Jun 12, 2020

The Birds

While I have never particularly cared for monster movies one way or another (and I find most killer animals films to be rather retarded), I think it is safe to say that Alfred Hitchcock was taking a big quasi-artistic risk when he decided to make a horror flick about birds as they are, at least to my mind, the most benignly beautiful of god’s creatures and hardly beings that inspire feelings of fear and terror. After all, unless you are someone that suffers from the acute aesthetic aliment of liking Troma trash like Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (2006), there is not another single decent killer bird flick aside from Hitch’s The Birds (1963), but of course the film has much more to offer than the seemingly goofy thrill of uniquely unlucky humans suffering the less than dignified fate of being liquidated by fierce feathered flocks as the film’s title—a clear reference to British slang for women—surely hints. Indeed, the film seems like what might happen if anti-feminist Jewess Esther Vilar’s classic anti-vag quasi-manifesto The Manipulated Man (1971) aka Der Dressierte Mann was used as the philosophical inspiration for the anti-monster film par excellence as a curiously quirky yet strangely sexually cruel cinematic work where the viewer roots for the killer birds, especially when they attack obnoxious human birds and the dumb easily manipulated men that love them. In fact, the real ‘monster’ of the film is women and femininity as an oftentimes cleverly cryptic cinematic work that reveals womankind without its figurative makeup, not unlike Norman Bates’ mummified mommy's face in Hitch’s arguable magnum opus Psycho (1960). Speaking of Psycho, the film also certainly does not leave the less fairer sex off the hook as the dubious dating habits of a nearly-middle-aged momma’s boy ultimately leads to the doom of no less than two hot dames in the film. In short, The Birds is a masterwork in mainstream movie misanthropy where the real monster is humanity to the point where one does not really question why the birds want to wipe humans out despite it being an obviously absurdly silly premise, hence the understatedly eccentric brilliance of the film; or so I learned during a recent re-watching of the film for the first time since I was a young kid.

One of the things that I find particularly annoying about Hitchcock’s films in general is that, aside from their glaring artificiality, I rarely ever find myself identifying with any aspect of them, but on my recent re-watching of the famously bloated British auteur’s feathery flick I was bombarded with seagulls, which I am certainly familiar with. Indeed, as someone that has the luxury of living at the beach, I have also had the luxury of regularly encountering gulls—a seabird that is so unsavory that is known to engage in kleptoparasitism—and can certainly say they are the ideal bird type when it comes to apocalyptic feathered dinosaur flicks. Aside from seagulls crashing into my car windshield at least a couple times, I have personally witnessed these parasitic winged creatures eat cigarette butts, shit on small children at the local boardwalk, and steal french-fries right out of the hands of unsuspecting vacationers. In short, gulls—or ‘mews’ as they were once called—are a bird of an oftentimes stunning natural beauty that is betrayed by their grotesquely aggressive behavior, which Hitch’s flick really underscores. Of course, the main characters of the film make these killer birds—whether they be seagull or otherwise—seem like totally angelic beasts by comparison as it is a stylishly savage cinematic work where much of the frivolousness that defines civilization is both literally and figuratively ripped to shreds by seemingly god-ordained creatures that force said main characters to confront nature in all its unsentimental brutality for what is probably the first time in their entire exceedingly sheltered lives.  While it is well known that character development is not exactly key when it comes to creature features, The Birds largely works because Hitchcock goes to great pains to teach the viewer to hate the main characters in all their agonizingly all-too-human glory. Seemingly at least partly fueled by hatred and resentment for the sort of hot blonde bitch that Hitch—a sexually dubious dude that infamously obsessed over his leading ladies and personal secretaries in rather creepy ways—could never get despite his great fame and fortune, the film is also a great example as to why Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto went so far as in tome The Dark Side Of Genius: The Life Of Alfred Hitchcock (1983) to describe his cinematic works as, “astonishingly personal documents.”

 In fact, Spoto makes it very clear at the beginning of his extensive biography that Hitchcock was a highly secretive chap that, despite his fame and intelligence, left very little behind in the way of journals and letters, as if he was deathly paranoid that someone might glean some special insight in regard to his psyche and/or personal life, among other things. In that sense, Hitchcock’s films can be somewhat fun to analyze in an auteurist sense as they are indubitably the works of a pervert, misogynist, misanthrope, and sadist, albeit one that seemingly lacked the gall and balls to truly practice such tendencies in real-life to any serious degree (for example, as Spoto also notes, Hitch's wife more or less wore the pants in the marriage). Notably, as Spoto mentions in his bio, Hitch actually dared to offer some rare thematic insight in regard to The Birds when he stated, “The girl represents complacency. The mother panics because she stars off being so strong, but she is not strong, it is a facade: she has been substituting her son for her husband. She is the weak character in the story. But the girl shows that people can be strong when they face up to the situations. . . . But as a group they were the victims of Judgment Day. . . . I felt that after PSYCHO people would expect something to top it.”

In the film, the almost insufferably sassy socialite heroine Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren)—a rich bitch that loves playing practical jokes who becomes the unwitting butt of the joke in the end—travels about an hour-away over the weekend to see and ultimately attempt to ensnare a vaguely hunky lawyer named Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) that she barely knows, only to discover he is the son of an obscenely overprotective widowed bitch named Lydia (Jessica Tandy) who seems intent on forever carrying her grownup baby boy’s balls in her purse (of course, as Norman Bates insightfully states in Psycho, “A son is a poor substitute for a lover.”). Luckily, Hitchcock uses the killer birds to ruthlessly murder the romantic melodrama and, in the process, puts these pretty yet putrid people in their place in an almost therapeutically apocalyptic scenario where the petty problems and plotlines of pretty prosaic people are deemed irrelevant as a peroxide blonde cutie goes from being insufferably comfortably smug and confidant to catatonic in a single scenic weekend. In that sense, Hitch exposes himself as a sort of spiritual (proto)incel, though his observations in regard to the so-called fairer sex seem very close to that of a bitchy gay man à la Rainer Werner Fassbinder or even Andy Milligan (who, of course, also utilized horror genre conventions to express misanthropic and misogynistic sentiments) than some virginal heterosexual gamer. Needless to say, I do not think it would be a stretch to describe Hitchcock as the real monster of The Birds, but he is such a marvelous monster that he thankfully trades in tired genre tropes for sexual terror.  Also proving that he did not need Bernard Herrmann or a traditional musical score in general to make a great cinematic work, the film is also notable for its exquisitely eerie electronic proto-synthesizer Trautonium anti-soundtrack as composed by kooky krauts Oskar Sala and Remi Gassmann. In that sense, the film goes back to Hitch's early cinematic roots as a student of German Expressionism which is fitting since it was a movement that imbued the horror genre with artistic merit.

While Hitchcock certainly took a frisky, if not downright fierce (albeit somewhat covert), approach when depicting those of the feminine persuasion, The Birds is arguably his most ruthlessly ‘gyno-ambivalent’ flick in both the covert and overt sense. For example, as Camille Paglia argued in her magnum opus Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990), “The Harpies are servants of the Furies. They are ‘the Snatchers’ (from harpazo, ‘snatch’), airborne pirates, befouling men with their droppings. They represent the aspect of femaleness that clutches and kills in order to feed itself. The archetypal power of Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS, comes from its reactivation of the Harpy myth, shown as both bird and woman.” While Paglia might be committing puffery and giving too much credit to an oftentimes goofy horror flick (indeed, compare Hitch's flick to Belgian auteur Raoul Servais' delectably disturbing animated short Harpya (1979)), her BFI Film Classics book The Birds (1998) provide a number of positively penetrating insights about the monstrous tendencies of the so-called fairer sex.  Indeed, while I have to agree with Woody Allen of all people when he stated in a Sight and Sound Hitchcock tribute, “I delighted in about five of Hitchcock’s movies and enjoyed a few others pretty much, but there are many I have no interest in, including some revered ones. They are all very light entertainment, fun like airport books or, as he referred to them, ‘slices of cake,’” it is ironically The Birds—a film with a premise that is so patently absurd and seemingly silly that is screams excremental exploitation trash—of all films where Hitch arguably reveals the most about his own personal Weltanschauung in terms of both elegantly and intricately expressing his great contempt for humanity and especially the opposite sex.

