Deborah-Anne Tunney’s A Different Wolf pulls an audacious trick: analyzing Alfred Hitchcock’s films. This device’s inherent problem, though, is that film tends to outwardly describe characters’ journeys while writing often inwardly describes them. Tunney excels doing a bit of both, but in imbuing observations with the personal, she viscerally pulls in readers.
Often, Tunney wryly describes scenes, but without an intimate connection. In “Shadows and Doubt” (about the 1943 Shadow of a Doubt), “The mother sleepwalks though his deception.” Unbeknownst to her, “while there in the corner, as if a web / the murderer blows smoke rings that mutate / ghosts of the dead the lamp on until.” Here lies palatable pulpy darkness, if merely description.
Wolf’s contents are allegories on mise-en-scène and character plights, divided wisely into sections: Woman in the Male Gaze; Innocence and Guilt; Time and Death; and the poem “The Wolf in the Basement,” a strong closer worthy of its own section.
The poet’s turns of phrase tend toward the jaw-droppingly bedazzling. “Watching” vividly portrays obsessed Vertigo protagonist John “Scottie” Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) driving around San Francisco, as in “her essence, something residue, smoke / from a cigarette, perhaps, mesmerized / by the light, a brilliant ocean of time”). “Visitor,” a welcome revisit of Shadow of a Doubt, finishes, “Above, the moon a scythe, serrated arc and sharp.” Were it legal to marry a couplet or stanza or phrase, one would snatch up either of these irresistible suitors instantly.
Tunney approaches subjects in clever meta-meta-meta fashion, observing what the films say about Hitchcock’s observations of his subjects (including his legendarily low opinion of actors). The winsome poems, where the proverbial bird truly hits the windowpane, are personalized stories.
In “Psycho,” the poet overlays the personal on the filmic: “Women wore high heels then, my mother, for example. / I remember them kicked beneath the chesterfield when / she’d return from work – her death was not a mystery / it was sordid and prolonged and more terrifying than that dithering than that murderer at the window… ”. Referencing her mother’s death jolts readers.
Other early impressions of Psycho are striking. “Drive-in” contains visceral descriptions along a wharf (“while behind me boys jostle each other, smoke up and – oh, how we laugh”), setting the scene of real-life drama. The follow up, “Drive-In, 1969,” is layered. Teenagers watch the film, portending parents’ deaths, adulthood’s unfathomable future. But they are too preoccupied to absorb it, talking over the movie, as Tunney says, “we spun out the long, hilarious spool of our teenage selves.”
While details about her mother’s passing are stunningly off-handed, the drive-in ambience places readers in the poet’s memory. Her depiction of dreams in “The Wolf in the Basement” plumbs deeper memory, the subconscious: “about my wolf. And so he stayed there, gleaming silver / and silent in the long platinum strands of moonlight.” These poems are effervescent as fireflies in the summer evening, delving past critical observation of director, film and subject, connecting observer and subject.
This collection will likely prompt an urge in the curious film-watcher to complete gaps of their Hitchcock viewing. Other readers may miss the beats of the poems if they have not seen the observed film. The most effective poems are infused with the personal, rendered beyond cinematic analysis, and palpable. While wry observations and descriptions work on the set, the visceral makes the best poems soar, like a cinematic crane shot.
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.