Spellbound Film Gala

To celebrate the 104th birthday of revered director Alfred Hitchcock, County Hall Gallery is holding a special screening of the 1945 classic Spellbound (starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck) followed by a discussion panel on the film.

Expert comment and analysis will be provided by Emma Cochrane (Contributing Editor, Empire), Charles Barr (Author Of Vertigo) and Simon Hunter (director of modern thriller, Lighthouse).

County Hall Gallery is the permanent home of the canvas ‘Spellbound’, a Dali painting commissioned for the dream sequences in the movie and a highlight of the Dali Universe exhibition, Europe’s most important surrealist collection.

The Oscar nominated Spellbound was one of the first films to explore psychoanalysis in mainstream Hollywood cinema. Future Movies has been fortunate enough to interview Alfred Hitchcock-expert and contributing editor to Empire film magazine Emma Cochrane, and asked her about the film, the great director himself, and about her experiences in film journalism.

Future Movies: How did you come to be on the panel of the special screening of Spellbound?

Emma Cochrane: Well, the person who set it up heard me talking about Hitchcock on ‘Woman’s Hour’ and also I’ve edited Total Film and Empire magazines so they thought I must know something about film!

FM: Why do you think Spellbound in particular is worthy of a special screening to celebrate the 104th birthday of Alfred Hitchcock?

EC: I think what we have with Spellbound is that it is open to a great deal of debate. There’s some great artwork by Salvador Dali that exists, some of which made it into the film and some that didn’t. And the whole area of psychoanalysis – and this was one of the first films to tackle that subject – is beginning to become prevalent in society. People are very interested in it and find it part of their daily lives. In America you have a shrink, and certainly in the cities this is becoming increasingly common. Here as well I think we are fascinated with the idea of it, and Spellbound is a film that tackles this subject, in a form that people can relate to.

FM: In terms of psychoanalysis, as you mention Spellbound was one of the first films to explore this in mainstream Hollywood, and now psychoanalysis is a tool often used to explore many of Hitchcock’s films. Do you think Hitchcock’s body of work stands up to this kind of analysis, or do theorists sometimes see that which is not there?

EC: Perhaps sometimes they can go too far. I think everybody would like Hitchcock to be even more dark and twisted than he is, but a lot of this was just his very perverse sense of humour. People do try to read a lot into it, as well as into his Catholic upbringing and the way he treated women. You know, Tippi Hedren accepted that he actually treated women quite well, so there are a lot of myths that surround him and people like to make more of that, which psychoanalysis is right for. But often these weren’t Hitchcock’s stories, they were stories he gave a treatment of and they weren’t from his head. There are things laid at Hitchcock’s door that aren’t necessarily his. I think Hitchcock would have loved the way that people analyse him but maybe people read too much into him because they can.

FM: In terms of myths surrounding Hitchcock, do you have any history or myths surrounding Spellbound that you can share with us?

EC: With Spellbound, he liked it because of the psychoanalysis angle, and he got Salvador Dali to work on it because he loved the way he did dream sequences. But when he met with Dali, he discovered that Dali had some ideas that even he found a bit too much. For instance, Dali thought it would be great to have this big statue covered in ants and for it to break open and to have the ants crawl all over Ingrid Bergman, and of course no film star is going to want that! Maybe now people are prepared to suffer for their art, but in those days you filmed actresses through gauze and you treated them like royalty. So Dali brought all these ideas to Hitchcock and Hitchcock went, ‘Well, that’s nice, but I think maybe we’ll use a bit less of that dream sequence now’. So the idea was that Dali design a 20-minute dream sequence which would be filmed, but Hitchcock actually rejected quite a lot of it before it even got to that stage.

The other story that’s quite well known is that the film’s producer, David Selznick, whom Hitchcock had running battles with, really wanted the film to represent his own experience with psychoanalysis. Selznick was famously pushed out of the studio system because he ended up going to a shrink. He was very keen to make independent movies outside of the studio system and Hitchcock was one of his collaborators. Selznick wanted his own shrink to come on set and help out. Hitchcock had to keep on saying, ‘My dear, it’s only a movie. Don’t take it too seriously’, because the shrink would say, ‘we don’t do this, we don’t do that’, and Hitchcock didn’t care. He used to pretend that the cameras weren’t working when Selznick came on set. Selznick would come in and say, ‘Oh, I don’t think we should be filming that’ and Hitchcock would say ‘Oh no, the camera’s not switched on, don’t worry’. Hitchcock very much knew how to work the system.

FM: In terms of the films Hitchcock made when he was in Britain, compared to the films he made when he was in Hollywood, who do you think lays claims to his best work?

EC: I guess in terms of body of work you’d have to say Hollywood. There are some very interesting movies that he made in Britain, and I think it was a shame he couldn’t work within in that system. But he did love stars and working with stars, and for that he had to go to Hollywood. I personally quite like The 39 Steps, and some of the other older movies, even The Young and Innocent. But when you talk about people who love Hitchcock you’re usually talking about Vertigo and The Birds and Psycho and those were the films that changed cinema.