A monster movie for people that do not necessarily give a shit about monster movies, the film is mostly worthy of Paglia’s praise of the film as “a perverse ode to woman’s sexual glamour, which Hitchcock shows in all its seductive phases, from brittle artifice to melting vulnerability.” Of course, Paglia is a fiery guidette carpet-muncher and while I agree with her that Tippi Hedren is indubitably the greatest and most beauteous of the haute Hitch hoes, I think it would be more accurate to describe the film as a delightfully devastating deconstruction of the intricate perennial lie that is woman’s sexual glamour, which Hitchcock soaks in blood and bird shit in what is ultimately a rather ruthless film where a hot twat ‘peroxide blonde’ faces struggle for the first time in her putridly privileged San Francisco socialite life and naturally completely mentally deteriorates in the process, thereupon exposing both the innate frivolity and fragility of femininity. In short, The Birds demonstrates that it is a man’s world and the veneer of civilization, which is completely demolished in Hitch’s film, is the only thing keeping people from remembering that simple fact, hence the lack of so-called feminism among primitive peoples. After all, it is only the hocus pocus of feminine glamour, which is clearly and cleverly depicted in the film, that causes man to yield his power as most women would have very little if it was not handed to them by a dumb horny men that have foolishly fallen under their spell.

While it is impossible to completely hate her, blonde bombshell bon vivant Melanie Daniels—a vapid San Francisco vamp that lives a life of luxury due to her father owning a successful newspaper—immediately announces her sickening sense of self-absorption at the beginning of the film when a little boy whistles at her and she responds by proudly smiling, as if she thrives completely on male attention, including even that of a cheeky kid that is clearly old enough to be her son. While she never verbally expresses it, Melanie is clearly husband-shopping as she is getting pretty old for a debutante and she even immediately begins attempting to capture her prey upon meeting a young bachelor named Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) while shopping for Indian mynah birds at a local pet store. Despite (or, probably more accurately, because of) the fact that Mitch makes a total moron of her by pretending to think she is a store employee and letting her perform an entire bullshit seduction routine, Melanie is immediately enamored with the young hunk who, as a lawyer, recognized her from court in regard to a case he describes to her as, “one of your practical jokes that resulted in the smashing of a plate-glass window.” When Mitch states things like, “Back in your gilded cage, Melanie Daniels” and “The judge should have put you behind bars,” you can practically imagine the heroine getting her panties soaked at the sense of stern male authority and her subsequent actions certainly hint at such a reaction as she utilizes her father’s newspaper power to find out who the hunk is simply by writing down his license plate. Determined to entangle Mitch in her virtual bourgeois femme fatale web, Melanie symbolically buys him lovebirds, but she only learns later from a neighbor that, despite being a hardly-young professional, the young bachelor curiously spends his weekends at his mother’s house in Bodega Bay.  Despite being about 60 miles away from SF and Mitch expressing no serious desire to be with her, Melanie absurdly decides to head to Bodega Bay with the lovebirds in what ultimately proves to be the worst mistake of her entire life. While she does seem to achieve her objective of ensnaring Mitch the oedipally curious bitch, she will never be the same woman again as a poor little rich girl that now has bird-induced PTSD.

Although heroine Melanie Daniels is, to a certain degree, vaguely likeable, Hitch makes it quite clear that she is a half-crazed spoiled cunt that, among other things, engages in stalking, emotional blackmail, lying and deception, and various forms of deleterious tomfoolery. Of course, such is to be expected of a pretty peroxide blonde and as Paglia noted in regard to the character in the context of Hitchcockian cinema, “As a bottle blonde herself, she seems to gain strength from the peroxide, which operates on her like a transfusion of plasma. They dye theme appears in Hitchcock as early as THE LODGER […] Hitchcock treats blonde as a beautiful, false color, symbolizing women’s lack of fidelity and trustworthiness.” Despite being riddled with a good percentage of negative female stereotypes, Melanie also expresses absurd pretenses towards (proto)feminist folly, or as Paglia noted, “Miffed at Lydia’s frostiness, Melanie digs in her heels and refuses to let Mitch pick her up for dinner: ‘I can find my own way,’ she says, in what could stand as a manifesto of feminist independence.” Needless to say, Melanie is not the only insufferable chick in the flick, as Mitch’s widowed mother Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy)—a woman that, not coincidentally, bears a striking resemblance to the heroine, albeit a couple decades older—is every young debutante’s worst nightmare as a stuck-up old bitch that treats her son as if he were her hubby. Despite the fact she looks borderline elderly, Lydia has a banally conformist adolescent daughter named Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) who Melanie strategically buys lovebirds for as a birthday gift even though said birds are really clearly a symbolic gift to Mitch who she plans to capture via her feminine wiles.

Out of all the main female characters in the film, a young single schoolteacher named Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette)—a buxom brunette of the subtly bitchy yet rather sexy sort—is probably the most tolerable yet ultimately most tragic. An old flame of Mitch’s who actually relocated to Bodega Bay because of him, Annie was no match for the momma boy Mitch’s momma Lydia yet she still cannot get over him, hence why she has stayed in the area. Luckily for Melanie, the titular feathered terrors take care of the competition as the heroine and Mitch eventually suffering the shock of finding the ravaged remains of still-beauteous Annie's bloody bird-brutalized body. Arguably more ravishing and certainly strangely sexier than Melanie, Annie is assuredly one of the most interesting of the Hitchcock chicks and as Paglia noted in regard to the character, “Suzanne Pleshette, with her savvy Jewish Freudianism, puts all the right shadings into her marvelous depiction of the articulate, hyperconscious, but slightly depressive Annie.” In fact, Annie goes as far as arguably hinting that her ex-lover is gay when she states, “Maybe there’s never been anything between Mitch and any girl.” Needless to say, when Annie states in regard to San Francisco—the virtual cocksucker capital of the world—“I guess that’s where everyone meets Mitch,” one cannot help but feel that is once again hinting at his dubious sexuality (notably, in her new foreword to the 2nd edition of her BFI Film Classics book The Birds, Paglia would even describe a neighbor of Mitch’s portrayed by Richard Deacon as “a waspish, fashion-savvy gay connoisseur who recognizes the supreme sexual power of a woman as cult object without yielding to it”).

While The Birds undoubtedly portrays leading lady Melanie Daniels as an inordinately manipulative and exceedingly entitled bitch that is used to getting what she wants whenever she because she realizes that she has a pricey pussy and is more intrinsically important—both in terms of class and genetics—than most of humanity, her female inferiors, which includes women of all ages (but certainly not coincidentally, especially older women), actually prove to be the greater monsters to the point where they irrationally accuse her of causing the virtual bird apocalypse after all hell breaks loose. Indeed, one hyper hysterical mother portrayed by Doreen Lang even dares to scream in Melanie’s face at a diner, “Why are they doing this? Why are they doing this? They said when you got here, the whole thing started. Who are you? What are you? Where did you come from? I think you're the cause of all this. I think you're evil! EVIL!” Of course, in stereotypical negative female fashion, this sensually sapless bitch just seems to be utilizing the situation to unload her (potentially subconscious) sexual jealously onto a feisty Fräulein that is both much younger and more beautiful than she is, yet Hitchcock makes sure it is almost impossible not to feel a certain schadenfreude at Melanie’s expense as it is about time that the preternaturally pretty heroine be smacked in the face with reality and learn what it means to truly suffer. Additionally, Melanie has something metaphysically (fe)malefic about her and as Paglia noted in regard to the diner scene with Doreen Lang, “The shrill mother, like a witch-baiter in THE CRUCIBLE, advances on Melanie, whose point of view is taken by the camera and therefore us […] Melanie, having had quite enough of impossible mothers, smacks her solidly in the face—which breaks the spell, but there is still no movement to Melanie’s side. While the woman’s charges are too irrational and sensational to accept in naturalistic terms, they have a mythic power that cannot be shaken off: on some level, Melanie really is a kind of vampire attuned to nature’s occult messages.”

