Thursday, 2 June 2011


The photograph is of St Ignatius Church, Stamford Hill in London. It is Alfred Hitchcock’s alma mater and located at the bottom of my road as it happens. Hitchcock attended the Roman Catholic school adjoined to the church (it is not there any more sadly) in 1910.

I like to think that young ‘Alfie’ might have passed by my house once or twice – sandwich in hand – while on his way to the park for his lunch hour or perhaps to walk along the River Lea. Perhaps he might have glanced in my window as he passed. Maybe, if he had a friend who lived on my road, he might even have popped in for a cup of tea and a Swiss roll - who knows?

Although Hitchcock never publicly disparaged his Catholic upbringing (unlike Bunuel) there is no doubt it influenced his films. He has said St Ignatius taught him ‘a strong sense of fear and guilt'. The film that combines both to the greatest effect is, of course, Psycho (1960). In that film, Marion (Janet Leigh) suffers guilt to the point of neurosis. She steals money from a rich vulgar man who probably won’t miss it but her conscience won’t rest until she makes the decision to return it. By that time however, her fate is sealed because Norman Bates has set his sights on her. Hitchcock’s genius in that film is to connect Marion’s neurosis with Norman’s psychosis. They are both products of the socialisation process gone wrong. Normal has an Oedipal fixation on his dead mother and Marion has a guilt-fixation on hers.

 Hitchcock also said that he learned ‘Jesuit reasoning power’ at St Ignatius, and his rigorous approach to storytelling and film-making probably started here. So all-in-all his Catholic education was something of a double-edged sword.

St Ignatius is now enjoying a surge of popularity thanks to the influx of Polish and Spanish speaking people into the area. Hitchcock, of course, moved to Hollywood, and spent most of his life living in Bel Air.  When I was in Los Angeles I stopped by to have a look at his house at 10957 Bellagio Road - to return the favour if you will. How the other half lives.


Wes M said...

Good stuff Jon, as always. Yes, being Irish and raised a Catholic I can confirm that Catholic Guilt really is a force to be reckoned with - I'm thinking of Venessa Redgrave's Sister Jeanne in The Devils... I passed by the Psycho house on a tour of Universal studios a few years ago and was slightly disappointed about how petite the house really is - testimony to Hitch's visual genius that the house looks so sinister in the film - it seems to loom over the proceedings like an angry God...

Michael Williams said...

Very insightful! I've been revisiting many Hitchcock films and discovering for myself what a treasure trove they are.

Thanks for stopping by WIWLN.


Jon T said...

The Psycho house was based on an Edward Hopper painting I think - 'House by The Railroad'. I agree, Michael - I have been watching a lot of Hitchcock lately too. 'Dial M for Murder' was a revelation - I would love to have seen it in 3D. We must all have a bit of a psychic link, I reckon, because I was thinking of The Devils just the other day. I've never seen the whole film and I was thinking it is something I must do soon.

Wes M said...

Jon, see The Devils as soon as you can - I'm big Ken Russell fan/apologist, but I can say this without any hyperbole - it's one of the greatest films ever made.