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May 13, 1980 - Image 9

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1980-05-13

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The Michigan Daily-Tuesday, May 13, 1980-Page 9

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Hitchcock's pop-art for the ages

For me, seeing Alfred Hitchcock's
Notorious was like getting stoned for
the first time. Words and images whiz-
zed by so quickly that, as if in a nar-
cotic-induced stupor, it was hard to
register my reactions before encoun-
tering some new sensori stimulus. The
movie sucked me in likea whirlpooland
wouldn't let go. Afterwards, it was only
with amazement that I could recall sit-
ting in the theater. I'd had a true roller-
coaster experience-once it ended, the
film didn't seem quite real. And that's
when I knew I had to have more. I was a
junkie, hooked on Hitchcock, the man
who singlehandedly kurned the art of
filmmaking into a practical joke. He
told the same joke over and over, but
his audiences never tired of hearing it.
That was because their own response
was the punchline.
Hitchcock is special to me in a way.
that no other director can touch. Not
because he transcended trash with his
pulp thrillers and banality-of-evil
themes; he just pushed trash to its most
crazed limits. Less than two decades
after Psycho, Talking Heads came out
with a song called "Psycho Killer,"
which turned Hitchcock's Norman
Bates into a hilarious pop icon. I doubt
whether the group could have brought it
off with, say, Dostoyevsky's
Raskalnikov: But they could make a
hard-driving boogie burlesque out of
the scariest movie ever made because
Hitchcock had already taken them half
way there. He'd made Psycho the
ultimate movie joke-an Oedipal one-
liner-by showing everyone in the
audience how deliriously im-
pressionable they were.
IN INTERVIEWS, Hitchcock took
pains to explain that he cared only for
"form," not content, and that his real
interest in directing was not actors or
stories, but "putting all _the little
pieces of film together." With an at-
titude like that, how could he possibly
have taken his job very seriously? His
cameo appearances were
outrageously snide; they threw the
audience out of the movie just long
enough for the director to, thumb his
nose at them. He made fools of us all,
or, rather, he let us make fools of our-
selves, by demonstrating that grand
silliness such as a thriller with hero and
heroine chained together by handcuffs
or a chase scene on Mount Rushmore'
were enough to leave us breathless.
Other directors during Hitchcock's
heyday trafficked in silliness, too. Most
of them were probably only too aware
of it. But Alfred Hitchcock was the only
American director who brought his
awareness of the trashiness of
Hollywood corn to the movies them-
selves. And that makes all the differen-
ce to someone like me, who can't really
look at an old Hollywood movie without
feeling like I'm wandering through an
antique shop.
Somewhere along the line, the "old"
Hollywood shifted into the "new"
Hollywood, and the soul of an artform
was altered. What I'm talking about
isn't a question of "style," of studio
systems or acting techniques, but a
basic change in sensibility: As the six-
ties approached, American films began
to reflect the fact that we no longer
thought of ourselves as an ordered
QUITE SIMPLY, the old Hollywood

did not deal in dangerous goods. A
movie wouldn't plunge you into the.
abyss without guaranteeing a safe
return above ground; the loose ends
were tied up, or at least laid in a nice,
neat bundle. Even the greatest of the
pre-new Hollywood movies had what
Pauline Kael termed "rhymed plots."
The classic Hollywood cinema, be it
Citizen Kane, Stagecoach, the
Screwball comedies, the Capra epics,
or the horror classics, all shared an
essential symmetrical design and
smooth-as-silk pacing. These movies
(and European ones as well) were,
exhilerating because of their lickety-

