As if to confound or dismember the conventional bromide that a shot is the essential building block of cinema, Alfred Hitchcock very frequently arranges for his camera to record, and the screen to show, shots that are in themselves complex filmic “statements.” It is thus both essentialist and reductive and inane to think of Hitchcockian shots as simple assertions, edited together so as to produce ongoing and unfolding narrative revelations. In Marnie (1964), for example, a yellow taxicab bearing our protagonist (exactly in the way, earlier, a yellow purse had borne her many identities and identity cards) is seen from high above to arrive on the rain swept pavement of a little street in Baltimore, where rows of brick dwellings lead down to a pier at which ships are docked. The pier, the ships, the water under and behind the ships, and the skyline behind are all rather ostensibly given as properties of a painted backdrop, almost impossible to discern as anything else, indeed: but through this graphic background technique, the shot conveys a sense of separation and withdrawal, quite as though the distinction between the “artificial” backdrop and the “real” brick dwellings that seem three-dimensional (and the moist pavement that fronts them) both reflects and suggests the withdrawal of a lonely girl from her cold and unfeeling mother—a withdrawal we are about to see spelled out in the interior sequence that follows. In this shot then, it cannot be true that the only thing that is happening is Marnie’s (Tipi Hedren) arrival at her mother’s little house; in this shot, which is an exterior, Marnie is already, as it were, in that house—a house that is built, of course, in the space of her memory and imagination quite as much as in Baltimore. Marnie is ultimately a film about love, and the retreat that the graphic structure of this shot makes comprehensible and also prepares us to experience later in the film is prelude to an approach and a unification that we must fervently hope can take place for a heroic, but wounded young woman.
A Hitchcockian shot must be seen thoughtfully. This means: it must be seen as though it constitutes, in itself, thought. And when we see it we must turn it in our minds, see all there is to see in it, see it again and again–this multiple seeing—this memory of seeing—amounting to a way of thinking about film and a way of thinking in general.
Marnie is hardly alone in being about love. Love rests at the heart of a considerable body of Hitchcock’s work, but nowhere more heroically or more dramatically than in Notorious (1946), a film that allowed him to reprise his already successful working relationships with Ingrid Bergman (from Spellbound (1945)) and Cary Grant (from Suspicion (1941)). Alicia Huberman (Bergman), whose father has been convicted of being a Nazi collaborator and sent to prison in Miami, goes on a drunken binge and meets the federal agent Devlin (Grant), who persuades her to fly with him Rio where under his guidance she is to infiltrate a Nazi gang. While the surface story of the film ultimately involves her marriage to the leader of this cadre (Claude Rains), a man to whom she was introduced long ago by her father; his discovery that she may no longer be the sweet innocent he has taken her for; and his eventual submission to his wicked mother’s plans to poison Alicia; all this is merely a conventional and convenient narrative package, a kind of “MacGuffin,” as Hitchcock himself might have called it, substantiating the existence of something far more impressive and important, the film itself, which reveals Devlin’s growing love and concern for Alicia and his culminating act of supreme heroism as he strides into the Nazi’s mansion to retrieve her from her deathbed and bring her to safety—safety not only from these brutal types who would surely gloat at her demise, but also in his care and in his world, the world to which she truly belongs. If Devlin and Alicia had perchance been married before—but they have not—this could be yet one more archetypal “comedy of remarriage,” à la Stanley Cavell. (1)
Indeed, perhaps we can say they were married before, and that in the finale of the film they find their love again, as I hope to show . . .
