Rear Window

Hitchcock’s dancing “Ms. Torso” is a reminder of Jefferies’ unreliability as a narrator in Rear Window. In the opening sequence, we are introduced to most all of Jefferies’ neighbors and entertainment as he is sick in bed. While most of the people he watches appear normal at first sight, listening to the radio, trying to escape the heat, and generally starting their days, “Ms. Torso” is a caricature of the fantasy woman. Dancing around the tiny apartment dressed in very little clothes, “Ms. Torso” is an unrealistic figure representing the desires of heterosexual men, rather than a realistic representation of women. By featuring the blonde, bubbly dancer, Hitchcock is reminding the audience of the male gaze the film is told through. She represents excess and luxury as she does nothing but dance, eat, and lose her shirt. Just as the dancer is called “Ms. Torso”, Jefferies objectification of the woman through both his language and his gaze is a signal he is not an objective party, and neither is the camera that is stuck in the apartment with him. 

Strangers on a Train

Hitchcock includes the scene between the child in the amusement park and Bruno to show Bruno’s loss of an adequate childhood due to his parental relationships and therefore his developmental delays that Hitchcock associates with his queerness. Bruno follows Miriam through the amusement park, stalking her from afar. After he runs across the child dressed as a cowboy with a toy gun and a balloon, his method becomes much more involved and intimate with Miriam and her group. This shift is highlighted by the strange interaction between the small child holding the grown, yet very immature man hostage. This odd interaction where the child says “bang” and Bruno pops his balloon emphasizes Bruno’s inability to make out what is real and serious and what is pretend. The high camera angle from above Bruno’s shoulder casts him in shadow and illuminates the young child’s face, a reminder of the innocence Bruno now lacks. The killing of the father, an action the child imitates through pointing the gun at Bruno is Bruno’s fantasy, and combined with the very pure seeming balloon is a symbol of the harshness of Bruno’s childhood. Bruno pops the balloon, just as the masculinity enforced by his father was supposed to sever his relationships with his childlike self. Instead, Bruno is still very immature and the connection to his mother is supposed to highlight both his queerness and the root of his coldness. Bruno’s interaction with the child is a reflection of how his childhood should have progressed in a patriarchal society, and his will and moxie to continue in his mission to kill his father (and Miriam by extension) intensifies.

Rope

Brandon pulling the curtains after the murder

Hitchcock uses the curtains in the opening of Rope to implicate the audience in the dark performance Brandon and Philip put on for their “perfect murder.” After they strangle David, Brandon attempts to calm Philip by opening the curtains letting in the light, and says: “It’s the darkness that’s got you down- nobody ever feels really safe in the dark” and pulls the curtains. Addressing an audience presumably in a theater, Hitchcock is reminding us we should not feel safe in the dark or watching his film. This mirroring of cinema is repeated as Brandon pulls the curtain which is fashioned to reveal the cityscape in the same way curtains of a theater reveal the screen or setting. By recreating theatrical symbols in the exposition of the film, Hitchcock is emphasizing the importance of the structure of Rope— which mimics a play. He is also implicating the audience and we are suddenly on stage to the world after knowing the heinous crime that has been committed. Our knowledge is what builds suspense through the movie as the audience is forced to sit knowing about the corpse while being reminded that we too are always watched. The camera and audience take an active role in the deception Brandon and Philip initiate as neither can change the outcome of the film but are immediately forced to participate due to the reminders of vision and performance that work on multiple levels in cinema.

Notorious

Hitchcock uses distorted camera angles and clarity to force the audience to face the idea of the gaze and question the ocularcentrism the genre of cinema builds around. While the camera takes on the perspective of multiple people in the film, the most notable is our heroine played by Ingrid Bergham, Alicia Huberman. A defining flaw in her image as the perfect woman is her indulgence, specifically in alcohol. The first notable instance of the camera’s distortion of vision is when Alicia wakes up, hungover after the night of the party and drive with Devlin. After a zoomed-in shot of a glass in front of a messy-looking Alicia, we take on her sight– Devlin, completely in shadow at an angle across the screen. He orders her to drink what’s in front of her and walks towards her. The camera spins as he stands over her and says, “feel better?”. The choice to have the camera leave a standard viewpoint and take on Alicia’s vision emphasizes just how vulnerable she is in this situation. Devlin allowed her to be in danger the night before and knocked her out– the twisting camera emphasizes the distrust and uneasiness we need to feel towards this caring version of him. Is he trying to help her feel better and cure her hangover? Or is he taking power over her when she is vulnerable? Ultimately- should we trust Devlin? Should we trust what we see through Alicia or anyone else’s eyes? Later, the camera loses focus as Alicia meets each of the men at Sebastian’s party, the Nazis she is supposed to be reporting on. As her gaze switches in and out of focus, we are supposed to call into question Alicia’s judgment as well as the men’s politeness as they kiss her hand. By manipulating the gaze of the camera, Hitchcock is making sure the audience stays uneasy and paranoid, not only in the film but also of the people they trust in real life.

