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Conference: For the Love of Fear
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The Verti go of Ti me
 John Conomos
(ht t p://sensesofci nema. com/aut hor /j ohn- conomos/)
 May 2000
 Confer ence: For t he Love of Fear
(ht t p://sensesofci nema. com/cat egor y/confer ence- for -
t he- l ove- of- fear /)
 I ssue 6 (ht t p://sensesofci nema. com/i ssues/i ssue-
6/)
This paper was presented at the Alfred Hitchcock
conference For the Love of Fear convened by
the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, held
from 31 March to 2 April 2000. A shorter version
of it appeared in Art Monthly.
* * *
Cinema and art have always had a complex,
problematic relationship with each other. During
the last decade, this became abundantly clear
with the various curatorial, theoretical and
cultural interests in the uneasy dialectic existing
between cinema and the visual arts especially as
represented by painting and sculpture. For
example, the current interest in this crucially
important (but often) overlooked question as
evinced by contemporary French filmmakers
and artists is, according to film theorist/historian
Thomas Elssaeser, vividly foregrounded in
Jacques Rivette’s 1991 film The Beautiful
Troublemaker ()(1). Elsaesser’s argument that this
film is preoccupied with cinema’s attempt to
align itself with an “authentic” art form like
painting in its present cultural debate with the
digital image, makes a lot of empirical sense in
the light of the rapid hybrid developments that
are taking place between cinema, photography,
video, TV and the new media arts. Today many
established and young artists are seriously
engaged in film and video installations, single-
channel works and multimedia projects.
Everyone, it seems, has fallen under the spell of
cinema. The century that has just passed us is, as
Gore Vidal and Cabrera Infante, amongst others,
have testified, “the cinema century”.
To remind us of this, the Museum of
Contemporary Art, from 16 December 1999 to 25
April 2000, held two fine and thoughtful
exhibitions concerned with Alfred Hitchcock and
contemporary art under the generic title of
Hitchcock: Art, Cinema and.Suspense. The first
exhibition, Notorious, curated by Kerry Brougher,
Michael Tarintino and Astrid Bowron, for
Oxford’s Museum of Modern Art in 1996, is an
enticing and informative exhibition marking the
centenary of Hitchcock’s birth. The second
exhibition, Moral Hallucination, curated by
Edward Colless, operates like an atmospheric
seance or a dream where its selected Australian
exhibits act like a medium to channel, in the
words of the curator, “a force I call Hitchcock” ()
(2). Both exhibitions in their respective critical
and curatorial ways ricochet off each other,
giving the gallery spectator, a highly
expressionist (and surreal) collage of aesthetic,
cultural, and historical possibilities centred
around Hitchcock, modernism and
postmodernist art. Hitchcock’s complex popular
figure, as the exiled British auteur director in
post-war America, casting a huge shadow over
contemporary artists, filmmakers, writers, and
the public alike, looms over these two
exhibitions.
Paging Mr. Hitchcock
Given the vast expanding literature on
Hitchcock, the many different constructed
Hitchcocks – Hitchcock the moralist, Hitchcock
the modernist-formalist, Hitchcock the aesthete,
Hitchcock the postmodernist etc; – how do we
locate him, to echo Slavoj Zizek, with reference
to Frederic Jameson’s triadic formulation of
realism, modernism, and postmodernism
apropos of cinema history? ()(3) If cinema is
twentieth century’s paradigmatic art form, is
Hitchcock one of its greatest exemplary
enigmatic artists? For Zizek, Hitchcock
paradoxically incarnates all three categories of
the Jameson triad, and for Deleuze, Hitchcock,
through framing, camera movement and
montage, represents, in the tradition of English
empiricism, “the filmmaker of relations” par
excellence, the last of the classic movement –
image directors (paraphrasing Deleuze) and “the
first of the moderns” ()(4).
