More Than Meets The Mogwai

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hitchcock: The First Forty-Four Films (1957)

I'm nearing the close of "Hitchcock: The First Forty-Four Films" (1957) by Eric Rohmer & Claude Chabrol. While covering and offering illuminating commentary over Hitch's Brit period (broken up by studio: The First Gainsborough Films [1923-1927]; British International [1927-1932]; Gaumont-British [1934-1937]; and Gainsborough-Mayflower [1937-1939]), these Nouvelle Vague critics and directors really excel and move from this obligatory coverage when contemplating the myriad ways Hitchcock's American period can be read and interpreted. Through including such intriguing concepts as their groundbreaking Catholic readings (later refuted by Robin Wood), Rohmer and Chabrol would set the bar high for scholars who would choose to write about and take on this esteemed, essential auteur.

Here's a brief two-paragraph excerpt from my favourite chapter so far -- "Figure and Number: STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951)":

“Hitchcock’s art, thrown into particularly sharp relief by this film [STRANGERS ON A TRAIN], is to make us participate – by means of the fascination exercised over each of us by a figure that is almost geometrically refined – in the vertigo of the characters; and beyond this vertigo we discover the essence of the moral ideas. The current that goes from the symbol to the idea always passes through the condenser of emotion. It is never a theoretic or a conventional connection. The emotion is a means and not an end in itself, as for example it is in the horror plays of the Grand Guignol. This emotion is on the other side of the form, but on this side of the idea. Because of this, it sometimes leaves us with both a bitter taste in our mouths and the sense of Unity which is the Unity of the world itself.

In the midst of chaos, the Unity is always discernible and provides a source of light that plays some of its most beautiful rays over the somber facets of Evil. Nature traverses this film from end to end – the everyday nature of festive evenings and sunny afternoons, but also nature with a capital N, or more exactly cosmos, a world spinning amidst other spinning worlds. Each gesture, each thought, each material or moral being, is the depository of a secret capable of explaining everything: and this light dispenses as much fear as comfort. The same principle on which the foundation of the world is based is simultaneously the principle that can preside at its destruction. We ask ourselves, as do the protagonists of SHADOW OF A DOUBT in the film’s closing moments, if the world doesn’t at times go mad. This idea, expressed in that film by words, is presented here in a concrete, irrefutable fashion. We are literally caught up in the maelstrom of universal gravitation. Edgar Allan Poe, the author of Eureka, has not been invoked in vain.

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Blogger Peter Nellhaus said...

I've been making a more concerted effort to watch some of the older films that I've previously missed. I finally saw Young and Innocent last week, which I found hilarious, especially when it had nothing to do with the story - such as the dinner scene where a young boy brings a dead rat to the table.

7:33 PM  
Blogger Aaron W. Graham said...

It's been awhile since I've seen YOUNG AND INNOCENT, but I recall liking it a lot more than JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK and SABOTAGE...and that's basically it!

Have you seen RICH AND STRANGE? That's always been my favourite of Hitchcock's British period, though I must track down MURDER! pronto, as that's the one that Chabrol/Rohmer seem to champion the most in that section of the book.

11:20 PM  

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