Term Paper: Alfred Hitchcock Is One of America

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Alfred Hitchcock is one of America's most revered directors and creative talents. He left behind him some of the most memorable movie thrillers in history and defined an entire genre of artistic direction. Since he started work in films in 1919, Hitchcock has directed more than fifty feature length films in a career that lasted almost six decades. From the silent movie genre to the color era, he was always one of the foremost creative talents and directors the world had ever seen. The following research analysis will look into Hitchcock's life, his major influences and finally, the techniques that he helped to pioneer into one of Hollywood's most established genres, thrillers and suspense.

Hitchcock was born in August 13th, of 1899 in Leytonstone, London. His parents were lower middle class, his father a grocer and a poulterer. Hitchcock grew up in a strict Roman Catholic family which often times resorted to severe circumstances to discipline him. Hitchcock would later describe his early childhood as "lonely, sheltered and abysmally dull." Hitchcock spent his early teenage years at St. Ignatius College in the wake of his father's death at 14. Hitchcock explains, "I was asked what I want to be. and, you know, kids say, 'I want to be a fireman,' so I said, 'Maybe an engineer.' And they took me at my word. They sent me to the School of Engineering and Navigation." There he eventually went on to study engineering, where he became a draftsman and advertising designer for a cable company upon graduation. It was in London that Hitchcock learned to love photography and cinematography.

Hitchcock's first exposure to the film genre was in 1920 when he became a designer for Gainsborough Pictures, a British silent film production company. Gainsborough became the platform for his first full length production. According to Hitchcock, "if they wanted an extra shot of this or that, I'd take out the cameraman and do it." His hard work diligent study of film lore and directing paid off, in 1925 he directed "The Pleasure Garden" in Germany. Although his first movie was a commercial disaster, his first thriller movie, "The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog" was a major critical success in London. Not only was Hitchcock noted for his innovations and stylistic content, but the plot driven and carefully contrived story line was classically Hitchcock and won him much acclaim and fanfare. He took advantage of many of the contemporary techniques of the times to create the first truly original Hitchcock production.

The Lodger exhibited the early skills of Hitchcock in the silent films genre. Silent films were built largely through a succession of effects. It begins with a quick impression of a "Jack the Ripper" style murderer, followed by a series of set-piece scenes made specifically to highlight the director as well as the actors. The Lodger used many famous devices while playing upon the themes of "the anxiety of an ordinary suburban family disturbed by the endless pacing of their mysterious lodger upstairs." This was the first movie that showed Hitchcock's directing genius. He used a glass floor during the production; this new technique greatly impressed the audience and critics of London in 1926.

Starting from this period, Hitchcock would gain world renown; he made one of the first sound pictures in Britain in his 1929 movie, Blackmail. In the years ahead Hitchcock would go on to produce more than a dozen movies within a very short span. His major breakthrough came in 1938, with "The Lady Vanishes." Following its production, Hitchcock was considered the foremost director within his genre, and named his own terms to start shooting in Hollywood. Hitchcock, despite his fame was relatively low-key and quiet in his family and personal life. In Hollywood and beyond, Hitchcock would go on to have an illustrious career. He was nominated for the Oscar six times, although he did not win. Ultimately he would receive acclaim not only as a movie director, but he also would have his own extremely popular television show called the Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Hitchcock would finally die on April 29th, 1980 having left one of the largest imprints upon cinema any individual could have.

Hitchcock explains that his early childhood and exposure to cinema were his greatest influences. As a child, his overbearing mother would constantly make him wait on her, and this became his inspiration for exploring the relationship between family members and dysfunctional families as evidenced in Psycho. Furthermore, much of his work was influenced by the expressionist techniques that he witnessed firsthand in Germany while making his first film. German expressionism would blend with much of Hitchcock's work to become part of the signature experience of Hitchcocian cinema. German filmmakers, because of the lack of funds in the post-world war I era, could not compete with large productions from the United States. Therefore, they developed a style of using symbolism and "mise en scene" to add mood and deeper meaning to their movie. Hitchcock was inspired by this technique and style to incorporate deeper meaning and shades of meaning within his movies. This can be evidenced by long drawn out scenes that focus on objects, such as staircases rather than specific dialogue or action.

From a technique perspective, Hitchcock's unofficial title "the master of suspense" perhaps best sums up his achievements and his technical ability. Hitchcock was a master at the art of suspense creation. He was adept at using tension and anxiety through his film to build suspense throughout every scene. He argues that many times the key in creating tension was to give "the audience information rather than withholding it, otherwise the audience would be surprised rather than kept in suspense." Hitchcock likened his movie creation technique with the principle of creating a bomb, "You and I sit talking here and there's a bomb in the room. We're having a very innocuous conversation about nothing. Boring. Doesn't mean a thing. Suddenly, boom! The bomb goes off and they [the audience] are shocked - for 15 seconds. Now you change it. Play the same scene, insert the bomb, show that the bomb is placed there, establish that it's going to go off at one o' clock - it's now...ten of one - show a clock on the wall, back to the same scene. Now our conversation becomes very vital, by its sheer nonsense. 'Look under the table! You fool!' Now they're working for ten minutes, instead of being surprised for 15 seconds." Hitchcock's primary movie making technique is to view motion pictures as a form of voyeurism, much of his work deals with how audience react to what they see on their screen. One of his prominent movies to demonstrate this theme was Rear Window, which was Hitchcock's summation of his views of cinema.

Another one of his techniques is to juxtapose prominent actors and actresses who have preconceived roles into foreign circumstances. For example, the cast the all American James Stewart as a peeing tom, the suave and charming Cary Grant as a cold-blooded killer, and in Psycho, he "played the audience like an organ" through the use of dynamic characters. Using this technique he could influence the audience into siding with characters of ill-repute and at the same time instill differing stigmas that he exploited for suspense and general affect. Hitchcock's technique is to bring his characters into a whirlpool of danger, confusion and desperation.

Hitchcock changes everything within the screenplay to focus on the audience. Nothing is more important within his movies then the effect of each scene upon the viewer. Hitchcock explained that as a film director your role is to "throw things at the audience, hurl them off a cliff, or pull them into a dangerous love story, and they know that nothing will happen to them." Hitchcock emphasized using "frame for emotion," emotions is the ultimate goal of each film to draw out specified emotions from the audience. Thus, the first place that he considered where to place the camera involved knowing what emotion Hitchcock wanted to audience to experience at that particular time. He comments "emotions come directly from the actor's eyes. You can control the intensity of that emotion by placing the camera close or far away from those eyes." Thus, camera angle is the crucial determining factor in the intensity of any given scene. Hitchcock uses this theory of proximity to plan out each scene, these variation are used as the mechanism to control when an audience feels intensity or relaxation.

Hitchcock believed tat a camera should take on the qualities of a human being and roam around any scene playfully looking for something suspicious within the room. By using the "camera is not a camera" technique, it allowed the audience to feel that they are involved in uncovering the story itself. Hitchcock began using this technique during his silent film era because of the need to gain audience participation and convey complex emotions through movement. Thus, visual storytelling is key, and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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