Shadow of a Doubt

Young Charlie’s nightmare, being lead methodically through the world, each person more like the next is Uncle Charlie’s fantasy of living in the past. Her nightmare is her uncle’s dream, highlighting the duality of their connection which peaks as Young Charlie gains knowledge about her uncle’s crimes. The 17th-century dancers appear four times throughout the film. In the opening credits, where both Charlies are dwelling on their displeasure in life when Young Charlie vows to discover the truth about the secret her uncle has, when she does so, and when she pushes him out of the train to his death in an effort to save her own life. The “Merry Widow” sequence marks Uncle Charlie’s downward trajectory as truth is revealed, and Young Charlie’s increasing knowledge, therefore empowerment. Not long after we first see the dancers, Young Charlie says she needs a miracle and a savior from the boring life she sees unfolding in front of her the same as it did for her mother and her mother’s mother. By the last glimpse of the shadowy dancers, Young Charlie sees her uncle as a bringer of disaster and death, far from the savior she naively imagined at the beginning of the film. As she pushes him out of the train, she completes her wish for a more exciting life different from her mother’s, and Uncle Charlie’s dream to return to the past is proved fatal. In a film and genre incredibly rooted in gender roles and misogyny, the arch highlighted by the antique dancers is a proponent of progress and change in society.

Rebecca

The men in the novel repeatedly treat the second Ms. de Winters as a child, but the camera, not the dialogue, infantilizes her to highlight the “coming of age” of the young woman. 

The low positioning of the camera makes the already cavernous rooms of Manderly shrink Ms. de Winters even more. The doorways especially draw attention to her physical size and fragility, like that of a child. The doorknobs are almost at eye level for our heroine, forcing a comparison to a toddler entering a room of adults. When the second Ms. de Winters meets her new in-laws, she first listens from the other side of the slightly ajar, enormous, door. They assume she is a former chorus girl, a contrasting image with that of the second Ms. de Winters dwarfed, modestly dressed, and hiding that we as the audience see. Later in the film, as the second Ms. De Winters realizes Rebecca’s beauty and hold over Manderly, the camera moves away from her, making her look very small. These instances emphasizing her petite stature are important because they emphasize the value men like Mr. de Winters and men like Hitchcock see in meek, controllable women. By physically making her small, she is palatable and malleable, the opposite of Rebecca, whose presence remains uncontrollable and existent even after her death. 

The 39 Steps

 

Gaze and perspective in Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps implicate the audience into a role violating the protagonists. The living room itself is full of lurking details that add suspense critical to a Hitchcock film. The sheets covering the furniture are reminiscent of a sheet covering a corpse, and by covering the mirror she is not only hiding from others but also preventing herself from seeing her own reflection, suggesting she is hiding from something deeper within herself as well. It is the camera movement however that codifies the film as Hitchcockian. Throughout the conversation the two of them have that night, they are walking in and out of frame- the camera is not following them. This implies the camera is watching them from the beginning as the more permanent object in the room, rather than the people interacting in it. By having a fixed camera in the room before they enter and thereafter they leave, Hitchcock is reminding the audience they are being watched at all times, even in places they consider safe and despite the precautions they take. This use of gaze implicates the audience into participating in violating the protection and privacy Annabella Smith is trying to create.

 

Similarly, the few moments of camera movement are also crucial to adding to the thrill of The 39 Steps. As Hannay and Smith speak to each other, the camera frequently watches the listener rather than the speaker, creating the concept that what is being said is not as simple as the words, but instead tells us much more about the relationships between characters as we watch them listen and react. Additionally, there is a distinct camera movement towards Smith’s back as Hannay crosses the room. The angle is low and looking up at her shoulder where the camera is completely out of her line of vision. This approach towards her personifies the camera and exposes the audience to be active participants in the violence occurring against our femme fatale and by extension the chaos that follows Hannay after her death.