Friday, January 18, 2008

Alfred Hitchcock: Repressed Homosexual? Sadistic Weirdo? Or Both?

Alfred Hitchcock Biographer Donald Spoto has (along with others) put forward a theory that Ken Mogg calls the "Hitchcock-as-repressed-homosexual line." The idea is that, using a handful of anecdotes from Hitch’s 80-year life, one could conclude that he was a repressed homosexual. Maybe. But Hitchcock seemed to be a bit more forthright about his sexual ambiguities. I'd like to suggest an alternative line: Hitchcock-as-expressed-bisexual. Here's a portion of Ken's first-rate overview of Hitch’s life in a Senses of Cinema article:

"To gay actor/screenwriter Rodney Ackland (Number Seventeen) [Hitch] confided: "You know, if I hadn't met Alma at the right time, I could have become a poof." There's no reason to doubt it. The facts bear him out. In particular, biographer Donald Spoto reports that the youthful Hitchcock read Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) "several times"; Wilde's "decadent" novel may be the single most important literary influence on the director's work. ... Hitchcock's astute "everything's perverted in a different way" probably derives from it. (Another of his favourite sayings, "Each man kills the thing he loves", is classic Wilde.)"

Oscar Wilde was, of course, gay. And Hitch’s deep interest in Wilde’s novel would suggest, at the very least, a fascination with homosexuality – from the perspective of a bicurious male.
In fact, to me, that one paragraph of Ken’s concisely describes a lot of Hitchcock's psychology – his expressed bisexuality, his acknowledgment of the universality of perversion (according to the then-standard view that homosexuality is a perversion) and his view on `killing the thing you love' that I feel is more accurately called `idealization as a form of hatred.' (More on this later.)

Patrick McGilligan's "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life Spent in Light and Darkness" notes that Hitchcock loved to regale reporters with ribald humor. All of this suggests to me that Hitch's psychological issues were not "repressed" at all. He put them on display for everyone to see.

When you consider his sexuality and overall character, Hitch’s humor deserves some extra attention. He was an inveterate practical joker. Sometimes his jokes were as harmless as putting a Whoopee Cushion under an actress’s seat. At other times, his practical jokes were very elaborate, as when he threw a lavish dinner party and served only blue food. Sometimes, as when he put ex-lax into a crew member’s drink and locked him in a movie soundstage overnight with no access to a restroom, he crossed the line. Based on some of his jokes (and other behaviors) that went too far, some have concluded that Hitch was a cruel and sadistic person who acted out in this way because of his supposedly repressed homosexuality. Maybe, but I doubt it.

Few other directors – few other people – have had their lives more closely scrutinized than Hitchcock. Yet, the hard evidence that supports allegations of "repressed homosexuality" or of real-life sadistic behavior is meagre. Considering that Hitch spent over five decades working in a milieu that included people who would "kiss and tell," such scarcity is noteworthy. Not only does he get a clean pass from the "official" Hollywood stories, but, to my knowledge, even the pulp magazines of the time that delivered sensational Hollywood news derived from innuendo, conjecture, hearsay and unreliable anonymous sources left him out of their pages.

With his power, connections and money, Hitchcock could satisfy any desire he wanted, whenever he felt the whim. Yet, it seems that alcoholism was his only vice. In my opinion, that's rather dull. (Then again, I suppose a biography titled "The Drunk Side of Genius" wouldn't sell all that well.)

I believe that Hitch quite likely had a narcissistic/borderline personality disorder. I would find a discussion along those lines to be very interesting. But disorders like this are commonplace! What I object to in Spoto and others are their exaggerated, sensationalized, singling out of Hitchcock as if he were some kind of monster. Hitch might have been a monster, but, by this criteria, so are many, many other people. Like Hitch said, "Reality is something none of us can stand at any time."

Ken's blog quotes biographer McGiligan’s conclusion that Hitchcock "was a normal guy, until he started losing his health." I think that hits just the right note.

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You have a great blog, I found it because my wife and I watching Hitch movies on TCM when your theory hit me.

So I googled Alfred Hitchcock bisexual and your page came up. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

You have a great blog, I found it because my wife and I watching Hitch movies on TCM when your theory hit me.

So I googled Alfred Hitchcock bisexual and your page came up. Keep up the good work.