Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wall of Heroes: Alfred Hitchcock

(a response to Nillum Naes Movies that started out as a very brief comment about Rope which led to a comment about Rear Window which inevitably snowballed into this post.)

Hitchcock was the first director that I became aware of. The one where I started tracking down his films. This all stemming from a trip to Universal Studios Florida as a kid and going to a Hitchcock exhibit. The one thing that struck me the most was this giant reel of film that stretched across the entire room with each one of his films in a frame. With great vigor, I began to binge on all things Hitch. From the films to Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Intoxicating cinema.

First film of his that I ended up seeing was Rear Window. There was nothing quite like it. The murder mystery was intriguing to say the least. But what fascinated me the most was the subjective view that L.B. Jeffries had on everyone else in their respective apartments. Ms. Torso. Mrs. Lonelyhearts. The piano player. The fact that we never leave the Greenwich Village apartment along with the protagonist. Even in long shot. & don't get me started on the relationship between Kelly & Stewart. That scene where Grace Kelly climbs through Thurwold's window for the wedding ring softens my heart up every time. Without fail. It was at that point that I realized just how artistic the form can be. The film is also the one that ties together everything what the director was about: technique, intrigue and mystery. David Lynch said it best "I love getting lost in that world."

The thing that always struck me about the aesthetic of Hitchcock was just how much he held back. Take for example, the scene in Psycho where Norman Bates decides to dump the body in the swamp and as the car goes down, it stops. Manipulation of the audience is something that has been misused nowadays time and time again. Back then, Hitchcock used it efortlessly and in a way that integrates itself into the story. We're scared Norman will get caught if that car doesn't fully sink. The same way we're scared when the infamous shower scene occurs. It's pure cinema. Communication through visual images and editing.

This director surrounded himself with the best talent out there. From music by Bernard Hermann to costumes from Edith Head. Even the title cards were done with great craft and care by Saul Bass. The striking uses of sound in The Birds, to the long stretches of silence in several of his films. Most noteworthy from the sound era being Psycho. A key to all of this was his storyboarding process. So when he got to the editing stage, the cuts were all pre-existing in his head. Much like the Coen Brothers shoot their films.

The filmography of Hitchcock is substantially large. Starting in 1925 with The Pleasure Garden and ending in 1976 with Family Plot. There's a whole lotta gold to mine within. As expected, there are a few gems that have overlooked. Rope is one such gem. Saboteur is another. As is The Wrong Man, a key influence on Scorsese's Taxi Driver. You get the point.

It's fairly obvious how far Hitchcock's influence has reached.

MY TOP 10:

Rear Window

Modern horror starts here.

What more can be said?

Strangers On A Train
The "wrongfully accused" story arc hits full potential here. As with his best films, it's a masterclass in staging and editing.

Shadow of A Doubt
Everyone's favorite baloon popping uncle.

The beauty of this film is seeing how the master of montage is not utilizing any montage.

The Birds
I think you're evil! EVIL! Still the greatest bitchslap in cinematic history.

Utilizing the single set approach, the director creates an engaging world through unique characters & interactions.

The director goes back to London to deliver the most brutal and violent of all his films. Some say The Birds was his last masterpiece. To me, this was his last.

The Trouble With Harry
Hitchcock always had a dark sense of humor. Here is a film that is created as an outlet for that. If the Coen Brothers were making films in 1955, this is the type of film they would probably put out.

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