“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it”.
Alfred Hitchcock, in full Sir Alfred Hitchcock, (born August 13, 1899, London, England—died April 29, 1980, Bel Air, California, U.S.), English-born American motion-picture director whose suspenseful films and television programs won immense popularity and critical acclaim over a long and tremendously productive career. His films are marked by a macabre sense of humor and a somewhat bleak view of the human condition Hitchcock’s first film as a director was the comedy Mrs. Peabody (1922; also called Number 13), which was not completed, for lack of funding. His first released film was Always Tell Your Wife (1923), which he codirected with its star Seymour Hicks, but he did not receive credit. Solo credit did not come for another two years, with the melodrama The Pleasure Garden (1925). That was followed by The Mountain Eagle (1926), a drama set in the Kentucky Mountains. But it was The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927) that both he and students of the cinema would come to regard as his first “real” work—and one that very much drew on his youthful surroundings. Adapted from a popular novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes, the suspenseful story introduces the structure of many Hitchcock films to come: a London man (Ivor Novello) is accused of being a Jack the Ripper-like killer and finds it nearly impossible to prove his innocence. The film became his first hit and also was the first film in which he made his trademark cameo appearance..
In 1926 Hitchcock married his film editor and script supervisor, Alma Reville. The following year he made the melodrama Downhill, Easy Virtue (from a noel coward play), and the boxing drama The Ring, which was a critical success. The comedies The Farmer’s Wife and Champagne (both 1928) were followed by the tragic romance (and box-office hit) The Manxman (1929). Hitchcock’s first talking picture was the thriller blackmail (1929). One of the year’s biggest hits in England it became the first British film to make use of synchronized sound only after the completed silent version was postdubbed and partly reshot. Polish actress Anny Ondra (who had starred in The Manxman) played a would-be model who stabs an artist when he tries to assault her. The murder investigation is headed by the model’s fiancé, but she is being blackmailed for the killing and is afraid to confide in him. The film’s most memorable sequence is a chase through the British muesuemand across its roof, but Hitchcock builds the mood of encroaching menace throughout. Juno and the Paycock (1929) was adapted from Sean o Casey play,popular, while Elstree Calling (1930) was a collection of musical and comedy sketches that Hitchcock codirected with three others. Murder! (1930) provided Hitchcock with another opportunity to explore cinematic suspense. it stars Herbert Marshall as Sir John Menier, a gentleman knight and famed actor who turns amateur sleuth in order to save from the gallows an actress who has been convicted of murder. Though light in tone, the film is distinguished by its dramatic camera work, colourful theatrical setting, and groundbreaking use of voice-over narration. Neither The Skin Game (1931) nor Rich and Strange (1931; also called East of Shanghai), an odd comedy, made much of an impact at the time of release, but Number Seventeen (1932) offered a thrilling chase finale. The musical Waltzes from Vienna (1934; also called Strauss’s Great Waltz) was Hitchcock’s last foray into that genre.
Alfred Hitchcock is arguably one of the most well-known directors in the last century. the English film director created more than 50 movies before he passed away in 1980. There is no denying that he changed the way audiences watched films — for example, Hitchcock demanded specific start times for “Psycho,” and audiences were asked to not give away the end of the movie.
Hitchcock has been called by some the greatest of all directors, the most adroit, and the most admired, and the case has been made that he was all of these. His many classics are widely acknowledged—including The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds—and in these films Hitchcock’s genius as both filmmaker and storyteller is abundantly evident.
Themes and Techniques
Hitchcock’s films usually centre on either murder or espionage, with deception, mistaken identities, and chase sequences complicating and enlivening the plots. Wry touches of humour and occasional intrusions of the macabre complete this mixture of cinematic elements. Three main themes predominate in Hitchcock’s films. The most common is that of the innocent man who is mistakenly suspected or accused of a crime and who must then track down the real perpetrator in order to clear himself (e.g., The Lodger and North by Northwest). The second theme is that of the guilty woman who enmeshes a male protagonist and ends up either destroying him or being saved by him (e.g., Vertigo and Marnie). The third theme is that of the (frequently psychopathic) murderer whose identity is established during the working out of the plot (e.g., Shadow of a Doubt and Psycho).
Hitchcock’s greatest gift was his mastery of the technical means to build and maintain suspense. To this end he used innovative camera viewpoints and movements, elaborate editing techniques, and effective soundtrack music, often supplied in his best films by Bernard Herrmann. He had a sound grasp of human as manifested both in his credible treatment of everyday life and in the tense and nightmarish situations encountered in his more-chilling films. His ability to convincingly evoke human menace, subterfuge, and fear gave his psychological thrillers great impact while maintaining their subtlety and believability. He was also a master of something he called the “MacGuffin”—that is, the use of an object or person who, for storytelling purposes, keeps the plot moving along even though that thing or person is not really central to the story. (Examples include the titular steps in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps and the microfilm in North by Northwest.) Through innovative scriptwriting, Hitchcock was able to exercise control over the audience. He would often put an emphasis on psychological characterization of his main and secondary characters. In his films “Rebecca” and “Shadow of a Doubt,” he uses voice over for the opening sequences to cast a gloomy and mysterious shadow over the entire film. Hitchcock loved to build tension into a scene by using contrasting situations. One example is in Hitchcock’s 1956 film, “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day are in the middle of a tense phone call when guests, who are laughing and joking, start to arrive. The arrival of the joyful guests serves as a foil and complication for the real momentum of the scene.
