Hitchcock, Chandler, and Misogyny

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This weekend I watched To Catch A Thief and Rear Window. I liked them both--the first more than the second. To Catch A Thief really made me understand the power that is Grace Kelly. I'm sort of sad for women who acted in her era and before. There don't seem to be many Lily Powers-like roles floating around. Women mostly exist to be controlled and desired.


There are some great moments early on in To Catch A Thief when you really get to see how much more there is to Kelly. There's a long gorgeous scene early in the movie where Kelly begins to unmask Carey Grant, and show some of herself. It's the dirtiest I've ever seen her look. And I mean dirty in the best sense--with all of the sex appeal, but with something more, something hidden, behind every line she delivers. And then her character quickly descends into damseldom. It's sort of sad. 

Rear Window is much better--but not because of Kelly. She's good for sure, but star of the movie is Hitchcock's camera. I don't think it's possible to make a movie like that today. It's way too quiet, too slow, and too alluring. It feels like theater.

With that said, something runs through all of these movies and the work of Raymond Chandler that is amazing to behold--a really coarse, and unconcealed misogyny. This is where you start to see the problem of reducing misogyny to counting out how many times a rapper says "bitch." What you see in Chandler's work, and in Hitchcock, is not simply that it's OK to call women names, but that's OK to beat on women if they anger you, annoy you or fail to look like Grace Kelly. I feel like there are a couple of James Bond scenes like this too, that I'm missing.

It's one of these moments when you see how much the culture has changed, even if it has not changed enough. Moreover, it's a moment where you see that the culture has changed within our living memory. A world in which the heroes are batterers, a world in which "battery" as we understand it, isn't yet accepted, is still within the living memory of this country. This has to exert influence on us, no matter how many women are in the Senate. 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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