HITCHCOCK--THE MURDEROUS GAZE by William Rothman

HITCHCOCK--THE MURDEROUS GAZE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Despite the impression you might get from the slightly smug postscript here, Rothman is hardly the first writer to take Hitchcock seriously--to see his films as meditations on ""the problems of human identity"" or as explorations of the film medium, the ""nature of viewing."" And Rothman's critical approach--heavy on film-maker as ""author""--perhaps assumes too much conscious thematic manipulation by the undeniably meticulous Hitchcock. Those reservations notwithstanding, however, this dense volume, which offers shot-by-shot ""readings"" of five major Hitchcock works, is a valuable addition to the admirable branch of film criticism--humanistic, eclectic, un-jargoned--best exemplified by Stanley Cavell (Rothman's apparent mentor) in his recent Pursuits of Happiness. The five: the 1926 silent The Lodger; Murderl; The Thirty-Nine Steps; Shadow of a Doubt; Psycho--an arguably representative group, though Rothman acknowledges the Dating absence of a 1950s, in-color masterpiece like Rear Window. (References to the whole canon do bridge the chapters.) And each film is verbally experienced, moment by moment (20 pages on the Psycho shower scene alone), with special attention to: audience/character identification; camera point-of-view; sexual imagery and innuendo; the taut relationship between the film ""author"" and the audience (erotic, potentially violent); and ironic textures. But though this relentless close-up certainly can become claustrophobic--especially with the theater-vs.-film esthetics in Murder!--Rothman also emphasizes Hitchcock's humanity, making a modestly persuasive case against the image of Hitchcock-the-crual-cynic; and, like Cavell, Rothman shows a feel for the complex on-screen impact of star personalities--in the sort of shrewd analysis (re Robert Donat and Cary Grant) that nicely complements Pauline Kael's more visceral star-appreciations. An important book for Hitchcock students, then (best, perhaps, on Shadow of a Doubt)--but also, in its approach and at certain moments, of wider film-studies interest.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press