Monday, September 16, 2019

Understanding Hitchcock

Much of this month has been an enjoyable return for me to the world of Alfred Hitchcock.

What began this phase was seeing the 1946 classic "Notorious" again and listening to a commentary that explained the director's unique style, the way he turns an ordinary thing like a key into a bit of poetic cinema.   Here the combination of Cary Grant--elusive, attractive yet ambivalent--and the sensuous Ingrid Bergman and the way they interact is nothing short of perfection.  These two actors capture much of Hitchcock's own ambivalence toward women and sexuality.

I then ordered from Netflix the "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" TV series from the 1950s, which I dimly remember as weird and droll; I now find them little gems of writing, casting and acting, full of irony and that dash of black comedy that makes the work of Hitch so memorable.

I then found the 850-page biography by Patrick McGilligan a treasure of information on the way each film was made and, here and there, insights into the complex character of the Master of Suspense, who, the author notes, is much more than this: he is a master of style and of romantic comedy who deftly handled the censorship in effect in those days with great panache and a clear sense of control.

I admire Hitchcock the filmmaker for his thorough, detailed preparation of each script, his attention to details, including the hairstyle and costume of his female stars, his tact in dealing with actors and his overall wit and charm, even though his practical jokes could be bizarre and off-putting. 

I remain fascinated by how this shy, fat boy who always considered himself ugly made the most of his outsider status: he became the master observer, obsessed with visual space and film as an art form, even though his mind was on entertaining an audience.  Fear, of course, is what he has projected onto his millions of viewers, a fear that was heightened by a World War I bombing of London when he was 15 (more significant, apparently, than his Jesuit teachers or being sent to jail for a short time as a boy, a story he changed and exaggerated over the years).   Always shy, he came to love gossip and parties, and developed a comic persona that transcended the real loner and outsider.

McGilligan gives a detailed look at the preparation for the filming of "Psycho," which, along with the TV show, made Hitch a world-wide celebrity; he also gives attention to the other classics I love to watch again and again: especially "Rear Window," "Strangers on a Train," and "Rebecca" (because of Mrs. Danvers). I am still not as impressed with "Vertigo" as most critics seem to be, mainly because Kim Novak's character is not convincing.  She had trouble with Hitch, who adored Grace Kelly and never got over her marriage to the prince. He mistreated Tippi Hedren but in general behaved well with women, remaining faithful in his strange way to his beloved partner, Alma.

His psycho-sexual fantasy life, however, is another story, and the films that reflect his inner life are intriguing; maybe that's why "Psycho" remains at the top of my list of Hitchcock favorites.  Of his fifty major motion pictures, none won major awards, but a half-dozen are now recognized as major achievements in style.  I will always be grateful that he was able to overcome his shyness and become a great director, in part by his clever handling of producers and by his insistence on displaying his droll, understated wit while dealing with murder and mayhem.

The more I appreciate his films, the more I doubt if I will ever understand the man who made them. No doubt that would have pleased him.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Reaching Out

At least three times in the past few months, I've heard someone in business say, "I will reach out to X" to get the information needed.  In one case, the reference was to an official at Amazon.  Is this a new idiom promulgated by social media?

I would have said "contact," since I couldn't imagine wanting to reach out and touch someone at the IRS or FBI.  "Reaching out to" sounds too warm and fuzzy in the hard-edged context in which I've heard it used.  I have yet to see it in print.

I am always curious about how our language changes and why we say what we do.  I wonder about the origin of this new expression, if indeed it is new and not regional.  Maybe a reader will enlighten me.