In any attempt to assess Hitchcock’s
achievement as a filmmaker, the intricate
relationship between the artist and the
meticulously self-staged persona (the droll,
dead-pan English observer of human foibles),
and his oeuvre and its legacy to contemporary
visual arts, we need to contextualise Hitchcock’s
art in terms of the larger cultural, economic and
political forces that shaped it. Hitchcock’s
American films not only testify to the filmmaker’s
own resonant ironic encounter with American
cultural life and its diverse public spaces, popular
cultural and literary narratives, and its cultural
and ideological tensions and textures, as
Jonathan Freedman and Richard Millington have
recently argued, they also clearly suggest that
the filmmaker had a supple, adroit
understanding of cinema as a major modernist
cultural form of visual representation and its key
role in reconfiguring the cultural, social and
emotional life within the American public sphere
()(5). Hitchcock’s playful and self-reflexive
awareness of cinema’s mutating imbrication in
the entertainment industry (á la Horkheimer
and Adorno) suggests that he instinctively
understood Leo Charney and Vanessa
Schwartz’s following observation that:
Cinema…must not be conceived as simply an
outgrowth of such forms as melodramatic
theater, social narrative, and the nineteenth-
century realistic novel…Nor can technological
histories sufficiently explain the emergence of
cinema. Rather, cinema must be understood
as a vital component of a broader culture of
modern life which encompassed political,
social, economic, and cultural
transformations. ()(6)
Like Luis Buñuel and Fritz Lang, Hitchcock’s
career was closely tied up with the history of the
cinema. Hitchcock’s birth coincided with the
birth of cinema as a mass medium of audio-
visual entertainment. Hitchcock and his canon
fascinated generations of film spectators
because they came to signify the innovative
aesthetic and technical possibilities of the
cinema medium itself. No one like Hitchcock had
such a profound reputation for high-art
filmmaking coupled with a huge mass media
popularity. To be sure, Hitchcock became a
household celebrity, his name transformed into
an adjective – we speak of a “Hitchcockian”
cinema, or, life itself having its absurd and
suspenseful “Hitchcockian” moments, etc..His
witty cameo appearances in his own films
(“Hitchcock’s signature system” as Raymond
Bellour once called it), the reflexive ironic
commentaries that he conferred on their
advertising campaigns, and the waggish
introductions to his own television programs all
contributed to Hitchcock’s own inventive
commodification as one of cinema’s most
recognisable popular figures ()(7). The François
Truffaut interview book (in collaboration with
Helen G. Scott) with Hitchcock in 1966 also
played its vital role in promoting the director’s
public authorial identity ()(8). Hitchcock as the
canny insider/outsider, the chameleon trickster,
who knew how to cultivate himself as the exiled
Englishman serving tea in Hollywood, amongst
the many displaced émigré European
filmmakers, writers and intellectuals, playing the
game with calculated precision and delight as
the detached dandy aesthete observer of
American mass culture.
Elsaesser’s persuasive view of Hitchcock as a
conservative dandy surrealist, whose own little
known life and highly visible public persona
influenced his cinema – notable for its form for
form’s sake quality and no concessions to
chance and nature – should also be mentioned
in this context. ()(9) Hitchcock’s cinema
expresses a paradoxical form of “dandyism of
sobriety” that values, at the same time,
professional perfectionism and effortless ease.
Hitchcock’s inordinately controlled art of surface,
irony, wit and metonymy is predicated on the
filmmaker’s post-Symbolist desire to make life
imitate art. Hitchcock as the roguish aesthete-
dandy whose films and persona are preoccupied
with dizzying formal structure, repetition and
rhymes (the Magritte-looking suited Hitchcock
always booked the same hotel room whenever
travelling, year in, year out) shaped character
identity and relationships as an expression of
effect and surface. Hitchcock’s cult of artifice,
surface and unseriousness and its attendant
clever self-definition of the filmmaker as a
unique combination of the dandy, the rogue and
the mountebank, Elssaeser eloquently argues,
emanates from a deep-seated working-class
English Catholic moral stance and an intimate
familiarity with the writings of Charles
Baudelaire, Gustave Flaubert, Edgar Allen Poe
and Oscar Wilde ()(10). Moreover, Hitchcock’s
realisation that the profundity of cinema resides
in its surface means, as Bellour’s insightful
analyses of Hitchcock’s cinema attest, that by
looking at segmentation, the subtle interplay
that arises from the musical precision in which
Hitchcock obsessively controlled the direction of
the gaze, the camera’s mobility and the size of
the shot, Hitchcock saw himself as a composer
of cinema ()(11).
Hitchcock acts as an indispensable totemic
figure in the popular imagination as someone
who straddled both art and film in so many
dynamic and interesting ways. Notwithstanding
Hitchcock’s dramaturgical and sophisticated
visual understanding of cinema as an art form of
popular storytelling, an understanding that
embraces avant- garde cinema including
expressionist and surreal cinema, painting,
photography, literature, and theatre, he also
possessed a life-long innovative grasp of the film
apparatus as an interactive dream machine that
has shaped the seminal contours of our lives.
Hitchcock’s profound expressionist visual and
absurdist verbal wit reside in his early training as
a graphic artist and his masterly self-conscious
exploration of narrative structure as a source of
generating meaning. The director’s path-
breaking experimentation with the form of
narrative is evident in his influence over
filmmakers like Antonioni, De Palma, Truffaut,
Chabrol, Cronenberg, Kubrick, and Resnais.
Hitchcock is one of the artists of the twentieth
century: he showed us that mainstream films
could also be highly individual works of art. In a
word, Hitchcock’s deftly crafted parables about
love, death, loss and obsession are predicated
on Eisensteinian montage as much as they are
on surrealism, expressionism and existential
black humour (Kafka/Sartre).