 Undoubtedly, until she is brutalized by the birds, Melanie wears a perennial smile of self-satisfaction as if there is no doubt in her mind that the world is her oyster, which is in stark contrast to Mitch’s constantly moody and broody bitch mom Lydia who immediately expresses a guarded glacial demeanor to the heroine that only begins to dissipate as the feathered apocalypse begins to get fierce. In that sense, Paglia makes an interesting argument when she mentions, “Crisscross (the theme of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN): literally from the moment Melanie crosses her legs, the bird attack begins. Has Lydia’s witchy malice evoked it? […] Lydia ‘panics,’ Hitchcock told Bogdanovich, because ‘she is not strong, it is a façade’: so architecturally, she is crumbling.” In short, female strength comes with a sunny smile as opposed to a fierce frown as exemplified by the stark contrast between the young and fertile Melanie and old and postmenopausal widow Lydia (who is so desperate for a man that she has succumbed to covert incest and has irrationally attempted to shield her son from a female mate so that she can perversely keep him for herself). Indeed, one can sense that Lydia innately understands (but, due to very personal reasons, does not want to accept) that her son has found a most apt sexual mate when she states to Melanie, “I feel as if I don’t understand you at all, and I want so much to understand. Because my son seems to be very fond of you, and I don’t quite know how I feel about it. I don’t even know if I like you or not […] Mitch is important to me. I want to like whatever girl he chooses.”  Needless to say, were it not for the beaked holocaust and Melanie's behavior during said beaked holocaust, it is dubious as to whether or not Lydia would have ever embraced the heroine as the almost quasi-biblical experience seems to force the fiercely frigid old hag to finally come out of her shell.

Notably, the film concludes with Lydia caressing a catatonic Melanie as the lead characters escape Bodega Bay in a car driven by Mitch and one can only assume that the older woman’s display of compassion is somewhat deceptive as it can be rightly assumed that the widow no longer feels threatened that her much beloved substitute husband—her own son—will be  taken away from her, at least not completely. For example, as Paglia argued, “At the end of THE BIRDS, who wields the claw? I agree with Margret M. Horwitz’s view that Lydia certainly appears ‘victorious’ and that she and the birds have ‘achieved dominance.’ Melanie is now damaged goods, which Madonna Lydia prefers for her pieta,” but, of course, part of the brilliance of the film is Hitchcock’s quite intentional ambiguity. After all, the film would have probably not been such a big hit, especially among chicks, if it was made completely unequivocal that woman are obscenely opportunistic, cold, calculating, callous and craven creatures that only get all the more so with age. Of course, the great irony of the filmmaker’s understated misogynistic brilliance is that his film is as coldly covert and cryptic as the monstrous women it portrays and in that sense, Hitch is the real monster of The Birds.

Whether intentional or not (I certainly believe the former), it is certainly fitting that, not unlike Jacques Tourneur/Val Letwon with Cat People (1942) and Paul Schrader with his 1982 remake, The Birds connects horror with the primordial horror of femininity, which makes perfect sense when considers the closer link that the fairer sex has with nature. Indeed, as Otto Weininger—a virtually blacklisted philosopher that, not unlike with Oswald Spengler, Paglia certainly borrowed a thing or two from—argued in his magnum opus Sex and Character: An Investigation of Fundamental Principles (1903), “Women are closer to nature in their unconscious than man. The flowers are their sisters, and they are less far removed from animals than Man, as is proved by the fact that they are surely more strongly inclined to bestiality than he is (remember the myths of Leda and Pasiphae; and women’s relationship with their lapdog is also much more sensual than is general believed).” And, of course, what better symbol of femininity than the angelic parasite known as the seagull and its flying sisters?! While The Birds heroine is constantly conspiring and plotting her next move, her main goal is clearly completely instinctual and that is to find a man and procreate, which she literally dedicates all her efforts to in her absurd pursuit of momma’s boy Mitch. After all, as Weininger once wrote (and Hitchcock would surely agree with), “Woman seeks her fulfillment as an object. She is the chattel, either of the man or of the child, and all she wants to be taken for is a chattel, despite all her attempts to hide this. There is no surer way to misunderstand what Woman really wants than by being interested in what goes on inside her and sympathizing with her emotions and her hopes, her experiences and her inner nature. Woman does not want to be treated as a subject. All she ever wants—and that is what makes her Woman—is to remain passive and to feel a will directed toward her. She does not want to be treated either timidly or gently. Nor does she want to be respected. Rather, she needs to be desired merely as a body and to be the sole possession of another. Just as a mere sensation only assumes reality when it becomes a concept—that is, an object—so Woman only acquires her existence, and a sense of her existence, when she is elevated by a man or a child—a subject—to his object, and thus has an existence bestowed on her.” Of course, this is explains why Melanie is totally turned on by Mitch’s initial rather arrogant insults (and why women in general are totally disgusted by ostensible ‘nice guy’ types) to the point where she fabricates an entire journey to be with him (despite knowing next to nil about him). Indeed, as far as nature is concerned, Melanie’s only real mistake is being attracted to a momma’s boy, which is probably the deleterious subconscious result of having a troubled relationship with her own estranged mother who abandoned her. Ironically, in the end, Melanie does acquire a surrogate mother of sorts but it is dubious at best that she, Mitch, and mommy Lydia will live ‘happy ever after’ in the end, especially since she has already made the unforgivable mistake of exposing weakness to the old lady. After all, as Hitch knew, trust no birds/bitches.

 Just the other day, I saw a redneck truck plow down two seagulls on the main road in my hometown and there was a certain ironical poetry to these bright white bird bodies as these dead winged parasites still demonstrated more beauty than all the humans around them despite dying such undignified deaths. Indeed, while I am not particularly fond of gulls, they are undoubtedly less obnoxious and purer than the mostly putrid people that have turned their habitat—a resort town—into a hedonistic wasteland where (sub)humans come to bask in booze at the beach and other senseless shit that has less intrinsic value than bird shit. In short, the people I regularly encounter in real-life are certainly more worthy of a bird apocalypse than the characters in The Birds, which says a lot since I feel hardly sympathetic towards the characters of Hitch’s flick. Needless to say, a sequel exists but the made-for-TV turd The Birds II: Land's End (1994) directed by Hebraic Halloween sequel hack Rick Rosenthal is even worse than one might presume despite also featuring Tippi Hedren (who, rather curiously, does not reprise her Melanie Daniels character). Indeed, as much as I like seaside horror cinema, The Birds II provides less entertainment than staring at seagull roadkill for 90 minutes or so. Instead, Jean Renoir’s The Woman on the Beach (1947), Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide (1961), Ken Wiederhorn’s Shock Waves (1977), Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 (1979), John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980), and Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys (1987), among a couple other examples, make for a nice companion to Hitchcock’s classic if you enjoy fun horror in the sun this summer. In that sense, The Birds might be, for me, Hitch’s most enjoyable film. As for Robert Eggers' latest The Lighthouse (2019)—a film that feels like what the mongrelized mutant offspring of H.P. Lovecraft and F.W. Murnau might make if attempting to take a grotesquely gynophobic approach to Harrington’s Night Tide and The Birds—it is probably the greatest killer seagull flick since Hitch's classic, which of course does not say all that much but I can certainly recommend it.

Notably, during his pre-The Draughtsman's Contract (1982) years, British auteur Peter Greenaway paid tribute to both Hitchcock and The Birds in various experimental collage-like films. In fact, Greenaway's absurdly ambitious first feature The Falls (1980)—an eccentrically and oftentimes esoterically epic 195-minute avant-garde docucomedy of sorts—can be seen, in part, as a sort of absurdist (anti)sequel to The Birds that, aside from being set in a post-apocalyptic realm where characters have bird-like mutations and are obsessed with birds and flights, makes numerous references to the classic Hitch flick.  For example, a film character named Obsian Fallicutt—a fanatical film editor that, not unlike Greenaway, becomes obsessed with films with ornithological themes—is described as believing that Hitch faked the mysterious apocalyptic scenario that is central to the film.  Indeed, as the film's narrator states, “Obsian Fallicutt had a theory that the V.U.E. [Violent Unknown Event] was an expensive, elaborate hoax perpetrated by A.J. Hitchcock to give some credibility to the unsettling and unsatisfactory ending of his film THE BIRDS.”  Needless to say, The Falls is mandatory-viewing for anyone with an acute autistic obsession with birds and/or The Birds.