Devlin enters the picture—our awareness but not Alicia’s—sitting in silence, dark silence because of his dark hair and dark clothing (just the kind of dark silence we see in those huge sculptures in the British Library in Blackmail! (1930)), his back definitively to (our eye) the camera, at a house party Alicia is throwing after her father’s conviction. She needs to throw off this trial, the press who have been hounding her, the nightmare of her previous life; and yet for all the dancing and all the drinking, this previous life will not quite evaporate, has tucked itself into some niche in her personality or thoughts, and clearly, at least for the moment, she is stuck with it even as she flails desperately to shake it off. Her reveler friends are nothing if not self-indulgent, excessive, irrational, and decadent, hardly models of civil propriety and not at all truly sympathetic; and this blocky dark figure whose face we cannot see, who waits passively and without so much as a twitch while the music stridently plays–Robin Wood suggests that when we first see Devlin, he could be “another [male] spectator sitting a few rows ahead of us in the movie theater” (2) –may as well be a part of the situation rather than a participant in the action, something like a table lamp or a sculpture himself, so solid and passive does he seem to be. But soon enough things change. Alicia fishes him out of the glittery lagoon of her self-hatred and we find them on a moonlight drive on a deserted country road outside Miami. Alicia is at the wheel, totally inebriated, weaving the car back and forth on the long white stretch of road (and also weaving herself back and forth inside the car, like a shuttlecock on a great loom). Devlin sits—rather calmly, even complacently—at her side, occasionally glancing at the speedometer, the moonlight burnishing his features. But now a traffic cop moves up on a motorcycle and she must pull aside. He is about to ticket her, but Devlin reaches across her face with a little wallet that the cop opens with shock and sudden deference. “Are you sure you’ve got it under control?” he asks and Devlin says, “I’ll take care of it.” When the cop has gone, Alicia is furious: so the government is still watching her, just as before her father’s trial. Devlin is no new friend, he’s a plant. Her anger, masking her chagrin, is the first time we have the clue that she may have been hoping for something more.
In the morning he must make a plea for her to join him in the underground operation for the American Government. She is in bed, totally hung over, staring at a glass of juice that has been positioned right in front of the lens. (The juice, a little cloudy, and shot in black-and-white by Ted Tetzlaff, resembles the glass of milk, shot in black-and-white by Harry Stradling, that Johnnie Aysgarth carried up the curving staircase to his wife Lina (Joan Fontaine) in Suspicion; and Devlin’s lolling pose against the doorframe helps with the invocation of Johnnie, too.) Devlin is dressed in a nappy suit, a stark silhouette peering into the murky bedroom. The camera is placed near Alicia’s face, as she struggles to gain consciousness in the bed. The views of Devlin roughly approximate the perspective Alicia would have to take: the distance, which makes possible that we see him almost from head to toe, and darkly; his casual slouch; the disorientation as he walks toward the bed and she tries to twist her head to follow him (in a rotational shot that is echoed in Nicholas Ray’s 1955 Rebel Without a Cause), (3) with the camera twisting in replication of her moves. But the contrapuntal views of Alicia are not precisely from Devlin’s perspective, since he is never so close to the bed as to see her head and shoulders fill the field of vision—as they do–except at the end of the sequence, when he has walked all the way toward her: but even then he continues to stand, and therefore looks down upon her from a height. The shots of Alicia at the beginning of the sequence are made from mattress level, putting the viewer in the position of someone who has an intimate and longstanding relationship with this headstrong young woman. Once she is conscious, she tries to feign a blasé and carefree attitude with respect to American intelligence interests, but Devlin has brought with him—and plays for her—a phonograph recording of a conversation (“6:30 p.m., January the ninth, 1946, at Miami Beach, Florida . . . Some of the evidence that wasn’t used at the trial”) in which she remonstrated with her father for his Nazi sympathies and made it clear reprovingly that she is loyal to the United States: “I love this country, you understand that? I’ll see you all hanged before I raise a finger against it!” Chastened by this mirror image, or at least this phantom of herself that manifests out of the past and wafts through the air, Alicia agrees to fly off with Devlin and involve herself in espionage. (This paragon of virtue was the product of re-conception: on May 25, 1945, Joseph I. Breen, head of the Production Code Administration, had written to David O. Selznick complaining about the characterization of Alicia in the “temporary screenplay dated May 9” as a “grossly immoral woman, whose immorality is accepted ‘in stride’ in the development of the story.”)
