Spatial world of (Alfred) Hitchcock's films: the point-of-view shot, the camera and `intrarealism'.
Generally, though, such spatial features have tended to be obscured in favour of the more well-trodden territory of the point-of-view shot. This orientation of a highly complex theoretical concept around a single camera technique is indicative of the central weighting traditionally attached to character perspective in point of view and its perceived role in effecting spectator involvement in classical narrative cinema more generally (the latter nowhere more so than in Hitchcock's films where POV shooting is often cited as a key strategy for implicating the spectator in a single character's viewpoint). Yet despite the substantial, somewhat disproportionate critical emphasis placed upon POV shooting, this technique has often suffered from a degree of over-simplification when enlisted in support of various theoretical approaches, its popularity generally stemming from the underlying assumption that, in enabling the spectator to occupy a character's literal viewpoint, it also provides access to that character's subjectivity.
The POV shot's perceived ability to build the spectator into a character's experience was accordingly construed by structuralist and semiotic film theorists as evidence of the way in which mainstream narrative cinema functions hegemonically to inscribe the spectator into a fixed, dominant ideological position. According to suture theory, for example, this strategy of assigning ownership of the camera's field of view to a character within the fiction was a key device for distracting the spectator from an awareness that such a view is, in fact, controlled and authored by a presence outside of the frame (`the absent one'). The POV shot's function was, then, to `suture' its audience into an illusory sense of oneness with the film world, thereby effacing the very operations and mechanisms by which such effects were achieved (see, for example, Daniel Dayan, `The Tutor-Code of Classical Cinema', in Bill Nichols, ed., Movies and Methods: Vol. 1, University of California Press, London, 1976, pp.438-51). As William Rothman proceeded to point out in `Against "The System of Suture"' (again in Nichols, ed., 1976, pp.451-59), such an approach took no account of the viewer's ability to read the POV shot quite knowingly as a convention (as opposed to being duped into naively accepting the character as the fallacious author of the shot). The possibility that the dominant ideology may, in any case, be subject to critique by the film and/or resistance by the spectator was also ignored, as was the issue of how the POV shot functions within its overall filmic context.
The tenuousness of suture theory's basic premise is evident when one considers a sequence such as that in Notorious where Alicia snoops outside of her bedroom door in an attempt to overhear Alex's altercation with his mother as he tries to obtain the household keys from her. Having employed a conventional POV sequence, whereby the camera cuts repeatedly from a shot of Alicia listening intently to a view of Madame Sebastian's closed door, Hitchcock then confounds this logic on the third such occasion. Hence, Alex is shown emerging from his mother's room from what still appears to be Alicia's point of view (thereby creating a momentary jab of anxiety at the prospect of him discovering her spying), only for it to be revealed that the shot is no longer a POV shot, Alicia having stolen away in the meantime. In Point of View in the Cinema: A Theory of Narration and Subjectivity in Classical Film (Mouton Publishers, Amsterdam, 1984), Edward Branigan also discusses how this sequence subverts our conventional expectations about the POV structure. Yet his own interpretation of its significance (considering it as designed to convey `a deeper understanding of Alicia's character and intentions--the state of her awareness', p.109) does tend to overlook some of its more radical implications. For what the sequence enacts, in effect, is a reversal of the suturing process, one whereby the previous assignment of a particular field of view to a character is subsequently prised apart, enabling the character herself to attain a rather surprising independence from the camera.
Laura Mulvey's highly influential theory that the point of view or look constructed for the spectator by mainstream cinema is male (irrespective of the actual gender of real audience members) constituted a particular feminist development of such approaches and one that inevitably invested subjective camera techniques with a newfound significance (see `Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema', in Bill Nichols, ed., Movies and Methods: Vol II, University of California Press, London, 1985). The monolithic, non-contextualized nature of Mulvey's psychoanalytic theory of mainstream cinema as patriarchal has, of course, been subject to much challenge and debate from various theoretical and critical quarters. Concentrating upon the text itself, Robin Wood argues that: `The construction of identification within a film is a delicate and complex matter that can never be reduced simply to the mechanics of "the look" (the look of characters, of spectator, of the camera)' (Hitchcock's Films Revisited, Faber and Faber, London, 1991, p.305). While acknowledging its role, Wood considers the male gaze to be only one of several factors involved in the construction of identification and demonstrates convincingly how, in Notorious (1946), it is the only one which privileges the male characters, all of the others favouring the Ingrid Bergman character instead. It is possible, I think, to go even further and argue that, in Hitchcock's films (which Mulvey uses in support of her theory), the male gaze itself is often shown to be inherently unstable as well as unconvincing as an identification device.
Such tendencies can be found as early as in the silent film Champagne (1928). There, the inability of the male gaze to control the female image is illustrated quite explicitly during the scene where the Betty Balfour character visits her fiance in his cabin as he lies in bed with sea-sickness. The subjective image of her that ensues from his point of view shows three versions of her head: two swaying from side to side in opposite directions, the middle one lunging towards him. In doing so, it conveys in very vivid terms this male character's sense of the threatening, uncontainable nature of her active sexuality (a clear demonstration of which had already been provided by her earlier gesture of flying out over the Atlantic in her aeroplane to meet up with him on board ship). Another emphatic instance of this occurs in Rich and Strange (1932) when the male protagonist, Fred, is shown unable to hold his wife's image steady within the frame of his camera viewfinder as he tries to take a photograph of her on the deck of a moving ship. Far from simply encouraging identification with the male protagonist's possession of the female via the active, controlling power of his gaze, the sequence invites us instead to witness a quite radical destabilisation of such control (and one which coincides with Fred being confronted by a rather more glamorous, eroticized view of his wife than he had hitherto been used to). If anything, the directly subjective nature of this particular POV sequence serves to distance us from Fred for, in showing his perspective through the camera viewfinder, it inevitably draws attention to the role of the film's own camera in mediating the spectator's view. In doing so, it renders visible the two `looks' that, Mulvey argues, the conventions of narrative cinema usually seek to efface and subordinate to those of the characters: `the conscious aim being always to eliminate intrusive camera presence and prevent a distancing awareness in the audience' (Mulvey, in Nichols, ed., 1985, p.314).
Rather than simply constituting a momentary loss of control, this sequence is quite typical, in fact, of the film's overall strategy of remorselessly disempowering the male protagonist of his privileged status within the narrative. This process of destabilisation is initiated right at the beginning of the film when, during his journey home on the London underground, Fred loses his balance on more than one occasion, such disorientation at one point causing him to grab at a woman's hat for support. After he is shown watching this female passenger fixing the feather dislodged by him back onto her hat, another POV sequence occurs where subjective alignment with the male gaze again serves to expose masculine insecurities rather than convey any sense of being in control. This takes the form of Fred looking first above the woman's head at a poster advertising `CLOTHE YOUR WIFE at GARRIDGES', then left to another inviting its readers to `Dine tonight at the MAJESTIC', and finally down to a male passenger eating a large, rather unappetising sandwich. Fred's subsequent show of distaste for this more mundane food consequently provides a very visceral expression of his sense of dissatisfaction and inadequacy in the role of breadwinner and provider for his wife. The sea-sickness sequence develops these tendencies much further. On this occasion, his more severe form of nausea prompts him to throw away his `phallic' cigar and then retreat (like his counterpart in Champagne) to the womb-like space of his cabin room, where he lapses into a totally passive state while his wife pursues an affair with one of her fellow passengers, Commander Gordon. Fred's failure to photograph Emily and thereby render her the object of his desire can also be contrasted with her ability to make an active inscription of her own desire via the same medium when, during a later scene, she sketches an image of herself onto a photograph showing Gordon sitting outside his home. Fred's recovery from sea-sickness is also swiftly undermined when, during his first reappearance on deck, he is yet again deprived of his `gaze' on being hit in the eye by a quoit thrown during one of the ship's games by a woman calling herself the `Princess'. Such literal blinding is quite clearly a symbolic one, too, and has the effect of discouraging any real identification with a character so oblivious both to his own faults and to his manipulation by this female. Such recurring losses of control over the male gaze consequently become symptoms of an unstable masculinity overall. This process culminates in the more total dismantling that occurs during the shipwreck on the return journey home when Fred regresses to a state of child-like dependency upon Emily who (in a vindication of Gordon's earlier criticism of Fred as `a great baby masquerading as a big, strong man') cradles her husband reassuringly in her arms.