FM: Which Hitchcock film do you find most interesting?

EC: My favourite Hitchcock film is strange because it’s probably one of the most flawed, and it’s Marnie. I just think there are some very interesting things going on in that. Sean Connery tracking down the girl, Tippi Hedren, who is this thief. He sees her doing the crime and he has to sort of catch her and wants to marry her and there’s very interesting things going on in terms of men wanting to possess women. In fact there’s a lot of psychoanalysis in that film as it turns out that she was mistreated as a child and this is why she steals, and the Sean Connery character has to break through the barriers to find that out. There’s a lot wrong with the film, and there’s a point which suggests that rape is a breakthrough, and Connery possesses Hedren when she’s his wife, and whether that’s rape or not when he does that, and that this is in fact what makes her love him. It’s very bizarre, but because of the debate around it I find it quite interesting to watch.

FM: Do you find, as a woman, you have conflicted emotions when you watch the way women are sometimes treated in Hitchcock films?

EC: Well, women in Hitchcock films are often set up as unobtainable and they tend to come up on top. For instance, in one film Cary Grant pursues Grace Kelly, and although he ‘gets’ her, he ends up having to share a house with her mother as well! Hitchcock thought women were in control in life, and that they often ended up triumphant. So although there is some debate in the way Hitchcock treats women in his films, it’s useful to remember that they often emerge as the victors.

FM: Which Hitchcock film do you most enjoy?

EC: There are two films that I really enjoy: Strangers on a Train because of its brilliant plot, and The Lady Vanishes because it is just very funny. I could watch these films over and over again. ‘Strangers’ has a neat plot and is a great premise, and I just love the cad and bounder character played by Michael Redgrave in ‘Vanishes’.

FM: Who is your favourite Hitchcock leading man and woman?

EC: I have quite a soft spot for James Stewart. I even wrote to him when I was 12 and he wrote back to me at Christmas! James Stewart is particularly interesting because of the relationship between the characters he represented in his career and the person that he was off-screen. He often played these ordinary, decent family men, but in real life he didn’t marry until he was 42 and is alleged to have lived it up quite a bit before then. He obviously had a darker side away from his screen persona, and I think Hitchcock played on this really well, particularly in films like Vertigo. When I first saw Vertigo I didn’t really want to see James Stewart playing such a sick man. But as I got older I was able to understand the themes of the film better, which increased my interest in James Stewart as an actor.

My favourite leading lady is probably Grace Kelly. She just had this classic look which was great to watch, and Hitchcock helped make her look amazing. He shot her as the ideal woman, and often got a surprising performance from her.

FM: Which directors working today do you think try to emulate Hitchcock’s work, and do they succeed?

EC: There isn’t really anybody prolific enough to compare. In the days of the studio system, directors would be making one to two films a year. Now it can take three to four years to make just the one film. It’s also in fashion now to make wholly different kinds of film, so there’s really not anyone who’s made as many or the same kind of films as Hitchcock to compare. Maybe David Fincher, particularly with some of the interesting shots he employed in Panic Room, might one day be in a position to take on Hitchcock’s mantle, but at the moment he just hasn’t produced enough work.

FM: To what extent do you think Alfred Hitchcock has made a lasting impression on the way films are made today?

EC: To a very great extent. The way he moved the camera, how he used music, how he used stars and the way he cast them, his understanding and manipulation of publicity (which he was a master of), even his appearance in his own films, all of this has had an impact on the way films are now made.

FM: How did you get involved in film journalism?

EC: I was at medical school training to be a doctor, and I often went to the cinema in the afternoon, and also read Empire at the time. I wrote to the editor and sent some of my ideas, something got published and that was it really. You see, everyone wants to review, but that’s really a closed shop. What you have a lack of though is people doing funny ideas, quirky things for magazines. People who succeed in film journalism start off by thinking around the subject. Ian Freer, who’s working for Empire at the moment, did just this and sent in a whole bunch of original, quirky ideas, and that’s how he got involved.

FM: What strengths do you need to succeed in film journalism?

EC: I think perseverance is the key. If you want to write for someone, ring them every week, keep on thinking where you can place your ideas, do a bit of research and look at what different film websites do. Websites in particular can give you a voice. Harry Knowles has a voice, and although he might not be the best film journalist around, he has his stuff out there because he’s found a voice. So keep knocking on doors, find out what people want, keep trying and be willing to see absolutely everything, from art house to kids films.

FM: What future movies are you most excited about?

EC: Down with Love, starring Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger has a great set design and I just hope it gets a good release over here. And I’ve got to say Return of the King. Peter Jackson has worked incredibly consistently up until now, and I don’t know anybody who has so successfully transferred a book to the screen. I really hope this year he wins a ton of awards.

Future Movies would like to thank Lauren at Idea Generation for her help with arranging this interview.

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