Hitchcock and his unique style have occupied an important place in the history of Hollywood films and even the history of the world cinema at large
This film director was born and gained his reputation in the United Kingdom, later embraced his golden age in the United States. He was recognized as one of the greatest directors in the history of world cinema with a consensus from different cultures and regions. Hitchcock engaged in the film industry for more than 60 years and produced more than 60 films. His works evolved over various periods and different styles: from silent films to sound films, from black and white films to color films, and gradually the director formed his own unique “Hitchcockian” style. Hitchcock was also recognized as a pioneer of the “cinema auteur” concept worldwide. Although the films he made are very far away from now, they are never out of date. Even now, audiences are still amazed by the plot twists and turns in his films. The biggest feature of Hitchock’s art presentation of film is that he skillfully integrates suspense into the film narrative. Thanks to that, he is also known as “the master of suspense”.
The word “suspense” always seems to come together with another word “peeping”, which is a recurring theme of Hitchcock’s suspense films. As a director who is fond of psychology, Hitchcock formed his own interpretation of “voyeurism” from Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis on human nature. In his films, Hitchcock meticulously took a unique view of a “peeper” to express voyeurism. This innovation made his films a huge success and won long-lasting artistic vitality. Hitchcock himself, therefore, was also known as the “Freud of the film industry”. This article will analyze the directing style in Hitchcock’s films from the theoretical perspective of voyeurism in psychoanalysis.
Hitchcock and the Theory of Voyeurism in Psychoanalysis
The theory of voyeurism in psychoanalysis was created by Freud. According to Freud, the desire to peep into other’s privacy originates from childhood, from the curiosity about one’s own birth.The voyeurism triggered by this curiosity is one form of the sexual instincts, which is one of the two basic human instincts. Freud wrote in Three Treatises on Sexuality, “indeed, [voyeurism] offers them a possibility of directing some proportion of their libido on to higher artistic aims. On the other hand, this pleasure becomes a perversion.”
在弗朗索瓦·特吕弗所著的《希区柯克论电影》这本书中，特吕弗曾在书中提到过青少年时期的希区柯克似乎相当孤独，是个内向的孩子，并不热衷于跟其他学生玩在一起。11岁的他常常自己一个人往返于学校和家庭之间，在每次家庭聚会上，他总是独自坐在屋角，一言不发，只是看着大人们说话。那时的他观察到许多东西，一直到现在他也保持着这副老样子。这一切养成了他腼腆、孤独、爱思考的性格，他始终认为自己是个边缘人，实际上他是一位明察秋毫的观察家，他能从观察别人当中获得极大的乐趣。另外，在传记影片《希区柯克》中有一幕，《精神病患者》的女主演在自己的化妆室，突然看到一个叼着烟斗的胖男剪影从窗外飘过，女主演对身边的人说：“看到了吗，他总是爱偷窥。” 希区柯克在接受采访时曾大方表示：“我想这是人类的天性，是人都爱偷窥。” 弗洛伊德也认为，窥视欲是人的一种天性和本能。希区柯克在他的电影中引入了弗洛伊德的精神分析学说，向我们阐述了他对精神分析学中窥视理论的理解。从他众多的电影作品中我们也可以看出，喜欢恶作剧的希区柯克，非常认同弗洛伊德的观点，人人都有“偷窥”的癖好，并且希区柯克经常会把偷窥这种人类的本能和充满悬疑恐怖的谋杀联系在一起，通过躲在角落里的摄像机，让观众亲眼目睹真相的揭开。从这一点上来说，弗洛伊德精神分析学理论是希区柯克电影艺术突破的重要理论源泉，它启发了希区柯克要有主动意识地充分利用心理空间，使希区柯克的电影打破了经典叙事电影的藩篱。
In the book Hitchcock on Cinema by Francois Truffaut, Truffaut mentioned that Hitchcock seemed quite lonely in his teenage years. He was an introverted child, who was not keen to play with other students. The 11-year-old Hitchcock always commuted from home to school alone. He always sat by himself in the corner at every family gathering, watching the adults talking without saying a single word. Much was observed back then, and the habit remained when he grew older. All this made him a timid, lonely, and inquisitive person. Hitchcock regarded himself as a marginal person (who usually tends to stay out of other people’s business). In fact, he is a discerning observer, who takes great pleasure from observing people. In addition, there is a scene in the biographical film Hitchcock (Sacha Gervasi, 2012) that the heroine of Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) suddenly discovers a silhouette of a fat man with a pipe flashing from the window in her dressing room. She says, “See that? He loves to peep.” Hitchcock shared his view in an interview, “I guess this is human