Thursday, September 27, 2007

hitchcock (revisited): music and cranky catholicism

Mark Moring, editor of Christianity Today Movies and a letter-writer to the editor of Books and Culture in the most recent issue...He comments on the music in "The Trouble with Harry" (a movie Tonia and I saw during the summer at The Palace), asserting that arguably the best of the lot.

For the original article, by John McWhorter, click here.

Moring also recommended his magazine's portrait of Hitchcock, "A Cranky Catholic". Excerpts from that essay:

The Jesuits have a saying: "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man." That motto could almost be said to describe Alfred Hitchcock, the legendary film director and TV producer who made over 50 movies in a career that spanned half a century. Born to a Catholic family in London in 1899, Hitchcock didn't begin his studies at a Jesuit school until he was a year or two older than seven, but the influence of his religious upbringing can be seen throughout his work...

In later years, he tended to downplay the religious significance of his education. In an interview with film critic turned director Peter Bogdanovich, Hitchcock credited the Jesuits with teaching him "organization, control, and to some degree analysis …. I don't think the religious side of the Jesuit education impressed itself so much upon me as the strict discipline one endured at the time." The religious influence at school consisted mainly of fear, he said, "but I've grown out of religious fear now."

Nevertheless, Hitchcock was a practicing Catholic for most of his life. His wife Alma, a film editor, converted to Catholicism before their marriage in 1926, and they worked and lived together until his death in 1980. They attended Mass weekly, and they quietly made several generous donations to Catholic churches and charities...

While he may have grown out of what he called "religious fear," Hitchcock's films became famous for their suspense, their psychological complexity, their focus on the nature of guilt, and their power to remind the viewer that good and evil reside in the hearts of everyone. What's more, he frequently depicted these themes in ways that rely on religious imagery—churches, icons, and men of the cloth.

A recurring theme in Hitchcock's films is that of the innocent man who is accused of a crime he did not commit—what the critics call "transference of guilt." On one level, this theme echoes the way that Jesus, as an innocent victim, was falsely accused and took on the sins of the world. But Hitchcock also uses this theme to explore how even seemingly innocent people have their own dark side...

Hitchcock was never exactly the most pious of Catholics. His films had their share of risque innuendo, and he sometimes depicted clergymen in mildly irreverent ways, from the minister who provides the punchline for Strangers on a Train to the priest who is abducted in the middle of a service in Family Plot (1976), his last film.

It is said that Hitchcock was once offered an audience with the Pope, during a trip to Rome during the latter part of his career, and he turned it down, lest he be given advice that he dare not refuse. "What would I do," he asked, "if the Holy Father said that in this world, where there is so much sex and violence, I ought to lay off?"

When asked about his beliefs, Hitchcock tended to downplay the significance of his Catholic faith—though he admitted the influence was there. In an interview with Francois Truffaut, he said, "I don't think I can be labeled a Catholic artist, but it may be that one's early upbringing influences a man's life and guides his instinct." And, in a 1973 interview with the student newspaper at St. Ignatius College, he said, "A Catholic attitude was indoctrinated into me. After all I was born a Catholic, I went to a Catholic school and I now have a conscience with lots of trials over belief."

Toward the end of his life, Hitchcock stopped going to church, and as his health declined, he resisted or even refused a priest's offer to come to his home for a private Mass or for the last rites. Even so, after his death, a memorial Mass was held for him at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. "He was a Catholic all his life," writes Blake, "a cranky one to be sure, but a Catholic nonetheless."


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home