Undoubtedly, one of the things that makes The Birds so inordinately enjoyable and artistically singular, especially in the context of Hitch’s overall oeuvre, is its strangely foreboding ambiguity. Indeed, as Robin Wood notes in his classic text Hitchcock's Films Revisited (1989) in regard to the conclusion of the film, “A bleak enough message; and in the last sequence of the film—the departure by car through the massed, waiting birds—the effect of bleakness is intensified by the uncertainties. For uncertainty is the keynote of the film: Hitchcock allows himself and us no easy comfort. Under this sense of judgment, of intense scrutiny, every action becomes ambiguous. The carrying of the lovebirds out to the ca: is it a touching gesture (through the child) of continuing faith, despite all, in the goodness of nature and the possibility of order, or an absurd clinging to a sentimental view of life, a refusal still to face reality? The mother’s cradling of Melanie in her arms and the shot of their interlocking hands: is it a gesture of acceptance (hence creative and fertile) or a new manifestation of maternal possessiveness? Melanie’s broken condition: does it represent the possibility of development into true womanhood, or a final relapse into infantile dependence? All these questions are left open: if we demand a resolution of them we have missed the whole tone and temper of the film. We can say, at best, that there is a suggestion of a new depth, a new fertility in the relationships—Lydia has become the mother Melanie never had. The point about the ending is that the degree of optimism or pessimism it is felt to contain must depend on ourselves: what Hitchcock gives us is the questions.” Of course, as a proud (cultural) pessimist, I can only interpret the film’s conclusion as being nothing more than a sort of figurative ‘calm before the storm’ where the main characters receive a temporary reprieve before the misery commences. As to whether it is the birds or their own self-destructive behavior and/or dysfunctional relationships that destroys them, it remains to be seen.  In that sense, one must at least give credit to Rick Rosenthal for not reprising the original characters in his steaming celluloid seagull shit The Birds II as it would have surely contributed to the destruction of the mystique of the original film, hence the true unmitigated horror of most horror sequels.

Probably the greatest compliment I can pay to The Birds is that its greatest scenes resemble a sort of goofy warped take on a landscape painting by great Swiss Symbolist artist Arnold Böcklin who Weininger once described as “one feels that mountains are dead and is mightily attracted only to the sea with its eternal motion.” Of course, as from its eternal motion, the sea represents a sort of escape from humanity as an unconquerable realm that virtually separates worlds, hence the genius of using birds as an apocalyptic catalyst as not even water can offer a chance of escape.  Naturally, it is also extremely fitting that it was also directed by the man behind the idiosyncratic anti-nazi propaganda piece Lifeboat (1944) where the sea become a sort of perennial psychodramatic prison where man's sanity and civilization are put to the ultimate test. Surely, The Birds—a film that has aged somewhat gracefully over nearly 60 years—can be seen as a sort of allegorical cinematic ‘canary in a coal mine’ in regard to a sort of sexual apocalypse that has afflicted the Occident for sometime but certainly went into overdrive during the dreaded 1960s.

Indeed, as Weininger—a Viennese Jew whose somewhat predictable suicide Spengler once poetically described as death, “in a spiritual struggle of essentially Magian experience is one of the noblest spectacles ever presented by a Late religiousness”—foresaw over a century ago, “Our age is not only the most Jewish, but also the most effeminate of all ages; an age in which art only provides a sudarium for its moods and which has derived the artistic urge in humans from the games played by animals; an age of the most credulous anarchism, an age without any appreciation of the state and law, an age of species ethic, an age of the shallowest of all imaginable interpretations of history (historical materialism), an age of capitalism and Marxism, an age for which history, life, science, everything, has become nothing but economics and technology: an age that has declared genius to be a form of madness, but which no longer has one great artist or one great philosopher, an age that is most devoid of originality, but which chases most frantically after originality; an age that has replaced the idea of virginity with the cult of the demivierge. This age also has the distinction of being the first to have not only affirmed and worshiped sexual intercourse, but to have practically made it a duty, not as a way of achieving oblivion, as the Romans or Greeks did in their bacchanals, but in order to find itself and to give its own dreariness a meaning.”  Despite Hitchcock's Roman Catholic background and formative Jesuit education that he once described to mischling Peter Bogdanovich as being so highly influential in the sense that, “The Jesuits taught me organization, control and, to some degree, analysis,” there is no question of the Freudian factor of his oeuvre and his various crucial collaborations with Hebrews that include Ealing Studios head Michael Balcon, composer Bernard Herrmann, businessman Sidney Bernstein, screenwriters Arthur Laurents and Ben Hecht, and graphic designer Saul Bass, among countless others, reveals that the filmmaker is—for better or worse—a glaring product/symptom of Judaic modernity.

Undoubtedly, to various degrees, Hitch’s films absolutely epitomize this spiritually necrotic disease, but at least The Birds arguably recognizes it on a sort of ambiguous subtextual level as a flick where a scheming debutante, momma’s boy lawyer, and covertly incestuous mother seem to get their just deserts; or at least they are forced to pull their heads out of the asses for the first time in their entire pathetic lives due to the curious circumstance of a wonderfully nonsensical Neornithes nightmare. Of course, in the end, flocks of fatally fierce feathered friends attacking people seems less patently absurd than the petty and patently prosaic concerns of the pretty plastic people of The Birds who are forced by a sort of goofy Armageddon to, at least temporarily, end their innate inertia. As guido gore maestro Lucio Fulci's The Exorcist rip-off Manhattan Baby (1982)—a film that manages to pay tribute to both Hitch’s Psycho and The Birds in a single scene in its depiction of stuffed birds coming alive and killing their master—surely demonstrates, killer winged beasts are not interesting enough to make a film worthwhile but they make a nice backdrop to a film marinated in misanthropy and ostensible misogyny where one cannot help but root for the birds, including seagulls.

While I hardly would describe most of Hitch's film as art and find very little to admire about the life and work of Pablo Picasso, I think the Spanish artist could have certainly been talking about The Birds when he once stated, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” as it is a film that gives a soul to the soulless and takes a pleasantly preposterous approach to giving a sort of human vulnerability to the only superficially human.  Indeed, the film might make Hitchcock seem rather unflattering in that it seems like his savagely sadistic reaction to a lifetime of being rejected by premium grade pussy, but he does somewhat paradoxically demonstrate that pretty peroxide blondes also have feelings (or whatever), which the filmmaker took to even further extremes with lead Tippi Hedren in his underrated subsequent film Marnie (1964).  After all, Hitchcock—a lifelong sadistic practical joker—seemed to most enjoy cinematically abusing female birds and he apparently even acted like a monster to Hedren in real-life, so it is only natural that a high-point in his career would involve literal birds brutalizing people in what is arguably the most playfully pernicious cinematic pun in cinema history.  Of course, in a seemingly apocalyptic age that is increasingly decadent and feminine where relationships between the sexes have reached an all-time high in terms of dysfunction to the point where the birth rate is dropping rapidly in the West and divorce is the norm and marriage is considered a joke, The Birds—a film where it takes a literal bird apocalypse for the heroine to become more passive and her male love interest to take real action and act like a man—is certainly more relevant today than when it was first released and thus more pleasantly punishing than Psycho.  After all, we need a world with more pretty birds and less men in dresses.

-Ty E

May 7, 2020

Psycho (1960)

Generally, I have two modes of film viewing: serious and unserious. While I tend to reserve arthouse films and ‘heavy stuff’ for my more serious film experiences, I also like to binge-watch old horror and sci-fi series like The Twilight Zone (1959–1964) and Tales from the Darkside (1983–1988) when I am feeling less serious and am simply looking for something nice and cozy to play in the background when I am working on other things, eating, or whatever. While many film nerds and film academics swear that he is unequivocally the greatest cinematic auteur that has ever lived and a virtual god among mere mortals, Hitchcock—a man that would arguably ultimately become better known as a brand than a simple filmmaker—is not exactly an all-time-favorite filmmaker of mine, which I recently further confirmed after having a long Hitch marathon of his mostly late-era top-shelf stuff during a number of my ‘unserious’ viewing sessions over the course of two weeks. Although there is no denying that Hitchcock was some sort of master craftsmen in a way probably comparable to Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher was in his field in terms of playing with things like symmetry and perspective and mastering découpage to an almost mathematical degree, it is hard for me to take him serious the way I do highly idiosyncratic auteur filmmakers like Carl Theodor Dreyer, Robert Bresson, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Werner Schroeter as his films are simply too glaringly contrived, cold, artificial, superficial, unbecomingly garish and just plain too old-fashioned for my tastes, hence why it does not surprise me that the man was a virtual brand and that he was the progenitor of a hit TV series entitled Alfred Hitchcock Presents (later known as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour) that lasted ten seasons as he mastered a sort of gimmicky form of entertainment which, to his credit, he did better than anyone else.  In fact, I would argue that even a classic The Outer Limits episode like ‘The Man Who Was Never Born’ displays more a ‘soul’ than the average Hitch flick, but I digress. Somehow I can imagine that even during sex (which he apparently had very little of during his life), Hitch would have to at least spend 20 minutes getting ready and putting on the right specially selected bondage gear just to get down and dirty as normal sensual things like passion and spontaneity probably totally escaped him.

