Author Topic: The Scary Discipline Of Alfred Hitchcock  (Read 2409 times)

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The Scary Discipline Of Alfred Hitchcock
« on: May 12, 2010, 11:58:53 am »
The Scary Discipline Of Alfred Hitchcock
Posted 05/11/2010 04:44 PM ET

Hitchcock was born in London and was already directing movie hits when he reached Hollywood in 1939. AP View Enlarged Image
The '20s hadn't started to roar when a young ad illustrator at a London telegraph firm learned that Famous Players-Lasky had opened a studio.

The production outfit was preparing to film "The Sorrows of Satan."

The illustrator, Alfred Hitchcock, quickly read the novel, by Marie Corelli. He then imagined the film and drew designs for the stylized title cards used as dialogue and description in silent films.

He submitted them to the studio with his portfolio.

The movie was canceled before it started. But Hitchcock didn't let that discourage him. He kept at it: imagining and drawing cards for other gestating films until the studio finally hired him full time in 1920 to design the cards for its productions.

Within two decades, Hitchcock would become Britain's greatest film director. He would then move to Los Angeles to become the top director of suspense films in America.

His work pioneered production and story-depiction techniques that locked in the look and feel of the suspense and horror genre.

Hitchcock also linked film to the developing field of psychology.

Hitchcock's Keys
•Became Britain's top film director with a dozen silent films and talkies, including "The 39 Steps" and "The Man Who Knew Too Much." Directed an additional 31 movies in America to become one of the industry's most influential filmmakers.
•"We (the directors) make the film succeed. The name of the director should be associated in the public's mind with a quality product. Actors come and go, but the name of the director should stay clearly in the mind of the audience."
Murderers and victims became objects of study, shifting "the focus away from the classic Universal (Studios) monsters of the 1930s and 1940s and onto the monsters in human form that cast dramatic shadows over the horror movies of the 1950s and 1960s," Karina Wilson, who runs, told IBD.

Hitchcock (1899-1980) was born in London's East End.

He was seven years younger than his sister, nine years younger than his brother. He was pudgy and soft and often excluded from neighborhood games. This forced the shy boy to live in what would become one of the most influential imaginations in the world.

Hitchcock's father was a grocer, a serious businessman and disciplinarian. His mother managed the home and doted on her youngest boy. Together, his parents were the portrait-perfect Victorian couple.

Hitchcock said he came away from that childhood with a keen sense of good and evil.

Tough Learning

His Catholic education continued that process. It included a stint at London's Salesian College, where the authorities used laxatives as punishment. He then moved to Saint Ignatius College, where the Jesuit priests ordered pupils to choose "the moment when they would receive their strokes with a hard rubber cane," according to Paul Duncan's "Alfred Hitchcock: The Complete Films."

The schools taught Hitchcock "control, organization, discipline and that I did not like to get a tanning," the director told Charlotte Chandler in her biography "It's Only a Movie."
Hitchcock took a job right out of school in 1915 at Henley Telegraph & Cable. Bored with the work, he took night classes and began drawing. His talent and energy eventually landed him in Henley's ad office.

Now thoroughly engaged, he worked creatively. And he took time to attend plays, watch the era's silent movies and read intensively. He especially liked Edgar Allan Poe.

Hitchcock followed crime tabloids closely, attending some murder trials at the Old Bailey, England's Central Criminal Court. And he scoured film trade journals, which would lead him to Famous Players-Lasky.

The U.S. company exported some of its top American talent to the London studio. Eve Unsell, Margaret Turnbull and Ouida Bergere all taught Hitchcock the ins and outs of story and screenplay mechanics as well as adapting novels for film. He soaked up the lessons.

He also made himself indispensable around the studio, learning every aspect of the trade while performing his title card design tasks.

Yet when he was about to direct a short comedy, the studio had slipped into financial trouble. Players-Lasky quit producing films and began renting its space and hiring its talent out to other studios.

