Monday, January 28, 2008

After MARNIE, Why No Blondes?

Following Marnie in 1964, Alfred Hitchcock went on to make four more films. Not one of them featured his classic "Hitchcock blonde." The closest we come to that familiar icon is in Family Plot (1976) – but those icy blonde tresses belonging to Fran (Karen Black) turn out to be a wig. Why? What happened to Hitchcock’s blondes?

Lately, Hitchcock scholars have been musing on the impact that Hitch’s falling-out with ‘Tippi’ Hedren during the filming of Marnie may have had on his life and on his later films. I think that the eschewal of his archetypal blondes is a direct result of that conflict. Hitch had picked Hedren from near-obscurity (he discovered her in a TV commercial) and groomed her to become an A-list movie star. Along the way, he developed a powerful crush on her. And then, as a result of an indiscretion on his part – the details of which only Hedren herself knows – they fell out; for the rest of the shooting schedule, they communicated strictly through third-party interlocutors. It can be hard to overestimate the feelings that he had for her – and the extent of the trauma that her rejection had on him.

Although it is speculation, I think that his troubled relationship with Hedren had a direct impact on how he made movies after Marnie. I’d like to explain why. But first, I should state my opinion that many of Hitch's films contain transparently autobiographical elements that reveal – if inadvertently or subconsciously – what was on his mind. (More on that later.) Viewed in that light, interesting details come to focus.

I'd describe Hitch’s post-Marnie dealings with his actresses and their fictional counterparts as possibly motivated out of shame: Hedren evidently called him out for some kind of inappropriate behavior and he was ashamed. He never again cultivated an actress the way he had done previously. While Donald Spoto has put forth his ideas of Hitch’s supposed repressed sexuality, I would say that following Marnie his repressed sexuality really settled in. And his treatment of women in his films changed. No more glacial blondes with molten emotions. Instead, he gave us the sensuous, dusky Cuban Juanita de Cordoba (played by German-born Karen Dor) in Topaz (1969) -- and for the first time in his film career, he killed this leading lady at point blank. He followed that with his most brutal rape/murder scenes ever in Frenzy (1972). I see these as expressions of his repressed sexuality played out in violent ways. (His earlier sadistic treatment of Hedren during the attic sequence of The Birds (1963) suggests to me that he was still in the idealization/devaluation phase I talked about earlier. He was still trying to "knock her off the pedestal." To my way of seeing it, the sexualized violence of Topaz and Frenzy speaks to a post-idealized state.)

Not that all of this was necessarily a bad thing -- for his art, at least. Remember that two of Hitch's favorite movies were The Trouble with Harry and Shadow of a Doubt – neither of which starred an archetypal "Hitchcock blonde." After falling out with Hedren, Hitch was humiliated, to be sure. But it also could have been a cathartic moment. Such exposure often is. The "predator" is both humiliated and relieved of his burdensome secret. Hitch could then return to other matters that interested him. I see his post-Marnie films as a return to another kind of movie that Hitch liked to make: one without a "Hitchcock blonde."

Topaz contains what may be further clues to Hitchcock’s psychological state. Check back in tomorrow.

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Daniel said...

Interesting. I hesitate to read films autobiographically, as so many people besides the director play important roles in shaping the final work of art. However, this predisposition seems unavoidable, especially when it comes to Hitch.

Rather, I would prefer to analyze why films featuring the blondes have become his 'classic' films (while so many other gems have languished in relative obscurity). He may have had an obsession with an idealized woman, he may have even committed it to film repeatedly (the makeover montage in Vertigo, Marnie as chameleon). But I just can't let it hinge on whether or not Hitchcock really did or didn't make a pass at Hedren. I think these films are, well, more important than the strange vices of the man who made them.

HDS said...

well i think that something more important between marnie and topaz occurred...Torn Curtain. im personally a believer that the spoto book is bullshit, and that a priest writing about someone else's sexuality is on its own pretty abstract.

however my point is that not only did tippi not work with hitchcock anymore, but he also lost a lot of his colleagues... not only to mention that universal had completely imposed upon him most of what Torn Curtain was (the leading lady, the script, the music, etc etc). vera miles herself was meant to play many more films then she did for hitchcock, but only played in a few. hitchcock also moved on from her. i dont see why everyone is recently trying to analyze everything to a ridiculous point (mainly the books about hitchcock).

Joel Gunz said...

HDS raises a valid question re Hitch: "I don't see why everyone is recently trying to analyze everything to a ridiculous point."

I don't know why everyone else is doing this - but I know why I am. I'll try to answer that in a couple of days.