instinct. People all love to peep.” Freud holds a similar view that the desire to peep is human nature and instinct. Hitchcock introduced Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis in his films to explain to us his understanding of the theory of voyeurism in psychoanalysis. As is shown in most of his films, Hitchcock is a pursuer of Freud’s Psychoanalysis theory and he also integrates his interpretations into the film. Hitchcock often associates “voyeurism”, an instinct that people are all addicted to, with murder cases that are full of suspense and horror. Audiences unveil the truth with the help of the camera hiding in the corner. From this point of view, Freud’s psychoanalytic theory is an important theoretical source of Hitchcock’s breakthrough in film art. It inspires Hitchcock to actively use films to explore the way to present suspense from a Psychological perspective, which also enables Hitchcock’s films to break the barriers of classic narrative films.
Artistic Interpretation of the Theory of Voyeurism in Hitchcock’s Films
The theory of voyeurism is one of most commonly used methods from psychoanalysis in Hitchcock’s films, and voyeurism appears in almost every Hitchcock film. He often shoots from the view of a peeper, which allows the audience to follow the peeper and enter their inner world. Hitchcock believes that everyone, including normal people, has the desire to peep into others’ privacy. The belief helps him to create a lot of “voyeurs” in his films.
Exciting voyeurism behavior was already involved in Hitchcock’s early film The Lodger (Alfred Hitchcock, 1927) — The landlord’s daughter, Daisy (June Tripp), is bathing in the bathtub. The steam from the bathroom attract the lodger, so he tiptoes downstairs to the bathroom door. The director gives a close-up when the lodger tries to secretly turn the doorknob to peep Daisy during the bath. This scene leaves a deep impression on most audiences. Even though the lodger fails to peep, audiences are still able to see what the lodger wants to see and in his later films, the male protagonists also manage to see similar views.
The opening sequence in the film Psycho, the camera has already served as a dedicated voyeur. This scene is a bland one: the film first uses a fixed position of the camera with an extreme long shot to set up the background of the film through the panning of the lens—a mediocre modern industrial city with no vitality. The angle appears as if God or an ordinary person is overlooking the city at the top of a high building. However, the camera slowly zooms in on half-closed blinds of a hotel room. It gradually moves in like a thief, spying on the secret lives of the family. Like an invisible ghost, the camera goes through the windows into a poorly-furnished room to peep an erotic scene—Marion (Janet Leigh)’s date with her lover Sam (John Gavin). The camera aims at the bed with a view that Marion is lying on the bed, half-naked, with Sam, who is also topless. The eroticism between man and woman is completely unveiled by the camera to the audience, fully satisfying the audience’s desire of voyeurism and eroticism. At the same time, it unconsciously makes the audience a voyeur who breaks into the window. Meanwhile, in another scene in Psycho, Marion is changing and bathing in a motel room, while the shy and introverted motel owner Norman (Anthony Perkins) appears as a voyeur. The way that Norman craves Marion is not to confess or show his love directly, but to hide behind a wall, surreptitiously peeing on Marion through a disguised peep hole. Through the camera, the eroticism, which is also shared by the audience, is unveiled to the greatest extent by Hitchcock, and in the meantime, it arouses the audience’s curiosity about the upcoming narrative development. On the other hand, the motive that Hitchcock satisfies the audience’s eroticism toward women though filming is more clearly exposed in the filming of Psycho: he, as a director, also satisfies his close “voyeurism” pleasure by observing people in an open and honest way. This also appears to provide self-satisfaction for Hitchcock himself.