The filmmaker’s quest for “pure cinema”
(photogenie) (Louis Delluc /Jean Epstein), in
radical contrast to drama, to literature, meant
for him the painstaking creative adventure of
constructing the architecture of a movie – frame
by frame – as expression of producing the
desired emotional response from an audience.
In other words, producing cinematic meaning
through the purely visual rather than the
literary. Hitchcock, in collaboration with his
screenwriters, always “wrote” his movies with
the camera in mind. Not that Hitchcock actually
wrote his scripts, as Larry Gross reminds us, but
rather through intervention, dialogue,
instruction and invention, Hitchcock knew
exactly where to place his “self-conscious, self-
mocking” camera (Freedman and Millington). ()
(12) “My camera is absolute”, Hitchcock
informed Janet Leigh during the shooting of
Psycho. In this unique sense, in the context of
Alexandre Astruc’s idea of a highly personal
“camero-stylo” cinema, Hitchcock was one of the
seminal auteurs of modern cinema. By the time
Hitchcock arrived on a movie set, his movie was
meticulously storyboarded and visualised, and
film directing became automatic to him. Yet,
Hitchcock claimed that screenwriting was the
most significant part of filmmaking for him. He
had an organic notion of filmmaking which relied
on the visual and literary elements of a movie
being designed as a total dynamic interactive
system.
I Look Up, I Look Down
Some commentators, Camille Paglia, Chris
Marker and Peter Wollen, among others, have
described Hitchcock as a surrealist and it is this
important (but not sufficiently examined) facet
of his cinema which I will now look at in terms of
Vertigo (1958) and its characteristic “vertigo of
time” aesthetic of self-referentiality ()(13). Vertigo
as a detective/ghost story of the fantastic and
the uncanny epitomises Hitchcock’s “closet”
surrealism. Based on Boileau-Narcejac’s amou
fou novella, aptly named “The Living and the
Dead” (which was written with Hitchcock in mind
and features the author’s own interests in Edgar
Allen Poe and the Surrealists), Vertigo, as an
enigmatic “limit text” of delirium, psychosis and
perversion, incorporates Hitchcock’s
considerable similar interests in Poe, surrealism
and tales of the uncanny ()(14). Vertigo, which is
arguably Hitchcock’s most personal film, is, as
Wollen reminds us, not only the director’s own
visual encyclopedia of psychopathology but also
a film that transcends its detective/suspense
generic configurations to become a haunting
mystery tale of the fantastic. In other words,
Hitchcock, despite his household reputation as a
“master of suspense”, was, more accurately, a
master of the fantastic. Hitchcock’s cinema is
therefore close (temperamentally speaking) to
Buñuel’s, in that both oeuvres (despite their
more superficial differences) share, as Robert
Stam once pointed out, similar “subterranean
analogies” located in their mutual surreal
concern for authority and revolt, desire and the
law, the rational and the irrational ()(15).
Hitchcock’s films – the best of them – belong to
the cinema of the fantastic: films endorsed by
the Surrealists like William Dieterle’s Portrait of
Jennie (1949), Henry Hathway’s Peter Ibbetson
(1935), Albert Levin’s Pandora and the Flying
Dutchman (1951) and Otto Preminger’s Laura
(1944).
In a 1961 essay entitled “Why I am Afraid of the
Dark”, Hitchcock described how he encountered
Poe’s works (particularly his Tales of the
Grotesque and Arabesque) when he was sixteen
years of age and started to express a life-long
interest in him and the Surrealists. Hitchcock’s
cinema – its images, themes, and settings – is
largely indebted to Poe’s tales of obsession,
mystery and the uncanny. This is clearly evident
in both of the exhibitions on show at the MCA.
For Hitchcock, Poe was an important link
between E.T. A Hoffman and Baudelaire on one
hand, and on the other, the Surrealists. In fact,
as James Naremore astutely delineates,
Hitchcock, who had a substantial affinity with
Hollywood’s noir directors, was a significant
transitional figure in the overall French-
influenced tradition of the roman noir as
instigated by Poe ()(16). There are certain
similarities between Poe and Hitchcock that, as
Naremore succinctly suggests, deserve
mentioning: like Poe, Hitchcock had a
pronounced interest in the irrational and horror,
like Poe, he also was an aesthete whose work
appeals to a large popular audience, and like
Poe, he also had a quasi-scientific orientation to
his work ()(17).
