Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom is a good place to open a discussion on fear and the cinematic image, for the film’s artist-murderer wants just that: to capture mortal fear with his camera’s lens. His failure to do so is paradigmatic, as the analysis of three classic films, each from a different Hollywood genre, shows. The melodrama Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, the gothic thriller The Shining, and the conspiracy film Conversation all use camera movement to orchestrate a space of fear while utilizing the pathos-laden gestures of the actors to embody that space. Which camera cuts produce fear most effectively?
Elisabeth Bronfen studied German, English, and comparative literature at Radcliffe and Harvard, earning her PhD in 1986 with a thesis on Dorothy Richardson. She has been Professor of English and American Studies at Zurich University since 1993 and has guest lectured in Sheffield, Copenhagen, and New York (at Columbia). Currently, she is writing a cultural history of the night and an introduction to the work of Stanley Cavell. Recent publications in English include Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic (1996); The Knotted Subject: Hysteria and its Discontents (1998); and Home in Hollywood: The Imaginary Geography of Cinema (2004).