Hitchcock Did It
Goodwin Davis was born 20 years ago, in the aftermath of a simple question:
“Why did Miss Lonelyhearts wear a green dress?”
Care to offer a guess? No? Would it help if I asked in a thick Australian accent?
That’s how I heard it. I was taking a course called Language of Film, and the TA for my recitation came from Down Under. On this particular day we were discussing Hitchcock’s Rear Window (“Ree-uh WINN-doww” to our beloved TA), and we were asked to look for a deeper meaning in the wardrobe of one of its characters. What was the green telling us?
A transfer student, who bore a striking resemblance to a young Ellen Barkin, ventured the first guess. This girl had an elite boarding school background and I was always fascinated to hear her ideas. On this occasion she really took us for a ride, invoking Vietnam and the casually tossing out the phrase “post-modern pastiche”. Once I heard that, my mind went to a totally different place.
Gold Star, Blue Ribbon
I can’t recall hearing the word pastiche prior to that moment. And what did it have to do with Vietnam, Walter?
Then I had an epiphany. Despite attending a “nationally recognized Gold Star and Blue Ribbon school”, my American History class never made it to Vietnam. We barely made it past World War II. Could her boarding school really offer that much more value? What else was I missing out on (besides colorful words like pastiche)?
My history class was an experiment called American Studies. It paired American Literature with American History for a two-hour super class jammed with 60 students. The first hour we might study The Great Depression. The second we’d read and workshop a relevant book, like The Grapes of Wrath.
On paper, it was a cool ideal to give us an immersive experience into the period being studied, but the model was easily broken with a such large class size.
The real lesson we learned is that we can only move at the pace of the weakest students. With double the kids, double the time, and two distinct subjects, it was never going to work.
Like most, I was bored in that class. I understood the material and was ready to move on. Many of us could have coasted right past Vietnam and into the 80’s. Instead, we graduated high school without a single lesson on John F. Kennedy.
- a literary, musical, or artistic piece consisting wholly or chiefly of motifs or techniques borrowed from one or more sources.
- an incongruous combination of materials, forms, motifs, etc., taken from different sources; hodgepodge.
The tragedy here is that we had at least two dozen kids that did not have a chance to reach their full potential. If we circle back to the sports correlation on which the premise of Goodwin Davis is founded, it should put things in perspective.
Imagine your son is a star baseball player. You have him signed up for a fun, non-competitive team coached by a dad with little more than general understanding of the game. When it becomes apparent that your boy could be something special, maybe even a pro, what would you do next?
If you’re like many parents, you’d look for an elite baseball program complete with tryouts, individual instruction, year round practice, and games against the best of the best. If you placed importance on athletic achievement, you would not keep him in the rec league. You’d send him to the top of the mountain, with the best instructors and best athletes, and push him to be the best he can be.
If your son was a star baseball player, what would you do to help him?
Answer to the Green Dress Question
The TA insisted the green dress signaled Envy. NOT SO, according to John Fawell’s famous book on the film. Edith Head, Hitchcock’s costume designer, said it was just a way to subtly link Miss Lonelyhearts to Lisa, another character who was wearing green. So much for Film Theory!
Have you had a similar a-ha moment?
Leave a comment below and tell us about it.
Be the first to know when courses and workshops are available in your area.