The roots of “Hitchcock’s universe” are located in
the ur-surrealist romantics and the early films of
D.W. Griffith, and this exemplifies the filmmaker’s
critical links between Hollywood and Poe,
aestheticism and modernism. Further, Hitchcock
demonstrates in his essay not only that
Surrealism was spawned from the works of Poe
(“Wasn’t it too born from the work of Poe as
much as from Lautreaumont?”), he also speaks
of his formative years between 1925 and 1930
when he was a keen cinephile at the London
Film Society. Hitchcock cites such seminal avant-
garde films as Buñuel and Dali’s L’Age d’or (1930),
Epstein’s The Fall of the House of Usher (1928),
Rene Clair’s Entr’Acte (1924) and Jean Cocteau’s
Blood of a Poet (1930) as having a decisive
influence on his work. ()(18) As Hitchcock puts it,
“I was influenced by all of this, as you can tell by
certain dream and fantasy sequences in some of
my films.” But it is more than simply deploying
Salvador Dali to do the dream sequence in
Spellbound (1945) or John Ferren to design a
dream episode in Vertigo. Critically it is
Hitchcock’s project (like Buñuel’s) to construct a
disorientating dreamworld within his films not
just through dream sequences or special effects
but through, as Wollen emphasises, the anti-
logic of cinematic narration itself. ()(19) Yet,
paradoxically, at the kernel of the Hitchcockian
fantasy is the director’s obsessive formalist use
of documentary naturalism (for Paglia this is “the
necessary first term of Surrealism”) that
structures the surreal anti-logic quality of his film
narratives ()(20).
Crucially then, according to Zizek’s fertile
Lacanian approach to Hitchcock, the director’s
surrealism of ambiguity, cruelty, fear and
humour pivots on his exacting drive to position
the spectator to only see fragments, to be
oscillating in a dialectic between seen and
unseen, enticing us to see what is not visible, by
reminding us that the real is always present in a
film and Hitchcock accomplishes this by the
introduction on the horizon of a “phallic””
anamorphic blot-stain which reveals the
uncanny ()(21). Hitchcock’s heroes , including the
anti-hero detective Scottie in Vertigo, once
having encountered their own blot-stain, face
the abyss in search of meaning, “denaturing” the
transparency of vision and the social fabric of
everyday culture. In other words, the
Hitchcockian blot, for his characters as well as for
us, places us vulnerable in a realm of multiplying
ambiguity where things are not what they seem.
Where does reality end, and where does
hallucination begin? We are, like Scottie,
propelled to find new “hidden” meanings. The
stain becomes, in Zizek’s phrase, “a source of
endless compulsion” ()(22).
In a timely article on Hitchcock, Poe and flanerie,
Dana Brand posits the view that Poe’s work
shadows the Hitchcock canon in so many
intricate and telling ways ()(23). Brand sees
Hitchcock’s interaction with Poe, as it particularly
applies to Rear Window (1954), as a lucid self-
reflexive allegory of the cinema – “cinema within
cinema” as Jean Douchet once described
Hitckcockian cinema – and like Psycho (1960),
concerned with the director’s absolute inflected
aim of creating an “art of pure film” ()(24).
Moreover, Brand is concerned with Rear
Window’s main dynamics of a type of urban
spectatorship that was germane to the essays
and fictions of Poe’s time. Hitchcock typically
undermines L.B. Jeffries’s confident flaneur’s
paternalistic sense of his field of vision: the “city
film” genre inspired courtyard outside his
window and its dioramic qualities where he can
read his neighbours at a single glance. Jeffries,
whose spectatorship constitutes a form of
dismemberment, exemplifies the lonely, callous
and narcissistic male figures from Strangers on a
Train (1951) to Vertigo, and in this critical sense he
is indicative of the idealised personality of the
American male. (Zizek’s ’50s Hitchcockian hero as
“the pathological narcissist” whose subjectivity
represents the so-called “society of the
spectacle”).
The seductive cubist-inflected spiralling title
sequence to Vertigo, designed by Saul Bass and
assisted by abstract filmmaker John Whitney,
and accompanied by Bernard Herrman’s
peerless magnetic haunting score, is one of the
high moments in the art of cinema titling as it
symbolically presages Hitchcock’s narrative itself.
Bass has deftly encapsulated the internal
emotional worlds of Surrealism and the utopian
iconography of abstraction. The geometric oval
shaped spirals called Lissajous waves, named
after the French scientist who invented them,
was created by Whitney who used a special
pendulum that forms sine waves. These
mathematically precise waves signal, as we are
reminded by Kerry Brougher, a logic spinning
out of control, gone mad by vertigo, evoking the
pun-encrusted rotating disks in Duchamp’s
Anemic Cinema suggesting a “vertigo of delay”
(Paz) ()(25). These waves were initially
interpreted by contemporary spectators as
being representative of “modern art in motion”
()(26). Critically, the combination of Surrealist-
inspired dream imagery and abstraction in the
title sequence of Vertigo and in certain sequences
in the film itself is emblematic of Hitchcock’s
innovative use of avant-garde film ideas in
mainstream narrative cinema. Hitchcock, who
was influenced by Surrealism as much as by
German silent cinema (Lang, Murnau, Pabst and
Wiene), was in constant conflict between seeing
himself as a commercial filmmaker (the public
showman) and as an avant-garde art film
director (the private aesthete) ()(27).
