Psycho-Sexual: Male Desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin
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Bridging landmark territory in film studies, Psycho-Sexual is the first book to apply Alfred Hitchcock's legacy to three key directors of 1970s Hollywood—Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese, and William Friedkin—whose work suggests the pornographic male gaze that emerged in Hitchcock's depiction of the voyeuristic, homoerotically inclined American man. Combining queer theory with a psychoanalytic perspective, David Greven begins with a reconsideration of Psycho and the 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much to introduce the filmmaker's evolutionary development of American masculinity.
Psycho-Sexual probes De Palma's early Vietnam War draft-dodger comedies as well as his film Dressed to Kill, along with Scorsese's Taxi Driver and Friedkin's Cruising as reactions to and inventive elaborations upon Hitchcock's gendered themes and aesthetic approaches. Greven demonstrates how the significant political achievement of these films arises from a deeply disturbing, violent, even sorrowful psychological and social context. Engaging with contemporary theories of pornography while establishing pornography's emergence during the classical Hollywood era, Greven argues that New Hollywood filmmakers seized upon Hitchcock's radical decentering of heterosexual male dominance. The resulting images of heterosexual male ambivalence allowed for an investment in same-sex desire; an aura of homophobia became informed by a fascination with the homoerotic. Psycho-Sexual also explores the broader gender crisis and disorganization that permeated the Cold War and New Hollywood eras, reimagining the defining premises of Hitchcock criticism.
queer murderer. Hitchcock’s American films consistently stage the battle adumbrated in Murder! between heterosexual female desire and queer desire. There are variations to this general theme, of course, but in just about every significant Hitchcock film from Rebecca (1940) to Torn Curtain (1966) this confl ict—which I call the feminine versus the queer—informs the narrative. (Queer must be taken loosely and capaciously as a term: it can mean homosexually inclined, but generally refers to anything
bifurcates the screen when the highway cop with the dark sunglasses wakes up Marion, asleep on the side of the road. These include the casting of physically similar actors (Leigh, Miles; Gavin, Perkins) to play the central female and male roles. What is, finally, the near indistinguishability of the males underscores the greater sympathy we have for the queer male monster, especially in the scene in which Sam grills Norman for “what you’ve done with the money, and what you did to get it,” as if
such scenes. In the first use of the doppelgänger motif in the film, Hitchcock frames Marion and Sam in the same shot, standing and facing each other. With her white blouse on, Marion physically matches Sam with his white shirt on, the mirror behind them enhancing the impression and effect of narcissistic doubling. One aspect of Janet Leigh’s taut, controlled, urgent, and witty performance that has not often been commented on is its gender fl uidity and ambiguity. In some shots, especially in
its oscillation from hetero and queer typings of Norman. As the endless slasher-horror films made in its wake will reinforce, Psycho is primarily a cinematic expression of the widely known Freudian theory of the male homosexual who overidentifies with his mother and her desire. The most undeniable nod to this Freudian construct is the shot of Norman going up the stairs to Mother, swaying his hips. Norman goes into Mother’s room, attempting to coax her into letting him hide her in the basement,
false father who symbolically pimps out and controls Betsy; Sport, a degenerate father who sexually and emotionally exploits his child prostitute Iris. Moreover, Travis implicitly views the Father as the White Father, and his order as a strictly heterosexual and family-oriented one. Travis is driven by his racism, on the one hand, and his staunch opposition to sexual deviance, on the other hand. In his fierce commitment to restoring Iris to her family—the very people that she attempted to