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TitleThree Philosophical Filmmakers: Hitchcock, Welles, Renoir (Irving Singer Library)
PublisherThe MIT Press
ISBN 139780262195010
CategoryArts - Film
File Size3.9 MB
Total Pages290
Document Text Contents
Page 1

Although Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, and Jean Renoir
do not pontificate about “eternal verities or analytical
niceties,” as Irving Singer remarks in Three Philosophical
Filmmakers, each expresses, through his work, his particular
vision of reality. In this study of these great directors, Singer
examines the ways in which meaning and technique inter-
act within their different visions.

Singer’s account reveals Hitchcock, Welles, and
Renoir to be not only consummate artists and inspired

craftsmen but also sophisticated theorists of film
and its place in human experience. They left

behind numerous essays, articles, and
interviews in which they discuss the

nature of their own work as well as
more extensive issues. Singer

draws on their writings, as
well as their movies, to show

the pervasive importance
of what they did as dedi-
cated filmmakers.

Three Philosophical Filmmakers
Hitchcock, Welles, Renoir

Irving Singer

Hitchcock used his mastery of contrived devices not as
mere formalism divorced from content, Singer notes, but in
order to evoke emotional responses that are meaningful in
themselves and that matter greatly to millions of people.
Singer’s discussion of Hitchcock’s work analyzes, among
other things, his ideas about suspense, romance, and the
comic. Singer also makes a detailed comparison of the orig-
inal Psycho with Gus Van Sant’s recent remake. Considering
the work of Welles, Singer shows how and why the theme
of vanished origins—”the myth of the past”— recurs in
many of his films, starting with the Rosebud motif in Citizen
Kane and continuing much later in his little-known master-
piece The Immortal Story. Expanding upon Renoir’s comment
that his own films were “always the same film,” Singer
studies his entire work as a coherent though evolving search
for contact and “conversation” with the audience. While rec-
ognizing the primacy of technique, Renoir used cinematic
artifice in the service of that humanistic aspiration.

Irving Singer is Professor of Philosophy at MIT and the
author of many books, including Reality Transformed: Film as
Meaning and Technique (MIT Press, 1998).

“ It is a lively pleasure to read Irving Singer’s concrete and minutely attentive discussions of
certain great films, and it is a privilege to follow him as he converses with the written or
recorded words of three great directors, deriving from each a distinctive vision of reality.”
Richard Wilbur, United States poet laureate, 1987–1988

“Singer’s book provides supremely literate commentary: this is a film criticism of ideas, images,
and detail. His writing makes the book as pleasurable to read as the films are to watch.”
James Engell, Gurney Professor of English and Professor of Comparative Literature, Harvard

“Written clearly and engagingly, Irving Singer’s book is rich in examples, skillfully deployed
and analyzed, that exhibit his wonderful knowledge of the three filmmakers under discussion.
Singer argues convincingly that their works reconcile formalism and realism and present dis-
tinct insights into human nature. His book should greatly interest students and faculty across
the humanities, as well as more general readers.”
Saam Trivedi, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Simmons College

“Irving Singer’s Three Philosophical Filmmakers is the kind of book which rarely gets written any
more. Singer pushes aside the encrusted secondary literature which surrounds Hitchcock,
Welles, and Renoir to engage with their works from a loving and knowing perspective. In the
course of the book, he gives us a deeper appreciation of how these three men thought about
and through the cinema. Some of what he has to say is certainly debatable—and that is part
of this book’s pleasure—because it comes from a lifetime of filmgoing rather than speaking
through the borrowed authority of some theoretical grand master. Singer writes with an ana-
lytic eye and a conversational tone, showing how we must bring our minds and our hearts to
bear on art that matters.”
Henry Jenkins, Director of Comparative Media Studies, MIT

“Writing from the perspective of his earlier work on love and sexuality, Singer puts his indelible
stamp on this study of classical cinema by connecting some of our best loved films to his con-
tributions in philosophy. This is an American philosopher’s book—written well and wisely—
about topics we all share.”
Marian Keane, film critic, Denver

The MIT Press
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142






l F






Cover image: Super-montage: Great moments

in films of Hitchcock, Welles, and Renoir.

Continued on back flap

Irving Singer




Three Philosophical







Page 2


Page 145

behalf he had himself harangued the populace, was not truly a
friend of the people but rather an egoist who wanted only to
acquire for himself everyone else’s love.

Lurking behind these themes there resides an implied
commitment to liberal democracy. It merges with the creation
of characters through whom we are able to see what Welles
himself believed in. This, however, is never allowed to become
tendentious or propagandistic. In Touch of Evil Vargas is obvi-
ously speaking for Welles when he rejects Quinlan’s view of
law enforcement. Even before we know the ugly depths of
Quinlan’s criminality, we are encouraged to recoil from his
autocratic pursuit of what he considers justice. But though
Welles’s sympathetic depiction of Quinlan makes him the main
character, that paradoxically prevents the film from being
overly didactic.

There is no reason to think, as some commentators have,
that Touch of Evil is an “autobiographical” attempt by Welles to
do penance for his own guilt—presumably analogous to
Quinlan’s—as a domineering maker of films. For that to be ten-
able, one would have to think that Welles was a director who
did manipulate the actors or the crew as ruthlessly as Quinlan
planted evidence and slaughtered whoever got in his way. But
there is much to be adduced against any such idea. Various
actors have testified to the time, effort, and corroborative assis-
tance that Welles put into helping them perform at their best
without losing sight of the panoramic goals he had chosen for
their film. An occasional workman has complained that Welles
did not treat members of the crew as if they were equal in
importance to the actors. Even if this is true, it may, or may not,
have been a limitation in Welles. In any event, it can hardly be
considered a source of guilt.