It could be argued that both films' placement at a very early stage in cinema history is a crucial factor in enabling such subversive destabilisations of the male gaze to slip through `uncensored' before the patriarchal mould of cinema had been fully cast. Yet these visual motifs concerning loss of balance, impaired vision and dizziness find their ultimate expression at a much later stage during the mature American period via the famous zoom in/track-out shot used to convey Scottie's condition in Vertigo (1958)--the most extreme, central instance of subjective male point of view in that film that Mulvey's own account rather significantly ignores. Unlike Mulvey, Wood acknowledges the importance of this device, considering it one of the main techniques used to enforce an uncharacteristically abrupt audience identification with the male protagonist at the beginning of the film (Wood, p.380). Yet precisely what we are being forced to identify with, first and foremost, is a sense of the male viewpoint or gaze as something fraught with tension and out of control, the impact and memory of which must surely qualify the standard reading of the film as one wherein the spectator is tricked into an apparently `normal' identification with the male protagonist (as the possessor of the active, investigative look), only to discover the problematic nature of this two-thirds of the way through. In this particular context, I would tend to agree with Tania Modleski who argues that identification with the male gaze is problematized well before Judy's flashback (The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Film Theory, Routledge, London, 1988, p.87). Yet while, for Modleski, the vertigo shot `so viscerally conveys Scottie's feeling of ambivalence [`between a hypnotic and masochistic fascination with the woman's desire and a sadistic attempt to gain control over her, to possess her'] whenever he confronts the depths' (p.99), its role for the viewer would seem to be doubly ambivalent--encouraging, as it were, an ambivalence about Scottie's own ambivalent state of mind. The contrary spatial pull of the shot thus enacts the way in which our more conventional impulse to identify with the male protagonist is countered by an equally strong urge to draw back from too intense an involvement.
That such highly subjective techniques serve in all three films to problematize as much as encourage identification with the male gaze suggests a complexity to the POV shot that is rarely acknowledged. While Robin Wood is one of the few to question the common assumption that this device guarantees identification--arguing instead that: `In general, Hitchcock uses POV editing to clinch an identification that has already been solidly built' (Wood, p.308)--he does so in a way that tends to define it rather negatively, the implication being that if it doesn't necessarily produce identification then it doesn't do much else either. Daniel Sallitt takes a rather different approach to the POV shot, arguing that this tendency to define its role in relation to identification and character subjectivity is itself a misguided one(1) that overlooks its more important effect of installing the spectator directly into a film's narrative world:
Far from being a device to inflict the character's psychology on us, the point-of-view shot is somehow impersonal and remote from the character whose point of view is being used, as if our direct experience of a viewpoint would always outweigh our intellectualized inference of what the shot would make the character feel.... The point-of-view shot is a means of putting the spectator in some relation, not to the character, but to the film universe (Daniel Sallitt, `Point of View and "Intrarealism" in Hitchcock', Wide Angle 4, No.1, p.41).
In de-emphasising the importance of POV shooting as an identification device (pointing instead to `the realm of narrative structure and acting rather than in the realm of camera viewpoint for solutions to questions of sympathy and endorsement') and stressing its indicativeness of `a broader interest in a visual exploration of the film universe' in Hitchcock's cinema (pp.41-2), Sallitt advocates a notion of direct spectator involvement not necessarily dependent upon characters. In doing so, he challenges the oversimplified assumption (one often made about supposedly single viewpoint films like Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo) `that Hitchcock's films are in some way dedicated to a notion of psychological subjectivity, that the films examine reality from an individual's viewpoint which we are compelled to share' (p.39). Instead, the POV shot is seen as a means by which `to evoke ... the sense of a pair of eyes within the film universe, in some ways subject to the laws of the film universe as opposed to the laws of the film' (p.42). Sallitt coins the term "intrarealistic" to describe this effect and cites the use of extreme physical proximity of characters to the camera and the camera track-in device as two other key strategies used to create it. In emphasising a more phenomenological aspect of the spectator's viewing experience, Sallitt's approach avoids the opposite extremes of auteurist and structuralist theorising on the role of the camera. On the one hand, he counter-balances Rothman's view of the camera as a potent instrument by which the filmmaker manifests `his godlike power over the world of the film, a world over which he presides' (see Hitchcock--The Murderous Gaze, Harvard University Press, London, 1982, p.7) by emphasising its role as a function of the spectator's vision. Yet on the other hand, Sallitt doesn't proceed as far in the other direction as Branigan who, uneasy with such tendencies to anthropomorphize the camera, seeks to redefine it in such abstract, impersonal terms as `a reading hypothesis' and `a label applied by the reader to certain transformations of space' (Branigan, pp.53-4).
Certainly, it is possible to find several other examples, in addition to Sallitt's own, that demonstrate his theory. During the party sequence in Notorious, for example, the consistent exchange of looks between the three main characters (involving Alicia looking out for Devlin's arrival, Alex watching them together, and Devlin and Alicia both looking to see if he is watching them) illustrates `the frequency with which Hitchcock switches the visual point of view from character to character within a sequence' (Sallitt, p.39) without jolting the spectator. Similarly, the repeated shot showing the champagne bottles gradually becoming depleted but from different characters' points of view (consisting first of Alicia's, then Devlin's and finally Joseph's) provides both a variation upon this technique and an instance of what Sallitt regards as `the large number of point-of-view shots in which there is no importance attached to a character's psychology, or even in which there is no particular character corresponding to the point of view' (p.41). The significance of a shot like this lies, instead, in its cumulative effect for the viewer alone, with its suspense charge in fact increasing as the owner of the POV shot decreases in identificatory importance.
The most obvious challenge to Sallitt's theory is that it makes no distinction between objective POV shots such as these (to which his comments apply very convincingly) and the kind of highly subjective, expressionistic instances of it to be found in films like Notorious and which Robin Wood, in his discussion of the sequence where Alicia discovers that she is being poisoned, sees as the culminating devices used to signal the moment in the film when `our identification with Alicia, and with her experience of oppression, exploitation, and victimization, becomes complete' (Wood, p.309). The potentially very different effects that can be produced by these two types of POV shot are exploited quite clearly during the scene in Rich and Strange where the Hill couple receive a letter notifying them of their sudden acquisition of money. Whereas Fred's reading of the letter is conveyed via an objective view of its overall contents, Emily's is registered much more intensely and subjectively via an extreme close-up as she scans the words: `Money to experience all the life you want by travelling'. If the POV shot's function is to act solely as `a means of putting the spectator in some relation, not to the character, but to the film universe' (Sallitt, p.41) then, presumably, there would be no need to present the same letter in such contrasting ways, the effect of which (unlike the aforementioned shot of the champagne bottles in Notorious) seems designed precisely to signal the very different ways in which we are being invited to relate to each of these characters. Sallitt's view (quoted earlier) that `the point-of-view shot is somehow rather impersonal and remote from the character whose point of view is being used' proves quite inappropriate as an explanation of its role in the second of this pair, the whole purpose of which, in focusing only upon its most important message (to the extent that an artistic licence is taken by presenting on one continuous line what originally appeared on two separate lines of the page), is to reveal the impact of the letter upon Emily (rather than Fred, to whom the letter is ostensibly addressed). Sallitt's one concession that: `If we know anything about a character's psychology during a point-of-view shot, it consists of stored knowledge from previous scenes or shots rather than information gained from the shot itself' (p.39) is also at odds with the way that this particular instance of it serves to contest our previous view of Emily as outwardly contented in her domestic role by suddenly opening up a much deeper, subjective level of otherwise unacknowledged fantasy and desire on her part.
