored the American myth, Ingmar Bergman the existential dilemmas and Akira Kurosawa the inherent humanitarian values crossing swords with a traditional code of conduct, Hitch delved into the mind-space where nothing really exists yet all is sacrosanct because it defines our personal nature.
In the preceding century, as Sigmund Freud became the buzzword for psychoanalysis, everyone started believing the roots of our behavior emanate in our childhood and have a severe impact on our adult life.
Hitch made the connections and explored our philias (loves), phobias (fears) and manias (obsessions) like no other. Some of it has been summarily debunked but most is continually resurrected as the books and films on him bear testimony.
Rear Window (1954)
Restricted to a wheelchair from a broken leg,
our protagonist Jefferies has a fixated outward gaze of the surrounding world through the camera lens; an incorrigible voyeur as his profession (photographer) demands.
Discounting societal ethics he visualizes relationships on view in his neighborhood as avoidable metaphors of factual life; fractured relationships of lost souls. He sees;
Finding gratification in the miserable behavior of other neighbors, he only introspects when the fear of death is upon him.
Ignoring the real (his breathtaking girlfriend, Grace Kelly), he derives imaginary pleasure from what he views outside of his window underlining his scopophilia.
Unsure of his own masculinity from a supermodel girlfriend (who loves him) he suffers from performance anxiety to commitment phobia and guilt complex.
Hitch surreptitiously makes us, the film viewer, a collaborator in this “Peeping Tom” thriller, making us partake in his weird fascination. For honestly, at the end of the show, all film spectator-ship is also voyeurism.
For a film that has recently dethroned Citizen Kane as the best film ever made (Sight and Sound magazine), Hitch took a leaf out of Laura (1944) and obliquely sneaked into the forbidden metaphoric realm of Necrophilia (love of the dead).
In 1956, after losing his favorite (and ideal) heroine Grace Kelly to matrimony Hitch tried to create all his future heroines in her mould thus lending an almost autobiographical obsessive slant to Vertigo, revealing Hitch’s personal fears and anxieties.
When the acrophobic Scottie’s lover (Madeline) dies, he suffers a mental breakdown.
One year later while roaming the streets one day, he meets Judy. In a Pygmalion-esque twist, he convinces Judy to be carved into the image of his purportedly dead lover.
If he is mutedly sadistic in his approach, she surrenders to the transformation (below) by becoming a masochist signifying the wretched duality of penitent love.
Like the Grecian tragedy of Eurydice, the unlucky Judy lives and dies twice in a spiraling vortex of human frailties. And Scottie is sympathetic and reprehensible by turns.
Cautiously, a besotted Hitch also warns us of the futility of efforts to resurrect the dead. Let them lie.
Like Vertigo, this too deals with the loss of identity; personal, physical and psychological.
The absolute and outright remorse of oedipal complex, it is Hitch’s twisted Hamlet. Norman Bates kills the father figure (patricide), thus reinstating himself as the mother’s protector. Then, he proceeds to kill the mother (matricide) and buries her. Not done yet he disinters her grave and preserves her mortal remains (by taxidermy) in her favorite rocking chair.
And this is just the back story of the film, with another one of Hitchcock’s regular protagonists.
Not content, Hitch rewires and cranks up Norman’s head to become his own mother.
Then the homicidal mother (Norman in drag) kills whosoever she assumes interferes with their (mother and son) relationship, thus bringing completion to his paranoid schizophrenia.
These unresolved and twisted psycho-sexual gynophobic issues hounding a sexually starved transvestite man make Norman Bates a character or two to study in cinema.
Other than Norman, if the school for psychologists had an ideal training human specimen, the frigid Marnie would be it.
Hitch threw the mental manual at her. He traumatized the character with with pseudomania – an irrational predilection for lying and kleptomania – an unreasonable penchant for stealing along with a few others.
At age 63, Hitch developed a crush on the young delectable model Tippi Hedren and converted her into a star by giving her lead roles in The Birds (1963) and Marnie.
When his sexual advances were spurned, the director allegedly unleashed his creatively camouflaged fury on her. Whether it is fact or fiction, this is the subject of the controversial HBO movie, The Girl (2012).
And the second movie, Hitchcock – The making of Psycho (2012) is already out in the US, underlining his clout and undisputed position in the pantheon of great film artists.