Hitchcock's Films Revisited Paperback – 12 Oct 2008
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It is impossible not to be impressed by the richness, justice, and eloquence of [Woods] readings like "Rope, Notorious, Under Capricorn," and "The Man Who Knew Too Much." . . . If there are still any doubters about Hitchcock's central place in the canon of 20th century artists, they should address themselves to this wonderful study, where they will find the case for the defense magisterially outlined and argued with sustained, fiery conviction. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Robin Wood, a founding editor of CineAction, is the author of Sexual Politics and Narrative Film (Columbia, 1998) and Hollywood From Vietnam to Reagan (Columbia, 1985), among other books.
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Wood writes beautifully. Complaints about his reliance on Freudian or Marxist terminology are wrongheaded - such terminology is in fact employed far more rarely than by most academic writers. Wood's use of language is magnificently precise and careful. It is true that he conducts his critique of Hitchcock, as of other filmmakers, from a leftwing viewpoint. One does not have to share his commitment to Marxism (a kind of reconstructed, humanistic Marxism, incidentally, which has nothing to do with the atrocities perpetrated by Mao or Stalin) in order to appreciate the strength of his analysis. Anyone who is prepared, as a reader, to engage in lively debate with a writer's ideological and moral assumptions, should be able to profit by reading Wood's book.
I certainly don't agree with everything Wood has to say either on a political or an aesthetic level. But no other writer on Hitchcock, or on the cinema, has the same depth, reach or passion for his subject. Hitchcock's Films Revisited, presenting in tandem Wood's earlier and later thoughts on one of the cinema's great masters, is not only great criticism; it is also a moving account of one man's personal and political evolution.
It's wonderful to note that Wood, still writing, has continued to update his first work without repudiating or diluting any of it. He made some highly daring observations in 1966, which so many writers ridiculed or dismissed. His originality and critical integrity is so notable, though, that it has weathered these attacks and survived to the present, in actually even better form.
Consider, for example, that Wood countered a then-contemporary tend in dismissing "Marnie" as a failure. Instead, in his first book and most recent edition, he insists that "Marnie" be counted in among films like Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo and North by Northwest as a masterly pairing of visual images addressing psychological elements. And who else before Wood saw the utterly original qualities of "Vertigo," or deconstructed them more effectively?
You won't be sorry to have this book in your library. It originated a critical lanugage of film, and celebrated one of film's greatest contributors in a unique way.
Republished as HITCHCOCK'S FILMS REVISITED, most of the body of the book remains the same as the originally titled HITCHCOCK'S FILMS, a critical study of eight of Hitchcock's then most recent films: STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, REAR WINDOW, VERTIGO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, PSYCHO, THE BIRDS, MARNIE, and TORN CURTAIN. But then as now, the study is very problematic, and this has a great deal less to do with the films than with the fact that Wood is much like the Mother Goose nursery rhyme. When he is good he is very, very good, but when he is bad he is horrid.
Wood was among the first to rescue VERTIGO from the dismissive reviews and tepid audience response it received upon its debut, and his comments here are tremendously insightful; he is no less effective in his studies of REAR WINDOW and PSYCHO. His thoughts on STRANGERS ON A TRAIN are excessively pendantic and have a forced quality, but they are none the less interesting. He does not manage to convince me that I should regard NORTH BY NORTHWEST as a masterpiece, but even so he makes a good case.
In his opening remarks, Wood states that he is not among those fans for whom Hitchcock can do no wrong, and attempts to prove his point by citing several famous Hitchcock films that he considers weak. Indeed, he largely dismisses virtually every film Hitchcock made before 1940 and has a tendency to regard Hitchcock's films of the 1940s as developmental. But there is no two ways about it: he is completely off the mark when describes THE BIRDS and MARNIE as masterpieces and TORN CURTAIN as merely disappointing.
The basic problem is that Wood focuses on thematic elements to the virtual exclusion of everything else. It is true that Hitchcock tends toward certain themes--perhaps most obviously an ironic form of individual isolation--so it is hardly surprising that these also occur in THE BIRDS, MARNIE, and TORN CURTAIN. Indeed it would be a shock if they did not. But thematic presence does not necessarily qualify a film for the description of "masterpiece," and where THE BIRDS and MARNIE are concerned Wood throws the word around much too freely for my liking.
The great strength of both THE BIRDS and MARNIE is their numerous set pieces, many of which are very famous and all of which are highly watchable. In each instance, however, the film emerges as a premise in search of a viable plot, and whatever thematic interest may exist pales alongside this very fundamental fact. TORN CURTAIN has several interesting performances in the supporting cast and one truly spectacular Hitchcockian set piece, but it is chiefly remarkable for being among the handful of boring films that Hitchcock made, and no amount of thematic presence can alter this rather basic observation.
Wood has annotated his original text with subsequent articles, and the same situation holds true here as well: he tends to offer praise to those films that have something he can identify as a consistent thematic purpose and dismiss those that do not, all of it without regard to whether or not the film actually works as a film. His comments are not without interest, but in the end these are the musings of a literary scholar instead of an individual who has any real idea of the difference between "interesting failure" and "cinema masterpiece."
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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