Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Lodger's Femininity

If I ever imagine how Proust (or, Baudelaire) is like - of course we have seen many of his photos, but they are 2-dimensional -, he must have been like Ivor Novello as the lodger in Hitckcock's The Lodger. Oh, beautiful Ivor Novello, walking into that old lodging house so elegantly, living his days - and if also surviving his nerosis, in his own rhythm. His pale face and slender figure embody such sorrow. With him, time is slowing down and becoming eternalised, all that matters is beauty. He is sensitive, melancholic, and above all, feminine (the film goes so bold as using the word "queer" to describe him). I couldn't take my eyes off him for one second. (Who can?)

For me The Lodger is clearly the negotiation between masculinity and femininity. The masculinity as embodied by Joe, a detective who handcuffs his girlfriend for fun, needs no further explanation. In a sense, neither does Ivor's femininity which is so explicit. But if we look at the lodger (and The Lodger) in a symbolic way, we can certainly discover something yet more interesting. The lodger's locking up his gun is symbolically a resistance to his masculinity which is presumed (or required) in a male in the/our patriarchal society. Such is exactly opposite to Joe's behaviour of frequent playing with the handcuffs. (And how much we love the lodger and loathe the vulgar Joe *blink*)

What's more interesting is the murdered sister, and in particular the lodger's mournful attitude. I tend to see it as a mournful attitude towards the repression of his femininity, or more extremely, homosexuality (which parallels femininity), again, as demanded by the patriarchal society. It is actually the lament of his lost self, his other half (this it is his sister, not his lover). For as suggested by Robin Wood quoting Freud, the human infant is already a sexual being whose sexuality is at that stage indeterminate, in other words has the potential of being heterosexual or homosexual, or both (and yet in other words, possess both masculinity and femininity). BUT Patriarchy cannot endure ambiguity and requires "real men" and "real women", and thus operates itself by rejecting homosexuality and femininity in men. (Here is a very brief summary, for more discussion on this read Wood, 'Murderous Gays: Hitchcock's Homophobia' in Hitchcock's Films Revisited. I agree with Matthew Cheng that Wood's essays on Hitchcock are most fascinating) ,

It is thus by no coincidence that Hitchcock casted Ivor Novello, a gay actor, as the lodger, which functions as the realization of femininity. We tend to identify more with the lodger (suggestively the villain, the marginalized one) than Joe the detective. (I do believe there are people who don't, but I couldn't care less about them) Why? Obviously not just because his such a charismatic human being, and definitely not because we believe he is innocent, for the film deliberately suggests that he is not, and we all know that in the original novel he IS the murderer; and Hitchcock's preferred ending which he recreated in the radio version in 1940 is a much more ambiguous one, in which the lodger disappears in the night and never returns. The film version ends with the lodger being innocent and the real murderer being arrested red-handed is none but a result of the studio's reluctance of having Ivor portrayed as a villain. It wouldn't be too far to say that Hitchcock does believe the lodger is the murderer.

So what is it that we love in the lodger? Of course, his femininity, which is in every of us.

Come to think of it, if we ignore the fact that the murderer is arrested red-handed (which, trickyly, is only conveyed in an inter-title - a subtle resistance against the studio's influence, I'd say, and also a subtle suggestion of the unreliability of such news), everything seems to suggest that the lodger IS the murderer. The only question is probably why he can cease killing. One can easily say it is because he has fallen in love, which is true, but not true enough as it hasn't reached the core of the matter. Let's go back to the theme of repressed femininity. If the murder of the girls is a physicalization of the neurotic impulse of repression (interestingly, the sister is murdered in her "coming-out ball"), he surely has all the reason to stop the act as soon as he falls in love with a woman: either the repression has "successfully" completed that no further killing is required to counter the impulse, or the contrary - that he has come to terms with his femininity by not regarding it as something inferior and "unmanly" (as reinforced by the Patriarchy), and certainly NOT something he has to repress/destroy . Clearly it is the latter.

"Only a man who freely accepts and expressed his own femininity can truly love a women: otherwise, "love" becomes perverted into the drive to dominate, possess, and if necessary destroy." - Wood

This discussion owes a lot to Robin Wood's book.

Friday, March 25, 2011

What Italians Like About Monica Vitti

I was having a chat with my colleague who is from Bologna - a place in Italy I'd love to visit very much, apart from Pompeii - (and who reads Umberto Eco and Borges like consuming desserts - damn he was telling me his mates used to go to Eco’s lectures every now and then!!!) regarding Monica Vitti.

How fascinating are these Europeans! I mean, he was telling me what he likes about her is her voice. Voice. His perspective is one that is non-visual; that is sensual. Only when you perceive a woman as a whole, in an organic way, will you be able to recognize the charm in that deep, unusual, sensual voice. He is one colleague that I enjoy having a chat with. (won't even bother to mention Monica Vitti to others)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Something I Miss Dearly

Of my life back in Hong Kong there are moments that I miss dearly, and moments such as the following comes to my mind quite often.

Those who are close to me know that I used to have emotional breakdowns every now and then, always due to the same reason. There was a night such breakdown attacked me that I was crying desperately in my office. I just couldn't stop.

So I made this call to A, who upon hearing that devastating, heart-wrenching, pathetic voice (and knowing all the background) couldn't refuse (some could) to come and meet me.

We decided to meet in a restaurant convenient to both of us. A Tai Pai Dong sort of place (the sort of restaurant I miss A LOT now). And when I arrived the place A told me that he also called B, whom he knew I'll be happy to see (and I was), whom knew all of my stories (well they are not "stories: although at one stage I was made to "confess" that I made them all up), and whom is arriving soon. Normally it was not easy to ask B, who is a hermit, out, especially not under spontaneous circumstances. But he was coming.

With beers and bad food (who cares?) we three chatted and laughed things out. And cursed whoever (that you-know-who) deserved being cursed. I couldn't remember one single thing we talked about that night. but I was back into one piece when we said goodbye to each other.

I never told them how grateful I was but indeed I am most grateful for them and the idea that they are always there for me was one that gave me the strength to go on until that "&^%*@#&^" sort of came to an end. Especially now that, though I no longer have such breakdowns - and I have Tim, I don't have such friends here.