134 Three Philosophical Filmmakers

Page 146

Many of the themes I have been discussing come together in
The Immortal Story, a little-known masterpiece of Welles that he
derived from Isak Dinesen’s novella with the same title. Welles
directed, wrote the script, did the meager narration that it
needed, and played the central role of Mr. Clay. It was the last
movie Welles finished apart from F for Fake. The film, fifty-five
minutes in length, was commissioned and performed as a
presentation on French television. Welles hoped it would be the
beginning of an anthology of Dinesen tales that he would put
on screen. The funds for that never materialized.

The “immortal” story that is a unifying component in the
plot is itself a myth of the past. Its meaningfulness for Welles
issues from the ambiguity in the word myth. In colloquial usage
a myth is something false, though often widely taken as true.
That is how Levinsky, Mr. Clay’s agent, interprets the story that
Mr. Clay remembers hearing in his youth. It is a fanciful tale
about a sailor whom a rich old man hires to beget a child for
him, and whom he pays for this service five guineas in gold. To
Levinsky the account is just a make-believe that sailors like to
repeat—a fictional wish fulfillment and even a ritualistic
mantra, which explains why the payment of five guineas in
gold always remains the same. But in the alembic of Mr. Clay’s
imagination, the story becomes mythic in another sense.
Whether true or false, it serves to embody an ideal culmination
to his life. By actualizing it in the present, in his house and
under his own direction, it comprises something profoundly
meaningful in relation to himself.

In the story the woman who is to bear the sailor’s offspring
is the wife of the rich old man. Though she is young, she has

Orson Welles 135

Page 289

Simon, Michel, 156
Singer, Irving, Reality

Transformed: Film as Meaning
and Technique, ix, 1, 196, 255,
263, 266

Smith, Steven C., 260
Stanwyck, Barbara, 240
Stendhal, 254
Stevenson, Robert Louis, 214
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 214

Stewart, James, 13, 30, 35, 232
Sturges, Preston, 240, 268
Lady Eve, The, 240

Suspense, the nature of, 29–31,
54, 77, 260

Symbolism in film, 79–81

Tarkington, Booth, 105–106, 108,
109, 124, 237

Thriller, genre of, 28–32, 75, 79,
148, 245, 247

Tiomkin, Dimitri, 42
Tristan and Iseult, legend of,

139, 241
Truffaut, François, 105, 222–223,

229–233, 238, 267–268
Four Hundred Blows, The, 232
Small Change, 232
Wild Child, The, 105, 232

Van Druten, John, 34
Van Sant, Gus, 16–22, 39
Verdi, Giuseppe, 43, 56, 241
Traviata, La, 241, 248

Vertov, Dziga, 228

278 Index

Man with a Movie Camera, 228
Vivaldi, Antonio, 166, 168, 210

Wagner, Richard, 143
Welles, Orson, 3–5, 43, 62,

77–145, 148, 150, 162, 175, 205,
210, 222–223, 228–237,
248–256, 260, 261–264

on acting in film, 118–120
attitude toward characters in
his films, 129–131, 134, 233

attitude toward his audience,

avoidance of suspense, 129
as both realist and formalist,
120, 123, 131–132, 230, 254

Chimes at Midnight, 82, 85, 251
Citizen Kane, 79, 81, 100–101,
122, 131, 133, 137, 205,
228–229, 233, 267

Don Quijote, 85, 225, 250–251
F for Fake, 117–118, 121–122,
135, 225, 234, 236, 248–249

on film as litmus paper of
feeling, 82

on film as poetry, 127
on “film culture,” 109–110
Filming “Othello,” 229
Immortal Story, The, 126,

on improvisation and the
absurd, 128–129, 133, 228–230,
254, 256

Lady From Shanghai, The, 125,

Page 290

Lear project and stage
production, 143, 234

Macbeth, 110, 124, 251
as magician, 121–123
Magnificent Ambersons, The, 81,
85, 102–107, 122, 124, 237

Mr. Arkadin, 81, 110, 117
music in his films, 43, 127–128
on the “myth of the past,”
82–87, 100–104, 106–107,
109–113, 129

on the nature of magic, 121–122
Othello, 113, 131, 251
Other Side of the Wind, The, 86
philosophico-aesthetic ideas,
117–121, 145, 151, 248–249, 253

on the real and the true, 132
speech in The Third Man, 111
Stranger, The, 86
sympathy, compassion, and
love in his films, 110, 116–117,
129–131, 236–237

on television as artistic
medium, 125–127

Touch of Evil, 111–116, 123, 134
Trial, The, 79, 120, 229, 249, 251
Voodoo Macbeth, 124
War of the Worlds, The, 225
When Are You Going to Finish
Don Quijote?, 250

work in film as related to radio
and theater, 123–125

Whodunit, genre of, 29–30, 50
Wood, Robin, 240, 268
Wyman, Jane, 46

Index 279

Young, Robert, 130

Zillman, Dolf, 260
Zola, Emile, 200, 256

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