As part of my third module, I had to watch 3 Hitchcock films to prepare for creating a film still. I began with researching who he was and why his work is so critically acclaimed.
Alfred ‘The Master of Suspense’ Hitchcock had a very distinctive style of filmmaking. His films often employ the idea of fugitives on the run, often with female characters accompanying them. Many of his films include violence and murder with thrilling plots and twist endings. The camera style is also distinctive as it often acts as the gaze of a person, forcing the viewer to engage in voyeurism.
I began with arguably the most famous of all Hitchcock films, Psycho. Psycho was made in 1960 and was a psychological thriller. The film centres around a secretary, Marion Crane who has embezzled money from her employer, and Norman Bates, the disturbed manager of the motel she ends up at. It is widely considered as the first in the slasher film genre.
The most famous and pivotal scene of the film is the shower scene. The scene comprised of 77 different camera angles of mainly close-ups. The blood in the shower was reportedly chocolate syrup, as it was more realistic than stage blood. It was possible to use chocolate syrup because the film was black and white. This was because Paramount were against the film being made. Because of this, Hitchcock made it on a low budget of $800,000 and used a television crew (from his series Alfred Hitchcock Presents) to film it.
The next film I chose to watch was Frenzy, 1972, the second to last film of Hitchcock’s career. The film is a psychological thriller centred around a serial killer in contemporary London. Early in the film, the viewer sees that Robert Rusk, the fruit and vegetable salesman is actually the necktie murderer however, a bevy of circumstantial evidence is built up around his friend, Richard Blainey. Evidence such as shouting and arguing with his ex-wife before she is killed, and his current girlfriend also being strangled and her clothes planted in his bag by Rusk.
One of the most interesting filming devices used by Hitchcock was during the murder of Barbara ‘Babs’ Milligan, Blaney’s girlfriend. Unlike Brenda, his ex-wife, her murder is not shown. The viewer still knows what has happened however, due to the repeated line from Rusk as he leads Barbara into his home, ‘I don’t know if you know it Babs, but you’re my type of woman,’ the same line he used on Brenda. Following this line, the camera backs down the stairs we watched the characters walk up and ends up across the road from the house, showing patrons of the market going about their business, unaware of the horror in the house.. The long tracking shot is a staple of Hitchcock cinema.
The last film I watched was an earlier black and white picture from 1939, Jamaica Inn. The film is a period piece set in 1819 and adapted from the novel by Daphne du Maurier. This is one of the three films Hitchcock directed from her novels, the others being Rebecca, and The Birds.
Jamaica Inn is a film about corrupt squire and justice of the peace Humphrey Pengallan and the wrecking gang he uses to lure ships to crash on the rocks in order to loot them. He then takes the majority of the loot for himself, using it to fund his opulent lifestyle while paying a pittance to the gang. The main character is Mary Yellen, who gets caught up in the middle by arriving to live with her aunt, the aunt’s husband Joss being the head of the gang. She further involves herself by cutting down Jem Traherne, a man the gang hanged under suspicion of embezzling goods. The gang is unaware that the real thief is Sir Humphrey.
Traherne actually turns out to be an undercover police officer and joins forces with Sir Humphrey, unaware of his true allegiances. Before Mary is aware of this however, the classic Hitchcock plot device of fugitives on the run is used.
Critics disparaged the film due to the lack of tension, the characters were also far removed from the sinister portrayals in the book. This could be seen as a result of Charles Laughton (Sir Humphrey) casting himself in the role as opposed to the role of Joss, where Hitchcock wanted him. He demanded more screen time, causing Hitchcock to reveal Sir Humphrey’s villainous character earlier than planned. Sir Humphrey’s character was also originally supposed to be a hypocritical preacher but was rewritten as a squire because unsympathetic portrayals of the clergy were forbidden by the Production Code in Hollywood. Today it is considered one of Hitchcock’s worst films.