Rethinking authorship: re-reading Egoyan via Hitchcock
In 2010, the Canadian-Armenian filmmaker Atom Egoyan released Chloe. A glossy, high production value, erotic thriller, with a star cast (Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried), the Toronto-based newspaper Globe commented that although ‘when we think of Atom Egoyan, we think of a brainy, almost wilfully anti-commerical filmmaker [...] Chloe [...] shouldn’t be construed as a cinematic dumb-down.’ The evidence it marshalled to support that point included the fact that Egoyan directed ‘pulpish TV fare’ such as Alfred Hitchcock presents in the 1980s, as well as the ‘difficult’ arthouse films for which he is better known. The evoking of the name Hitchcock here points to the way his ghostly presence hovers over the Chloe film text, allowing us to reconsider the division set up in the Globe article, echoing one that still pertains in film studies, between ‘popular’ and ‘auteur’ cinema. Hitchcock was praised by the Cahiers du cinéma critics precisely for his ability to create a coherent authorial signature within an industrial popular cinema system (indeed, many of his films are star laden erotic thrillers). Egoyan’s Chloe offers a similar play of ‘popular’ and ‘auteurist’ elements, allowing us to unpick the film’s final image – of Julianne Moore’s hair in a loose bun, held by a clip borrowed from the eponymous, now dead Chloe, as a reference to Vertigo. Chloe’s screenplay was originally set by its scriptwriter Erin Cressida Wilson in San Francisco. Egoyan resituated the film in Toronto, and the film goes to great lengths to underscore the importance and legibility of the locale. My contention is that nevertheless, San Francisco and Vertigo resurface in the film, the return of a repressed that echoes Vertigo’s own interest in the way the cinema allows for the creation of ‘impossible, insane’ memories in its constant re-mixing of past and future temporalities. In this way, Hitchcock becomes a simultaneously acknowledged and disavowed figure – an uncanny echo of cinema’s own complex relation to the figure of the auteur.