The Evolution of Cultural Connotation of Voyeurism in Hitchcock’s Films
In Hitchcock’s films, beautiful female figures always undress, get changed, and bathe under the watchful eyes of male characters who go unnoticed. These “voyeuristic” details show the voyeurism toward women among human beings, especially men. In the 1958 film Vertigo, Hitchcock also reveals the voyeurism from the male protagonist Scottie toward the heroine Madeleine.
The male protagonist Scottie (James Stewart) in the film Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958) is a retired detective with acrophobia. He is entrusted by a friend to track his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) as a private detective, which justifies “voyeurism” in the whole film. All the tracking and direct observation on Madeleine is rendered with “voyeurism”. The film focuses on the peeping of Madeleine by Scottie. In the first half of the film, most scenes capture how Scottie follows Madeleine through galleries, flower shops, parks, and hotels in San Francisco. Madeleine often shows one side of her face and Hitchcock utilizes different surroundings, such as door frames, shadows, and door cracks to highlight Scotties’ peeping. In Hitchcock’s films, the female figures are always in the position of being peeped while male figures are the peepers. Furthermore, when female figures are gazed at by male audiences, the female figures will present themselves in such patriarchal expectations (such as showing tenderness and sexiness) while male figures are always in the power with the attribute of paternal role. Moreover, female figures tend to be guilty or transgressive, hoping to get redemption from male characters. This exactly manifests that such “gaze” can be a tool to construct and strengthen the male-dominated discourse in society.
Even though Hitchcock’s pioneering use of the voyeuristic perspective as a shooting method in the film contributed to the creation of films in the whole world, there were also many critiques from different scholars. Criticism claimed that the voyeurism in Hitchcock’s films is immoral. Therefore, Hitchcock decided to justify himself with the film Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954) in response to the criticism of his voyeurism.
Jeffrey (James Stewart), the male protagonist of the film Rear Window, is a photographer who is accustomed to taking risks. Due to his leg injury, he is forced to spend all day in a wheelchair. Although he is not able to move, he still maintains the curiosity to peep from his professional habits. When this exuberant energy is bound indoors by his legs, he must find an outlet and the building from his “rear window” becomes the ideal target for him. Based on this setting, Hitchcock is also implying to the audience that peeping at the privacy of others is not the behavior of some wretched and psychopathic people, but a common psychology among ordinary people.
The male protagonist Jeffrey never gets bored of peeping. However, the two women in his life, one his girlfriend and the other the private nurse who takes care of him regularly, both rebuke him for doing so. This, in fact, reveals the distinctive attitudes to voyeurism of men and women. It is because men pay more attention to superficial manifestation and have the instinctive tendency to explore the world that causes voyeurism to be more common for them. For that reason, the commonly seen voyeuristic behavior in Rear Window embeds Hitchcock’s deep understanding of the difference of male and female psychological position. The different acceptance of voyeurism on different figures reflects the distinctive focus on voyeurism from the male and female perspective.
At the end of the film, Hitchcock escalates Jefferey’s voyeurism to a moral level. It is exactly because of this act of voyeurism that Jeffrey observes the abnormality in his neighbours’ behaviour and senses the murder. This also helps to establish Jeffrey as a hero who not only uncovers the murder but also successfully discovers the murderer. It transforms an immoral voyeur into a hero, thus justifying his voyeuristic behavior.
In conclusion, most people who show voyeuristic desires in Hitchcock’s films are men, while women are in the passive position. During their voyeurism, men project their fantasies and desires onto women’s bodies and gain pleasure by gazing at them. Peeping is not simply the projection of eyes, but also the surveillance on all visible things. Behind voyeurism hides power and desire, which endows more meaning of power to “watching” and makes it an authoritative observation. It cannot be denied that the integration of Hitchcock’s personal growth experience and his understanding of psychoanalysis into his creation and the unique “voyeur” perspective make his depiction of human nature profound and build his unparalleled directing style. This makes his films greatly successful with long-lasting artistic vitality. So far, the new chapter of “Hitchcockian films” has just begun.
Written for The Film Dispatch by Yuyu Song and translated by Rex Lu.