The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock

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One of the perks of working for the University of Minnesota is that you can take college-credit courses for free. This past Spring term I decided to take a class for the first time since I didn’t finish my Masters Degree in 1990.

My first venture back to school was an Art History film class: The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock. It met one day a week and we got to watch Hitchcock films and discuss them in class. I thoroughly enjoyed the class, got an A, and learned a lot about Hitchcock and filmmaking. So all and all, a pretty successful foray. I thought I would discuss a couple of things I learned about Hitchcock and his films:

The camera tells the story. Alfred Hitchcock started his career in the silent film era and it showed throughout his films. Hitchcock was very cognizant of what was seen on the screen and how that propelled the story or added texture to the characters. If you watch Hitchcock’s films carefully, you’ll find that there will be long passages of no dialogue, in essence, silent film making. There is one amazing sequence in Vertigo where there is no dialogue for nearly 20 minutes! However the viewer knows exactly what is happening, and is actually caught up in the actions of the characters.

Suspense is built by informing the viewer, not the actors. Besides Psycho, Hitchcock typically let the viewers in on the evil/bad things that were about to happen to the characters on the screen. It is described as such: Which is scarier, showing the viewer the bomb under the table with the clock counting down to zero while the some of the characters are unaware of the bomb, or surprising the viewers by having a hidden bomb suddenly blow up under a table? Certainly the later is more shocking but the former is more suspenseful.

There are a lot of good Hitchcock Films out there. Sure everyone knows about Psycho, The Birds, Rear Window, etc. But there are a number of other less known, forgotten classics, most of are available at your local video store/Netflicks. Films you may not be aware of but are great include: Strangers on a Train (a must see!), Rebecca, Shadow of Doubt, Notorious, the 1934 version of the Man Who Knew Too Much (better than the 1950’s version) and the 39 Steps. The last two films were from Hitchcock’s “English? film career and are harder to come by at your local Blockbuster or Hollywood Video. All these films are in Black in White by the way.

Finally I have to put a word in on Vertigo. I’d seen the film before but didn’t think it deserved all the accolades. Having watched the film with a critical eye and discussing it afterward changed my opinion greatly. Besides the aforementioned no dialogue for 20 minutes, the film really is a wonderful example of great filmmaking. From the wonderful cinematography, to the classic scenes of 1950’s San Francisco, to the obsession of Jimmy Stewart, the film is quite enjoyable, even with its rather bleak ending.

Also as an added treat, here is a link that discusses some the best long tracking shots in movie history, some with YouTube videos. A technique that Hitchcock virtually invented in his film Rope.

What’s your favorite Hitchcock film?

1 Comment

I did see a cop at the 2:37 mark he is right in middle of track. He has billy club in hand, yet did not try to use it on the person filming him. That is why you missed him. This is SF Earthquake stuff folks.


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This page contains a single entry by Freealonzo published on May 30, 2007 4:28 PM.

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