Yet the ability of this particular POV shot to encourage audience involvement with Emily's emotional state has to be offset against the rather different impact of the previously discussed seasickness sequence from Fred's point of view. The fact that two equally subjective instances of this technique should encourage such contrasting responses highlights the POV shot's resistance to any easy definition or classification. Based upon these two examples, it might be reasonable to conclude that our reactions are influenced by the very different kinds of emotions involved in each case: consisting of positive feelings of aspiration, fulfilment and success on the one hand, where identification occurs, and the more negative, debilitating feelings associated with nausea on the other, where it does not. Yet, clearly, this cannot be applied as a universal rule for in Notorious it is precisely the latter with which we are being encouraged to identify in Alicia's case (and in even more severe form). What such comparisons suggest is the need to distinguish, unlike Sallitt, between the subjective POV shot's fairly standard ability (by definition) to provide insight into a character's psychological state and the more variable uses to which such insights can be put by the films themselves. An awareness of this distinction is crucial when evaluating the ideological viewpoint of the films. The flexibility with which they are able to use the same technique to produce a rather pleasurable, comic destabilisation of the male gaze in Rich and Strange and an intense state of identification with woman's experience of `oppression, exploitation and victimization' in Notorious (Wood, p.309) is, in particular, a strong indication and source of their feminist orientation and appeal. In both cases, the oppressiveness of patriarchy from both gender points of view is conveyed, appropriately, via ruptures in the processes of seeing.
If Sallitt's approach doesn't distinguish the subjective instances of POV shooting from the more objective, neutral ones he refers to, then it also ignores a characteristic fluidity between these states in Hitchcock's films. An example of this again occurs in Rich and Strange, this time involving Emily alone at the hotel in Singapore. Having forgone the opportunity to go off with Commander Gordon, only to then see Fred desert her for the Princess, a close-up of her face is followed by a cut to a brief shot of a palm-tree lined beach with waves rolling up onto the shore. The ostensible inference to be drawn from this shot--namely, that it provides a literal rendition of Emily's view out of one of the hotel windows--is complicated by the fact that it is never really placed: we are given no other shots of this window, while all the others in the room reveal shutters and street scenes which would obstruct such a view. The shot's lack of concrete context thus renders it amenable to a more subjective reading that is inseparable from our understanding of Emily's character. For what it arguably represents is her imagined viewpoint as the figure of herself, sitting outside Gordon's home, that she had earlier sketched into her lover's photograph (with the two silhouetted bars in the foreground of the POV shot poignantly expressing her awareness of the unobtainability of this desire). In contrast to Sallitt's assertion that `our direct experience of a viewpoint would always outweigh our intellectualized inference of what the shot would make the character feel' (Sallitt, p.41), this ability of a single POV shot to operate simultaneously on more than one level suggests instead that the production of meaning and process of interpretation may often derive more accurately from an interplay between direct and character forms of involvement.
Such fluidity even extends to a frequent interchangeability between POV and non-POV shots, as during the sequence discussed earlier where the camera's adoption of Alicia's POV as she snoops outside her room in Notorious suddenly switches, without warning, to a neutral camera viewpoint. Another frequent manipulation of the conventional POV structure in Hitchcock's films consists of a shot of a character looking at something off-screen followed directly by an otherwise objective view of what the character is wanting or intending to see but is not in a physical position to be able to see at that particular moment. During the same sequence in Notorious, for example, a shot of Alicia looking straight ahead, on hearing from Joseph that Alex is in the study, is followed by a cut to one of the hallway and study room door downstairs, the effect of which is to anticipate her own intended destination. Similarly, during The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), a close-up of Jo staring at Ambrose Chapel is followed by a cut to a camera viewpoint from inside the building (with Jo still outside) where one of the kidnappers, Mrs Drayton, is shown. This use of the character's look as a prelude to or trigger for a view beyond her perceptual range supports, up to a point, Sallitt's own claim that the real function of a POV shot is to act as a device for installing us directly within the film universe. But far from demonstrating the dispensability of the character's viewpoint, such fluid transitions between POV and non-POV structures of seeing depend for their effect, in the first example, upon the disconcerting realization that our usual ties with the protagonist's consciousness have been broken and her subjectivity removed from the shot and, in the last two examples, upon the possibility of reading the non-POV shot as a projection or product of the character's own inner thoughts and imaginings. The overall effect of such shots, then, is to create the rather ambivalent sense of having access to a viewpoint simultaneously beyond a character's actual perceptual reach, and yet deep within her subjectivity.(2)
Sallitt's approach also tends to downplay the extent to which a POV shot often depends greatly for its effect upon whose (rather than just what) viewpoint is being shown. During the party sequence in Notorious, for example, the POV shots showing Alicia and Devlin together derive much of their emotional coloration and suspense charge from our awareness that it is Alex who is watching them jealously and suspiciously--rather than, say, a more casual, neutral party guest. The significance of this is also highlighted equally well when such a view is withheld altogether, as during the earlier scene at the races when Alex's surprise disclosure to Alicia that he has been watching her with Devlin all the time through his fieldglasses immediately infuses the situation with a heightened sense of danger. Both instances involving Alex also demonstrate, in opposite ways, the importance of considering POV shooting within its wider spatial and epistemic framework. Our discovery that such a vital character perspective upon the couple's meeting has been withheld in fact produces a more extreme version of the kind of restricted viewpoint fundamental to Sallitt's notion of intrarealism. However, the essence of the restricted viewpoint derives in this case not from the POV shot itself but from the withholding of it in favour of an independent camera view that seems (erroneously, in retrospect) to privilege us. In evoking the sense of a wider world existing continuously with but beyond the view framed by the camera, this particular sequence seeks to undermine the security of our viewing position by disillusioning us of any assumptions about being guaranteed an ideal vantage point upon the narrative world. What it implies, instead, is a world beyond the frame that is not fixed and static or extraneous to the main events occurring on screen but constantly changing and harbouring other potentially significant points of view, other `pairs of eyes' (to use Sallitt's phrase), to which we are refused access. The insecurity produced in turn fuels the suspense of the main party sequence by anticipating Alex's eventual discovery of Alicia's double betrayal. At the beginning of the party, though, much of the suspense derives, conversely, from the film's strategy of now foregrounding the restricted nature of Alex's viewpoint compared to the more privileged one given to us. Thus, his initial view of Alicia and Devlin greeting each other acts as a trigger for a series of progressively closer, much more revealing views of the couple (still taken from his eye-line but beyond his perceptual reach): from a medium shot as they initially greet each other, to a close-up of their hand-shake, to an extreme close-up showing the transfer of the key. A variation on this occurs during Devlin's exploration of the wine cellar, when the shots of the wine stock list from his point of view are repeatedly interspersed with non-POV shots showing a wine bottle about to fall from the shelf. The POV shots to be found within such highly typical suspense sequences as these consequently form only part of a much wider, composite point of view that Sallitt's notion of restricted viewpoint ignores.
