Sunday, 24 October 2010

Of interpretations, Hitchcock and misogynism

In the Guardian the other day Bidishia wrote an article about women in the films of Alfred Hitchcock. The argument was that Hitchcock was a misogynist, and that women are treated deplorably in his films, while the men are "innocent folks, acting up because they got caught in a tricky situation".

Now, there are so many problems with this article it is difficult to know where to begin. But I will not debate Hitchcock's alleged misogynism (it is after all a topic that has been discussed for several decades now). Instead I will treat the article as a perfect example of common flaws when talking and writing about films, and other art forms as well.

The first flaw is that Bidisha is only using six films, from the 1950s and early 1960s, for her example. Hitchcock made some 60 films. Do they all treat women the same way? Does the treatment differ from his film in Britain versus his American films? Does the treatment differ depending on which decade they are made? Such questions are left out of the discussion, despite the fact that they are relevant if you want to discuss Hitchcock and women.

The second flaw is that Bidisha only talks about the women. But what of the men in the films discussed. How are they treated? Men are being ridiculed, killed, maimed, taunted and fooled, and often shown as being lying, homicidal and devious. Maybe Hitchcock was a misandrist? Bidisha writes that "Hitchcock's women are outwardly immaculate, but full of treachery and weakness." but does that not describe the men equally well (or equally wrong)?

The third flaw is that Bidisha doesn't see any nuances or make room for different interpretations. Surely there is more ways of interpreting a film than just one. And if there is room for several interpretations, then maybe we shouldn't accusing filmmakers for having this or that opinion. Her readings of for example Lisa Fremont in Rear Window (1954) and Eve Kendall in North By Northwest (1959) are just too simplistic and narrow minded to be really meaningful. To say that Lisa Fremont is "full of treachery and weakness" goes completely against my own reading of the film, and that she's reading a fashion magazine in the last scene is hardly evidence of treachery or weakness, as Bidisha seems to imply.

At one point, with regard to Eve in North By Northwest, Bidisha writes "Only in the mind of a true hater can these contradictory qualities come together in the nasty piece of work that is Woman." That is auteurism in absurdum. Even if every single film by Hitchcock was blatantly misogynistic (if such a thing was possible), we would not be able to deduct that the director himself was a "true hater". It's tempting here to quote Hitchcock's famous line "My dear, it's only a movie." What I mean is that a film cannot be read as a diary. The work and the man behind it are two different things. Besides, there are also script writers to consider, among other contributors.

To sum up, by doing simplistic readings of a few films, Bidisha is trying to make an argument about a man, his views of women and his complete body of work. But it's a ridiculous endeavour, and the result is by default without merit. And yet, how common it is, this approach.


  1. agreed, haskell's essay is the bible of hitchcock misogyny.

  2. Tania Modleski has written some good things. Like "Rape versus Mans/Laughter: Hitchcock's Blackmail and Feminist Interpretation".