Like much of the civilized world, I've been following the protests in Iran, and while I empathized with what was going on, I felt curiously detached from seeing images of real violence. I read comments from people who said they were shaking and vomiting from seeing people die on camera, and I wondered if I was a terrible person because I wasn't. Is it because I watch so much of it onscreen? Or am I saturated by it thanks to the real world -- I watched Columbine happen on television while living a few blocks away from it, to say nothing of the trauma of 9/11, and documentaries about Darfur and the Holocaust.
Now, all of the above is certainly a topic of its own merit, but I discovered a very curious effect this weekend. For some reason my thirst for noir and Hitchcock went on a "troubled heroine" path, which led to my watching and GildaMarnie, and a realization of how casually old thrillers are peppered with abused women. While you can usually see it coming (heroine is babbling hysterically, man must slap her), sometimes it still has the power to shock. The backhand Glenn Ford delivers on Rita Hayworth actually made me jump. Why? Maybe I was just edgy, or maybe so many movies of careless smacks piled up into a "Damn, they really didn't think anything of that!" moment.
Marnie shocked me even more with it's uncharacteristic '60s frankness. It's with some shame that I confess I hadn't seen this particular Hitchcock, and when Sean Connery actually ripped Tippi Hendren's pajamas off, my jaw dropped like a cartoon character. Just as I felt rather bemused at my reaction, that creepy overhead shot (you know the one) of Connery for the "rape" scene left me gobsmacked all over again. In truth, I think I was unprepared for such a blatant "There's sex going on" moment, especially with prominent twin beds in view.
I've been trying to puzzle out my strong reactions all weekend. I've seen violence and sex (to say nothing of rape) scenes far more shocking in modern films, so why did these two films actually startle me, especially when I saw it coming in Gilda from a mile away? It can't be the retro setting -- if anything, I'm shocked because I'm seeing it from a 21st century perspective that doesn't condone that. Yet I know that's what startled me about the scenes in Marnie. Perhaps it's all about the context of any given moment, and not the thick shell of two decades of moviewatching. Maybe I go into old movies with a careless attitude, but I turn on the world news with my armor on. Perhaps I'm just overthinking it all. Who knows? But I thought I'd put the topic to you readers, and see if you'd experienced anything similar, especially in regards to old cinema.