In 1923, he had been hired out as an assistant director on "Always Tell Your Wife." A break came when Seymour Hicks, the film's producer/actor/writer fired director Hugh Croise and had Hitchcock direct the remaining scenes.

On his next film as assistant director, the producers needed help, so Hitchcock offered to write the script and handle the art direction. The film was a smash, so the trio worked on four more films.

Next Scene

Hitchcock wooed one of the studio's editors, Alma Reville. They became an item and soon moved to Germany's Ufa studios where Hitchcock dived into the technical aspects of that country's expressionistic filmmakers.

While sailing back on the English Channel, he proposed. A seasick Reville reportedly answered with a burp. He took the reply as a yes, and they were married in 1926.

In 1925, Hitchcock had been hired to direct "The Pleasure Garden" at locations around Europe. Then came turbulence. Authorities confiscated the production crew's film as he and his team traveled from Germany to Italy. Later, he was robbed of the funds he needed to finance the production. He had to borrow cash to pay the crew's hotel bills.


One of Hitchcock’s most shocking scenes had Janet Leigh in the shower that turned deadly in 1960’s “Psycho.” AP View Enlarged Image
More bad news arose. The studio delayed the release of Hitchcock's first two films, uncertain how the strange stories would affect audiences. Not until his third movie, 1927's "The Lodger," did the young director receive public exposure.

The story, from Marie Lowndes' 1913 novel, was based on the Jack the Ripper murders of the 1880s. Hitchcock's film was a smash.

Innovating From The Start

In "The Lodger," he used an overhead shot in one suspenseful scene in which only the lodger's hand on the banister is visible as he descends — a technique the director called a substitute for sound.

In another scene, the lodger paces upstairs. Hitchcock installed a plate-glass floor and filmed the frightened family below, looking up.

In "The Lodger," Hitchcock made the first of his trademark cameo appearances. A couple of extras hadn't shown up, he related, so he filled in.

By 1939, Hitchcock had directed a dozen silent films and 16 talkies as a British director. Those included such groundbreaking works as "The 39 Steps," "Blackmail" and "The Man Who Knew Too Much."

Ready for a change, he, Alma and their daughter jumped to America in 1939. There he began his string of box office smashes for producer David O. Selznick, beginning with "Rebecca." Over the next 35 years, he would direct an additional 31 films and seven years of his TV series, "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."

What made his work so magnetic?

"There is a look to Hitchcock films and the way they are put together that are really a unique signature," said Steve Mamber, a professor in UCLA's Film, Television & Digital Media Department.

Hitchcock never went to see his own films, wrote Chandler. He had already imagined them thoroughly and was disappointed at what never made it onto the screen.

Hitchcock pioneered storyboarding, mapping out each shot with drawings. He had special lenses made to handle focus variations in his running shots.

Many directors rely on multiple shots from many angles, then make design decisions during post-production editing. Hitchcock was in the school of "conceptualizing first and filming second," Mamber wrote in the Stanford Humanities Review.

Hitchcock also pioneered the technique of placing the camera in the character's position. In "Rear Window" (1954), most of what you see is what a wheelchair-bound L.B. Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) sees. "Hitchcock was able to enforce a very close identification with the main characters by restricting what you could see to what was visible from their point of view," Mamber said.

The Zinger

A goal was to provoke an audience's anxiety, to zero in on a personal sense of horror.

Hitchcock was especially adept at prolonging the suspense to make viewers squirm. In 1963's "The Birds," Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) and her class of children take the audience along, whispering, terrified as they try to sneak past a cloud of crows and sea gulls.

In "Psycho" (1960), Hitchcock put the audience in the shower with Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) as she's knifed — making it the prototype for Hollywood's slasher film genre. After all that, Hitchcock compared the film to a ride in an amusement park: suspense, thrills and chills.

"In a way that's true," Mamber said, "but in another way it is one of the most terrifying films ever made."