Notorious, Psycho Birds Cause Vertigo

When today’s torture porn makes old slasher films look like after-school specials, Alfred Hitchcock’s movies must seem mighty quaint. Unless, that is, one muses on the perversity and cruelty so casually practiced by the debonair deviates in many of his films, such as those in the deliciously malevolent retrospective “Hitch for the Holidays,” which screens 13 films over seven days.The adulterous American tennis pro (Farley Granger) in 1951’s Strangers on a Train (screening today) may be repelled by the wacko stranger who pitches a murder swap (Guy’s wife for this man’s father), but he secretly admires the plan’s brutal logic. In 1956’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (also screening today), the depthless arrogance and autocracy of another respectable member of society, a small-town doctor (James Stewart), is revealed as he and wife (Doris Day) track their boy’s kidnappers from Marrakesh to London. Hitchcock took enormous delight in revealing the meanness and selfishness ordinary people are capable of, and he shared the pleasure through droll jokes and blackly comedic touches. He also had the very serious intent, however, of implicating the viewer in the bad behavior onscreen and shaking us out of our complacency. Without sadism or gore, his films still find their target.
Dec. 16-23, 2009

 
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