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The Audience,Too, Raises Its Glass in a Toast

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The first example of this complicity is in Rear Window when Jeff, as voyeur, “interacts” with one of the many objects of his voyeuristic gaze, Miss Lonelyhearts. Through a shot and angle designed to simulate looking out of the large window in Jeff’s living room, the audience watches as Miss Lonelyhearts prepares herself for what seems to be a romantic dinner for two. Wearing a long, green dress, she checks her hair and then the dinner table, retrieves a bottle of wine from the kitchen and sets in on the table, and then lights the two candles positioned so exactly on the dinner table.


As she lights the second candle, she looks up, as if acknowledging a knock at the door—her guest, the audience supposes as they watch alongside Jeff. As the camera makes its way towards the door, though, the audience, as well as Jeff, are afforded a sight yet to be seen by Miss Lonelyhearts—there is no one on the other side of the door. Unsurprised as she opens the door and finds no one out there, however, she steps into the hallway as if there is a guest to be received; she ushers her imaginary guest inside, talking and smiling as she approaches the table; she reaches for the guest’s hat, takes it and tosses it gently onto the end table beside the sofa; and then she leans forward from the waist with her cheek pressed out as if to receive a kiss, after which she opens the bottle of wine and pours two glasses.


CAPTION

Miss Lonelyhearts preparing for her evening.


She sits down, then, talking animatedly as if there is someone sitting adjacent her, and then she raises her glass as if to say, “salud”. In this moment, Jeff raises his glass of brandy in a reciprocal gesture and the two, spectator and spectacle, interact in a manner which suggests that the audience, aligned with Jeff and the role of the voyeur, is able to interact with, take part in the fictional narrative of the film, suggesting that the audience can indeed be complicit with the happenings of the filmic narrative.


Again, this notion is picked up and carried on by Haneke, this time in his Benny’s Video. This film opens with a scene in which a pig is led out of what is presumably a barn. The pig is led by a rope which is tied around its snout; the pig struggles and squeals terrifically, and then an air pressurized bolt pistol is put to its head and discharged.


This scene is both visually and aurally disturbing. “But telltale white lines across the screen soon signal to us,” says Catherine Wheatley, “that this is an intra-diegetic image sequence, now in the process of being rewound: what we have been watching is a film within a film, Benny’s video rather than Benny’s Video.” The critical distance created by this “intra-diegetic image sequence” is allegorical, in a sense, of how Benny interacts with the world surrounding him. In the same way that the film-within-the-film, Benny’s video, informs our understanding of the filmic narrative, Benny’s conceptual understanding of the world is informed by the videos which he both makes and watches, by a “cine-televisual medium,” as Wheatley calls it. Therein, too, is the manifestation of Benny’s voyeuristic gaze. 


The critical distance we’re granted from the actual slaughtering of the pig, however, is not afforded to us when it comes, a while later in the film, to the murder of Benny’s young, female acquaintance; therefore, while the audience is not complicit in the pig’s death—because of the “white lines across the screen”—it is complicit—because of a narrowing of that critical distance between spectator and spectacle—in the murder of the young girl. The two, Benny and his female acquaintance, get to that moment by passing through a sequence which binds us to them emotionally. Together, they watch Benny’s video of the pig slaughter, and then they have a conversation which seethes with undercurrents of mutual intimacy:


Girl: Did you film that?


Benny: Mmhmm.


Girl: What was it like?


Benny: What?


Girl: With the pig? I mean… Have you ever seen a dead person? For real, I mean.


Benny: No. Have you?


Girl: No. That’s why I asked.


Benny: It was only a pig…. I once saw a TV program about the tricks they use in action films. It’s all ketchup and plastic. It looks pretty real, though… When my grandfather died, they put him in the coffin before we got there. They live in the country, too. The coffin was open and pretty high up. My father lifted me up so that I could see Granddad. I shut my eyes. I was smaller then. I wasn’t big enough to see in on my own.


Girl: My grandparents died a long time ago. I don’t remember them.


Directly after this sequence the suggestion of an intimate bond is put to a quick death—quite literally. As the two examine the device that killed the pig, which Benny “nicked” from the farmer, he presses it into his chest and says, “Press the trigger.” She does not, and Benny calls her a coward.


Then, we are forced to watch as Benny methodically executes her. We witness the first discharge directly, while only witnessing the several subsequent discharges through a small television screen which Benny has hooked to his video camera, which is on and recording the interior space of Benny’s bedroom. We are forced, therefore, to experience the murder in the same way that Benny experiences the world, through truncated images.


CAPTION

From Benny’s Video


From this point forward, we experience the film through the narrative-eyes of Benny. There is one scene, in particular, that reinforces our assimilation of Benny’s voyeuristic gaze and, in doing so, solidifies the audience’s complicity with the filmic narrative.


Having fled to Egypt after the murder, Benny and his mother are in a phone booth, of which the audience has a front-on shot strongly imbued with the visual, with scopophilia. The audience sees them through the glass of the booth. The audience, intrinsically voyeuristic at this point, is watching them both, but then Benny passes the phone to his mother and exits the interior of the phone booth. He walks around to the front of the phone booth, and the shot becomes exactly the same, except Benny is now, like the audience, on the outside of the phone booth looking in at his mother through the booth’s glass. In this moment of slight shift, the critical distance between Benny and the audience is nonexistent and, therefore, the audience becomes entirely complicit with film’s diegesis; it doubly assimilates Benny’s cine-televisual voyeurism and the role of murderer.


The audience, it seems, is as caught up in the fictional narrative of the given movie as much as the characters, and it is pushed to become aware of itself and its participation therein through the use of Hitchcock’s voyeur apparatus. This apparatus is one that has been picked up on and utilizes by a director some might say is equally unique and inventive—Michael Haneke. By looking at Haneke through the lens of Hitchcock, we are able to evaluate Haneke and his films while simultaneously reevaluating Hitchcock and his amazing contributions to cinematic history.


Ian Burkett is a graduate of St. Andrews Presbyterian College and is currently working on his Masters in English at Appalachian State University. Despite an academic concentration in canonical literature and theory, Ian spends his free time reading comic books and watching any movie he can get his hands on, and he thinks the term “canonical” needs some serious re-envisioning.


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