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Hitchcock’s Cryptonymies: Volume I. Secret Agents

Tom Cohen
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 308
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  • Book Info
    Hitchcock’s Cryptonymies
    Book Description:

    This first volume of Hitchcock’s Cryptonymies provides a singularly close reading of The Lady Vanishes, Spellbound, and North by Northwest, exposing the visual and aural puns, graphic elements, and cryptograms that traverse his entire body of work. Within Hitchcock’s cinema, Tom Cohen argues, these "secret agents" have more than just symbolic significance; they also reflect and disrupt traditional cinematic practice._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9516-4
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xx)
  5. Introduction: The Blind of Ocularcentrism
    (pp. 1-16)

    As cinema dies, its ghost emerges, but it is no different from the way, say, that the “dead” Madeleine haunts the supposedly living Scottie inVertigo, as if he were a film viewer, haunts him to madness, even though technically she, “Madeleine,” never existed as such, never was alive to begin with.First impasse:“cinema” was supposed to guard representation, assure the eye’s domain and its mimetic transparency, be “coded as the real, the locus of truthful representation” (Rodowick), yet, constituted by etched marks and shadow play on a translucent band, it above all exemplifies the priority of inscription over...

  6. Part I. Police, Criminals, and the Mediatric State

    • 1. The Avenging Fog of Media: The Lodger as Host
      (pp. 19-43)

      The Lodgermight be approached, today, as a peculiar and fateful incision—not only opening the signature of “Hitchcock” to the immense line of credit it will assume (one by no means depleted), and not only establishing this through the insertion of the first two cameos that, in a sense, will govern, as if between them, all others. We know its too simple premise: the lodger in pursuit of the unknown strangler, whom he is taken for, who he mightbefrom the point of view of the family of the house in which he is a guest, moved to...

    • 2. A User’s Guide to Hitchcock’s Signature Systems
      (pp. 44-64)

      There is an uncanny visual skit in the silent filmThe Manxman, which involves the attempted suicide by drowning of the female lead, who is then hauled before the judge or what is called the “deemster.” The latter, secretly, is the father of her child—and best friend of her husband (hence the attempted suicide). As she first sinks in the inky black, bubbles punctuate the watery surface and the liquid dissolves into that of a literal inkwell from which a pen emerges, held by the deemster, who proceeds to write. The camera pans back to show the bewigged judge...

    • 3. Espionage in the Teletechnic Empire
      (pp. 65-75)

      In a recent critical turn, Peter Conrad’sThe Hitchcock Murdersexamines the effects of allowing interfaced scenes, actors, and incidents in this oeuvre to read one another. Conrad aims to recuperate the fallen fortunes of auteurism against what he dismisses somewhat grandly as the depredations of academic schools. But instead of returning to any familiar territory covered by the term, he invents what could be called auteurism without an auteur. Using what he terms a mode of crosscutting, leaping between affiliated scenes or repetitions, Conrad wanders into a fractal labyrinth of Hitchcockian repetitions and citational relays. Serially cross-referenced scenes are...

    • 4. Blackmail in the Universal Reading Room
      (pp. 76-94)

      An obvious pun in the titleBlackmail(Hitchcock’s first “talkie”) links a hole within the orders of light to a postal relay and both, in turn, to the power to blackmail, to hold hostage. Something about the photographic image is identified with the power to blackmail the present with some knowledge or secret of anteriority—if only awareness that the present is itself generated by something like a mnemonic band, like celluloid, from which the world is emanated. It is not accidental inBlackmailthat the final chase of the blackmailer, Tracey, will lead to the oddest site, the British...

  7. Part II. The Spies’ Post Office

    • 5. The Archival Wars of “Old Man R”
      (pp. 97-109)

      Deleuze, inCinema1, has a unique way of characterizing something that is going on in Hitchcock: he speaks of a “new” kind of “figuration.” It is a use offigurethat compels, moreover, incessant “interpretation,” which seems to put “all” into play: “actions, affections, perceptions, all is interpretation, from beginning to end.”¹ Yet what Deleuze does not quite get is that there is a countermoment in Hitchcock to figuration itself—as if figuration were the epistemological enemy, so easy to fabricate in the citational light show of cinema. It is difficult to address this afigural moment without putting in...

