27 June 2009

Feeling the Hitch in my Head

In order to escape the insanity that has been the last few days (sorry, I don't see the point of canonizing a pederast with a penchant for painkillers), I turned to TMC. There, I was transported back to the 1950s and 60s, and the world of Alfred Hitchcock.

I love Hitch. Absolutely adore the man. I was raised on his television show and quickly fell in love with his movies. Imagine watching "Psycho" alone while babysitting on a huge piece of property on a desolate road during a windstorm with patio furniture hitting the side of the house and deer heads staring at you from the walls. I was thirteen and terrified, and absolutely mesmerized. He didn't need monsters or gore to put us at the edge of our seat. He delivered exquisite tension and lip-biting suspense. He also gave us sassy dames in dandy dresses dreamed up by Edith Head.

I once got booed at a symposium on feminism in film (held at UCLA) for going against the panel (and apparently the audience) when I declared that I thought Hitchcock gave us strong female characters. His women were smart, mouthy, fearless and unapologetic of their sexual power (with the exception of "Marnie"). But, I guess because they were in WASP-waist dresses, gloves and high heels, that didn't make them feminists. At least not at UCLA. Alfred Hitchcock (along with Alan Parker and David Lynch) was why I went to film school. And, by the way, I went to CalArts. You won't find a more politically correct, pro-feminist film school...so all those who booed can bite me. We can argue the whole victim/need to be rescued by a man issue at another time (though, let's also remember the era in which these films were made). As a feminist, right now, I want to talk about the clothes.

While I wouldn't be able to survive a day in the repressive landscape that was the 50s and 60s (they would have lobotomized me รก la Frances Farmer), I would love to dress for dinner, have a man who wore a suit and hat as well as Cary Grant did, don gloves, have a closet full of shirt dresses (I have one, but it just isn't enough), and indulge in three-martini lunches without it being frowned upon. Twin sets, skirts and pearls. Cocktails at five. Pocketbooks. Upper-crust, faux-English accents. Witty repartee. The style and silhouette of the 50s (at least how it's portrayed on television and film) has always been my favorite. And the designs of Edith Head make me crave a return to that time.

I see now how people carried themselves with a bit more dignity then, and much of that had to do with how they dressed. Sure, it was a constrictive uniform. But, clothing then was also a show of self-respect. Women didn't need to dress like streetwalkers to be sexy. They knew it was never the exposure of skin that was alluring as much as it was the reveal...or the anticipation thereof. A bare shoulder. An exposed back. A soft hand removed from a glove. I think that beats pasties and a thong any day. (And, guys, there's nothing better than removing your tie.)

Even then, in Hitch's world and Edith's clothes, good girls did bad things. Even better, they wanted to break the rules. Yet they did it in a really classy manner. Maybe it was the gloves or heels, the cinched waists or petticoats. Perhaps a girdle instills a sense of propriety. Who knows? Whatever it is, it would be nice to have a little more of it these days. Turn on "Notorious" (not the Biggie bio pic) or "Rear Window" to take a peek. Tell me you don't feel the urge to put on a hat and some gloves and greet people with, "Good evening," "Good afternoon," or "Good day." Don't you think it would be simply grand to have a bit more social decorum and class without any of that pesky social repression? Wouldn't you agree, darling? Wouldn't you agree? [Insert martini glass clink here.]

Yes, they are only movies and, no, Edith didn't do all the designs. But, in spite of the murder and espionage, it all comes off a bit more...civilized. And maybe that is what I'm craving most.


Karen said...

I can remember my mother dressing that way, with sweaters and skirts, and a smart scarf just so, and thinking she was so beautiful. She had one dress I must have ruined by putting it on and parading around the house in it ( I was about 7 years old). That one dress, made of a silky feeling fabric, olive green with cream polka dots, fitted to the waist and a wonderful full skirt, made me want to be a frilly girl.

Deb said...

I totally agree with you about the strength of the women. He casts them to represent humanity in all of it's spectrum. Sounds like my kind of film therapy.