Sallitt's second intrarrealistic strategy--`The use of physical proximity to the camera as expressive of the concept of proximity within the film universe' (p.42)--constitutes a specific, local manifestation of more general tendencies in Hitchcock's work, consisting of either a progressive closing in of the overall spatial world (as in Notorious, which becomes increasingly associated with the confines of the Sebastians' house) or a use of restricted sets from the very beginning. As the most extreme version of the latter, Lifeboat (1943) necessarily involves a sustained deployment of Sallitt's second intrarealistic device, in the sense that the cramped conditions of a single boat force the characters into an unusual degree of proximity to the camera. Consistent with Sallitt's overall view, such proximity does not seem to encourage a more intense form of identification with the characters. Indeed, the film is rather strangely below par in this area, with the only real strand of identification deriving from Tallulah Bankhead's performance in the main role (rather than as a result of camera proximity or any especial privileging of her point of view). Yet this lack of involvement can also be attributed to the way that such spatial confinement is itself offset by the correspondingly high degree of editing, fluctuating character compositions and camera mobility which such conditions seem to induce.
The various spatial segmentations produced by such techniques consequently invite a more distanced, critical perspective upon the various social structures and tensions operating among the characters on the boat. Thus, after showing the two upper class characters, Connie and Rittenhouse, absorbed in conversation during their reunion after the shipwreck, the camera then pulls back to show an alternative community of working class crew members (consisting mainly of the nurse and engine room workers) as they gather around the injured Gus. The camera's framing of Connie, the nurse and Mrs Higley together the next morning suggests the partial breaking down of such class divisions through the formation of an alternative female community (as also symbolised by Connie's gesture of giving her fur coat to Mrs Higley). This is followed, however, by a suggestion of racial tension and division when, during the crew's debate over the boat's course, Joe is segregated from the white members of the crew via the editing: his spatial isolation consequently acts as a corollary for his social marginalisation as a black person (a situation that is actually voiced by Joe himself when he asks: `Do I get the vote, too?'). In positioning Joe along with the German U-boat captain at the other end of the boat at one point, the film invites an even stronger ironic critique of the other white characters by undercutting their display of repugnance at the Nazi (and the fascist ideology he represents) with a visual suggestion of their own rather more subtle marginalisation of the boat's one representative of racial otherness. So, rather than providing the ultimate vindication of Sallitt's notion of the camera as `in some way subject to the laws of the film universe as would be the viewpoint of a presence in that universe' (p.34), Lifeboat demonstrates the camera's ability to overcome even the most extreme physical constraints. The most emphatic assertion of its prerogative to break `the laws of the film universe' occurs two-thirds of the way through the film when it suddenly cuts to an underwater view of a fish being drawn to the crew's fishing bait. Within the overall context of Hitchcock's work, moreover, this tendency towards using restricted sets has to be offset against an equally strong interest in covering a very broad geographical sweep using the picaresque narrative structure (the most extreme example of which is North By Northwest).parSallitt's emphasis upon the camera track-in `from a long shot characterized by a sense of the normal or everyday to a closeup of some object or event which yields to us by inference some larger conclusion or piece of information' (p.43), pinpoints one of the key means by which we are often drawn right into the innermost, private realms of a Hitchcock narrative world. Indeed, it is a technique that provides a spatial correlative for Wood's own notion of the continuum between the normal and the abnormal. Sallitt sees this visual motif as further conclusive proof of the camera's restricted viewpoint: of the fact that `the law of the film universe to which the camera is subject is that it sees only a certain amount of what happens and has to reconstruct meaning from a limited perceptual capacity' (p.43). Yet it is difficult to see how such an explanation can account adequately for the long travelling crane shots in to the drummer's twitching face at the end of Young and Innocent (1937) or to the key in Alicia's hand at the beginning of the party in Notorious (as variations upon the track-in device which Sallitt surprisingly ignores). In both cases, the effect, instead, is one of being privileged with crucial information beyond the other characters' reach and by a perceptual entity able to overcome the limitations of viewpoint inherent in Sallitt's anthropomorphic definition of the camera. Indeed, if such strategies do serve to convey the sense of `a pair of eyes within the film universe', then the crane shot's version of this is (as suggested by its very name) more characteristic of the hawk-like precision of a bird than anything attributable to ordinary human perception.
Sallitt's argument that such a device arises from a need to reveal information previously withheld from us also fails to cater for the Notorious example. In that case (unlike the equivalent scenario cited by Sallitt involving Marion Crane's theft of the money in Psycho) we are witness throughout to Alicia's stealing of the key from Alex's ring, so that the subsequent track-in to it in her hand serves instead to reaffirm and enhance an already established sense of being privileged with crucial information. The camera's ability to seek out the film world's most hidden secrets via such elaborate movements also means that it is difficult to avoid the notion of some kind of sensibility or agency at work, guiding and controlling this perception in a way that can transcend the laws of the film universe to which the characters are subject. Furthermore, for those instances where the camera seeks out proximity with an aspect of its narrative world, there are also equivalent moments when it pulls back and invites the spectator to observe it from an unusual degree of distance (one thinks, especially, of the abrupt cuts to high-level views of Thornhill escaping from the United Nations building in North By Northwest, of Keane leaving the courtroom near the end of The Paradine Case, and of the attack on Bodega Bay in The Birds). Sallitt's approach is also in danger of equating spatial proximity or restriction of field with epistemic inferiority of viewpoint whereas, in fact, it is the high level views in Hitchcock which often withhold rather than reveal (as, for example, during Norman Bates's removal of his mother from her bedroom to the fruit cellar), while a narrowing of visual perspective onto a tiny piece of data can, conversely, expand our overall position of knowledge considerably.
Sallitt's approach, then, is extremely insightful and provocative but somewhat incomplete. In its stress upon the camera's ability to offer us very direct forms of perception and inhabitance of the narrative worlds it bears affinity with some of my own work on objects in Hitchcock's films (more on which later). Yet the restricted viewpoint that it construes to be the product of such independence inevitably only caters for one side of the overall spatial perspective in Hitchcock's films, the full articulation of which consists of a more complex, ongoing dialectic between distance and proximity, expansion and contraction, detachment as well as involvement. Such an ambivalent, contrary pull finds its ultimate expression via the combined track in/zoom out shot used in Vertigo.parSpatial dialecticsparThis sense of being pulled in two different directions often manifests itself at a structural level in Hitchcock's films. In Psycho, Norman's oscillation between normal and psychopathic behaviour is reflected in his toing and froing between the Bates motel and the old house, with such divisions becoming increasingly prone to collapse. For the audience, too, such spatial tension forms the structural basis for the overall suspense in the sense that these two buildings serve as sites, respectively, for what is shown and known (at least partly) and what is withheld and feared. In Lifeboat, another form of spatial tension manifests itself in the characters' various disputes over the boat's course and the frequent changes in direction that arise as a result. The potential spatial dimensions or coordinates of this film world are highlighted by the points of the ship's compass, the possession of which object enables its holder to exert control over both the boat's and the narrative's overall direction. The text's own rhetorical stress upon the compass via the frequent close-ups of it in the German's hand also makes it a prized object in cinematic terms too. Indeed, if the compass functions as a kind of visual pun upon the notion of filmic direction, then in granting secret control over it to the Nazi captain (a privilege which he exploits by using it to manipulate the boat's course towards German territory), the film seems to offer an implicit warning about the potential abuse of its own cinematic powers. The other characters' subsequent discovery and theft of the compass appear to provoke, in turn, a retaliatory authorial storm which intervenes to reinstate the German as the (now quite explicit) figure of control within the narrative. This metafilmic element also helps to explain the rather oddly unresolved nature of the film's ending, as the crew's eventual murder of him deprives them of both the literal and symbolic `direction' needed to bring the narrative to a conclusion.
