We All Watch the Classics...
But do we actually?
Yea, yea, yea... Black and white... Psycho... Thriller.. Horror? So, do we treat these masterpieces the way they deserve to be treated? Here's a little overview of all the details I find significant in Hitchcock's signature style of filmmaking (in close reference to Vertigo).
So, Vertigo (1958) is a psychological thriller created by Alfred Hitchcock, which stands out with its director’s very unusual and peculiar style of filmmaking. Hitchcock is known as "the master of suspense" and the way he manufactures anticipation is extremely diverse. He manages to keep the audience on the edge of the seat by using a delicate combination of tension and relief in his suspense sequences. Hitchcock can stretch suspense for minutes or an entire movie. For instance, in Vertigo the viewer is constantly struggling to figure out the characters' backstories and identities. But it only becomes clear by the end of the film. Additionally, this technique occurs in Hitchcock's other films, such as Birds (1963), where a scene is lengthened over three minutes to make the audience curious about the state of Melanie (Tippi Hedren). She is comfortably sitting in the garden and enjoying a cigarette, but has not the faintest idea that behind her a flock of crows are gathering.
However, Hitchcock reminds us that there is a distinct difference between "suspense" and "surprise." For instance, the scene where Scottie (James Stewart) follows Madeleine (Kim Novak) into the hotel, we discover that Madeleine has vanished or has never even entered the hotel. We, as the audience, are mislead and surrounded by a great feeling of suspense regarding the fact that there is no point throughout the entire film where the case is revealed. We could connect "suspense" with dramatic irony, which means that the audience is aware of an upcoming event but the characters are not. This sign of Hitchcock also appears in an iconic scene from Psycho where the protagonist doesn’t know that there is a figure behind the shower curtain, which helps the audience become more involved in the scene, because we know about the threat and have an urge to inform her. While, Vertigo is rich with surprises such as discovering that Scottie has taken Madeline to his home to spend the night, when Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) paints herself as Carlotta, when we discover the real story of Madeleine, etc.
We can also identify Hitchcock's style by his use of visual storytelling, which he refers to as "Pure Cinema." He states that everything the viewer should know can be conveyed through imagery. Hitchcock treats the camera as if it was the viewer's eyes, in order to engage the audience and force their imagination to guide the way to consequences. However, this doesn’t mean Hitchcock’s films lack dialogue, on the contrary, but the subtext and main point is mostly portrayed through the visual. For example, in a scene from Vertigo we are lead to Ernie’s restaurant which is a fully silent scene, besides the fact that it presents a key moment of Scotties and Madeleine’s meeting. Similarly, the opening scene of Rear Window (1954) is three minutes long, but entirely creates and follows the storyline. However, the ambient sounds are sometimes substituted with the great music of Bernard Herrmann, who composed music for many other Hitchcock's films as well. Additionally, in a transcription by Francois Truffaut we discover that Hitchcock says, "...It is indispensable that the public be made perfectly aware of all the facts involved. Otherwise, there is no suspense." This proves the fact that the audience is capable of thinking forward and resolving the outcomes.
One of his other very frequent techniques is Scene Blocking. In Vertigo, Hitchcock has recreated a basic dialogue into a key moment by highlighting the staging of his characters. The scene opens with Gavin (Tom Helmore) seated by his desk, while Scottie is standing in front of him, demonstrating that he is the one who holds the power. He remains dominant and gains confidence to ask questions and inspect the room but this doesn’t last for long. His power converts to Gavin by seating Scottie in a chair and Gavin taking over by standing up and telling his story. The fact that he ascends a couple of steps is additional to the creation of the atmosphere, because he has the opportunity to literally look down on Scottie which expands the idea of manipulating him. The low angle shot also refers to increasing his power by seeing him bigger and wider on the screen, which makes his blocking aggressive. However, Hitchcock merges the use of camera and the actors to choreograph a 05:30 scene in a way to build a strong storyline.
One other thing that we might come across in Hitchcock's work is his admiration of architecture. He had always been fascinated by the scale of buildings which he made clear throughout his career. He creates a great deal of communication, mood and tone by the elaborated locations of San Francisco in Vertigo. He utilizes the Golden Gate Bridge to emphasise the motif of death. By capturing the poles as portals he manages to create the illusion of a coffin, then again linking to death. The tower where Madeleine falls from is also a real place. Although, it had to be reconstructed due to a dry rot, Hitchcock managed to return it into his scenes, even though the original tower was smaller and of course less dramatic. In fact, Hitchcock's obsession with architecture has been appointed by renaming the Empire Hotel to the Hotel Vertigo. Apart from San Francisco’s locations, we also see Hitchcock travel from the British Museum (Blackmail, 1929) to Mount Rushmore (North by Northwest, 1959) and lots more.
It is also striking how nearly every Hitchcock movie portrays women who are spotless and pure, but also full of impotence and betrayal. In Vertigo, Scottie's outward of Judy imitates Hitchcock's own sadistic treatment of actors, directly mirroring his trademark of fetishized blondes. Therefore, Kim Novak assumes herself as property of what she saw in the script. The film’s empathy is tied into one of many other great shots, specifically when Scottie leaves Judy’s apartment and the director frames the back of her head and then lengthens the emotions that we read on her face. We are frozen in a broken fourth wall until a red tint appears on the screen. Besides the fact that red conveys Scottie’s colour in this film, we should not forget that it also explores the idea of danger, anger, desire and voyeurism, which all come together with Hitchcock's relationships with women. Also, the fact that Hitchcock himself had a very dominating mother, therefore a close relationship with her, is reflected through the character of Midge who appears motherly to Scottie in a domestic setting, linking to the creation of a homey atmosphere.
Hitchcock's greatest work remains a masterpiece to this very day. His collaboration of thought-out camera work, use of imagery, varied storyline and deep meanings have created his unique signature and style of filming which has made it impossible to miss out on.
Thanks for coming this far! I hope you have found something new about Mr. Alfred, or have found a better understanding of his work, or will just go and re-watch his films.