Hitch would have liked Hillary's blond ambition
America:Alfred Hitchcock was a bit of a sadist. Certainly, the master of the dark side had a “murderous fascination with blondes”, as the British Film Institute once noted in a tribute.
And now comes Hollywood’s murderous fascination with Hitchcock’s murderous fascination.
HBO’s The Girl depicts the making of The Birds and Marnie, with Toby Jones playing Hitch and Sienna Miller as Tippi Hedren, fighting off rapacious birds and rapacious director at the same time.
In theatres, Hitchcock, with Anthony Hopkins as the auteur and Helen Mirren as his wife and collaborator Alma Reville, depicts the making of Psycho, with Scarlett Johansson taking Janet Leigh’s place in the shower to be stabbed by that crazed mama’s boy Norman Bates.
Next spring, AE will run Bates Motel, a prequel series to Psycho, featuring a young, creepy Norman, with Vera Farmiga as his (blond) mother.
Why the fresh fascination with the man with the famous profile? Perhaps the more Hollywood churns out rancid movies, the more it appreciates Hitch, who never got an Oscar.
Hitchcock’s fetish for “Nordic” women, as he called them, started in his 1927 silent film The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, about a Jack-the- Ripper-style lunatic. He had his brunette lead actress don a blond wig and he made all the serial killer’s victims blondes.
As Donald Spoto wrote in his book Spellbound by Beauty, Hitch preferred blondes because he saw them as “easier and more dramatic to photograph in monochrome, and he considered their ‘coolness’ and elegance appropriate contrasts to the kind of passion he wanted to reveal beneath the surface”.
Hitch’s blondes came in two shades: those, like Leigh in Psycho and Kim Novak in Vertigo, who were sexy and duplicitous victims doomed to die in spine-tingling ways, and those, like Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound and Notorious, Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief and Rear Window and Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest, who were sexy and sneaky survivors.
It is illuminating to consider Hitchcock’s obsession with luminous blondes because Americans are obsessed with a pair of them at the moment.
One is Carrie Mathison, the bipolar CIA agent on Homeland, played by Claire Danes. Homeland exerts the same hypnotic pull as The Godfather or The Sopranos, a violent, sexual netherworld with casual immorality but its own code of honour.
In the upcoming Kathryn Bigelow-Mark Boal movie Zero Dark Thirty, about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Jessica Chastain portrays a driven CIA analyst named Maya. Like Carrie, Maya is a tough, attractive woman, but her sex is largely irrelevant.
Maya is monomaniacally consumed with capturing bin Laden, not hooking up with agents or sources. Carrie, on the other hand, has braided her love life and work life so completely, it is impossible to tell whether she is working for love or loving for work.
She is not a Hitchcock blonde. Rather than icy, she is red hot, prone to frequent meltdowns.
She is frantic that she is not being heeded, and rightly so – her hunches are unerring.
She doesn’t care about fashion and seems to have only one go-to black sequined top to wear when she wants to relieve stress by going to a jazz bar to pick up guys.
Maybe America’s other blond obsession, however, could qualify as a Hitchcock leading lady. Hillary Clinton is quick-witted and cool and we never know exactly what she is plotting as speculation froths about 2016.
While Republicans continue their full-cry pursuit of Susan Rice, the actual secretary of state has eluded blame, even though Benghazi is her responsibility. The assault happened on Hillary’s watch, at her consulate, with her ambassador.
Given that we figured out a while ago that the Arab Spring could be perilous as well as promising, why hadn’t the state department developed new norms for security in that part of the world? After 200 years of expecting host countries to protect our diplomats, Hillary et al didn’t make the adjustment when countries were dissolving.
In the best tradition of The Lady Vanishes, Hillary sagely dodged the Sunday talk shows that September morning.
She knew it would get messy, given that those killed included an ambassador who had written in his diary about being on an al-Qaeda hit list and about two former Navy Seals who worked for the CIA.
Some have charged that GOP senators are picking on Rice because she is a black woman, but a black woman has already been secretary of state. It is more likely that the Republicans lambasting Rice (some neo-cons much prefer her interventionism to John Kerry’s brand of diplomacy) see torpedoing her as an antidote to their recent routing, a chance to convey that they still have juice against a president who has the whip hand in fiscal cliff negotiations.
They regard Rice as the staffer she was before she ascended to the United Nations – too political, not big enough for the lofty post of secretary of state.
On Thursday, a day after meeting with Rice, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee told Chris Matthews that he liked her but “I’ve always sensed her to be more of a political operative”.
There are suspicions in political circles that negative press about Rice might also be coming from Clintonworld, where some still resent her. Rice was an assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration but defected to Obama’s 2008 campaign, accusing Hillary of getting “critical judgments” about Iraq and Iran wrong.
It took Hillary a month to defend Rice on Benghazi and it took until Wednesday – more than two months after the attacks on Rice began – for Hillary to utter the tepid endorsement: “Susan Rice has done a great job as our ambassador to the United Nations.”
Washington mandarins marvel at the cool blonde of Foggy Bottom and wonder whether she is enjoying watching Rice walk the plank.
As one put it, comparing the smooth Hillary and the rough-elbowed Rice: “Hillary’s smart enough to know not to jump on board a damaged vessel. It’s a good contrast between a woman who knows how to navigate the power structure of Washington and someone who is not quite there.”
A blonde who is a canny survivor, cool under pressure. Hitchcock would approve.