This correlation between spatial and cinematic direction is also foregrounded at the beginning of I Confess (1952) via the sequence of four shots of the Quebec street signs showing "DIRECTION" arrows pointing right of frame towards the site of a murder. The effect is to establish right from the outset a strong sense of our point of view being directed towards the important events within the narrative world. Yet, as in Lifeboat, this is complicated by an acknowledgement of competing tensions: here, it occurs in the form of Hitchcock's own cameo appearance immediately beforehand, when he is shown walking away in the opposite direction from where the arrows are pointing. In this case, though, the spatial tension seems to allude to a tussle not between the characters but between the filmmaker and text itself, with the latter appearing intent upon asserting and exposing what the former attempts to deny by walking away from the scene of the crime (for an interesting analysis of this film, see Deborah Thomas' `Confession As Betrayal: Hitchcock's I Confess As Enigmatic Text', in CineAction, no.40).
Hitchcock's cameo appearance in The Paradine Case again shows him walking away from the narrative action when, having thanked someone for advice, he leaves the train station in Cumberland in the opposite direction to that taken by the male protagonist. Here, though, the direction and location of the filmmaker's cameo appearance are consistent with the overall way that the key events impinging upon the narrative (the murder itself, the affair and Latour's suicide) all take place outside the main courtroom arena. Despite its extensive use of such confined settings as the courtroom and prison, then, The Paradine Case is not a closed film to the same extent as, say, Rear Window or Psycho. Whereas the key events in these two films, although often withheld from us, take place within its clearly demarcated spatial boundaries (including Norman's murder of Mrs. Bates in the narrative's past tense), in The Paradine Case there is a rather uncharacteristic sense instead of the spatial (and generic) frame being out of alignment with an alternative narrative elsewhere. Such misalignment can, in turn, be seen as symptomatic of the film's dislike of and frustration with the ideologically (not just spatially) circumscribed structure of the legal world of the court. This attitude finds voice in Sir Simon's admission to Mrs. Paradine, during their first meeting at the jail, that: `The fact is, I'm not very keen on this place', and in his subsequent promise that: `We'll get out of it ... as soon as possible, as soon as possible.' The court's repressive function is demonstrated both by its punishment of those women, like Mrs Paradine, suspected of transgressing its laws and by its exclusion and marginalisation of more conventional women from its arena. As the court's main representative, it is Lord Horfield who both sentences Mrs. Paradine to death and refuses to allow his own wife, Sophie, to attend the court (on the grounds that her coughing distracts him). The film's negative attitude towards the legal system finds a more constructive outlet via its strategy of establishing a spatial dialectic between the `masculine' domain of the court and the `feminine' world of domesticity. The resulting interactions and interrelationships produced enable us to critically interrogate and assess, rather than merely accept, the ideological systems, values and laws enacted within its narrative world.
In the first place, the film seeks to undermine the ostensible oppositions between these two spatial spheres by using various editing and visual strategies to present the home as an extension of the legal system's oppressive patriarchal structure. The juxtaposition of scenes at the Keane home with those at the prison, for example, invite us to draw parallels rather than simply contrasts between them. This is developed through the extensive use of imprisonment motifs within the mise-en-scene of the Keane home: most notably, the prominent bedroom ceiling that seems to bear down upon the couple during their first encounter, the prison-like bars of a door window that are used to frame Gay's reaction to her husband's vehement defence of Mrs. Paradine against Sir Simon's insinuations, and the shadows cast by the staircase railings during Keane's return home from court. Such visual strategies serve, specifically, to undermine Keane's own insistence, when trying to dissuade Gay from travelling with him to Cumberland, that: `This is the place for you--warm, cosy, protected'. Keane's patronising attitude towards his wife in turn implicates him with Horfield's more openly misogynistic containment of Sophie. The extent to which the women within the film are united by their shared experience under patriarchy is highlighted visually during a montage sequence mid-way through the trial when a shot of Sophie sitting at home staring fearfully and somewhat resentfully at Horfield is followed by one of Mrs. Paradine lying in her prison bed (her lack of make-up providing a quite different, deconstructed view of her), and finally by one of Gay in similar repose as she pretends to be asleep while Keane looks in on her (it is, presumably, Judy's unmarried status that grants her exemption from this sequence).
Having exposed the oppressiveness of such structures, though, the film then proceeds to actively manipulate and subvert them. One way it does so is by allowing the domestic sphere to intrude into the courtroom. Hence, the female characters' unauthorized presence there constitutes an act of defiance that the film supports even further by countering their marginalised position in the gallery with repeated shots foregrounding their reactions to proceedings (Judy's interpretation of events for both Gay's and our benefit even endowing her with the status of spectator-in-the-text). The female characters' unauthorized presence within the court is matched by the recurring intrusion of `feminine' elements of melodramatic excess within this `rational' sphere. The key difference in this case lies in the film's consistent association of such elements with the male characters, as if suggesting the court's only partial success in containing their repressed `feminine' sides. Thus, it is Keane's `tendency to over-charge [himself] with emotion' that is presented as the precise source of Horfield's resentment towards him during their dinner party exchange, a trait which in turn provokes Latour's own hysterical outburst at the witness box and Horfield's subsequent warning reminder to Keane that `this is not the first time that you have been responsible for an over-emotional atmosphere in court.'
The film's most subversive strategy is to use the domestic sphere to invert the gender power structures and roles within the court. The entire plot originates from Mrs. Paradine's murder within the home of her husband, whose already castrated status was symbolized by his blindness and dependency upon her to act as `his eyes'. During the Keane couple's first encounter at their home, furthermore, Gay is shown temporarily `blinding' Keane with a towel whilst vigorously drying his hair, the effect of which is to undercut her rather excessive, overblown praise of him by suggesting an unconscious wish to disempower her husband too (that Mrs. Paradine represents Gay's repressed, transgressive side is further suggested via the zoom-in from the latter's point of view to her `adversary' in the witness box during a later scene). On returning home from Horfield's dinner party, moreover, it is Gay who assumes the active role of `prosecutor' by interrogating her husband's motives for wanting to switch their honeymoon venue to Italy (the country of Mrs. Paradine's birth). Her mockery of him for being `so transparent--and for such a devious kind of barrister too' in turn prompts Keane to remark: `Come on, tell the jury what's on your mind.' After finally confronting Keane about his infatuation with Mrs. Paradine on a later occasion, Gay reflects with some surprise upon her own newly discovered powers of rhetoric: `There, I've made my speech. What a speech. That's what comes of being married to a lawyer.' At Sir Simon's home, too, it is his daughter Judy who displays a similar legal disposition (while her dark, upswept hair, long black dresses and piano playing also link her to Mrs. Paradine). Thus, she speculates (quite accurately) upon Keane's possible motives for wanting to visit Hindley Hall (prompting her father to wonder where she acquired `this decidedly unfeminine interest in things'), while her questioning of Sir Simon provokes him to respond tetchily: `I'll not be made a hostile witness by my own flesh and blood.'
