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Hitchcock eerieness displayed as art

by Archives January 10, 2001 771 comments
You may be looking to close off this past century with a new definition of what art was in the 20th century. Perhaps, it was the age that changed the arts from the inside out.

New media, such as film and photography, struggled through the century to be called an actual art. The bold exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Hitchcock and Art: Fatal Coincidences shows that film has become an accepted art.

The exhibit brings together 19th and 20th century artworks in the form of painting, drawing, and sculpture with over 300 cinema documents of Alfred Hitchcock’s work. Included are beautiful stills of Ingrid Bergman, Tippi Hedren and other Hitchcock leading ladies and excerpts of films playing mysteriously, sometimes soundlessly in discreet corners.

The framework of the exhibit is pure Hitchcock. There are countless chilling artifacts on display. One is a reconstruction of a Bates’ motel room complete with a view into the bathroom where the form of a nude woman can be made out through the shower curtain.

There is a roomful of “props” from the films, such as the razor Cary Grant shaves with in North by Northwest, and the would-be murder weapon scissors from Dial M for Murder. These stand in a dimly lit room with eerie music playing. Each piece is displayed in its own glass case on a tall stand. The light reflecting on the glass plays tricks on your eyes. The best way to describe it is to picture yourself in a room full of mirrors, where you can see twenty versions of yourself. This portion of the exhibit is its own house of horrors.

The truly extraordinary thing about the exhibit is how it mixes in pieces of art that may not have struck you as being strictly “Hitchcockian”.

Sir John Everett Millais painted Ophelia, the strange, cold portrait of the young Shakespearean character floating dead in a river with her face framed by the water around her. On the wall next to it is a still from the film Vertigo, where Kim Novak is faking her drowning in a river in a startlingly similar pose.

Hitchcock used influences from other artists. He brought aboard Salvador Dali to work on the film Spellbound. Dali, known for painting the absurd, constructed a sequence of the movie where a psychiatric patient recalls a dream to Bergman, his psychiatrist. The product is so entrancing Bergman herself said it belonged in a museum for its beauty. It mesmerizes the senses as if it were truly one of Dali’s still paintings coming to life on film.

Those who are Hitchcock buffs will love the exhibit for everything there is to absorb about the man and his films.

Those who have seen only a couple of the famous films, like The Birds and Psycho, will be drawn into the master’s work. Intrigue is inevitable.

Those who have never heard the name Hitchcock or do not know what he is about will enjoy the exhibit for its excellence in combining interdisciplinary arts. The masterpiece is that no single art form overshadows nor controls another. Sweet unanimity and a symbiosis exist between the artworks in this exhibit.

The bold and groundbreaking exhibit is the first where a museum creates a link and draws parallels between film and painting. It is fresh and fun, with dark, foreboding tones.

Most of all, it accomplishes what Hitchcock strove for in his films, particularly the film Rear Window. We become the ultimate voyeur, being brought to intimate places that are also shocking. We see the man and his films laid out on a wall to be examined under our control.

This intimate view of the extraordinary is what makes us a voyeur. As Hitchcock commented, “with the help of television, murder should be brought into the home, where it rightly belongs. Some of our most exquisite murders have been domestic, performed with tenderness in simple, homey places like the kitchen table or the bathtub.”

Hitchcock and Art: Fatal Coincidences is on display at the Montreal Museum of Fina Arts until March 16, 2001. For more information www.mmfa.qc.ca or call (514) 285-2000.

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