    • 6. The Slave Revolt of Memory: R to the Power of Gamma
      (pp. 110-126)

      All figures of transport in Hitchcock—telegraphies and telepathy, linguistic and postal relays, grinding wheels and machinal whirs, casinos and animemes—recur to the domain of memory. Memory is, as on celluloid, a matter of external markings and inscriptions whose recurrence determines perception or experience. If memory’s machinery is effaced in projecting a screen’s present, “it” refers itself to something before or outside the latter, not so much some trauma as the trauma of its constitution. Thus memory in Hitchcock may be faulted by amnesias, or descend from external spaces like the waltzing legs inShadow of a Doubt, or...

    • 7. Contretemps: Secret Agency in the Chocolate Factory
      (pp. 127-144)

      Focusing on the definition of action, acting, and agency,Secret Agentdrifts through a strangecontretemps—a term that appears in the dialogue. This time the plot seems to be looking for something to correspond to its own title, seeking not only “a” secret agent (there are a plethora of them) or the” secret secret agent (there is one, Marvin [Robert Young], finally disclosed), but the secret of agency itself as applied to acting, history, perception, time, the event. In the course of this pursuit, the narrative recoils into an obsession with language, marking systems, translation, sound, writing forms, and...

    • 8. Animation Blackout: The Sabotage of Aura
      (pp. 145-162)

      Sabotagehas a negatively privileged place among the British works, seeming to reflect on the entire series by positioning the saboteur Verloc as using a movie house as a front. It would seem a garishly obvious move but, of course, escaped notice. Yet this allows Detective Spenser to go behind the screen of the movie house itself, falling into the nest in which the anarchist plotters are negotiating their attacks on public space and the state. Moreover,Sabotagewill seem to turn its bombs, strapped to the body of the Professor, upon the Bijou theater itself finally, once the link...

  8. Part III. State of the Image

    • 9. Solar Fronts: Politics of the Post-Enlightenment
      (pp. 165-183)

      The firstMan Who Knew Too Muchputs into play a title so far in excess of its subject that it has trouble finding one to attach it to—a title Hitchcock could not not circle back to, however, since it among his works alone would be remade. In an oeuvre rife with self-plagiarism and recurrent patterns, to be so literal in its self-cannibalism might signal a summary engagement. Too much for what? Who is the subject, the “man,” or “who”—or something else? Is it an excess of knowledge or a knowledge of excess that voids theepistēmēor...

    • 10. Zarathustran Hitchcock
      (pp. 184-192)

      To Catch a Thiefends with an eighteenth-century “gala” affair in the hills near Nice. The wordgalasuggests apocalyptics, an unveiling or disrobing, but all the figures here are dressed to the hilt. It is peopled with “formal” costumes (the wordformalechoes in the dialogue), fantasizing a past grand age, as well as many props that roam Hitchcock’s other films. Yet the scene seems to fall through and precede the very “history” it mocks: partygoers dress up as if history too were a period piece or a film set, produced retroprojectively and harassed—as in some Zarathustran logic—...

    • 11. Extraterritoriality: An In-House Affair at the Embassy of Ao—
      (pp. 193-238)

      It is seldom asked: why “remake” an already masterful—perhaps, in fact, too perfect—earlier work? In the post—World War II films the MacGuffin of battling nation-states became irrelevant for allegorizing cinema’s threat to the home state, and what had been secret agencies and saboteurs outside its borders descend into the totalizing horizon of the media-state “America.” The cinematic assault enters not as worldaltering saboteur but as Bruno Anthony or the black cat; it disarticulates not the home state but the home (“Mother”), mass (cinematic) tourism, the star, gender artifices, what may be called “family” plots of the new...

  9. Coda: Exploding Cameos
    (pp. 239-248)

    When the recent Johnny Depp filmFrom Hell, adapted from the Alan Moore graphic novel, deploys a Jack the Ripper story to speculate on the advent of cinema and its unleashing of the techno-wars and genocides of the approaching twentieth century, it repeatedly cites and usesThe Lodgeras the ground zero of those histories. Some fundamental shift is attributed to this advent (or its signature text) that hellishly alters the historial. Moreover, the advent of this cinematic cutting in the person of the Ripper is also politicized, as, in this rendition, it turns out he is working on behalf...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 249-282)
  11. Index of Films
    (pp. 283-284)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 285-285)