It is important enough that we keep in mind that at this point the two are utile to one another, and no more. Devlin is an operative on a job. He knows how to be gracious and deft in social situations (part of the mythos surrounding Cary Grant is that he possessed these same qualities innately and was thus ideally cast in such roles; but he had come, of course, from a social milieu quite far from Devlin’s or Alicia’s). He is slick, smart, tactical, rehearsed, and even cold-blooded. That Alicia can form a chummy working relationship with him so easily hints that she may share these qualities. The joke of the film so far, then, is that two very elegant people—and major screen stars of the time—whom we expect (and want) to see in a romantic clinch are set up by the narrative as professional partners, who have nothing more than a “contractual” bond (set up, then, in a pattern that expressly reflects the conditions of Bergman and Grant’s actual professional relationship off the screen).
Soon we are on board the little aircraft that is hovering over the fabled city of Rio de Janeiro, the River of January, glistening in dappled sunlight. High off the ground, our characters are liberated from society, from history, and even, to some degree, from gravity. This is a liminal space (4) in which much can happen that would be forbidden on the ground; a space, indeed, in which we may feel that anything can happen. After he confers for a few moments with a man at the back of the plane, Devlin walks forward and takes his seat next to Alicia, and within moments the two of them are looking at the city far below, with Sugar Loaf Mountain and Guanabara Bay off in the distance—famous sights, no less, and yet at the same time stunning and unearthly visions of paradisiacal topography. If a certain formality obtains between them, still they are cordial and even chummy as regards their voice level, their tone, their speech patterns, and their openness to discourse. As they will be working together in Rio, for example, this brief delicious moment of sightseeing might be the only relief available to either of them for some time to come and so they seem to have tacitly agreed to share it with pleasure and anticipation, even though, as I will explain shortly, Devlin has just been forced to deliver some bad news to which Alicia must swallow and accommodate herself.
The visual structure of the sequence:
As they speak, we are cutting between close shots of Alicia and Devlin, her in the window seat. She faces forward, canting her head ever so slightly toward him in the barest show of etiquette. He has turned forty-five degrees toward her—this in part so that the interaction is opened to the audience. (5)
Since we cannot see Alicia when Devlin speaks in a close-up, we may read his eyes, looking off-screen right, as focused less on her than on the sight outside the plane window. As she follows his gaze and turns to look out the window, the plane is passing the statue of Christ the Redeemer on top of Corcovado Mountain, framed with tiny curtains drawn back and fastened at either side of the window: the window is thus a kind of stage, framed by a kind of proscenium, with the dominance of Christian symbolism over the city spread out below is articulated as a kind of dramatic theme.
Although the statue is relatively small onscreen (actually it is a hundred and thirty feet tall—almost as high as the Statue of Liberty–and weighs seven hundred tons), the lateral movement of the plane in relation to it makes the spread arms emphatic, in fact makes them seem to gesture, and suggests sacrifice: exactly what must in some way or other be on Alicia’s mind at this instant. She pulls away and lets her eyes cross over to the other side of the plane, where at the margin of the frame we see a woman looking out at some sort of housing development far off and below.
The view of the city that they had been looking at together, with Sugar Loaf prominent at right,
or, rather, seems to come up behind the faces subtly and then take over our view. This vision appears at the instant Devlin’s line of focus changes and sharpens and he begins to stare at Alicia. The lines of their two gazes do not meet (but, projected outwards, beautifully margin the space in which their bodies and experiences are contained), since she is looking off left perpendicular to our view of her, and since he is turned halfway between taking a matching position toward the right and looking directly at us–Alicia’s face, given her leaning forward across his line of vision, nicely providing a point of focus for him to rest upon. The faces dim. The city comes up full, floating toward us, to end this transitional dissolve. And then in a swift (second) dissolve we are looking down at traffic gracefully gliding through Cinelândia Square, where next, in a little café, the “action” of the film will begin.
