Alfred Hitchcock : The Explorer of Fears

                         Films were a great form of entertainment from their debut in the early 1900's and continued to grow more popular over the years. The film making business hit a growth period in the 1920's. In Hollywood, the assembly line "studio" system of producing a movie was changed and refined, and the famous studious that dominate Hollywood production today, such as Universal Studious, were being put together. 

                      Censorship regulations were being formulated for the first time, and Wall Street began to take a more prominent, powerful role in film making. It was a time when movies came and went quickly and films that had no pretense of being art were made in mass. Nobody expected a movie to last in the minds of people for more than a year. 

                      Movies were made for entertainment, and to make money. So, the movies were considered like a disposable object. It took some decades in Hollywood to develop movies as a form of art. During this time of rapid change in the film-making business, a aspiring director began his career, and dream of working in cinema. 

                         He was Alfred Hitchcock, who established his movies as an art. 

Communicating With Fears

                     Alfred Hitchcock pervades our consciousness. We have seen the world through his movies and we find it frightening. Hitchcock was afraid, and he was able to communicate his fear through the use of a situation. His films are scary, not because the people are scary, but because they are nice, even attractive. Awkward, shy, gawky like Norman Bates in Psycho

              The reason why people are uneasy about watching Hitchcock is because they he is capable of killing his characters. Characters are killed in virtually every he made. Worse than that, Hitchcock shows you the killing and the killer but you do not avert your eyes -- you want to see it all. 

The Visual Language

               When people describe some director as being Hitchcockian, they are not referring to the suspense and horror. The phrase is concerned with certain camera movements and angles. They refer to the visual language Hitchcock used. Suspense is the art of telling you that something bad is going to happen in a specific time, but you don't want the bad thing to happen. His most ambitious, sustained, and it must be said, successful attempt was Psycho - after the main character is killed we are not let off the hook until the end of the film, over an hour later. 

               The opening of Hitchcock's Rear Window is often cited as great visual storytelling, because (there are no words) the camera focuses on a series of things that tell us a great deal: a rear window view of the neighbors; inside: a professional camera, a photo of a race car taken from a vantage point directly in front of it, a man in a cast, a thermometer showing that it's a hot day.

              Censor board standards in the 1960 didn't allow for a sequence like nude women being stabbed to death in showers. Consequently, Hitchcock was forced to create the impression of nudity and violence without actually showing a knife puncturing skin. The scene is composed of more than 90 shots seen in 70 different camera angles. It took Hitchcock and his crew an entire week to film it. But, the entire film took only six weeks.

                     However, the Hitchcockian directors mostly concentrate on the shock aspects of Psycho rather than the suspense elements. 

             It is something of an understatement to say that Hitchcock was an accomplished storyteller. Hitchcock stretched himself with amazingly minimalist films. Lifeboat was a film about the group of people in a lifeboat. A few bits of wreckage, the odd hull, some choppy water -- that's all the production designer had to do. Rope is a series of eight 10-minute takes in one apartment room. Rear window, is about James Stewart in a wheelchair, in a room, watching and listening to people in and around a courtyard. Hitchcock was constantly striving to tell stories in as imaginative a way as possible. 


              Suspense is the feeling of being afraid for one or more characters in the movie. In film, the horror moments are often triggered by surprise or by images which are unacceptable to society. Horror films are great fun, they give you  a fright, you release lots of pent-up emotions and then you forget them. 

                   From very early in his career Hitchcock put the viewer in the position of his characters. You see a character on the screen looking at something, you see what they see, then you see the character react to that something. It's simple. In Rear Window, we are in the position of James Stewart, realizing something is wrong, but not being able to do anything about it, being helpless in the wheelchair, as we are helpless in our own position. 

                 In Psycho we are both the villain and hero like looking through the hole in the wall, at Janet Leigh undressing. We are able to switch sides with the characters, to satisfy both our civilized and coarse instincts. 

                        Ultimately, Hitchcock's world-view was more pessimistic than optimistic. His films give a satisfying physical resolution but the mental anguish and consequences continue. I hope Hitchcock's films will survive, because they give food for thought. They unsettle us and we don't know why. They do not assume we are morons. They let us work things out for ourselves. 

                          Eventually, Hitchcock is telling us that there are no slick solutions to life, that things don't necessarily work out right in the end. 

Alfred Hitchcock - Wikipedia


Rohini said...

How I love this man!! Be it Rebecca, my personal fav out of his works, or Psycho, vertigo, notorious.. he has always been amazing.. its his "inches of ivory"..
like he says, "I am a typed director. If I made Cinderella ,the audience would immediately be looking for a body in the coach." :)
Great post..

Rohini said...

i meant "two inches of ivory" :D

Akshy said...

Great post on a superb director:).