Monday, August 15, 2016

Hitchcock

North by Northwest was, I think, the first Hitchcock film I saw. It was shown in the Milton College auditorium probably in the early '60s, well before I was myself in college. I loved it. Apart from those in the silent era and some of the early British sound films, I believe I have seen them all. When his films became available on videotape I bought many of them. I replaced those with DVDs — I have twenty-one of those he directed. Today on The New Yorker site, "The Book That Gets Inside Alfred Hitchcock’s Mind":
.... Hitchcock/Truffaut, the book in which the master of suspense exposed his most private creative mind in interviews with François Truffaut, is turning fifty, and has become the inspiration for an eponymous documentary, by Kent Jones, which has just been released on HBO. ....

Hitchcock...was the rare late-modern craftsman who not only knew exactly what he was trying to do but could lay it out in words. If you’re the sort of person who believes that lasting art is often born through the constraints of craft—that genius has a way of creeping in as restless virtuosos push against the pressures of a market, trying to meet the demands of a mainstream audience—then the Hitchcock interviews emerge as a creative Rosetta Stone. ....

One of my favorite things to do with Hitchcock/Truffaut is to open the book, in biblical fashion, to a random place and read. Here’s the director on Psycho, explaining his frequent balletic use of overhead cameras to prime the movie’s final revelation:
A.H. I raised the camera when Perkins was going upstairs. He goes to the room and we don’t see him, but we hear him say, “Mother, I’ve got to take you down to the cellar. They’re snooping around.” And then you see him take her down to the cellar. I didn’t want to cut, when he carries her down, to a high shot because the audience would have been suspicious as to why the camera has suddenly jumped away. So I had a hanging camera follow Perkins up the stairs, and when he went into the room I continued going up without a cut, as the camera got up on top of the door, the camera turned and looked back down the stairs again. Meanwhile, I had an argument take place between the son and his mother to distract the audience and take their minds off what the camera was doing. In this way the camera was above Perkins again as he carried his mother down and the public hadn’t noticed a thing.
.... As Truffaut presses Hitchcock on decision after decision, in film after film, an elaborate, reasoned logic rises to the fore—a point that both directors, similarly inclined toward meticulous visual formalism, were keen to drive home. .... [more]
I've owned the revised edition of Hitchcock/Truffaut since it was published in 1985 and I just now watched the above-mentioned documentary. If you enjoy Hitchcock films you would almost certainly like either or both. The documentary is available on-demand at HBO until some time in September.

Note: After reviewing the list of Hitchcock films in the book I revised my account of which I haven't seen, his early British films.