Indeed, at the risk of sounding like a pretentious prick and/or contrarian cunt, I found it nearly impossible to take most of Hitchcock’s films any more serious than any other seriously reasonably entertaining horror and thriller flicks as they lack a certain heaviness, rely too much on pop psychology and bastardized true crime tales, and just do not hit me the way a great Bresson and Fassbinder flick does (indeed, compare Fassbinder’s Cornell Woolrich adaptation Martha (1974) to Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) and it becomes quite crystal clear who is the more painfully serious and completely uncompromising artist).  Similarly, Rebecca (1940) is undoubtedly one of Hitch's greatest and most elegant films, but fellow English filmmaker Nicolas Roeg went much further with his Daphne du Maurier adaptation Don't Look Now (1973) and seamlessly assembled a singular combination of pathos, tenderness, eroticism, and virtual avant-garde horror that would simply confound the Notorious (1946) director as he seemed to lack a sense of artistic vigor, hence his self-admitted boredom while actually directing films. Still, if you are looking for the cinematic equivalent of a fun amusement park ride that takes your mind off the greater miseries of life, Hitchcock’s films indubitably provide and his countless imitators of various stripes prove this. In fact, like it or not, there is no denying that Psycho (1960)—a film that arguably represents the auteur at his most subversive, daring, and uncompromising—is simply one of the most influential films of all-time, though the overall value of said influence is somewhat dubious (after all, is there a more decidedly disposable and artistically bankrupt (sub)genre than the slasher film?!).

After my recent half-ass Hitch marathon, I think I tend to agree with the popular consensus that Psycho—along with Vertigo (1958) and The Birds (1963)—is one of Hitchcock’s greatest, if not greatest, masterpiece and a film that has aged relatively gracefully despite the large virtual garbage dump of senseless cinematic trash that it has influenced, which is somewhat ironic since it is certainly the one film that has completely escaped its creator’s grasp and developed a life of its own as demonstrated by the various Hitch-unapproved sequels and TV series that have haunted it, not unlike Norman Bates being perversely haunted by the memory of his dead mommy. Of course, more importantly, Psycho has had a totally unquantifiable influence on the art of cinema as a film that, aside from the obvious example of guido giallos and its American bastard offspring—the wretched slasher film—has been paid tribute (and anti-tribute) to in films ranging from William Wyler's The Collector (1965) to George Kuchar’s high-camp avant-fart short Pagan Rhapsody (1970) to Fassbinder’s debut feature Love Is Colder Than Death (1969) to the Amero brothers’ psychedelic hardcore horror flick Bacchanale (1970) to Maurice Pialat’s anti-romance We Won't Grow Old Together (1972) to Robert Altman’s Images (1972) to Paul Bartel's Private Parts (1972) to Jonathan Demme’s underrated Last Embrace (1979) to Brian De Palma's Hitch homage Dressed to Kill (1980) to Ken Russell’s Crimes of Passion (1984) featuring Anthony Perkins in a virtual meta-commentary role of his Bates character, among countless other examples. In short, Hitchcock’s arguable magnum opus is a film that has influenced an eclectic range of filmmakers, though there is no denying that its sexual perversion angle is indubitably one of its greatest sources of influence as a work of great indelible penetration where Hitchcock does not fuck around when it comes to depicting a freaky fuck that, probably not unlike the filmmaker, suffered the fate of living too much inside of his own head where he imagined many beauteous blonde babes dead.

Needless to say, Psycho was not the first film where Hitchcock dealt with the perils and problems of the seriously sexually sick, though he was certainly more covert, if not sometimes downright esoteric, when dealing with such material in the past. Indeed, even with his third feature and first worthwhile flick The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)—an Expressionistic silent feature where the auteur revealed his crucial Teutonic influence (for example, Hitch once spent weeks on the set of The Last Laugh (1924) watching F.W. Murnau direct)—Hitchcock had the rather androgynous and openly gay Ivor Novello play the titular lead. While I am totally opposed to the modern-day mainstream academic trend of attempting to prove that great dead artists were secretly gay, Hitchcock’s films just give too many damn clues that he was a closest queen and gay film critic Robin Wood makes a pretty good case in his classic text Hitchcock's Films Revisited (1989) that these signs are apparent starting with The Lodger and his second lesser known Novello collaboration Downhill (1927). In Woods’ obviously biased blow-boy mind, Hitchcock got really fat and married Alma Reville at the same time he worked with Novello as a means to repress his sexual desire for the flaming Welsh actor, or as the film critic argues, “Why, in fact, did Hitchcock put on so much weight? No clear medical evidence has been produced, as far as I know. There seems to be abundant testimony that Hitchcock, throughout his life, longed to be attractive to women an experienced agonies of frustration over his fatness. The Psychoanalytical evidence seems to point in the opposite direction, to a hysterical resistance to being physically attractive to anyone.” Indeed, it is also hard to imagine a straight man stating things like, “The trouble today is that we don’t torture women enough” and taking so much sadistic glee in the brutalization and/or death/murder of beauteous blondes in films like Psycho, The Birds, and Vertigo which are, not coincidentally, the filmmaker’s greatest (and, for the most part, most personal) works.

Of course, with his great experiment in (non)editing Rope (1948)—a film penned by kosher cocksucker Arthur Laurents—Hitchcock paid (anti)tribute to infamous Hebraic homo childkillers Leopold and Loeb and their failed attempt at a mundanely murderous pseudo-Nietzschean Übermensch lifestyle. Even more incriminating, after his commercial critical flops with Marnie (1964) and Torn Curtain (1966), Hitchcock planned to direct a covertly gay necrophiliac serial killer film entitled Kaleidoscope (aka Frenzy)—a film project that apparently even disturbed #1 Hitchcock fan-boy Truffaut—but apparently Universal Studios bigwig Lew Wasserman felt a film involving an unhinged killer with an unhealthy addiction to beefcake bodybuilding magazines who gets caught masturbating by his own mother was not commercial enough so the filmmaker was unfortunately persuaded to direct the all-too-cold Cold War thriller Topaz (1969), which is indubitably one of his worst and most forgettable films, instead. Of course, Hitchcock’s oeuvre is, relatively speaking, a clever cocksucking cinephile's wet dream as it features much hermetic homoisms.  For example, Hitch's first feature The Pleasure Garden (1925) features an exceedingly effete costume designer, Murder! (1930) is notable for a half-breed transvestite killer, The Lady Vanishes (1938) has a curious cricket (and seemingly cock) obsessed male couple, Strangers on a Train (1951) features a titular bromance that borders on the homoromantic, and Martin Landau plays a murderously jealous queen of sorts in North by Northwest (1959), among various other examples. Needless to say, in terms of implied homosexuality and gay coding, there’s a lot of creepy covert cocksuckers when it comes to the cinema of Hitchcock and, as Psycho certainly demonstrates, this one of the most interesting and entertaining aspects of the filmmaker’s oeuvre.

