Correspondence (between the film and the book)

I would like to begin to find the connections between Howard’s Foreign Correspondent and Hitchcock’s. I spent most of my time watching the movie trying to figure out what Howard took from Hitchcock, and I found a number of character-based and thematic similarities. I would like to list some of what I found, and ask for others to share with me what they’ve seen, because even seemingly shallow connections lead me to ask why Howard chose to include them. They all seem important, so I’m interested in recognizing as many as possible. I will list a number of connections and anything I find significant about them. 

  • Main character names: Johnny James and Johnnie James – This seems like a very efficient way for Howard to indicate that she is blatantly referencing Hitchcock’s film. By naming her character after his, she leaves no doubt, right from the beginning of her book. It also leads me to ask what is similar and different between the two characters. One thing I notice is that, right from the beginning, Johnny is introduced as bold, confident, and unafraid. Johnnie definitely strikes me as bold, but she doesn’t seem quite as confident – she regularly second-guesses herself about her letters to Scooter. The two characters’ approaches to and attitudes toward love definitely come across differently. Both pursue their desired partner in one way or another, but Johnny clearly has more success and also seems more in control. He goes for Carol with no shame (even when he perhaps should feel ashamed), whereas Johnnie approaches Scooter with flattery and frames herself as less than Scooter. Johnny knows (or at leasts acts as though he knows) that he’s desirable; Johnnie doesn’t. 
  • Birds – I’m honestly not sure of the significance of this, but I definitely noticed that in both works, there is an interest in birds. In the film, VanMeer is constantly looking at and talking about birds, especially the way that regular citizens feed them even in times of hardship. 
  • Enthusiasm – Both main characters approach life (and love) with enthusiasm. In Howard’s text, Johnnie’s behavior is defined by a male friend as “sickening enthusiasm,” whereas in Hitchcock’s film, Johnny’s behavior is defined by a female friend (later fiance) as “unscrupulous.” Sickening enthusiasm and unscrupulousness have a similar notion of inhibition, freedom, and a lack of restraint. Johnny seems to speak for both himself and for Johnnie when he says, “I’m not unscrupulous, I’m in love.” Johnnie’s enthusiasm for Scooter is probably a product of the love that she feels as well. 
  • Interest in the nature and definition of correspondence – Howard defines correspondence (the act of corresponding/communicating) in a number of different ways, both explicitly and implicitly. She seems to be asking her readers whether “communication” is part of correspondence. Does it require the correspondents to listen to each other, understand each other, and respond thoughtfully and accordingly? Maybe not, or at least the characters in her book don’t tend to do so. In Hitchcock’s film, foreign correspondents (according to Mr. Powers) have a tendency to leave out facts. The movie attempts to redefine correspondence as “reporting” or “fact-telling.” Like Howard’s text’s definition, the film’s definition does not seem to require interpersonal interaction and understanding. Both definitions give more importance to presenting facts than to engaging in thoughtful communication. This is contrary to my own thoughts about the word “correspondence,” so it surprises me a little. The word has both “co” and “respond” in it – I would expect any text about correspondence to involve more thoughtful interpersonal musing. However, the more I think about it, the more I realize that this might not be a valid expectation of the concept of correspondence. 

I’m really interested in some of the connections that everyone else made, especially if anyone has any insight about the birds! 

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2 comments on “Correspondence (between the film and the book)

  1. jlabrecque14 says:

    I enjoyed this post! In terms of the birds in the movie, in the scene where VanMeer is being held hostage and believes his captors might kill him, he begins an out-of-place monologue about birds, saying that we trick the birds into thinking there will always be somewhere to be fed, and always someone there to feed them. I took this speech and his earlier comments about birds (“There’s always somewhere to feed the birds”) to be a reference to socialism, in that the birds are the hungry and poor, those unable to feed themselves, and the general belief that someone will always feed them refers to socialist policies (the government will always have a place for the hungry to be fed, etc.).
    His statements about birds being lied to and tricked made me think he’s really attacking socialism, and saying that there won’t always be someone there to feed the poor in a socialist country, especially in times of war, when the government is struggling (he refers to the impending war in the film directly before both comments about birds).
    How this relates to the book, I’m not sure! The bird-men Johnnie fantasizes about may have to do with it (pg. 48). Or maybe the birds in Alphonso’s house, especially the one left to die, are a reference to the film? Either way, there’s definitely some engagement with that metaphor from the film.

  2. I really like the idea of the birds being a reference to socialism! I believe the birdmen that Johnnie admires would be the connection to Van Meer’s monologue about the birds. She calls the birdmen “invariably criminals… loping through the forest with swaddles corpse slung over the shoulder, but always dressed in their best suits” (48). The government seduces and tricks its people just like birds, creating a false sense of security, but in times of war those people will be left to fend for themselves.

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