Alfred Hitchcock's American films are not only among the most admired works in world cinema, they also offer some of our most acute responses to the changing shape of American society in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. The authors of this anthology show how famous films such as Strangers on a Train, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Rear Window, along with more obscure ones such as Rope, The Wrong Man, and Family Plot, register the ideologies and insurgencies, the normative assumptions and the cultural alternatives, that shaped these tumultuous decades. They argue that, just as these films occupy a visual landscape defined by the grand monuments of American civic lifeMt. Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, the United Nationsthey are also marked by their preoccupation with the social mores and private practices of mid-century America. Not only are big-city and suburban life the explicit subjects of films like Rear Window and Shadow of a Doubt, so are the forms of experience that emerge within these social spaces, whether the urban voyeurism examined by the former or the intertwining of banality and violence depicted in the latter. Indeed, just about every form of American life that was achieving social power at this timethe national security state; the science and art of psychoanalysis; the privileging of the free-wheeling, improvisatory self; the postwar codification and fissuring of gender roles; road-culture and its ancillary creation, the motelis given detailed, critical, and mordant examination in Hitchcocks films. The Hitchcock who emerges is not merely the inspired technician and psychological excavator that critics of the past two generations have justly hailed; he is also a cultural critic of remarkable insight and undeniable prescience.
In this 100th-anniversary year of Alfred Hitchcock's birth, the director's work has inspired several movie remakes and a whole new crop of admirers. These two tributes to Hitchcock's art offer something new to fans. Hitchcock's America focuses on Hitchcock as cultural critic, with essays from film and literature scholars. The pieces are randomly arranged and comment on family values, gender roles, and American ideals as they are reflected in a wide array of Hitchcock's American films. While most followers hail the psychological power of his cinema, this anthology successfully shows his ability to record the changing expectations of American society in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. The stark contrasts between big city and small town, sexuality and purity, hidden desires and social mores are explored as Hitchcock filmed them. Auiler (Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic, LJ 5/1/98) returns with an ambitious look at the creative process of filmmaking, from the director's early German films through the golden decade of his work in the Fifties and Sixties. Using Hitchcock's own copious notes, plus copies of studio memos, hand-marked scripts, and plenty of production photos and stills, he re-creates the step-by-step production of a movie. Chapters on the screenplay, visual set-up, production, post-production editing, and unfinished projects provide fascinating insight into how movies were made, Hitchcock-style. Those with no knowledge of the "behind-the-scenes" activity of cinema will be fascinated by this detailed accounting. Auiler's book is for general audiences, while Hitchcock's America would be a good purchase for film collections in academic libraries.--Kelli N. Perkins, Herrick Dist. Lib., Holland, MI