Undoubtedly, the casting of actor Anthony Perkins—a painfully shy and weirdly wiry fellow that, not surprisingly, was involved in strictly same-sex relationships until his late-30s—was a stroke of genius and one can only assume that old Hitchcock had a great gaydar as it is simply impossible to imagine, say, Paul Newman (who later appeared in Hitchcock’s uneven Torn Curtain (1966)) or any another top leading man portraying the unconventionally iconic role of Norman Bates who is indubitably one of the great unforgettable characters of cinema history. Rather revealingly, Bates suffers from the stereotypically homosexual psychological problem of mommy issues and, as Jewish feminist Paula Marantz Cohen complains in her book Alfred Hitchcock: The Legacy of Victorianism (1995), the film is arguably at least partially the auteur’s response to ‘Momism’—a term coined by psychologist Erik Erikson (who had his own special lifelong mommy issues as the bastard broad of a Jewess and Danish Aryan father)—and the deleterious nature of an obscenely overly-controlling maternal influence. Of course, not unlike many of Hitchcock’s greatest films, most of the female characters in Psycho are unlikable, if not downright loathsome, including an insufferable secretary played by the director’s own daughter Pat Hitchcock (apparently, the filmmaker was not too happy when his daughter got married in 1952 and their relationship permanently suffered as a result). While most of the male characters are not much better, one gets the sense that Hitchcock is somewhat rooting for Bates Motel master Bates and that he is nothing if not the demented victim of gynocentrism in its most natural and unfortunately unchecked form. While some perennially dry and soulless fecund-free feminist types might go as far as describing the film as misogynistic, I think it would be more accurate to describe Psycho as a fairly successful experiment in merrily macabre misanthropy where a relatively tasteful tongue-in-cheek approach is taken to the idiosyncrasies of the rather retarded enigma that is (in)humanity. Undoubtedly one of the most artfully executed cinematic trolls in Hollywood history, Psycho is a proto-tranny-tinged anti-tribute to the tediously terrible turd pile that is (most of) humanity. In short, the film is where Hitchcock revealed what sort of beast he really is and he curiously utilized a knife-wielding dude in a dress to do it.

In modern post-internet speak, Psycho is the tragic tale of a young erratic incel of the obviously autistic sort (hence his bird fetish) that confronts his virtual female sexual marketplace opposite—a desperate unmarried and childless dame of the seemingly highly sexually experienced sort that is about to ‘hit the wall,’ hence her desperate motivation behind impulsively stealing $40,000 from a crude capitalist cowboy—in a confrontation between the sexes that would have been rather unlikely were it not for the absurdity of fate. Indeed, real-estate secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) has good reason to be so deleteriously desperate as her biological clock is ticking and her divorced boy toy Sam Loomis (John Gavin)—a somewhat dumb yet likeable hunk that makes most Hitchcock heroes seem like effete pussies by comparison—is in serious debt on top of having to pay alimony to his ex-wife, thus it seems unlikely that she will have the means to start a family anytime soon. In that sense, Marion’s brutal murder at the hands of Normans Bates (Anthony Perkins) almost seems like an unintentional act of compassion as the quasi-heroine, who seems to have very little prospects in life aside from great lunchtime sex in sleazy hotel rooms, is put out of her misery and it is only fitting that the culling process is carried out by a miserable man-boy that is unlikely to reproduce himself due to being psychologically castrated by his mother who he, rather fittingly, killed. Notably, after Marion dies, her sister Lila Crane (Vera Miles) hooks up with boyfriend Sam to search for her and it is quite clear the two have great chemistry and will probably make for a great couple in the future. Notably, when Marion and her beau Sam are depicted at the very beginning of the film during a brief post-coital exchange, it almost seems like the end of a transaction between a whore and her john, but one would never sense such a sleazy display between sister Lila and Sam. In that sense, Psycho is not unlike Fassbinder’s The Merchant of Four Seasons (1972) of all films in terms of its ironical depiction of a healthier couple being formed as direct a result of the death of the protagonist. In short, sometimes tragic murders have positive consequences and sometimes lethally lonely lunatics can make positive contributions to society; or such are some of the more delectable absurdities of some of Hitchcock’s greatest films. After all, in The Birds, the most benign of creatures—feathered warm-blooded vertebrates that remind one of nature’s harmony, purity, and beauty—provide the viewer with the delight of going on a bloody rampage and collectively attacking obnoxious spoiled people in what might be best described as the anti-monster movie par excellence. Undoubtedly, films like Psycho and The Birds demonstrate that Hitch derived his greatest sense of humanity in his inhumanity, misanthropy, and misogyny, as there would be very little emotionally left in his films were in not for these audaciously asocial attributes cloaked in dark sardonic humor.

Aside from taking the pink pill and attempting to reveal what sort of queen the knighted English auteur really is after coming out of the closet himself, gay Hitchcock scholar Robin Wood has done a pretty interesting job dissecting the filmmaker's psychological motivations and compulsions in general, especially as it relates to his most famous flick Psycho. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, Wood takes a pathetically politically correct and absurdly academic approach and even attempts to link the film to the holocaust and the abandoned British government-produced agitprop doc German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (1945) that Hitchcock worked as a supposed ‘treatment advisor’ on. Indeed, as Wood curiously argues at the very end of his chapter on the film in Hitchcock’s Films Revisited, “PSYCHO is one of the key works of our age. Its themes are of course not new—obvious forerunners include MACBETH and Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS—but the intensity and horror of their treatment and the fact that they are here grounded in sex belong to the age that has witnessed one the one hand the discoveries of Freudian psychology and on the other the Nazi concentration camps. I do not think I am being callous in citing the camps in relation to a work of popular entertainment. Hitchcock himself in fact accepted a commission to make a compilation film of captured Nazi material about the camps […] But one cannot contemplate the camps without confronting two aspects of this horror: the utter helplessness and innocence of the victims, and the fact that human beings, whose potentialities all of us in some measure share, were their tormentors and butchers […] PSYCHO is founded on, precisely, these twin horrors. For Hitchcock it was a ‘fun’ picture, and a streak of macabre humor (‘Mother . . . what is the phrase? . . . isn’t quite herself today’) certainly runs through it. Is it, then, some monstrous perversion? Many have found it so, and their reaction seems to be more defensible than that of those (must we include Hitchcock himself?) who are merely amused by it […] No film conveys—to those not afraid to expose themselves fully to it—a greater sense of desolation, yet it does so from an exceptionally mature and secure emotional viewpoint. And an essential part of this viewpoint is the detached sardonic humor. It enables the film to contemplate the ultimate horrors without hysteria, with a poised, almost serene detachment. This is probably not what Hitchcock meant when he said that one cannot appreciate PSYCHO without a sense of humor, but it is what he should have meant […] For the maker of PSYCHO to regard it as a ‘fun’ picture can be taken as his means of preserving his sanity; for the critic to do so—and to give it his approval on these grounds—is quite unpardonable. Hitchcock (again, if his interviews are to be trusted) is a much greater artist than he knows.”  Somehow, I doubt shoah saints like Claude Lanzmann would approve of Wood's attempts to connect Hitch's masterpiece to the Big H, but I have to respect the film critic's preternatural passion for Psycho.

While I can appreciate Wood’s hardcore (Hitch)cockphilia as a fellow cinephile and argue that Hitch mastered a sort of majestic detachment like no other, I cannot help but feel that, as hinted at in the biopic Hitchcock (2012), the filmmaker derived a great sense of sadistic glee from Psycho and that the film is largely an expression of the all-too-deceptively-effete filmmaker’s great contempt for his audience and humanity in general to the degree where a killer momma’s boy in a dress is arguably more sympathetic than his victims. Indeed, while I do not typically find much to agree on with feminist Hebrewesses, I cannot help but mostly concur with Paula Marantz Cohen when she argued in regard to the savagely yet stylishly sadistic essence of Hitchcock's classic cinematic work, “The gaze that the film directs back at the audience in PSYCHO is, in [William] Rothman’s phrase, ‘murderous’ precisely because it envisions the gaze of the spectator to be, like Norman Bates’s mother, not capable of the right response—imaginatively, if not literally, dead. This being so, the film can only engage in acts of vengeance against the spectator, acts that is also attributes to the spectator as if seeking to animate it (Norman’s strategy with his mother’s corpse). Thus PSYCHO seeks both to animate us into an identification with the murderous Norman and to prove through doing so that we are morally empty in our ability to shift our investment from Marion to Norman and, finally, to accept meekly the posturing paternal verdict of the psychiatrist. The film works to ventriloquize our response, to animate it in order to kill it again. The ‘construction of a mental process’ that Hitchcock had linked to the look in REAR WINDOW has been placed by its opposite, the dismantling or murder of the look. One critic has made a relevant observation with regard to the look in PSYCHO: ‘What is remarkable . . . is that most of the characters who stare at the public are dead when they do so.’ Even the sophisticated montage technique in the PSYCHO shower scene is a model of its deconstructive method […] If montage in its traditional usage conditioned us to see an integrated reality, montage in PSYCHO conditions us to see an unintegrated one—to expect the inexplicable and gratuitous.”

