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Hitchcock's Romantic Irony

Hitchcock's Romantic Irony

Richard Allen
John Belton
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Hitchcock's Romantic Irony
    Book Description:

    Is Hitchcock a superficial, though brilliant, entertainer or a moralist? Do his films celebrate the ideal of romantic love or subvert it? In a new interpretation of the director's work, Richard Allen argues that Hitchcock orchestrates the narrative and stylistic idioms of popular cinema to at once celebrate and subvert the ideal of romance and to forge a distinctive worldview-the amoral outlook of the romantic ironist or aesthete. He describes in detail how Hitchcock's characteristic tone is achieved through a titillating combination of suspense and black humor that subverts the moral framework of the romantic thriller, and a meticulous approach to visual style that articulates the lure of human perversity even as the ideal of romance is being deliriously affirmed. Discussing more than thirty films from the director's English and American periods, Allen explores the filmmaker's adoption of the idioms of late romanticism, his orchestration of narrative point of view and suspense, and his distinctive visual strategies of aestheticism and expressionism and surrealism.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50967-1
    Subjects: Film Studies, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxiv)

    • 1 Romantic Irony
      (pp. 3-37)

      Alfred Hitchcock is widely acknowledged as a “reflexive” or “self-reflexive” filmmaker who inscribes himself within his own works through cameos and authorial surrogates, orchestrates the narrative world as a world of selfconscious artifice, and acknowledges and invokes the role of the audience in his films, most notably in the spectatorial role assigned to L. B. Jefferies (James Stewart) inRear Window(1954). However, it seems to me that in order to understand the nature of Hitchcock’s formal dexterity, the idea of “reflexivity” or “self-reflexivity” is insufficient. First, it is a concept that tends to emphasize overt moments of authorial interpolation...

    • 2 Suspense
      (pp. 38-71)

      Hitchcock is popularly known as the “Master of Suspense,” a moniker assigned to him by a New York radio adman for his proposed “Suspense Radio” series in 1940.¹ Yet it is a remarkable fact that although numerous academic volumes have been written on Hitchcock, very few have treated seriously this dimension of the director’s work.² I shall argue in this chapter that, far from being a superficial aspect of his work, the idiom of suspense is the primary vehicle of Hitchcock’s romantic irony.

      It is commonplace to point out the manner in which suspense involves the orchestration and control of...

    • 3 Knowledge and Sexual Difference
      (pp. 72-114)

      In chapter 1, I defined the both/and logic of romantic irony in terms of two complementary aspects of the text. The “vertical” axis of romantic irony describes the way in which the author manifests himself as the organizing inspiration behind the work, orchestrating its self-evidently fictional elements. The “horizontal” aspect describes the organization of the romantic both/and logic across the film, particularly with respect to the opposition between the romantic ideal and the sources of human perversity which may support or derail it. In chapter 2, we saw how suspense is the primary mode of romantic irony in Hitchcock’s work....


    • 4 Sexuality and Style
      (pp. 117-163)

      The specific form taken by romantic irony in Hitchcock is, in large part, a response to the understanding of human sexuality and its relationship to art that develops in the nineteenth century and is distilled in the discourse of aestheticism, dandyism, and decadence embodied in the legend of Oscar Wilde, and articulated more systematically, if indirectly, by Freudian psychoanalysis. As I suggested in chapter 1, romantic irony essentially turns on the ambiguous logic of affirmation and negation that is staged by a selfconscious narrator, in particular the affirmation and negation of the ideal embodied in romance. The discourse of late-nineteenth-century...

    • 5 Expressionism
      (pp. 164-217)

      Ever since Lotte Eisner penned her famous remark—“It is reasonable to argue that German cinema is a development of German Romanticism and that modern technique merely lends a visible form to romantic fancies”¹—it has become a cliché to speak of the way in which the dark and brooding quality of German romanticism is reenacted in certain films of Weimar cinema. In films such as Robert Wiene’sCabinet of Dr. Caligari(1919), F. W. Murnau’sNosferatu(1921), and Fritz Lang’sDestiny(1921), the uncanny forces of darkness and chaos, personified in the figure of the double, exert a deadly...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • 6 Color Design
      (pp. 218-250)

      German expressionism, the defining influence on Hitchcock’s style, is identified with the visual repertoire of black and white. Yet Hitchcock embraced color with enthusiasm. Fully half (fifteen) of his American films are completely in color, including both films he made in the 1940s with his independent production company—RopeandUnder Capricorn(1949 ).Under Capricorn, as we shall see, is relatively conventional in its use of color; however, Hitchcock’s carefully controlled use of color in Rope deserves to be considered experimental alongside the other elements of that film, and it created a precedent for his subsequent practice with color....

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 251-260)

    In the introduction I proposed this book as a study in poetics characterized as, first of all, a method that involves the formulation of descriptive generalizations about a narrative art form, and in this case more specifically about the work of a single film director: Hitchcock. If authorial studies such as this have validity it is because, as in the study of genre, it is possible to discern a unity beneath the diversity of the work of a single author, regardless of the merits of the individual works at hand. My aim in this book has been to derive principles...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 261-280)
  9. Index
    (pp. 281-296)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 297-298)