I want to point to some structural features of this little tête-à-tête on the airplane, in order to show how for Alfred Hitchcock, as for any filmmaker devoted to his craft, a single shot can be extraordinarily rich with what one might call “visual thought.” It is a straightforward enough matter in filmmaking to show a simple action in a single shot, assuming one knows how to direct lighting and position a camera in front of physical action that has been dramatized for view. But it is another matter to show a consummatory action, one that is rich with implication; and that is founded upon complex and developed thoughts or relations; and that is laden with implication for both a retroactive view of what has been happening so far and a proactive imagination of the kind of terrain and activity to follow. A fact grasped clearly in its implications and overtones, in its relation to other facts, produces the substantiation for thought; but when all of this happens for the eye, specifically—that is, when it is oriented visually and not verbally—we have the pretext for a special kind of thinking, something that cinema can open us to and that can change our world.
Part of what has been lacking in Hitchcockian criticism—and, I might add, in film scholarship in general—is conviction that an artist’s thought can be visual. This has led to a great deal of attention being paid to events of plot, lines of dialogue, and symbolic metaphors as fundaments of Hitchcock’s filmmaking, or to critical verbalizations as substitutions for imagery (a sometimes pernicious development), as though he were not first and foremost a visual designer whose overriding talent was for composing shots and sequences. Here, then, for example: Devlin’s informing Alicia that the—as she puts it—“good-looking” man he has been chatting with at the back of the plane is Peter Prescott (Louis Calhern), their boss, could as well occur at a location in Rio if it has no other purpose but to convey what the statement baldly conveys; but in fact Devlin is preparing her to hear some imminent news that he has just heard from Prescott’s lips—that is, from the lips of someone who would be in a position to know–namely, that in his prison cell her father died this morning by his own hand. Her reaction–first surprise, then sadness and some remorse, then relief (“You see, I don’t have to hate him anymore”), then a kind of objective and mature—even sporting—acceptance, coupled with a memory of good times that had prefaced her long tortured relationship with him as she grew up, all this conveyed within a few seconds of screen time by means of changing facial expressions–is necessary at this moment and in this place so that Alicia’s past can be cleared away thoroughly and sincerely, cleared away in good conscience, cleared away for good. This clearance, too, is a preparation: for the moment that is immediately to follow, a moment that cannot follow with sincerity unless Alicia’s past perfectly evaporates, a moment in which a complex transaction is visualized in a carefully choreographed shot that both launches and completes the film.
“We’re coming into Rio,” says he, and she turns screen right to look out at the Redeemer, with a quiet murmur of assent. When she turns back she is focused not on her companion but on her future, not on the fact of being in flight but on her destination, because she has fixed her eyes on the window at the other side of the plane and is leaning across Devlin to get a closer look. As we catch her facing screen left, with a mask of intense concentration and freedom on her face, we recognized that her girlhood at her father’s side—when things were sometimes very good, and sometimes not—is a thing of the past, that instead of memories her consciousness is full of anticipations. Alicia does not know at this moment, nor do we, the exact nature of the great adventure Prescott intends to set her upon in the name of America and the security of the free world. Less than a full partner in this adventure, the gallant Devlin is only a functionary acting on behalf of others to usher her toward events that will soon unfold. Devlin is to Alicia’s right—our left—but because she has leaned across him he is also behind her, his eyes still vaguely in the direction of the first window she had looked through, to screen right. Perhaps he is looking at Sugar Loaf, dreaming of cocktails.
Bergman is directed to move very slowly leftward across the screen, Tetzlaff’s key light shimmering in her mysterious, wavy, ineffable blonde hair. Now, as her face fills the screen, we can see two things with sudden clarity. First, her complexion is like the finest silk or paper, utterly without blemish, a screen upon which the natural light of the cabin plays a thousand subtle trills. To see her from this point of view, this precise point of view; and to see her raptly engaged and so unselfconscious; and to see this now, at a moment when the character has been released from her past and can be quite fully alive in–fully sensitive to–the present, is to be captivated by not only a person but a form, not only a woman but a Principle. We cannot, of course, manage to fall in love, since both of the agents manifested onscreen are unavailable to us: Alicia the character exists only within a diegesis we are condemned to spy upon from without, and Bergman the actor lives a life we cannot know in a world that is closed off to contact—not only because in historical fact her life is over. Stardom and its construction block her from us, just as narrative and its construction hold us off from Alicia Huberman. But no matter: we are prepared for love, which is all that Hitchcock needs. Indeed, for Hitchcock, and for us, wanting to love is superior to loving. That Alicia is consummately beautiful, that she is present, that she radiates, that she has no constraints social or ideological, that she moves magically—all this constitutes the first fact of which we may be suddenly and delightfully aware.
