Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I Have Nothing New To Say About Alfred Hitchcock

I can think of nothing to say about Alfred Hitchcock that several million fans, critics, directors and writers haven't already said. Nothing. Not a goddamn thing. He's Alfred Hitchcock. It's like coming up with a completely new and original take on Casablanca and not some limping, half-clever, grasping-at-straws take, which this post is clearly headed for in a screaming spiral of despair but, rather, a fresh analysis that prior to this moment in time was undiscovered, undetected. Who comes up with that for Casablanca? Nobody. Don't misunderstand, I've read some excellent stuff on Casablanca, just nothing I didn't already know because... you know... Casablanca.

So Hitchcock. Yeah. Hitch.

It goes like this: There are very few human beings in world history who achieve so much in their chosen field in such an utterly magnificent and glorious way that a mere 30 plus years removed from their death the whole world is already saying, "What, him again? Jesus, okay, cut it out, will ya?" I assure you that most of us will saunter into an old age where our greatest achievement remains that time our Facebook status update got 27 "likes." ("Did you see that?! Did you? 27!")

But I digress.

So... Hitchcock.

It's an achievement on an extraordinary level to become so inundated with third-party analysis that even before your career ends another director who was formerly a film critic has already written a book about you. Alfred Hitchcock achieved all of this while never winning an Oscar for Best Director and having far too many of his greatest achievements not nominated for Best Picture. Go ahead and think of all the films that Hitchcock made in the fifties. There are some really great ones in there, right? Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest. Not a one was even nominated for the top award. Aha, ha, haaaaaaaa. Sometimes, it really is too easy to answer the challenge, "Okay, smartass, prove to me the Academy is full of morons!"

Why spoil that kind of achievement by rehashing the same old, same old? What new is there to even say? I suppose there's Hitch's foot fetish but that doesn't really get to the heart of anything, does it? Except to say that if you have a favorite actress and you want to see her stockinged legs and feet and never have and she's in a Hitchcock movie, you're in luck! Madeleine Carrol, Tallulah Bankhead, Carole Lombard, Janet Leigh, Tippi Hedren... hell, the only time I've ever seen Marlene Dietrich perform a number without shoes on was... oh yeah, Stage Fright. Christ, if he had to get the foot of a corpse in there by way of a potato truck, he'd find a way. And even make it kick the killer's face. Barbara Harris stepping on Bruce Dern's face? Give him a minute, he'll figure it out. But again, what's that tell us? Damned if I know.

I do know this: On the David Cavett show, he talked about the jokes he liked to play on people. They were gentle, victimless jokes but got to the soul of Hitchcock in a very strange but, for me, perfectly understandable way. He described one in which he was meeting a large group of people for a film wrap or perhaps a meet and greet for the start of a shoot. I can't remember, it's not important. What is important is this: He hired an actress in her fifties to show up dressed to the nines and sit at the head of the table. She began to talk to people like she was a duchess or something and everyone starting asking Hitch who she was to which he responded, "Oh, I don't know. She seems very nice and perhaps a bit delusional. Let's be kind and just let her stay and enjoy the attention." Damn I love this guy! There was no payoff! At no point did he tell anyone about her or reveal the joke in any way. The whole joke was merely for him to enjoy. I do that all the time.

I do enjoy the way Hitchcock knew that fans and critics had pigeonholed him into some nebulous genre grouping of, what, suspense? Thrillers? Something anyway and because they had crammed his talents into that hole he was pretty much free to do as he pleased. As a result, he could go from one experiment to the next, from a Rope and a Rear Window to a Vertigo and a Psycho without anyone ever thinking, "Wait a minute. The guy who did Notorious also did The Birds?!" Seriously. It's like the same director doing Star Wars and Hannah and her Sisters. I mean, they have nothing in common. Notorious and The Birds? Nothing. Well, except for the exit out the door at the end and the hero leading the distressed and physically beaten heroine to safety as the car drives off. And both cars drive off from catastrophe and imminent death to freedom, perhaps? And what's left behind is a horrifying mess of violence and brutality with no sense of remorse or empathy. Just pure, cold-blooded survival instincts. Okay, maybe they are alike and maybe, in the end, that was Hitchcock's genius. He could take a story and reexamine it in such a way that you'd think he never made this movie before, not once, not ever. But he did.

He made the same movies, over and over, because he never found the answers. The second an artist finds the answer, the art is dead. They didn't all work. Some were good, some bad. Some great, some pretty dull. Some of the later ones even felt like warmed over ABC Movies of the Week. But by God, when he did it right nobody did it better. I have nothing new to say about Alfred Hitchcock because his movies made everyone want to talk about him and them and by the time we reached the tenth anniversary of his death, it felt like we'd already talked him out. But we hadn't and we haven't and I'm wrong because, hell, it wasn't until a couple of weeks ago when I mentioned The Birds online elsewhere that I even thought about the ending of Notorious in connection with it.

Son of a bitch.