Camera movement is one component that supports visual storytelling, but it’s important to note why Hitchcock valued it so much. He believed that the camera should take on human qualities: it should roam and playfully look around the room for anything important.
By panning a room and showing close-ups of objects, the camera allows the audience to see certain plot elements and feel like they’re involved in uncovering the story. The importance of camera movement stemmed from Hitchcock’s days of working in silent film. Without sound, directors relied heavily on ways of telling the story to the audience visually. Hitchcock was very specific about how he used music in his movies, whether it was to create excitement, heighten tension, or build toward a climax. Even his characters are fascinated by music, and, as the New York Times’ Edward Rothstein says it can be argued that music itself functions at the level of a character in Hitchcock films. Hitchcock held the actors’ performances in high regard, yet is known to have been a very controlling and visionary director on set, allowing little time or room for input from his actors. A very particular director, Hitchcock famously did not set much stock in method acting or improvisation and kept a tight reign on the action on set. He was also known to frequently collaborate with the same actors To Hitchcock, the conversations in his films were not important. Visuals were of the utmost importance. He loved point of view shots, which showed a shot of the actor and then cut to a shot of what the actor was looking at in order to convey what the actor is looking at; pretty much, the Kuleshov effect.
The director was aware of the way that abrupt changes in camera positioning could evoke an emotional response. Consider the scene in Psycho (1960) when Mother murders detective Arbogast. As the attack begins, audiences see an overhead shot of the detective reaching the top of the stairs and Mother running out to stab him. Then there is a cut to a close-up of Arbogast’s face. According to director Hitchcock:
The main reason for raising the camera [to an overhead shot] was to get the contrast between the long shot and the close-up of the big head as the knife came down on him. It was like music, you see, the high shot with the violins and suddenly the big head with the brass instruments clashing.
The soundtrack was extremely important to Alfred Hitchcock, as he managed to sync the music with the actions of the scenes. His most famous scene would be the shower scene in Psycho, where the orchestra is perfectly correlated with the murder. In his famous film, Hitchcock also incorporated the use of shot/reverse shot, a standard shot pattern that directors use to film conversations between two characters. In general, the actors avoid speaking directly to the viewer, because doing so acknowledges the audience’s presence and destroys the illusion of a naturally unfolding story. When Marion comments on overhearing Mother’s vicious critique of Norman, the reverse shot of Norman marks a radical departure from the pattern that has been established previously. Instead of shooting Norman from an eye-level medium shot, Hitchcock films him from a low-angle profile shot. The change in the camera’s perspective positions Norman underneath a stuffed owl in the background, as if Norman were the bird’s prey. “The editing and the mise en scene coincide to create a visual metaphor for Norman’s entrapment under Mother’s watchful gaze.”
Alfred Hitchcock avoids making the audiences annoyed by giving them some information that the characters in the movies don’t know. That way the audiences don’t get a surprise, instead they get suspense. The bomb theory explains this opinion. If a bomb suddenly goes off in a movie, the audience gets a ten second shock, but If instead the audience knows there is a bomb that will go off in five minutes, their suspense of what will happen will lead them to be more interested not just angry and shocked. Because of the intense level of suspense in his movies, Hitchcock found that some elements in his film did not matter. He often used a random plot device called the McGuffin. Simply put, the McGuffin is nothing. It’s the plans, documents, secrets, those things that seem to be of vital importance to the character but have no importance to the plot. The only reason for the McGuffin is to serve a pivotal reason for the suspense. Nowhere to Run: North by Northwest
In North by Northwest, Cary Grant’s character, Roger Thornhill, spends much of his life surrounded by people. He lives in New York. He gives orders to his personal secretary. He spends much of his life in bars.
So where does he end up when he’s a wanted man, wrongly accused of murder? What’s the meeting place, with a man who can clear his good name?
A corn field in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nobody. Compared to the opening scene of the movie, in which traffic is so dense it is ignored, we are introduced to a scene that’s exactly opposite. Every car that drives past is a subject of intense fascination, hope and dread.
Likewise, no person in a crowd of hundreds is the subject of fascination in New York City. In the cornfield scene, the only other person encountered in the rural setting is the subject of intense fascination.
And the real threat? Not from where you might expect.
What’s brilliant is how much of the scene requires no dialogue. We’re waiting for minutes. We know something is going to happen. And, we don’t mind the wait, even though waiting in the middle of an Indiana cornfield for something to happen is possibly the most boring subject one could be asked to film.
Build tension into a scene by using contrasting situations. Use two unrelated things happening at once. The audience should be focused on the momentum of one, and be interrupted by the other. Usually the second item should be a humorous distraction that means nothing (this can often be dialogue.) It was put there by you only to get in the way.
When unexpected guests arrive at the hotel room in the Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day are in the midst of a tense phone-call. The arrival of the guests laughing and joking serve a dramatic counterpoint to the real momentum of the scene. In Spellbound (1945) Ingrid Bergman sees a note which has been slipped under her door. Just when she grabs for it, her colleagues walk in and speak with her about the dissapearance of Gregory Peck, completely unaware they are standing on top of the note from him! The end result is – the audience pays more attention to what’s happening.
From panning shots, to tracking shots Alfred Hitchcock used his techniques in filming and editing in order to create great products that continue to intrigue audiences to this day. He received the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award in 1979. One year later, on April 29, 1980, Hitchcock died peacefully in his sleep in Bel Air, California.
. Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.
Among the honors Hitchcock received are the Irving G.life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute (1979). Hitchcock was knighted in 1980.