The second fact is filmic rather than only photographic, which is to say, it invokes the movement of images and the passage of time, our ongoing visual participation and our memory of movement and images seen before. For example, a single photograph is ample evidence of Alicia’s astonishing beauty; but something else comes to the fore when we can remember that we have seen her in this way, or at least almost in this way, before. In her bedroom, as she awoke in a drunken stupor, we were present at her bedside in much the same position as we are present now, very close by and yet unattached; and just as the image that confronts us now is a fulfilment of the image that confronted us then, what we saw in the bedroom—we may realize—was preparation for this. (Hitchcock’s consistent use of preparation for his cadences betrays his essential musicality.) The power to endure as witnesses, then, is foundational to our appreciation of Alicia in the airplane: that, having seen her once we engaged ourselves sufficiently to follow. This second “fact,” as I am calling it, is important because to the extent that we remember, or feel familiar with, this proximate viewpoint from which to scan Alicia, that is, to the extent that we do not ourselves feel self-conscious in adoring her but can let our feeling guide and respond to our looking in an unaffected way, we can also, and very suddenly, recollect that Devlin was looking at Alicia in the bedroom, too, but, as I have noted above, from further away. Every shot of her in bed was grammatically proposed as a subjective point of view of Devlin’s, yet in fact these shots were taken from a camera position too close to the bed, say, a point of view Devlin might well have wished he could occupy, or might have dreamed of occupying, but was not occupying in fact (because we were: because Hitchcock was.) (6) His movement toward the bed was prepared, actually, by the proximity of the shots that allowed us to see Alicia as he could not yet see her. But now, in the airplane, swiftly remembering all this, we also see that Devlin, behind Alicia, has turned his eyes and is staring at the other side of her face. Like us, then—very much in the way this happened in the bedroom—he is staring at the girl we are staring at. Further, there is something of a direct line from his gaze to ours, with Alicia Huberman shared between us. Or, more bluntly: thanks to the arrangement of this shot, we share the gaze of a character, and he shares ours.
And now he is not at a distance. Having turned his eyes, and precisely sharing our view of Alicia but from the other side, Devlin embodies the dramatic counter-positioning that exactly reflects the theatrical divide breaking characters and figments of the screen away from the reality of the auditorium in which they are watched. The effect is that of a visual “soliloquy” of sorts, or one of those startling and delicious moments when a character, looking directly into our eyes, becomes coextensive with the actor who is looking directly into the camera (a tactic used very rarely by Hitchcock’s characters: Marnie looking at Mark (Sean Connery) in their shipboard honeymoon suite is one notable exception). As Devlin exists in the film world and we do not, he must watch her from one side of a great rift and we from the other—a rift or wound that our looking persists in bridging or healing, but from the awesome sight of which we are always, of course, free to turn away. He is on the other side, but otherwise his gaze matches ours. Thus, in one beautiful movement and framing, Hitchcock makes it possible for us to know that Devlin has been entranced by Alicia Huberman—entranced because we have been entranced. We are intermediaries of a sort in this romance, since we were entranced first and his gaze came to match ours. It is also exactly at the moment his eyes turn, too, that those tiny white specks, which are the buildings of Rio in the distance, are slowly superimposed, like stars, or like figures in a far-off and alluring world. The future appears as he catches sight of Alicia in her moment of openness, and we know that she has touched his heart.
Why must this happen on the plane? Because the brute fact of height accentuates emotional experience and elevates meaning. Because from any other position the buildings of Rio cannot look like stars. Because Devlin and Alicia must be out of this world, and yet logically and safely so. Because Devlin must marry Alicia—this moment is the moment of true wedding—before they land and get involved in espionage; the union must be present as anything but the result of the activity in which they are to involve themselves. If this is the moment of a true wedding, a bonding of persons, the bureaucratic envelope that contains a wedding and socializes it, the official ceremonial, is reserved for another of Alicia’s partners. In this film, she is officially married to one person, truly and really married to a second.
