Friday, November 18, 2016

Don't Just Peck—Feast Your Eyes on the Birds of Hitchcock and Klee

Illustrations accompanying "Hitch Puts a Bird on It: Paul Klee’s Influence on the Master of Suspense," my upcoming chapter in Critical Insights: Alfred Hitchcock, edited by Doug Cunningham.

Figure 1. Hitch, perfectly at home with one of his Klee's Strange Hunt

Masks in Twilight, Klee, 1938.
Unfortunately, Hitch’s first Klee acquisition proved impossible to track down. However, assuming the painting Hitch bought in 1938 was a recent creation, it could have resembled Masks in Twilight.

Hitch was a lifelong theater-goer, and many of his films, Murder, Stage Fright, To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest, to name four, explore the boundary between face and mask—presentation, representation and reality. Like the director, Klee also loved the theater, and that passion found its way into numerous illustrations and paintings. In this artist's hands, a mask can either be a disguise or a theatrical prop—a standard metaphor for appearances vs. reality. 

Considering Klee's at-times morbid humor, it’s a safe bet that Mask and Scythe refers to the Grim Reaper. Without seeing the piece, however, we’re left to imagine what it might have looked like—and why Hitch might have wanted to bring the painting into his home.

Figure 2. Strange Hunt, Paul Klee, 1937.

Figure 6. Odyssey, Klee, 1924. Collection of the Hitchcock family; black and white scan from Fatal Coincidences: Hitchcock and Art

Screen capture from I Confess, Alfred Hitchcock, 1953. Watch the full title sequence: following Hitch's cameo at :39, be sure to notice the interplay of the horizontal street signs and the upward-pointing architecture. 
Screen capture from North by Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock, 1959. Watch the full title sequence

Mural from the Temple of Longing, Paul Klee, (1922).

Eros, Paul Klee, 1923

Screen capture from The Lodger, Alfred Hitchcock, 1927. The rhythmic triangles in the title cards link the character Daisy (played by “June”) to the murders and the love triangle she’s caught in. The shapes loom larger in each successive appearance, echoing the impending danger she’s in.

Twittering Machine, Paul Klee, 1922. Turn the handle slowly and you might hear Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ show theme Funeral March of the Marionettes. Crank it fast and you’ll hear Bernard Herrmann’s furious soundtrack to The Birds.

Screen capture from The Trouble with Harry, Alfred Hitchcock, 1954. Watch the full title sequence.

Birds Swooping Down and Arrows, Paul Klee (1919).

A Young Lady’s Adventure, Paul Klee, 1921

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