Sunday, September 09, 2012

One of the best books about Alfred Hitchcock is in Finnish: Heikki Nyman's The Hitchcock Touch I–IV

Seeing is believing. Suspicion (1941), starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine, is for Heikki Nyman the turning-point in the development of the mature and profound Hitchcock touch.

Heikki Nyman : Hitchcockin kosketus : Alfred Hitchcockin elokuvat I–IV [The Hitchcock Touch : The Films of Alfred Hitchcock I–IV]. Self-published. Helsinki: Yliopistopaino, 1990 (I), 1992 (IV), 1993 (II), 1994 (III). 178 + 400 + 520 + 743 = 1841 p.

There are more books on Alfred Hitchcock than on any other film director, and the level was high from the beginning.

Éric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol's Hitchcock (Paris: Éditions Universitaires, 1957), the first serious book on Alfred Hitchcock in any language, is still an astounding work as a study in forms, Catholic concepts, and basic themes such as the transference of guilt in Hitchcock's work. Published before Vertigo, the reader of this book can already anticipate the formation of Vertigo.

Robin Wood's Hitchcock's Films (London: Zwemmer, 1965, new expanded editions 1969, 1982, 2002) was the first serious book on Hitchcock in English. The first edition focused on Hitchcock's key films, most importantly, on Vertigo. Its insights in close reading and attention to the film text became a model for serious film studies everywhere.

Heikki Nyman is a philosopher who belonged to the close circle of Georg Henrik von Wright. Wright followed Ludwig Wittgenstein as professor at the University of Cambridge but returned to the University of Helsinki in the 1950s. After a remarkable series of excellent Wittgenstein translations Nyman embarked on his huge freelancing Hitchcock project studying Hitchcock's every film and reading almost everything written on him. We tried in vain to get a publisher for Nyman's 1841-page book, and when it proved impossible, Nyman self-published it in a limited edition. Copies can be studied at The National Library of Finland and at the library of the National Audiovisual Archive of Finland.

In his Hitchcock book Nyman approaches the great director as a great thinker, and only in this respect there is a connection with the approach of Gilles Deleuze. Based on the empirical evidence of the movies, themselves, Nyman's labour of love focuses on the philosophical theme of perception as a key to the work of Alfred Hitchcock. The most cinematic expression of the theme of perception is the look, the gaze, seeing in general. A turning point for Nyman is the movie Suspicion (1941) after which all the master's works are profoundly Hitchcockian from Nyman's viewpoint. Yet "the Hitchcock touch" is already present in The Pleasure Garden (1925) and can be tracked down to the very last films. Nyman acknowledges the achievements of previous Hitchcock scholars, Stanley Cavell being one of the most important writers from his viewpoint. Nyman's work would still deserve to be to be translated into English and be much better known. It has permanent value.

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