But it is the Horfield home which the film uses as the location for its strongest critique. During the dinner party, for example, the film exploits Horfield's own action of banishing his wife and female guests from the room so as to give space and voice to Sophie's own concerns about her husband. Her fearful, uncompleted admission to Gay that she dreads it when Horfield has to take a murder trial (as `He comes home looking so ...') gestures towards the possibility that the judge may even vent his frustrations upon his wife in the form of physical violence. The chilling depiction of Horfield at home in the penultimate scene (where he is shown cracking walnuts after dinner and remarking upon how their convolutions `resemble those of the human brain', before visibly frightening Sophie with his dispassionate announcement that he has already sentenced Mrs. Paradine to death) suggests that the reverse of this may also apply: namely, that the courtroom may provide an indirect outlet for his resentment towards his wife. The result, then, is a quite damning critique of patriarchal law, the enactment of which appears, on the one hand, to bring out implied criminal tendencies in its key representative and, on the other, to provide an indirect outlet for his misogyny in the form of a legalized killing of women. The female characters' tendency within the home to assume the role of interrogator cum prosecutor towards their male authority figures can, thus, be seen as consistent with the film's overall strategy of using the domestic space to invert the legal and gender status quo within the narrative by placing patriarchy itself and the enactors of its laws `on trial'. The foregrounding of the court-room door during the opening and closing title sequences symbolically encloses the film's entire narrative world within a superior judicial framework, during the process of which the spectator (as its implied jury) is invited to interpret, evaluate and make critical judgements upon its governing institutions and structures of power.
ObjectsparThe earlier discussion of the compass in Lifeboat also served to highlight the crucial role played by objects in Hitchcock's films. The fact that this important visual feature has received little in-depth critical attention may be due partly to the director's own fondness for stressing the role of the "MacGuffin", as that object (or goal) of vital importance to the characters but of little interest to either himself or the audience (except as a device to get the plot going). Hitchcock's emphasis upon the McGuffin may, in a sense, be the greater red herring, given the way that it diverts attention away from a very real textual dependency upon objects as a means for establishing and controlling our point of view. So while in Notorious it is the uranium ore which is supposedly the ultimate target of the characters' interest, it is the intermediary objects used to obtain and hide it that become the film's real source of interest (the means thereby becoming an end in themselves). That such an interest cannot be explained simply in terms of more general generic conventions pertaining to the thriller and film noir is evident when one compares other films in the same field. In The Maltese Falcon (Huston, 1941), for example, the characters' obsession with the statue drives the plot forward but is not given the same rhetorical weighting by the text itself as that ascribed to the compass in Lifeboat. Even Lang, whose thematic affinities with Hitchcock extend to a comparable recognition of the filmic usefulness of objects--particularly in highlighting the processes and limitations of perception and the attendant deceptiveness and malleability of the surface narrative worlds--differs markedly in the nature and extent of the role that he assigns to objects. Hence, while a cigarette lighter serves strikingly similar plot functions in both Beyond A Reasonable Doubt (1956) and Strangers On A Train (1951) (namely to incriminate the male protagonist in the murder of his wife by being planted at the scene of the crime and, in doing so, highlight the unreliability of circumstantial evidence), in the Hitchcock film it fulfils a more complex narrational role. This culminates in the memorable sequence where Bruno drops the lighter down a drain on his way back to the murder site: in drawing us into his frantic attempts to retrieve this lost object, the film in turn implicates us in the villain's ultimate goal of using it to incriminate Guy.
The fact that many of the following examples of objects in Hitchcock's films were initially recalled from memory is testimony to their centrality in shaping our visual perspective upon the narrative worlds: both during the viewing process and afterwards when, given the way that memory often tends to work in relation to films (as with the world outside) according to images and detail rather than linearity, such objects seem to assume even greater weight. Certain recurring patterns also tend to emerge. In the first place, objects often fall into recognisable types: keys; rings and other jewellery; food; bottles and glasses; cameras; spectacles; bodies; newspapers; knives and other sharp instruments. In addition, such objects frequently participate in wider narrative processes of substitution and replacement. In Lifeboat, for example, the rhetorical emphasis shifts from the compass to the water bottle while in Notorious it moves from the key and wine bottle(s) to the coffee cup. While both films display an overall narrative dependency upon objects, moreover, it is one particular object that tends to assume privileged status at any given time. So, whereas the characters in Lifeboat strive unsuccessfully to hang on to their various possessions, they lack access, in turn, to the two objects (the compass and water bottle) most necessary for their survival. In view of its particularly important role as a visual pun on filmic direction, the compass in fact qualifies as the overall `meta' object in Hitchcock's films, typifying the way in which objects can serve to shape and alter the course of a narrative, the characters' destinies and our own relationship to a film world. In the latter respect, the compass functions primarily to regulate the epistemic flow between ourselves and the characters, acting as a device for privileging us with crucial narrative information that the American crew members lack while simultaneously placing us in an uncomfortable alliance with the villain.
During the party sequence in Notorious, our shifting alignment with the three main characters (not to mention the changing balance of power between them) are managed through a corresponding transfer in ownership of the wine cellar key: from Alicia during the first stage of the party, to Devlin during his search of the wine cellar, and, finally, to Alex from the point where he discovers that the key is missing to his discovery of its return. While it would be over-simplistic to state that the key effects a transfer in identification from Alicia to Alex by the end of the sequence (as Alex's discovery of its theft clearly serves in one important respect to heighten our anxiety for Alicia), nevertheless, in privileging us with knowledge of his investigations the film distances us epistemically from her while also allowing a substantial sympathy to develop for Alex as we witness his sense of betrayal and impending danger. A more clear-cut case occurs in Rope (1948) where Rupert's discovery of the murdered man's hat in Brandon's and Philip's apartment acts as the main fulcrum or turning-point for what Victor Perkins refers to as the `transference of identification' that takes place from the two murderers to the investigating professor (see Perkins, Film As Film: Understanding and Judging Movies, Penguin Books, London, 1991, p.143). Similarly, in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) the newspaper article about the `Merry Widow Murderer' functions so as to involve us first with Uncle Charlie's attempts to conceal his secret from his sister's family (through the film's strategy of letting us in on the motive behind his elaborate paper folding trick) and then with Charlie as we share her discovery of its contents during the scene in the library. Alicia's discovery of the significance of the coffee cup at a later point in Notorious also serves to bring her back into a much closer relationship with the audience, triggering, as it does, the ensuing series of highly subjective shots from her point of view.