Has Devlin not been stunned by Alicia all along—were they not soul mates from almost the beginning of the film? Absolutely not. (After the traffic cop leaves them on the midnight drive, she won’t let him take the wheel and finally, turning his back to the screen, he delivers to her jaw some version of the sort of thing Cary Grant delivered to the jaw of Katharine Hepburn at the beginning of The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940)). All along so far, he has been doing his job. And she has been something of a delinquent, a self-indulgent fool. And he has never seen her philosophically or physically the way he sees her now, the way we see him seeing her and also see her, in his presence. And in truth Alicia has never, until this moment, been the kind of person one could genuinely love. But Hitchcock has shown that we can love her, has made that moment of transformation as possible for us as it can be, given the barrier of the screen; and so we can believe in Devlin’s commitment as he makes it here and now with his eyes (the same way we make ours: the only way we can make a commitment to cinema).
Why is the thought conveyed in this two-shot important for the film? Because without it, Notorious is merely the conventional tale of a girl caught up in a spy plot with a daring male friend, even a conventional lover, who helps her in the finale. Here, however, something else happens. In this two-shot, our relation to Alicia having invoked the possibility of commitment and desire; and Devlin’s matching our position having identified him as a committed and desirous fellow; we must see that the story of the film is not just of a handsome man fooling with a beautiful woman in an exotic city, courting danger, helping her escape with her life, but of a man deeply and wholly in love with a woman—for her radiance, for her passions, for her morals, for her loyalties, for her wit—and sacrificing that love in order that she may serve the interests of their country. When, later, he must relinquish Alicia to the toady Sebastian in order that the surveillance plan may come to fruition, it is not casual flirtation that is being curtailed but a commitment of the sweetest depth. (In North by Northwest (1959), Cary Grant’s character cannot quite bring himself to make such a sacrifice, but a forest ranger’s punch forces the issue.) The woman Devlin is helping to wed Alex Sebastian the Nazi, the woman whose life he is putting in mortal danger, the woman he is sending into the darkest and ugliest of all possible situations is the love of his life. Because he makes this sacrifice—and he begins to make it now, here, on the plane: in that look of adoration we see twinkling in his eyes there is also a shadow, the shadow of knowledge of what is to come—Devlin’s love is returned to him at the end of the film. Notorious is about Alicia’s courage and purposiveness, and as much about Devlin’s selflessness in the face of the greatest loss. A step beyond Orpheus and Eurydice. Although Raymond Durgnat insists on seeing this man “prostitute the woman he ought instead to love,” (7) Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol have the sense to dub this film “one of its auteur’s most beautiful . . . the magnificent story of a woman redeemed by love.” (8)
Sebastian, too, loves Alicia, as we will see; but his is a hollow love, a love based on self-aggrandizement, self-protection, self-deception, and self-consciousness. In the end he has no care for anyone but Sebastian. The scene on the airplane gives us a basis for a certain assurance in Alicia’s ultimate salvation since later in the film, when she is caught in Sebastian’s shroud of conspiracy, we may look back upon Devlin’s gaze into her face as a testament of the untrammelled and profound love he bears her, and believe that out of it he will take action even when he hands her over to the Nazis in order that the tawdry undercover plan may be carried out.
But what is truly fascinating about the two-shot in the plane is its positioning as the culmination—even early in the film–of an unfolding architecture of purpose, placement, and promise. Devlin loves Alicia because of the fidelity of her commitment to saving her country, her honesty, her simplicity, her directness. These qualities are evident to him not simply because she has decided to work with him but because of the quality of her response to the knowledge that her father is dead, knowledge that can be brought forward only on the airplane, where Prescott is on his way to South America to direct his operation. Previous to this we have seen her draw away from sycophantic friends; we have seen how feisty she can be in combating Devlin during their drunken drive together, and how resistant she is to the idea of being conned or surveiled by her own government. In her apartment, when Devlin played the phonograph recording of her earlier conversation with her father in order to prove to her that he knows she is a patriot, we heard a woman rejecting her family ties in order to establish a viable moral position in the world. Therefore, this beautiful person whom Devlin is suddenly fixing in focus as he stares at the side of her face that we cannot see, this person we are appreciating at the same time, is loyal, alone in the world, and trying to do good, and each of these qualities, tied to a specific prior moment in the film, is therefore manifested in the image that Devlin is fixing with his eyes.
