Hitchcock traced his widely acknowledged interest in blonde leading ladies, which became the best known fetish of his later career…
Even before he began his work in the cinema, Hitchcock evidently associated the sexual reticence of the “cool blonde”, a British or northern European type, with hidden sexuality, as against the obvious glamour of women from France, Italy, and the United States.
“Anything could happen with a woman like that in the back of the taxi” –Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock’s ideal woman, at least in his films, was willowy, blonde and cool. What intrigued him was the hint of uninhibited passion behind the cool facade; in his own words, “the drawing-room type, the real ladies, who become whores once they’re in the bedroom …”
Hitchcock himself favoured blonde actresses, and more than one was obliged to bleach her hair for a role. Several actresses complained that Hitchcock could be brutal on set, and he often seems to enjoy watching his female characters suffer.
He liked to quote nineteenth century French playwright Victorien Sardou’s advice, “Torture the women!” though he added “The trouble today is we don’t torture the women enough”
Hitchcock saw female sexual vulnerability as a powerful dramatic device, which he exploited ruthlessly.
He is often thought of as a director who felt uncomfortable with, and even hostile to women. There is plenty of evidence to support this view, in his life and in his films, but there is also evidence that he admired strong, independent women, at a time when these characteristics where often considered undesirable.
‘Women in peril’ were a feature of many Hitchcock films, as they had been in cinema since its early days. (Hitchcock’s first film, The Pleasure Garden (1926), features a woman who falls victim to a deceitful and violent husband, while the victims of the killer in The Lodger are blonde women.)
Hitchcock’s women also fight back.
|Eva Marie Saint||Grace Kelly||Ingrid Bergman||Tippi Hedren||Janet Leigh||Kim Novak||Joan Fontaine|
Hitchcock’s leading favorites Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly and Tippi Hedren, whom he used in multiple films. Additionally, this idea of the “cool blonde” is epitomized in Hitchcock’s Vertigo through Kim Novak. Novak, having seemingly died as the elegant, fair-haired Madeleine Elster, is resurrected as Judy Barton, a brunette made to look as “tarty” as possible. This overt carnality, however, is rejected by the male figure of the movie, played by James Stewart. Judy must dye her hair, change her clothes, and virtually become Madeleine again before Stewart will accept and love her.
In addition, some argue that the women of Hitchcock’s films are inevitably “made into passive objects of male voyeuristic and sadistic impulses, [intended] to fulfill the desires and express the anxieties of men in the audience”
Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that Hitchcock was able to “register women’s vulnerability powerfully because he identified so strongly with women, not men.” In fact, his interviews are “filled with prideful boasts about knowing and understanding his actresses better than the actresses themselves did”
Also, countering the idea that Hitchcock’s films are intended “to fulfill the desires and express the anxieties of men in the audience,” Fawell suggests that Hitchcock was more conscious of the female audience than the male – particularly by keeping the spotlight on the leading woman’s emotions. And, as Hitchcock suggested, “the chief point [he] kept in mind when selecting [his] heroine [was] that she must be fashioned to please women rather than men … no actress can be a good commercial proposition as a film heroine unless she pleases her own sex”
Our sense of Hitchcock as a dark misogynist has been perpetuated by Donald Spoto’s biography of Hitchcock, The Dark Side of Genius, which concentrated, in obsessive detail, on Hitchcock’s infatuations with his actresses towards the end of his career, particularly with Tippi Hedren during the filming of Birds and Marnie. The book underplays the healthy relationship with actresses that characterizes the majority of Hitchcock’s career, and more importantly, underplays a tendency in Hitchcock’s films to be deeply empathetic to women and often hostile to men and critical of their treatment of women.
Scotty, in Vertigo, is cruelly indifferent to Judy’s love and her merits (as he had been to Midge’s) as he uses her body to rebuild a fantasy image of Madeleine.
What is interesting is that these four films (Notorious, Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest) represent four of Hitchcock’s very greatest works. The theme of a man who underestimates a woman, who is too sure of himself and often very cruel to the woman, who through his own callousness to the woman’s feelings places her in a dangerous situation, and only once saving her from that situation realizes the full measure of her worth and his blame–this was a theme Hitchcock felt with enough depth that it gives these films an emotional resonance films do not always have. And the theme cuts across a variety of screenwriters–Hecht, Hayes, Lehman, and Taylor. It seems to have been his own theme and one he could convey with depth and sincerity.
I would like to debate. In the clip from Vertigo, It’s not the woman who suffers: it is Jimmy Stewart. He gives his heart entirely to Kim Novak, then he tries his best to stop her in the church fighting against his biggest problem: vertigo.
The characters almost swap, Kim Novak stay faithfully on her mission, Jimmy Stewart could do anything for his love.
The “cool blonde” underestimates the man, she is sure of herself and very cruel to the man.
Feminism in nutshell:
1990 Hitchcock`s work had become a testing ground for feminist theory. In response to critics who attacked or defended Hitchcock on the rounds of his alleged misogyny or the violence his films meted out to women (charges that were galvanized by the graphic rape and murder of Brenda Blaney in Frenzy), Tania MODLESKI traced the conflict between Hitchcock`s sympathetic identification with female characters, on the one hand, and the patriarchal claims of his controlling male voyeurs and the director himself, on the other. Robin Wood responded in turn soon after the publication of Modleski`s The Woman Who Knew Too Much by noting admiringly that “the question that haunts contemporary Hitchcock criticism” was: “Can Hitchcock be saved for feminism?” The answer since then has been resoundingly affirmative, though not exactly in the terms Wood envisioned. Hitchcock has been saved for feminism not by being vindicated as a feminist, certainly not by the proto-feminist view that have been ascribed to his films, but in the same way other filmmakers and popular genres have been saved for feminism: by formal or historical analyses that have mined his films for archeological evidence of conflicts that are either gender driven (typically, conflicts that are rationalized and resolved in the romantic couple) or gender inflected (the larger cultural conflicts psychoanalytically minded theorists see as both driven by male anxiety and responsible for the formation of all individual identity and cultural institutions). Continuing feminist critique of Hitchcock`s films seems guaranteed by three features that set them apart from most others> the unusual prominence of women as both agents and objects in what appear in outline to be stories of masculine desire and masculine action: Hitchcock`s continued fascination with women, both as a story-teller and in his position as director: and the unquestioned range of misogynistic behaviour in so many of his films – a set of conflicts figured most economically by the ambiguous status of the Hitchcock Blonde. If an earlier generation of feminist critics asked to what extent the films approved, for example, of the voyeuristic behaviour of two male heroes insulated from intimacy by lacking even first names – Devlin in Notorious and Jefferies in Rear Window –latter-day feminists seem more likely to return to Bellour`s project by pressing questions that have less to do with the representation of particular characters and conflicts and more to do with issues of representation generally.
Personally, I agree with Tania Modelsky, but a I have to attach: the cinema is cinema. There is no doubt that Hitchcock movies are violent against women, but that is the action! If there is no action, logically no reaction which leads to a boring story. I think if Hitchcock lived with us today, nobody would attack him. But maybe I cannot fully understand the difference between that age and nowadays. Probably that time watching a tortured a woman on big screen meant something else.
1. Who was Tania Modelski?
2. What The Women Who Knew Too Much is about?
Thomas Leitch- The Encyclopedia of Albert Hitchcock page: 37, 104