Hitchcock and the author construct

I’ve been re-watching a few Hitchcock movies lately. Largely some of his older stuff as that’s what Amazon Prime has. Stage Fright. 39 Steps. The Lady Vanishes.

That sort of thing.

Some of it ages surprisingly well.

Some of it doesn’t.

Stage Fright worked remarkably well (Marlene Dietrich!). The rest? Well, it’s been around 20 years since I last watched these movies and Hitchcock’s male leads come across as a bit creepier than I remembered.

Maybe I should be glad that they are just a bit creepy considering how much of a creep Hitchcock himself was when it came to women. At least his works don’t age as badly as Woody Allen’s whose films I find unwatchable these days.

That’s the nature of art and media. The work exists in the context of the author construct and when that contextual narrative structure changes because of how the discourse surrounding the actual author has changed, that change in framing changes all of the works. So, Woody Allen’s movies which used to be about neuroticism in modern society are now about neuroticism and what’s at best borderline pedophila.

And Hitchcock’s movies become highly engaging thrillers where the men have a tendency to be a bit creepy.

As Derrida would have it, the frame defines the work, sets its borders and boundaries, and defines the work’s relationship with the rest of the world (us, that is).

The author is a frame, so author actions affect the work, and change how you interpret it.

Sometimes it feels unfair, like when a really good movie turns out to have a heinous director.

Sometimes it really is unfair, like how the dominant view of directors and TV series showrunners as ‘authors’ downplays the contribution by others. How many of your favourite Buffy episodes are actually written or directed by Josh Whedon, for example? But the framing by the author construct is a question of perception and accepted norms. The director is the author of the movie because that’s what everybody says. The actual facts of the production don’t matter.

Whenever a well-liked author is discovered to have done horrible things or have horrible opions, somebody will inevitably claim that you should just focus on the books or the movies, that the actions of the author don’t matter, that the work can be experienced independently of their context.

That just isn’t how human culture functions. We’ve debated this to death in the humanities but whenever we think that, yeah, maybe the author doesn’t matter, some controversy happens and it turns out they do indeed matter.

We just aren’t capable of neatly separating what we know from what we experience. The two will always play off one another. Pretending otherwise is just weird.