Inside the White Cube Space
Before we proceed to discuss these two
exhibitions, it is apt at this point to say a few
words about the relatively unexamined rich
terrain between art and cinema. The recent
proliferation of moving analog and digital images
in the museum is a highly elaborate
phenomenon whose genealogy goes back over a
hundred years or so. To think that art’s embrace
of cinema is a very new thing is to be mistaken.
For both forms of cultural reproduction have
been highly intertwined with each other since
the 1920s when Max Reinhardt’s expressionist
theatre influenced the films of Fritz Lang,
F.W.Murnau, and other prominent Weimar
filmmakers. This is not to overlook the
important German abstract filmmakers like Vikor
Eggeling, Oskar Fischinger, Hans Richter and
Walter Ruttmann whose abstract films drew
upon painting, graphics, drawing, music and the
synaesthetic ideas manifested in Kandinsky’s On
the Spiritual in Art.
Since the historical avant-garde and the Balhaus,
art and cinema have been interacting with each
other in many different historical contexts
(Hollywood cinema, Joseph Cornell Weegee,
Black Mountain College, Fluxus, French New
Wave, Warhol, ’60s experimental cinema, Richard
Hamilton) and with different blurring cross-over
concerns and effects for filmmakers and artists.
This meandering complex history of the
transgeneric fusion taking place between art and
cinema is comprehensively documented in Los
Angeles’s The Museum of Contemporary Art’s
aptly named 1996 show Hall of Mirrors: Art and
Film. This important (but flawed) thematic
benchmark exhibition, like other similar minded
exhibitions staged in England in the same year
including Spellbound and Scream and Scream
Again, attests to the diverse interactions of art
and cinema and how artists and filmmakers are
concerned with the critical question: What is – or
was – cinema? This is particularly evident in the
Hall of Mirrors exhibition (with its accompanying
impressive catalogue) where diverse artists such
as Warhol, Cindy Sherman (who features in the
Notorious show), Weegee and Salvador Dali
mingle with filmmakers like Godard, Welles,
Hitchcock and Antonioni in today’s expanding
enterprise of colliding the cinema’s dynamic
images and sounds with the meditative
character of art’s static imagery ()(28). All these
figures, who are rapidly becoming canonised in
these art/cinema exhibitions and related
symposia, are fundamentally posing questions
concerning cinema’s colossal hold on twentieth
century culture and cinema’s “death” and its
subsequent fragmentation.
It should be noted that with the Hall of Mirrors
exhibition, despite its numerous positive
features – including its overall one of presenting
some of the most important film- shaped art of
the last 50 odd years to a new audience, and a
rare opportunity to see the works by major film
artists who have been inaccessible since the
1970s (e.g. Michael Snow, Robert Conrad,
Carolee Schneeman, Joseph Cornell, Hollis
Frampton and Marion Faller, among others) – it
makes large unwielding critical and curatorial
claims, displays an arbitrary periodicity and
many crucial oversights (for instance, important
transitional 1940s avant-garde filmmakers like
Maya Deren and Marie Menken are overlooked,
and absent from the exhibition is the entire
European, primarily British, formalist avant-
garde film movement).
Further, these recent exhibitions (including the
often overlooked 1990 Paris-based show Vertigo
curated by Christian Leigh) persuasively point to
how the contemporary media explosion
impacting on the gallery space in the last twenty
years is compelling artists to not only use
installations, video projection and multimedia
art to go beyond the more fundamental pursuit
of using film, video and electronic media as an
expansion of painting and sculpture (echoing
one of the more essential objectives of avant-
garde cinema) but also to explore these media in
their own right and thereby encounter the many
fascinating complexities of the uncharted mobile
intersections between art and cinema.
Let us now return to our two exhibitions and
examine their relative aesthetic, cultural and
thematic merits. Both exhibitions focus on how
Hitchcock’s art and its prevailing uncanny
worldly virtual effect of seeing the world through
his camera. Hitchcock’s supple ability to
generate landscape as real and unreal at the
same time has dramatically altered our basic
perception of reality. This is vividly registered in
Chris Marker’s extraordinary 1982 essay film
Sunless, which is on show in Notorious, and
figures sequences of San Francisco through
Hitchcock’s eyes. It is a city, according to
Marker’s fictional narrator defined according to
Hitchcock’s Vertigo, converted into an unsettling
dreamscape and then recouped by Marker as
fact. This approach to excavating Hitchcock’s
surreal poetry of transforming cityscapes into
dreamscapes and using cinema to delve deep
into the film/gallery spectator’s own voyeurism
and obsessions is markedly evident in a number
of works throughout the Notorious exhibition.