 While Jimmy Stewart is an obvious stand-in for Hitchcock in films like Rear Window and Vertigo, I have always felt he was living somewhat vicariously through the John Dall character in Rope as if getting away with (a homoerotic) murder is one of his greatest fantasies, hence the sense of contrived insincerity of the ending where the lead denounces his previous (pseudo)Nietzschean philosophy after discovering that his (ex)students have actually dared to put his Übermensch philosophy into practice.  Either way, Psycho, not unlike much of Hitchcock’s films, reeks of fetishism and psychosexual sickness; it is just a question of what the filmmaker’s true repressed impulses really were. After all, as a relatively cultivated Victorian gentleman, Hitchcock was a bit more intelligent and civilized than Ed Gein—the real-life momma’s boy quasi-necrophile influence for Norman Bates—and one can only assume that he would not act on such impulses, which arguably acted as the source of his arguable genius as a master of cinematically depicting mentally defective criminality of the sort that might have been inspired by the various case studies featured in Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis (1886). In fact, I do not think it would be much of a stretch to describe Hitchcock as a sort of covert modern Uranian artist, but there is no way in hell that the filmmaker would have ever accepted such a label, even if he had been unequivocally exposed as being engaged in tearoom action or buying bussy from young twink hustlers.

Notably, in an essay entitled ‘Must We Believe in Hitchcock?,’ celebrated French film critic André Bazin—a great cineaste intellect that, quite unlike his Cahiers du cinéma comrades like Claude Chabrol and Truffaut, had somewhat mixed feelings about the Psycho director—made a great point about the filmmaker that underscores what I both love and loathe about him, arguing with great no bullshit penetrating insight, “We know that Hitchcock has one idiosyncrasy: he appears in all his films for a brief moment. In LIFEBOAT, he is seen in a magazine photograph that is stained with oil and floating among the wreckage of the ship. In STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, we see him as a musician glimpsed boarding the train with an enormous bass fiddle. We have to take this as more than a superstition or a director’s trademark. A point of irony touching his entire oeuvre is the reminder of a certain between-the-lines reading of the scenario by those who can see beyond the most obvious effects. Nonetheless, at times this marvelously oiled mechanism grates strangely on one’s ears. Through the rhetorical, conventional, and, in a word, reassuring sadism of American films, Hitchcock sometimes makes you hear, over the victim’s terrified screams, the true cry of joy that does not deceive you—his own.” Indeed, Hitchcock’s greatest films almost mockingly hint at the perversions of the man that created them, as if he is so arrogantly rewarding those special individuals that are not total dumb asses and can see the camp and dysfunction hidden underneath—like Norman Bates’ erotic member under his mother’s dress as he penetrates with dumb bimbo with a knife—with a window into his true perverted personality. In fact, this aspect of Hitchcock’s films—and not the brilliant Psycho shower scene montage or oneiric essence of Vertigo—is the one thing that keeps me interested in his films and has kept me from the strong temptation to write him off as an obscenely overrated (yet undeniably technically talented) artisan that has had more of a negative than positive influence on the art of cinema (from the senseless schlock of the slasher genre to the The Bourne Identity, Hitch has inspired a lot of completely soulless/tasteless cinematic shit).

While critics have oftentimes argued that Hitchcock’s intent with Psycho and many of his other films was to, somewhat hypocritically, implicate the voyeurism of his audience (whereas his wop spiritual son Brian De Palma would simply use cinema to wallow in his own self-admitted fetish for voyeurism), the real intrigue of a Hitch flick is what cannot be seen: the debauched director’s deep dark desires. In Psycho and Hitchcock’s penultimate Frenzy (1972)—a virtual exercise in perversely playful self-parody where the auteur finally got to expose real unclad female flesh—the filmmaker probably comes the closest to revealing the real rampaging gynophobic queen hidden beneath the makeup. In that sense, that is why the psychiatrist scene at the end of Psycho is especially annoying and obnoxious as it not only insults the viewer’s intelligence, but also seems like a form of obfuscation upon the auteur’s part as if he wanted to clearly separate himself from the sexually psychotic nature of his film. It is also no coincidence that Hitchcock directed his most personal films while working in Hollywood as he would have surely faced a similar hysterical backlash to the sort that was heaped on Peeping Tom (1960)—a film that, for various obvious reasons, is oftentimes compared to Psycho (in fact, the film's heroine Anna Massey would later rather fittingly star in Hitch's Frenzy)—in the UK that more or less ruined its once-well-respected auteur Michael Powell's career had he dared to direct his gender-bending proto-slasher flick in his native land. In short, had Hitchcock grew up in a different era, he might have done for the thriller and horror genres what Fred Halsted did for homo hardcore as the man was just too innately Victorian and a product of his time to completely break out of his shell.  Undoubtedly, Norman Bates might as well be speaking for Hitchcock when he so passionately proclaims, “You know what I think? I think that we're all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and we claw, but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch.”  While Hitch would actually dare to ‘budge an inch’ (or two or three) with Psycho, one can only assume the sort of unhinged cinematic assault he might have assembled had he been more comfortable with embracing his inner pervert.  Personally, while it might sound insane, I actually find it is easier to fully embrace a no-budget Andy Milligan genre movie than a Hitchcock one as I feel like I am not being lied to or bullshitted as the gay gutter auteur might have had a somewhat ‘spastic’ directing style but he could not help but be himself.  Indeed, Milligan may have been a monster of the absurdly technically inept sort but, quite unlike Hitchcock, at least he fully embraced it with great gusto.

While, in my opinion, Hitchcock never directed a cinematic work quite as artfully unnerving or perfectly pitch black as Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les diaboliques (1955)—a film that would heavily influence Psycho, especially the filmmaker’s decision to shoot it in black-and-white—I think it is safe to say that he transcended his French influence in terms of being a morbid master of manipulation (though Clouzot was clearly the more delectably misanthropic of the two filmmakers). Indeed, as Robert P. Kolker argued in his text The Extraordinary Image: Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and the Reimagining of Cinema (2016) in regard to Hitchcock’s arguable magnum opus, “PSYCHO is, like all Hitchcock, highly manipulative; it takes us exactly where it wants us to go but on subsequent viewing allows us in on the joke at PSYCHO’s heart. In the parlor scene, where Norman and Marion meet and she first hears Mother’s voice yelling at her son, the conformation exposes who Norman is and pretty much what is going to happen to Marion. The sequence is worth looking at in detail.” But of course, being a master of manipulation and ‘campy’ dark humor (which itself was oftentimes a result of said manipulation) just further confirms my suspicion that Hitchcock was a homo or, at the very least, a sort of ‘spiritual sod’ of sorts, but of course the same can be said of many of Hitchcock's film heroes.  After all, while various film critics and scholars (including filmmaker William Friedkin in his DVD audio commentary for the film) have speculated that Vertigo is largely inspired by the sense that Hitch felt haunted by the unattainability of beauteous platinum blonde babes due his trademark portly physique, one could just as easily argue that said unattainability was the result of his sexuality and that he was more jealous of said beauties than desirous of them.  After all,  Hitch's gleeful brutality of Tippi Hedren in The Birds makes a lot more sense if one sees it from the perspective of a jealous gay man that is using cinema as a cunty covert means to attack stupid dames that he sees as rivals (additionally, due to his curious mommy issues, strange attitude, and dubious dress sense, Rod Taylor's character also seems fairly queer).

