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The Paradigm Case

The Cinema of Hitchcock and the Contemporary Visual Arts


Bernard McCarron

With the migration of cinema into the art gallery, artists have been turning, with remarkable regularity and ingenuity, to Alfred Hitchcock-related images, sequences and iconography. The world of Hitchcock’s cinema – a classical cinema of formal unities and narrative coherence – represents more than the spectre of a supposedly dead art form: it transcends its own filmic and institutional contexts, becoming an important audio-visual lexicon of desire, loss, mystery and suspense.
Through a detailed study of the Hitchcock-related work of artist-filmmakers Matthias Müller and Christoph Girardet, Johan Grimonprez, Pierre Huyghe, Douglas Gordon and Atom Egoyan, this book facilitates a dialogue between the creative appropriation of Hitchcock’s films and the cinematic practices that increasingly inform the wider field of the contemporary visual arts. Each chapter is structured around a consideration of how the artwork in question has reconfigured or ‘remade’ key Hitchcockian expressive elements and motifs – in particular, the relationship between mise en scène and the mechanics of suspense, time, memory, history and death. In a career that extended across silent and sound eras as well as the British, European and Hollywood industries, Hitchcock’s film œuvre can be seen as a history of the cinema itself. As the work of these contemporary artist-filmmakers shows, it was also a history of the future, a paradigm case par excellence.
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Appendix: Visual Art and Filmic Review of Appropriations


As a coda to this study, it is instructive to consider how – other than in the work of the artists discussed in this book – Hitchcock’s films have been appropriated over the last two decades by other lesser known artists by organising their works within an overall typology of Hitchcock-inspired art.


In Place of Desire (USA, 1989), photographer Holly King explores the multiple realities present in Hitchcock’s films while imitating Hitchcock’s expressionistic use of black and white for dramatic effect. The photograph was selected for Hitchcock et l‘art: Coïncidences Fatales/Hitchcock and Art: Fatal Coincidences (Le Pompidou Centre, Paris, 2001). It features a gazebo in background of the frame. While the gazebo appears in soft focus, a jagged branch in the foreground of the frame threatens the softness of the image. Place of Desire, she claims, ‘has a prickly nasty foreground that the viewer must look (move) through in order to access the more romantic gazebo in the distance […] the ambiguous nature of my work may have interested the curators.’1 When creating the photograph, King was thinking about several old black and white films, including The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, Twentieth Century Fox, 1965, 174 mins), recalling the gazebo; a garden scene from The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, MGM, 1940, 112 mins); and old Hitchcock films such as The 39 Steps and Rebecca where the ← 257 | 258 → landscape becomes a metaphor for the fears and psychological traumas of the characters. Recently, she...

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