Maltese Falcon, Mr. Smith Goes to
Washington, White Heat, Casablanca,
The African Queen, or even a hunk of
patriotic mush like Young Mr. Lincoln
any day of the week. But as children of
the sixties and seventies, most of us
campus kids have rejected a lot of what
the old movies are telling us, so it's the
musty aesthetic experience of art
minus real interaction with the value
systems behind it. 'he vision of Indian-
white man relations in something like
John Ford's The Searchers is no longer
a harmless anachronism; it's an ob-
scenely racist lie. And how much
meaning can machismo, John Wayne or

together on television's graveyard
movie slots.
ME, I was weaned on the new
Hollywood, and it flows through my
veins as surely as old movies and WW
II-era nostalgia flow through my paren-
ts'. I'd rather watch Mean Streets or
The Conversation or almost any of
Robert Altman's movies than the best
things that Howard Hawks, John Ford,
John Huston, or Frank Capra ever
The basic formula polish of those old
films hasn't exactly been rubbed out;
it's there in Rocky, Norma Rae, and
Breaking Away, and on television it's
legion. But haven't the best American
directors-men like Altman, Coppola,
Brian De Palma, Arthur Penn, and
Martin Scorsese-shown us that movies
can be so much more? Discarding
rhythmed plots, covering over the old
formulas with richness and details and
more naturalistic rhythms, these
directors exploded the limits of the
movie medium. They made connections
with what people were saying and
feeling, but that few had probably ex-
pected from the movies. As such,
they'll always remain greater, more
audacious to me than people like Ford,
Huston, Capra and the rest, who made
the best of what was given them rather
than charging out on their own (either
that, or they tried to do the latter and
got crushed by the then-monolithic
studio system).
Which brings us back to Hitchcock,
who was probably the most purely for-
mulaic movie-maker of them all. In
classic Hitchcock movies like
Notorious, The Thirty-Nine Steps,
Lifeboat, Strangers on a Train, North
By Northwest, or (his masterpiece)
Psycho, there isn't a moment-not a
line of dialogue, a shift in camera
angle, a musical motif-that doesn't
seem preordained. Hitchcock in-
tegrated every cinematic element at
his disposal with an ease that made it
all seem magical; he was the Rimsky-
Korsakov of directors, a supreme
dramatic orchestrator. He didn't just
rhyme the plots: He rhymed the scenes,
the dialogue, the camera movemen-
ts-he made seamless mechanical
poetry out of the most basic Hollywood
AND YET Hitchcock will always be
one of my very favorites, because all
that formula stuff was, for him a

Stranger on a train

split timing and simple, Swiss-watch
precision. The pieces always fit
together, and that was a huge part of
the fun.
We always know whose.side we're on
in a western of crime melodrama,
and watching the movie is a gloriously
simplified experience-there's a kind of
purity about it. When a friend of mine
tells me he adores a creakily predic-
table old thing like High Noon, I know
it's not emotional turbulence he's after;
rather, it's measured involvement,
emotional response with the same un-
thinking assurance we get when we're
watching the ballteam we've rooted for
for twenty years. Ambiguity would
destroy the symmetry, would wreck the
basic old Hollywood-formula charm
that puts the messiness of experience
under the light of shiny pop clarity.
It's easy to enjoy that clarity years
after what it says about society has
been discarded. I'd take in The

Humphrey Bogart-style, have to a
generation who idolizes Woody Allen
because he can tell jokes? We didn't
grow up watching Bogart. We grew up
watching Woody Allen watching Bogart
(and, ultimately, rejecting him). A lot
of those old movies are just third-
generation pop images now, especially
when they're randomly mashed

The AnnmArbor Fixn Copert*e Presents at Add A: $1.50
Tuesday, May 13
(William Wyler, 1955) 7:00-AUD A
HUMPHREY BOGART gives a sorching performance as one of three escaped
convicts hiding from the hent in the home of a well respected family. This was
Bogie's last gangster role and he played it with the wild intensity that char-
acterized his stellar performance as Duke Mantee in "THE PETRIFIED FOREST."
(Raoul Walsh, 1941) 9:04-AUD A
An action-packed gangster film by the director of "WHITE HEAT." HUMPHREY
BOGART plays Mad Dog Earle, a killer on the run from the police, who is
befriended too late by IDA LUPINO. The superb cast also features ANNE LESLIE
Tomorrow: Roman Polanski's

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