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September 1998, Week 3


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Ken Mogg <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 19 Sep 1998 03:08:14 +1000
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> Now, please, what is the 'obvious' sexual symbol in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN
> when Miriam's strangling is reflected in a lens of her glasses lying on
> the grass (the other lens has been cracked)?  I'd love to know!  My mind
> simply goes 'boingg!' when Wood says the symbolism is obvious.  Is the
> lens supposed to represent spilt semen, or something? (But semen isn't
> reflective.)  A ruptured hymen?  (But that sounds far-fetched to me.)
> The equivalent of birds attacking people's eyes in THE BIRDS?  (Ditto.)
Thanks to Mike Frank, Jason Lapeyre, Don Larsson, et al., for their
attempts to answer my question above.  Mike and Jason essayed
Lacanian-type explanations (e.g., 'Wood was probably referring to the
Hollywood convention of eyeglasses denoting the power of the "look"
...'), while Don noted that 'there are more blatant, pre-Lacanian
Freudian meanings connected with eyes and glasses' - of which I'm
reasonably well aware.  The eye can represent the female genitalia, for
example.  (I went into the permutations and variants of this basic idea
when I analysed Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND in a 24-page article in
'MacGuffin' 15 - whose main point of departure was an earlier analysis
by Robin Wood's protege, the late Andrew Britton.)
I would have to rather discount Mike's and Jason's explanations, though,
since Wood's essay on STRANGERS ON A TRAIN appeared in the original,
1966 edition of 'Hitchcock's Films' - well before Lacan had 'caught on'
and Laura Mulvey had written her seminal 1975 piece on 'visual pleasure'
for 'Screen'.  And I don't find particularly helpful here the simple
equation, eyes (represented by glasses) = the female sexual organ.
In short, I don't believe that the broken glasses reflecting Miriam's
strangulation are an 'obvious' sexual symbol at all!  Wood was
'bluffing'!  (He has owned up to some other bluffing in that first
edition of his book: e.g., criticising Daphne du Maurier's 'novelettish'
'Rebecca' when in fact he had never read it!)
Symbolism, not least Hitchcock's, must be interpreted in context and in
situ - and invariably in Hitchcock's case in full response to its
particular details.  Those glasses reflect a murder that takes place, as
I recall, on the fairground's 'island of love', and show Miriam's body
being lowered to the ground as into a dark pool (the lens).  So
basically the image dramatically records Miriam's final loss of
consciousness and the ironic death of this promiscuous, rather
narcissistic and unlikeable woman.  In turn, such images of darkness run
through the film in counterpoint to their opposite, images of bright,
open spaces (e.g., tennis courts).  Which isn't to say that one image
isn't the obverse of the other, to which it can flip over at any
moment.  (Miriam's husband, professional tennis-player Guy, has his
'dark side' ...)
- Ken Mogg (Ed., 'The MacGuffin').
Screen-L is sponsored by the Telecommunication & Film Dept., the
University of Alabama.