This two-shot is utterly cinematic, in that it occupies a screen space that unfolds in time, making reference to earlier origins and promising unfolding developments. And it is finally not just an image of Devlin regarding Alicia. It is an image of Devlin regarding the Alicia whom we are regarding (whom Hitchcock’s camera is regarding). Later in the film we will be able to think back to what the screen is showing here, because it will not be lost in the race of images that constitute the balance of the film. We may forget what characters have done or seen, but we will not forget what we ourselves have felt, and the essence of this moment is that after we sympathize with Alicia we notice Devlin echoing, and authenticating, our sympathy. He therefore becomes exactly the sort of person who is watching him watching her. The love of this man for this woman is equivalent, in the end, to any viewer’s love of cinema itself.
A concluding thought about the fact that the two-shot I have been discussing centres on Devlin’s shift of optical direction and focus, and the fact that aside from the low drone of the propellers outside there is no sound:
In silent cinema, as Joe McElhaney reminds us, the close-up was of extreme structural importance, but in sound cinema it lost this urgency because the face “no longer carrie[d] the same iconographic boldness that it did during the silent era.” (9) That the face of Alicia Huberman has retained iconographic boldness, at least for Devlin (but also, of course, for us) might be argued on the basis of the similarity of this shot to silent cinema itself, exactly because there is no spoken or extra-diegetic sound. But we know we are experiencing sound cinema, at least because of the shots that came immediately before, when Devlin and Alicia were talking. It is difficult given this shot, at any rate, to agree with McElhaney’s assessment that “the sound film is regarded as one that is creating obstacles for the possibilities of a uniquely cinematic conception of the face” since what one might reasonably call a “uniquely cinematic conception” is precisely what is being fostered and conveyed here. Devlin’s optical shift is at once a tiny actor’s gesture and an immense reconfiguration of screen space, a realignment of the story so far, a re-grounding of the principles on which the story rests and develops—and one of the beauties of this moment is exactly that the reorientation of the gaze can be, at once, so magnificent narratively and so picayune a matter of production. Devlin now becomes a man who proclaims, in effect, “I can see!” and in that he invokes the drama of viewer participation in cinema, silent or not. “I can see!” in this context means, of course, nothing less than “. . . and I was not seeing until now,” which is an invocation of rebirth. Hitchcock is forever showing us that “until this moment” we were not seeing at all, even though the world of the screen was so deliciously and invitingly visible, that this moment, the one immediately before our eyes, is the moment when our vision, our thought, our experience, and our being come together and awaken.
The author is grateful to Nicole Richter, editor of In-Short.
- Cavell, Stanley. Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1981.
- Wood, Robin. Hitchcock’s Films Revisited. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002, p.304.
- Further on this, see: Pomerance, Murray. The Horse Who Drank the Sky: Film Experience Beyond Narrative and Theory. New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008.
- Fiske, John. “Reading the Beach,” in Reading the Popular. London: Unwin, 1989, pp. 43-76.
- Goffman, Erving. Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1974, pp. 140-141.
- See, for much elaboration on Hitchcock and his camera: Rothman, William. Hitchcock—The Murderous Gaze. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.
- Durgnat, Raymond. The Strange Case of Alfred Hitchcock or, the Plain Man’s Hitchcock. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1974, p. 195.
- Rohmer, Eric and Claude Chabrol. Hitchcock: The First Forty-Four Films. Trans. Stanley Hochman. New York: Ungar, 1979, pp. 82-83.
- McElhaney, Joe. “The Object and the Face: Notorious, Bergman and the Close-Up,” in Richard Allen and Sam Ishii-Gonzáles, eds., Hitchcock: Past and Future, New York: Routledge, 2004, p. 72.