Sallitt's own view that objects are symptomatic of an overall restricted viewpoint in Hitchcock's films does, despite its validity in certain cases, require substantial qualification. For, in many of the examples cited earlier, objects act both as an important source of privileged information for us, the audience (during which time they usually assume their greatest rhetorical weighting), and as a means whereby characters often discover what we already know (at which point such objects usually recede from view). Further comparison between Hitchcock and Lang is helpful here for it highlights the way in which objects in the former generally tend to clarify, expand and reveal whereas in the latter they disorientate, constrict and ambiguate: contrast, for example, the use of the hat in Rope with its equivalent in You Only Live Once (1937), and the newspaper in Shadow Of A Doubt with its counterparts in both the same Lang film and Beyond A Reasonable Doubt. Even in the crofters' scene in The 39 Steps, where a newspaper article incriminates an innocent rather than guilty man, the film's emphasis is less upon the unreliability of the article itself (as might be expected if it were a Lang film) than upon its narrational role in drawing us into Hannay's attempts to both see and conceal the article from the couple. One significant area where Hitchcock and Lang do converge in their use of objects is when privileging us with clues to a character's hidden motives. Thus, the dropping or planting of the male protagonist's cigarette lighter (a present from his fiancc[e'] e) at the murder scene in Strangers On A Train (1951) and Beyond A Reasonable Doubt can be variously construed in both cases as a symbolic acknowledgement of his unconscious desire to be rid of his wife or would-be-wife. A gender reversal of this occurs in Rear Window where Lisa's flaunting of the ring in Thorwald's apartment signifies, in directing the murderer's gaze across the courtyard, her unconscious desire to expose and endanger Jeffries in revenge for his refusal to marry her. In Rope, this psychoanalytic dimension to objects is even voiced quite self-consciously by Rupert when he refers to the cigarette case that he pretends to have left behind as a pretext for regaining entry into the apartment: `I suppose a psychoanalyst would say that I didn't really forget it at all. I unconsciously left it because I wanted to come back'.
Brandon's earlier `oversight' in leaving David Kentley's initialled hat in the closet for Rupert to discover similarly suggests his own unconscious wish to have the murder acknowledged, while in Vertigo Judy's `mistake' in wearing Madeleine's necklace also implies an analogous desire on her part to bring the whole plot out into the open. The real relevance of Sallitt's notion of intrarealism with regard to objects would therefore seem to lie less in its concern with restricted viewpoint and much more in its emphasis upon direct involvement, as objects provide one very clear instance of how Hitchcock's films allow us access to their narrative worlds in ways that are not necessarily character dependent. Even where objects serve to make us worry for characters or, as in the above examples, provide insight into their hidden motives, the fact that such effects are being achieved via these indirect, inanimate means is in itself indicative of a less than complete involvement with the characters themselves. So, while in Notorious the camera's strategy of foregrounding the coffee cup's dangerous nature serves to create much audience anxiety for Alicia, it also inevitably produces an epistemic and spatial barrier to full identification, with its physical dominance in the foreground of one repeated shot just prior to her discovery that she is being poisoned even threatening to displace her as the centre of perspective in the frame. Similarly, during the sequence in Suspicion (1941) when Johnnie carries the glass of milk up to Lina, it is the object which becomes our central point of visual orientation and narrative interest. Most radically of all, the money in Psycho not only triggers and mediates the more intense phase of our involvement with Marion (from the shot of it lying on the bed onwards) but also eventually fills the vacuum created by her sudden murder, before then going on to assist in the transfer of our identification to Norman (through a desire, strongly encouraged by the camera's foregrounding strategies, to have him notice it lying on the bedside cabinet).
Whether acquiring a prominence disproportionate to their actual size (as with the coffee cup in Notorious), a somewhat incandescent quality (as in the case of the glass of milk in Suspicion), or acting as the justification for a progressive narrowing of camera viewpoint, there is a pronounced tendency, then, for certain objects to assume a particular force of attraction amidst the general spatial field of view in Hitchcock's films. It is a tendency that invites comparison with what Roland Barthes refers to as the duality that co-exists in photographs between the `studium' (`that very wide field of unconcerned desire, of varied interest, of inconsequential taste: I like/I don't like') and the `punctum', as the detail that, if and when it emerges, has the power to attract and jolt the spectator, thereby transforming and illuminating the way that a photograph is viewed:
The second element will break (or punctuate) the studium.... A Latin word exists to designate this wound, this prick, this mark made by a pointed instrument: the word suits me all the better in that it also refers to the notion of punctuation, and because the photographs I am speaking of are in effect punctuated, sometimes even speckled with these sensitive points; precisely, these marks, these wounds are so many points. This second element which will disturb the studium I shall therefore call puncture; for punctum is also: sting, speck, cut, little hole--and also a cast of the dice. A photograph's punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me) (Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, Vintage, London, 1993, pp.26-7).
Many sequences in Hitchcock's films do appear, in fact, to operate precisely on the basis of a tension between the studium and the punctum: between the general and the specific, the far and the near, the public and the private. As such, Barthes' term is helpful `point of view'. For our access to a more privileged viewpoint in Hitchcock's films often depends upon an ability to transcend the studium by finding the punctum (as that object or other point of detail which, on being discovered, results in a moment of revelation or clarification).
In certain respects, though, Barthes' notion of the punctum as accidental, disruptive, able to by-pass intellectual analysis and culturally acquired modes of thinking would appear very much at odds with the sense one gains in Hitchcock's films of objects being employed quite purposefully as ways of guiding us towards a deeper understanding of the narrative worlds. Barthes himself, in his brief comparison between still photographs and cinema, regards the punctum as not only impossible in the latter (due to the moving images not allowing sufficient time for it to emerge) but also unnecessary. The punctum's metonymic `power of expansion' (Barthes, p.45) is essentially a means whereby the photograph (with its limitations of stasis and fixity) is able to both evoke and compensate for that sense of an unseen, wider field operating beyond the frame that is already inherent in movies. Indeed, in strictly spatial terms, objects in Hitchcock's films often perform an inverse role to the photographic punctum by providing us with a point of stability, a concrete anchorage or hold upon these narrative worlds, as an antidote both to the film medium's ceaseless flow of images and those more severe uncertainties and disruptions specific to the Hitchcock thriller. Thus, after the shower murder in Psycho, it is the money wrapped up in newspaper which becomes the only concrete rung and remnant from the earlier narrative that we have to cling onto. The spatial stability offered by objects can also extend across scenes and characters, often acting as a foundation block for the film's overall architecture. As alluded to earlier, the wine cellar key in Notorious acts as a continuity device throughout the main party sequence, with Alicia's theft of the key prior to the party even being mirrored later on by Alex's discovery of its absence and subsequent return. In addition to the key, the broken wine bottle also links together Devlin's and Alex's explorations of the wine cellar as they both attempt to discover what each of them has tried to conceal. Objects can even provide structuring links across films--as in the case of the hangover cure brought to Alicia by Devlin, the effect of which seems designed quite clearly to recall the glass of milk that the Cary Grant character carries up to Lina in Suspicion.
Yet despite their more stabilising function, objects also consistently demonstrate the validity of a cinematic equivalent of the Barthesian punctum. A closer spatial correlative for the latter can be found in The Lady Vanishes (1938) where the appearance of the word `FROY' on the train window is not highlighted via the more characteristic camera track-in device but remains in the background of a long static shot as Gilbert and Iris sit down to tea in the dining carriage: the effect of such a strategy is to place the onus upon us to seek out the significant data for ourselves. The fleeting appearance of the Harriman's Herbal tea packet label later on, as it sticks momentarily onto the train window during the throwing out of the rubbish, also provides an exemplary instance of where Hitchcock's films exploit the temporality of the cinema medium--the very fact that things cannot be pinned down as in a still photograph--by investing one of its key objects with the punctum's quality of transience (rather than stability). In doing so, the incident displays what Leo Braudy refers to as `the centrifugal force of objects, their escapability' which `may at any moment vanish or extend themselves into the life beyond the frame' (Braudy, The World In A Frame: What We See In Films, University of Chicago Press, London, 1984, pp.76-7).