Cindy Bernard’s luminous installation Location
Proposal No 2 (1997-99) has digitised the
redwood forest sequence in Vertigo. This moving
moment in Hitchcock’s film, which looks at an
ancient redwood tree stump and its rings as an
index of time, memory and measurement,
evokes Cabrera Infante’s description of Vertigo as
“the first great surrealist film” ()(29). As we
circumnavigate Bernard’s three suspended
digitised screens consisting of carefully recreated
shots from this specific sequence in the film, we
are taking a new “walk through” perspective of
Hitchcock’s forest. The artificial aura of Bernard’s
digitised forest images allude to the highly
artificial other-worldly spaces and travels of
Hitchcock’s cinema, and its attendant
multifaceted representation of the disturbed
vertiginous state of mind of his obsessive
characters.
Walking through the Notorious exhibition is a
fairly enthralling experience if you are especially
concerned with art, cinema, flanerie, neurosis
and spectatorship, and its central relevance to
Hitchcock’s incandescent modernist cinema. This
has a double significance when you enter David
Reed’s eerie installation Scottie’s Bedroom (1994)
and discover Jimmy Stewart’s Vertigo character
Scottie’s bedroom with its rumpled bedsheets,
bathrobe, lamp and a TV set playing Vertigo.
Reed has carefully replaced the film’s generic
painting that stood over the bed in which Judy
(Kim Novak) slept in, after she was rescued by
Scottie from the cold waters of San Francisco
Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge, with one of
his own paintings. Although bedroom
installations by the ’80s became a familiar
international art phenomenon, Reed’s
installation is refreshingly evocative.
As is Victor Burgin’s iconographic black and white
photo-installation The Bridge (1984) with its non-
didactic Freudian reading of Vertigo as an
expression of Hitchcock’s characteristic
treatment of objects, inhibitions, symbols and
obsessions and the open-ended way the film
about love and obsession is constructed as
narrative. Burgin’s work, which neatly shares
certain pictorial elements with John Baldessari’s
1999 deconstructive narrative-based works
Telrad Series: To Be A and Telrad Series: What was
Seen, shadows the San Francisco of the ghostly
roaming figure of Madeline (Kim Novak), with its
allusions to Dante and Pre-Raphaelite art, and is
a gentle surprise when encountered in the flesh
(so to speak) in the wake of our “textbook”
familiarity with it.
Several exhibits were specifically commissioned
for the show (a growing curatorial trend abroad,
but lamentably absent locally) and displayed
one of the prevailing tropes of the hybrid
experimentation that is occurring today
between art and cinema and can be traced back
to structural cinema: the idea of art looped for
exhibition thanks to film and computer/video
technology. Christoph Giradet and Matthias
Muller’s The Phoenix Tapes No 1-6 (1999) is a
subtle series of videotapes that meticulously
examine Hitchcock’s art and life by locating
certain echoes and contrasts in particular shots
and sequences from his movies. Hitchcock’s
problematic characterisation of women, the
mother as an evil villain, the fragmentary
depiction of the body, objects, architecture and
space related to paranoia are all looked at in
these videotapes. In their arresting Necrologue
video, we encounter a strange hybrid slowed
down image of Ingrid Bergman’s face from the
film Under Capricorn (1949) illustrating the barely
visible journey of a tear rolling down her face.
This image, evokes a certain moment in Marker’s
sublime sci-fi meditation La Jeteé (1964), where
we encounter the only moving film part in a
work made entirely of black and white
photographs: namely, the reflexive act of a
female winking at the spectator.
Another notable loop work is Stan Douglas’s
immersive black and white film installation
Subject to a Film: Marnie (1989), which
atmospherically reconstructs a sequence
featuring Marnie (Tippi Hedren) committing a
robbery in an abandoned office building, and is
installed in a dark cavernous room. Douglas has
recreated the original Hitchcock sequence, but
this time it is in silence, with different camera
movements and all we hear is the sound of the
film being fed through the film projector.
Atom Egoyan’s chilling coloured video Evidence
(1999) is an edited tape of scenes from his recent
Hitchcockian thriller Felicia’s Journey (1999) which
shows a serial killer filming his intended female
victims in his car talking about their lives. In a
critical sense, it is a mobile homage to Michael
Powell’s film maudit classic Peeping Tom (1960).
Whilst Pierre Huyghe’s photo and film
installation Remake (1995), is a low- budget
reconstructed look at Hitchcock’s Rear Window
(1954) and how we account for the past and try
to visually describe it. Finally, Douglas Gordon’s
suspended video screen slow motion riff 24-Hour
Psycho, a work which has visited our shores
before, replays a video copy of Hitchcock’s film
down to two frames per second. Its “yBa” (Young
British Art) aesthetics focussing on image and
event by obsessively caressing objects, glances,
facial tics, and shadows in Norman Bates’
disturbed world provides a stark contrast to
Gordon’s two playful conceptual “stamp art”
pieces Airmail White Portrait and Surface Mail
White Portrait, both made last year and feature
US stamps of Hitchcock, released in that year.