While indubitably ‘Hitchcockian’ in the best sort of way, there is a certain irony in Psycho being the director’s arguable magnum opus as it owes so much to so many other talented artists and, not unlike Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976)—a film that, incidentally, Bernard Herrmann also scored—has more than one auteur (indeed, screenwriter Paul Schrader was the real ‘brain’ behind the film). Indeed, aside from the iconic title designs by Saul Bass (who, rather revealingly, also storyboarded the shower scene), uniquely unforgettable musical score by Herrmann, and source novel by Robert Bloch (as penned for the screen by The Outer Limits writer-producer Joseph Stefano), the film is impossible to imagine without lead actor Anthony Perkins who, as far as I am concerned, IS Norman Bates as the character is nothing without the actor’s perturbingly preternatural essence. After all, as Orson Welles’ Kafka adaptation The Trial (1962), Pretty Poison (1968), WUSA (1970), Curtis Harrington’s How Awful About Allan (1970), and Crimes of Passion (1984) surely demonstrate, Perkins excelled like no one when it came to portraying unnervingly awkward introverts of the oftentimes morbidly mentally unsound sort. In fact, even in Jules Dassin’s Phaedra (1962) were Perkins plays an atypical hunk that cuckolds his own powerful bigwig shipping tycoon father, the actor bleeds a sort of highly visceral vulnerability that screams crazed cracked queer. While they might be obvious examples of cinematic sacrilege, I even find the three Psycho sequels tolerable simply because of Perkins’ presence (notably, Perkins also directed Psycho III (1986), thereupon further cementing his claim to Psycho auteur status). While I have admittedly fantasized about other leading men aside from Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant being in Hitchcock’s other great films, Psycho would be simply unimaginable without Perkins who proved that sometimes being a waywardly wimpy weirdo has its advantages.  Additionally, Gus Van Sant's soulless virtual shot-for-shot Psycho (1998) remake is worth seeing just to see how appallingly horrendous Vince Vaughn is as Norman Bates compared to Anthony Perkins.  Indeed, Vaughn, who Van Sant clearly wanted to fuck (among other things, the camera pointlessly focuses on the actor's ass as he walks up a set of stairs), seems like he is doing his best impression of what he thinks stereotypical gay men are like (in S. Craig Zahler's Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)), the actor would prove he is not bad at acting so long as he is playing a masculine character)..

Somewhat recently, not long after re-watching Psycho for probably the fifth or sixth time in my entire life, I happened to rewatch Joseph Losey’s beauteously bizarre failure Secret Ceremony (1968) for the first time and I could not help but notice the similarities and dissimilarities in how they deal with the theme of monstrous mothers as both films feature tragic young characters who grew up to be unhinged due to their mothers’ dubious relationships with sexually domineering men that dominated their lives at the expense of their children. While Psycho is clearly the superior and more immaculate film, I could not help but feel more impressed with the artistic integrity of Secret Ceremony—a meditative, somewhat ambiguous, sometimes dreamlike, and oftentimes quite beautiful film—despite it being a glaring artistic failure that sometimes borders on unintentional camp.  Additionally, Nicolas Roeg's uneven yet underrated Track 29 (1988) acts as a nice thematic counterpoint to Psycho as a film where a sexually repressed wife is both literally (?) and figuratively haunted by the long lost son she gave up for adoption 15 years before.  Needless to say, Roeg's film is both more thematically and artistically ambitious in depiction of the psychosexually unsound, especially as it relates to the morbidly maternal.

In short, I find it somewhat hard to like Hitchcock as both an artist and as a man as his films are oftentimes as cold and calculating as his carefully contrived cool-as-a-corpse character. In fact, I cannot help but agree with David Thomson—a lifelong Hitchcock fan that even devoted an entire worthwhile book to Psycho—when he wrote at the conclusion of his entry on the director in The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (1975), “His great films are only partly his; they also belong to the minds that interpret them. There is an artistic timidity in Hitchcock that, having put the audience through it, must allow them to come to terms with the experience. But his own personality is withdrawn, cold, insecure, and uncharitable. The method, despite its brilliance, is equally privative and restrictive. To plan so much that the shooting becomes a chore is an abuse not just of actors and crew, but of cinema’s predilection for the momentary. It is, in fact, the style of an immense, premeditative artist—a Bach, a Proust, or a Rembrandt. And beside those masters, Hitchcock seems an impoverished inventor of thumbscrews who shows us the human capacity for inflicting pain, but not more. Such precision can only avoid seeming overbearing and misanthropic if it is accompanied by creative untidiness. In the last resort, his realized blueprints affirm film’s yearning for doubt and open endings.”  In short, Hitch had the virtual emotional depth of a tick, the artistic passion of a mathematician, and the humanity of an over-educated executioner, but of course these are some of the things that also make him interesting and distinct as a filmmaker.

Despite the contrived nature of his films, Hitchcock actually demonstrated in a 1960 article entitled ‘Why I Am Afraid of the Dark’ a somewhat surprising appreciation for the proto-Surrealist literature of Comte de Lautréamont and surreal cinema of Luis Buñuel, René Clair, Jean Epstein, and Jean Cocteau, thereupon making his seeming incapacity to take serious artistic risks all the more perturbing but such seems to be typical and quite expected of his carefully contrived character. Indeed, somehow I think I would like Hitchcock more if it was revealed that he was not totally unlike the Norman Bates preposterously portrayed by Vince Vaughn in Van Sant’s Psycho remake and prone to masturbating while playing peeping tom as it at least would reveal a certain vulnerability and, in turn, humanity. Of course, somehow I suspect the real Hitchcock was a mix of motel master Bates and ‘Scottie’ in Vertigo as a man that rather see an inordinately beauteous blonde dead than lying naked in his bed.  While Hitch might have been a fag, he was surely no serious art fag and I will continue to enjoy Psycho like my favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits while trying to forget that certain film scholars and even great filmmakers somehow regard him as one of the great cinematic masters as if he was working on the same level as a F.W. Murnau, Bresson, Dreyer, or even P.P. Pasolini.  While it is easy to understand why Hitch's films are so commonly taught in film schools as they are so meticulously and obviously manufactured with great geometric precision, there is no way one can truly teach the gifts of a Bresson, Federico Fellini, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, or Werner Schroeter.  Still, many filmmakers have tried to make their own equivalent to Psycho and various other Hitchcock films (e.g. D.J. Caruso's Disturbia (2007) is a tedious teenage reworking of Rear Window), yet Hitch still did it best (sorry, Maestro De Palma). In fact, even François Truffaut had to rightly admit that his Hitchcock homage The Bride Wore Black (1968)—a film scored by Bernard Herrmann and based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich who of course also provided the source material for Rear Window—was an artistic failure.

In Psycho, the female lead portrayed by Janet Leigh is brutally studied in the way women judge other women for about forty minutes and then slaughtered like a pig while in a most vulnerable position by a man in a dress with a serious negative Oedipus complex.  While Hitch's own sexuality is a matter of speculation, I think it is only fair that film scholars recognize his masterpiece as a classic piece of queer cinema that arguably demonstrates what Jean Cocteau meant when he stated of himself in Vanity Fair in 1922 that he is a, “lie that tells the truth” as it a sometimes campy fictional cinematic work that gets to the heart of certain homosexual truths in regard to sex, misogyny, and mommy issues, among other things, hence why top New Queer Cinema auteur Gus Van Sant—an artsy fartsy director that does much better with loose nonlinear narratives than more convention linear ones as confirmed by his greatest films like My Own Private Idaho (1991) and Elephant (2003)—was given the decidedly dubious job of directing the terrifying tacky remake (which is ultimately gay in the worst sort of way).

In her magnum opus Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990), Camille Paglia attempts to make the case for elevating Hitch's film to the level of high art by arguing, “The finale of THE GIRL WITH THE GOLDEN EYES anticipates a classic moment of cinema.  Paquita is not just killed but slaughtered, butchered, as in the murder scene of Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960).  In Hitchcock as in Balzac, a knife-wielding hermaphrodite [...] compulsively slashes the body of a beautiful woman enclosed in a female bower [...] The horror of the two scenes comes from the mutilation of a sensuous female body around which an erotic aura has been painstakingly built up, in Balzac by the stressing of Paquita's ‘luminous’ beauty and in Hitchcock by the voyeuristic display of half-naked Janet Leigh, who models lingerie from the first scene on [...] Balzac and Hitchcock turn the beautiful woman into an object.  Marion's blood flows indifferently with the bathwater down the drain.  Her body falls awkwardly over the edge of the tub.  Her cheek is deformed by the tile floor.  And the last we see of her is her dead eye, lingered over by the camera until it has the iconicism of Paquita's golden eyes.  Cold and marmoreal but still glittering with beauty, Marion's eye belongs to a fallen statue, an art object vandalized and abandoned.  Balzac and Hitchcock record symbolic sex acts by megalomaniacal but phallically impotent cultists.  Norman Bates, like the Marquise, has his own sequestered ritual love-object—the body of his mummified mother!”  Of course, it would not be a stretch to assume that Hitch was an impotent megalomaniac that was enslaved to some Oedipal trauma and thus a real ‘psycho’ of sorts, which I hope is true as it certainly makes him more interesting as both a man and artist.

-Ty E