Hitchcock's films also push Barthes' main notion of the punctum as a `wound', a `mark made by a pointed instrument', to its most intense extreme via their foregrounding of knives and other weapons of assault: most traumatically of all, of course, with each stab of the knife during the shower murder in Psycho. Here, though, the punctum object's wounding power is conveyed as much aurally as visually via the punctuating of the soundtrack with the bird-like shrieks of the violins. The possibility of an aural punctum was explored as early as Blackmail (1929) when Alice's traumatized state after stabbing her would-be rapist to death using a breadknife is conveyed at the breakfast table the next morning (via an expressionistic distortion and disturbance of the soundtrack. There, the aural studium or general field of sounds (consisting of a neighbour's gossip about the murder) is gradually eliminated whilst the word "knife" becomes louder and increasingly insistent.
For Barthes, another feature of the photographic punctum is its ability to evoke the pathos of what he refers to as the `noeme' or `that-has-been' (p.96), a sense evoked for him personally by the discovery of a photograph of his own dead mother. Although Barthes dismisses the possibility of such a punctum in cinema, it finds its counterpart in the objects which Lila encounters during her search through the Bates house in Psycho, the emotional poignancy of which lie in their ability to evoke both Norman's emotionally arrested state and, on subsequent viewings, Mrs. Bates' own past, foreshortened life. The parallel between Lila's attempt to gain a sense of Mrs. Bates via her remaining possessions and Barthes' own search through old photographs in an effort to rediscover the essence of his dead mother is, in fact, quite striking. In both cases, the clues to the mother's real identity are to be found in objects that resist mediation through the son's male discourse (in Barthes' case, by preceding his existence and remembrance of her).
This notion of objects representing `keys' to a character's lost identity even assumes literal form elsewhere. But in such cases, the inability to find an all-important key (as when Charlie discovers that the ignition key is missing during the second garage scene in Shadow of a Doubt), or loss of such a possession (as in Alex's case in Notorious), or even voluntary disposal of it (as when Marnie throws her locker key down a drain near the beginning of that film) tend to allude instead to the characters' own inaccess to or denial of their repressed selves. In Psycho, Norman's gesture of handing the cabin key to Marion at the very moment when she tries to fake her name in the motel register book points to his ability to force her to confront aspects of herself that she attempts to deny (as indicated later by her decision to return to Phoenix with the stolen money after her encounter with him in the parlour) but any positive potential implied by this is subsequently nullified, of course, by the key's role in leading Marion to a most final obliteration of her identity. Barthes' compensation for his dead mother (as a `lost object' in the psychoanalytic sense of the term) via an intermediary, substitute object also finds a monstrous analogy in Norman's attempt to hold onto his mother by preserving her corpse (rather than just her possessions). A rather more positive version of this strategy can be found in Marnie (1964) where the female protagonist's attachment to her horse Forio (as a living, responsive animal quite different from the inanimate objects mentioned earlier) compensates for her emotionally thwarted relationship with her mother (who in turn uses the girl Jessie as a substitute for her own daughter). Indeed, Forio's accidental death near the end of the film provides one of the most traumatic, complex workings through of a character's over-attachment to a substitute love object. What it performs, in fact, is a rather ambivalent, conflated re-enactment of the previously repressed incident in Marnie's childhood, one that involved both the laming of her mother and Marnie's own killing of the sailor. Moreover, in view of the parallel implied here between Forio and Bernice (a link strengthened elsewhere by the mother's own evasive references to her `bad accident'), Marnie's shooting of the horse becomes not only a reenactment of the past but also a symbolic `killing off' of the maternal figure in the present in order to replace her with Mark as the new, now romantic object of attachment.
Crucially, too, it is objects which often become the focal points of the suspense in Hitchcock's work, their capacity for yielding privileged information often serving to generate or heighten, rather than ease, audience anxieties. During the party scene in Notorious, the suspense is structured both globally upon the overall enigma surrounding the mysterious contents of the wine bottle(s) and Alex's possible discovery of the stolen key and locally upon the following series of specific questions relating to these objects:
* Will Alex appear in time to see Alicia stealing the key from his chain? (No)
* Will Alex discover the key in her hand? (No)
* Will the supply of champagne bottles run out? (Yes, after the third shot of it from Joseph's POV)
* Will Devlin see the bottle in time to catch it before it falls from the wine cellar shelf? (No)
* Will Alex discover the missing key on his way to the wine cellar and, consequently, the real meaning of Alicia and Devlin's kiss on the porch? (Yes)
* Will Alex discover the odd wine bottle bearing the wrong vintage year and the broken original hidden under the shelves? (Yes)
* Will Alex discover the return of the wine cellar key (and thereby obtain concrete proof of his wife's betrayal)? (Yes)
Alex's discovery of the theft and subsequent return of the wine cellar key marks both the conclusion of this suspense situation and the beginning of another based upon his poisoning of Alicia: the question `Will Alex find out?' is therefore replaced by `Will Alicia find out?' and is accompanied by the emergence of the coffee cup as the new object of interest and anxiety. In ways analogous to, but more coherent than, Freudian dream-work, therefore, such objects become sites of condensation, charged with suspense and multiple meanings which are projected onto them to such an extent that they `gather significance the way snowballs grow when they roll down hills, by the repetition, accumulation, and mere persistence in our eyes' (Braudy, p.37). Wine bottles and coffee cups thus act not only as literal receptacles for hidden, potentially dangerous secrets and substances but also as symbolic containers for our own suspense-related anxieties. The glass of milk which Johnnie carries up to Lina in Suspicion is another such example, except that the object here displays a Barthesian resistance to analysis by refusing to yield up its meaning. Yet while the uncertainty over whether or not this glass of milk contains poison does complicate the clarificatory role more typically performed by objects in Hitchcock's films, it is an ambiguity that nevertheless remains distinct from the kind associated with their counterpart in Lang's films. For whereas a Langian object tends to reinforce the arbitrariness of the meanings projected onto it, the punctum object in Hitchcock is invariably charged with significance: any variability instead lies in the extent to which its secrets are revealed. The closest approximation to a Langian use of an object in Hitchcock's work occurs in Secret Agent (1936), where the British characters murder an innocent man almost solely on the tenuous basis of a single button found in another murdered man's hand and which they wrongly attribute to the German character Caypor. Yet even here it is the characters who invest the object with significance rather than the film itself, which does not endow it with the kind of visual weighting characteristically given to objects elsewhere. Not, that is, until the characters discover their mistake, whereupon the film provides a subjective, hallucinatory image of a montage of buttons from Elsa's point of view, the effect of which is to emphasize the commonality of this object instead.
By virtue of their multi-functionality, then, objects offer us an extremely tangible, highly condensed illustration of the overall complexity of point of view in Hitchcock's films. Indeed, the sense of ambivalence that we tend to associate with watching a Hitchcock film is traceable in no small part to the punctum object's paradoxical role: to the fact that, in films such as Sabotage (1936), Suspicion and Notorious, it is the most visually threatening, suspense-laden objects (in the form of the bomb package, the glass of milk and the coffee cup) which serve, simultaneously and contradictorily, as the very means by which we are able to retain a spatial and epistemic hold upon the narrative world.
(1) For another analysis that questions the assumed relationship between the POV shot and identification, see Murray Smith, Engaging Characters: Fiction, Emotion and the Cinema (Oxford University Press, 1995), pp.156-65.
(2) Charles Barr uses the term `hypnagogia' to describe what he identifies as a recurring `hesitation between subjective and objective' in Hitchcock's British period. See Barr, `Hitchcock's British Films Revisited', in Andrew Higson, ed., Dissolving Views: Key Writings on British Cinema, Cassell, London, 1996, p.14).
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|Date:||Jan 1, 1999|
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