Notorious, like any other art/cinema exhibition,
poses numerous questions about the difficulties
of showing cinema (a kinetic light-time-space art
form) in an art museum where static art is the
curatorial norm and, as Peter Wollen has
observed, there is a substantial essentialising
tendency to believe that if cinema (in all of its
forms) is exhibited in a museum as a sculptural
object or as an installation then, ipso facto,
cinema has become a serious art because visual
art is assumed to be “the touchstone of
aesthetic authenticity” ()(30).
Colless’ Moral Hallucination mercifully does not
suggest any of the more familiar shortcomings
of such recent museological endeavors. The
eleven Australian artists, including Dale Frank,
Bill Henson, Rosemary Laing, and Robyn Stacy,
amongst others, are represented by works that
– according to Colless – are susceptible under
the right circumstances of being possessed by
Hitchcock as a hallucinatory after-image. In a
critical sense, Colless’ curatorial rationale is to
select certain exhibits that allude in their own
specific way to Hitchcockian evil as aesthetics of
psychosis. Hence, artists’ perennial complicit
interests in sadism, evil, voyeurism and
necrophilia in Hitchcock’s movies and their many
references to art, photography, painting and
theatre. If art is, as Colless cogently argues,
including cinema, a perfect crime, a hallucinatory
lie, a fabulation, then Hitchcock seduces us in
immersing ourselves in his evil beauty.
So as we walk through the relevant gallery
rooms of the exhibition, like the different time-
capsule rooms in Fritz Lang’s Secret Beyond the
Door (1948) designed to produce certain
psychotic reactions in humans, so too Colless
has arranged the various exhibits in a seance
setting in order to channel Hitchcock’s
phantasmatic presence. Consequently, there are
three rooms that classify the exhibition: Jack
Ruby, a surreal shadowy zone, Syrup, a garish
neon-lit atmosphere, and finally, Vogue, the noir
flare of a camera flash. Hitchcock’s presence, his
evil, is therefore “felt” everywhere in the world’s
banal materiality seducing us in so many deep
and ambiguous ways.
Anne Wallace’s mesmerising tableau vivant
styled paintings The Next Room 1 1999, The Next
Room 2 1999 and One Second 1999 suggest a
pervasive menacing atmosphere of sexual
intrigue and domestic masochism embedded in
the ordinary everyday spaces of our lives which
Hitchcock so cleverly represents in his dark
comedic oeuvre. Louise Hearman’s powerfully
intense exhibits, especially Untitled # 586 1997,
representing a white cat’s head suspended in the
void, clearly projects a supernatural dread
worthy of Poe’s pen. Sean Bacon’s cage-like
interactive installation CU-SeeME 1998 with its
rhizomatic ability to manipulate Jeffries’ scopic
wheelchair from Rear Window and catapult it into
the webcam aesthetics of the Internet is one of
the exhibition’s more compelling works.
The low-budget sampled “grunge” video
installation of movie background noise and
video footage by Matt Warren, Residual Memory
1999, conjures a “conspiratorial” Pynchonian
collage of John Kennedy’s and Lee Harvey
Oswald’s assassinations and Jack Ruby’s role in
this seemingly endless narrative of paranoia with
its Hitchcockian undertones. Laing’s Virilio –
inspired enigmatic photograph greenwork TL#8
1995 with its hovering flying saucer-like
apparition above an empty aerodrome runaway
contrasts quite effectively with Henson’s
cinematic photo-narrative of twilight desire and
despair amongst fated young suburban
youngsters in his series Untitled, 1997-98. And
Stacy’s appealing spectral photograph The Spot
1996 with its abstract human figure looking like a
crossover between an 18th century costumed
fancy party participant and a stylised cyborg
suggests poetic mystery.
In conclusion, Colless’ elliptical approach to
curating a show around Hitchcock and
contemporary Australian art has been critically
successful in opening up new stimulating non-
categorical perspectives on a difficult curatorial
theme. Art and cinema and their complex
interactions, concerns, and effects, since the last
century, is a highly fecund area for curatorial and
critical investigation. It is a subject that, despite
the several exhibitions held to date and their
relative merits and limits, deserves substantial
long-term and self-critical attention. MCA’s
Hitchcock: Art, Cinema and.Suspense exhibition is
a rewarding starting-point in this creative
aesthetic and cultural adventure. The catalogue
for the Notorious show has Hitchcock holding a
torch in a movie theatre on its title page – he is
presented to the reader side-on – it is a surreal
image that alludes to Hitchcock’s enduring
canon and his self-reflexive authorial identity
evoking the eeriness of Edward Hopper’s 1939
painting New York Movie depicting a solitary
movie usher and, most importantly, suggesting
to us that art and cinema are best discussed in
an oblique self-questioning manner.
Endnotes
1. ()See Thomas Elsaesser, “Rivette and the
End of Cinema”, Sight and Sound 1 (1992):
20-23.
2. ()Edward Colless, “Moral Hallucination:
Channeling Hitchcock” in Hitchcock: Art,
Cinema and.Suspense, Visitors Guide,
Museum of Contemporary Art, 1999, page
unnumbered.
3. ()Slovaj Zizek, Everything You Thought You
Wanted to know about Lacan But Were Afraid
to Ask, London, Verso, 1992, p.2.
4. ()Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations, New York,
Columbia University Press, 1990, p.155.
5. ()Jonathan Freedman and Richard
Millington (eds.), Hitchcock’s America, New
York, Oxford University Press, 1999, p5.
6. ()Leo Charney and Vanessa Schwartz are
cited in Freedman and Millington, ibid., p.8
7. ()Raymond Bellour is quoted in Katie
Trumpener, ‘Fragments of the Mirror, ” in
Walter Raubicheck and Walter Srebnick
(eds.) Hitchcock’s Rereleased Films, Detroit,
Wayne State university press, 1991, p176.
8. ()François Truffaut, Hitchcock, London,
Secker and Warburg, 1966.
9. ()See Thomas Elsaesser, “The Dandy in
Hitchcock,” in Richard Allen and S..Ishi
Gonzales (eds.) Alfred Hitchcock Centenary
Essays, London, BFI Publishing, 1999, p.5.
10. ()Ibid., p.10.
11. ()Cf. Wollen, “Rope: Three Hypotheses,”
in Allen and Gonzales (eds.), Alfred
Hitchcock Centenary Essays, op. cit., p.79.
12. ()Larry Gross, ” Parallel Lines”, in
Hitchcock Sight and Sound booklet, London,
BFI 1999, pp.39-40, and Freedman and
Millington, op, cit., p.3.
13. ()See Camille Paglia, The Birds, London,
BFI Publishing, 1998; Chris Marker, “A Free
Replay”, in John Boorman and Walter
Donohue, Projections 41/2, London, Faber
and Faber, 1995, pp123-130; and Peter
Wollen, “Compulsion”, Sight and Sound, New
Series 7 April 1997, pp14-18. For a useful
summary of the view that cinema itself is
ontologically surreal in its defamiliarising
imperative capacity to penetrate the
surface of the world see Leo Charney,
Empty Moments, Durham, Duke University
Press, 1998, pp.124-128.
14. ()For the idea of Vertigo as a “limit text”
see Trumpener, op.cit., p.187.
15. ()Robert Stam, “Hitchcock and Buñuel,”
in Raubichcheck and Srebnick, op.cit.,
pp.116-145.
16. ()See James Naremore, “Hitchcock at
the Margins of Noir,” in Allen and
Gonzales, op.cit., p.276.
17. ()Ibid.
18. ()For Infante’s quote see Marker, op.cit.,
p.125.
19. ()See Wollen, op.cit., p.17.
20. ()Paglia, op.cit., p.12.
21. ()See Slavoj Zizek, “The Hitchcockian
Blot,” in Allen and Gonzales (eds.) Alfred
Hitchcock, op.cit., p.125.
22. ()Ibid.
23. ()Dana Brand, ” Rear-View Mirror
Hitchcock, Poe and the Flaneur in America,”
in Freedman and Millington, op.cit.,
pp.123-134.
24. ()Jean Douchet, “Hitch and his
Audience,’ in Jim Hiller (ed.), Cahiers Du
Cinéma 1960s, Cambridge, Harvard
University Press, 1986, p.150.
25. ()Kerry Brougher, “Prelude to A Dream”,
in Christian Leigh (ed.) Vertigo, Paris,
Editions Thaddaeus, 1990, pp114-116.
26. ()Pat Kirkham, “The Jeweller’s Eye”, Sight
and Sound, New Series 7 1996, p18.
27. ()See Wollen in Allen and Gonzales
(eds.), op.cit., p.79.
28. ()Russell Ferguson (ed.), Hall of Mirrors,
Los Angeles, Museum Of Contemporary
Art, 1995.
29. ()Cabrera is quoted in Chris Marker, “A
Free Replay (Notes on Vertigo)”, in John
Boorman and Walter Donohue (eds.)
Projections 41/2, London, Faber and Faber,
1995, p.125. (In association with Positif)
30. ()Peter Wollen, “Together”, Sight and
Sound, Vol. 6, no 1 (1996): 30-34.
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