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Hitchcock 101: Alfred Hitchcock on how to make movies

Alfred Hitchcock thought the invention of “talkies” was unfortunate as movies assumed a theatrical form overnight. Films, he told Francois Truffaut, stopped being cinematic and became “photographs of people talking.”

When we tell a story in cinema, we should resort to dialogue only when it’s impossible to do otherwise. I always try to tell a story in a cinematic way, through a succession of shots and bits of film in between.

In writing a screenplay, it is essential to separate clearly the dialogue from the visual elements and, whenever possible, to rely more on the visual than on the dialogue. Whichever way you choose to stage the action, your main concern is to hold the audience’s fullest attention.

Summing it up, one might say that the screen rectangle must be charged with emotion.

Hitchcock developed this theme in an interview with director Bryan Forbes at London’s National Film Theatre in 1969, where he explained how work on a movie “starts” for him:

Well, for me, it all starts with the basic material first. Now, the question of when you have the basic material… you may have a novel, a play, an original idea, a couple of sentences and from that the film begins. I work very closely with the writer and begin to construct the film on paper, from the very beginning. We roughly sketch in the whole shape of the film and then begin from the beginning. You end up with around 100 pages, or perhaps even more, of narrative, which is very bad reading for a litterateur. There are no descriptions of any kind—no ‘he wondered’, because you can’t photograph ‘he wondered.’

No ‘camera pans right’, for example

Not at that stage, no. It’s as though you were looking at the film on the screen and the sound was turned off. And therefore, to me, this is the first stage. The reason for it is this—it is to urge one to, to drive one, to make one work purely in the visual and not rely upon words at all. I am still a purist and I do believe that film is a series of images projected on a screen. This succession of images create ideas, which in turn create emotion, just as much as in literature words put together form sentences.

This is is what Hitchcock called “pure film”

The point is that pure film is montage, which is the assembly of pieces of film, which in their turn must create an emotion in the audience. That is the whole art of the cinema—the montage of the pieces. It is merely a matter of design, subject matter and so forth. You can’t generalise about it. You can only hope to produce ideas, expressed in montage terms that create an emotion in an audience.

Hitchcock was a cinematic purist—which ultimately made him a control freak. Everything was planned and worked out long before the actors rehearsed their lines or the first shot was taken. “Actors,” Hitchcock once said in his famously quoted line, “should be treated like cattle.” They were there to collaborate and serve his vision. That’s why he preferred working with actors like James Stewart or Cary Grant rather than “method” actors like Montgomery Clift or Paul Newman. Indeed, during the making of Torn Curtain, Hitchcock became so fed up with Newman continually asking about his motivation that he eventually told him, “Your motivation is your salary.”

Continues after the jump…

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Behind the scenes of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’

“We’ve become a nation of peeping toms,” says Thelma Ritter to James Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). It’s an ironic comment in light of the events that follow—as well as offering a critique of the voyeuristic nature of cinema. Stewart plays L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies a photographer laid-up with a broken leg in his Greenwich Village apartment. He is attended to by his nurse (Ritter) and then his girlfriend Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly). Stewart spends his time spying on his neighbors watching their lives unfold. He becomes obsessed with one neighbor, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), who he soon suspects of being a murderer.

Based on the short story “It Had to Be Murder” by Cornell Woolrich, Rear Window is considered by some critics as Hitchcock’s “greatest film”—“possibly his most clever, his most ingeniously organized and poetically suggestive,” as John Fawell described it in his book Hitchcock’s Rear Window:

Rear Window offers an example of Hitchcock’s art at its best, when the batteries were really charged, when form and ideas, entertainment and art, all synchronized in a particularly harmonious whole.

Hitchcock considered Rear Window (along with Psycho) to be one of his most successful experiments in “pure cinema.”  The “possibility of doing a purely cinematic film,” was part of the reason Hitchcock had been attracted to Woolrich’s story, as he told French New Wave director François Truffaut:

You have an immobilised man looking out. That’s one part of the film. The second part shows how he reacts. This is actually the purest expression of a cinematic idea.

[Soviet film director Vsevolod] Pudovkin dealt with this, as you know. In one of his books on the art of montage, he describes an experiment by his teacher, [Lev] Kuleshov. You see a close-up of the Russian actor Ivan Mosjoukine. This is immediately followed by a shot of a dead baby. Back to Mosjoukine again and you read compassion on his face. Then you take away the dead baby and you show a plate of soup, and now, when you go back to Mosjoukine, he looks hungry. Yet, in both cases, they used the same shot of the actor; his face was exactly the same.

In the same way, let’s take a close-up of Stewart looking out of the window at a little dog that’s being lowered in a basket. Back to Stewart, who has a kindly smile. But if in place of the little dog you show a half-naked girl exercising in front of an open window, and you go back to a smiling Stewart again, this time he’s seen as a dirty old man!

Indeed Woolrich’s story suggested many of the set-pieces contained in Hitchcock’s movie—from being focussed on the central character’s point of view, to his observations of the neighbors across the way. Woolrich’s biographer, Francis M. Nevins, considered the film as “simply a translation of the story’s material in visual terms.” He also described Woolrich and Hitchcock as “soul brothers” (though author and director never met) claiming both were haunted by their Catholic upbringing and shared a sense (as Nevins puts it) of “humans as creatures trapped in the habits of their existence.”

Rear Window was shot entirely at Paramount Studios, where the set of an enormous apartment block for Stewart’s neighbors was built that (as Truffaut described it) offered “intentionally or not… an image of the world.”  Hitchcock agreed:

It shows every kind of human behaviour—a real index of individual behaviour. The picture would have been very dull if we hadn’t done that. What we see across the way is a group of little stories that, as you say, mirror a small universe.

This fine selection of photographs shows Hitchcock on set directing James Stewart and Grace Kelly in one of cinema’s greatest voyeuristic thrillers Rear Window.
More behind-the-scenes photos from ‘Rear Window,’ after the jump…

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Saul Bass: Great cinema title sequences from Otto Preminger to Martin Scorsese

Over five decades Saul Bass designed opening title sequences that were sometimes better than the movies they introduced. His ambition he once said was to “make beautiful things even if nobody cares.”

Bass started out as a graphic designer and was asked by film director Otto Preminger to put together a poster for his movie Carmen Jones. Preminger was so impressed by the result that he asked Bass to design the opening titles. So began his 40-year career in movies. Bass went on to work with Preminger again on The Man with the Golden Arm and Anatomy of a Murder, he also designed titles for Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo, Psycho), and Martin Scorsese (Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence and Casino).

Additionally, Bass designed the logos for a whole range of corporations and products and even had time to direct the cult science fiction movie Phase IV. As a designer he set a standard for other to follow, which is evident from this hour-long selection of his title work from 1955-1995.

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Alfred Hitchcock: On nightmares, suspense and how to scare people
10:43 am


Alfred Hitchcock

Every second Friday was mobile library day. At ten to four, I would run down the street to the local co-op store where the giant black library truck always parked, next to a small power generator with its electric hum, rushing to be first in line, waiting for the librarian to lower the steps and squeeze open the vehicle’s accordion door. Inside were tightly crammed wooden shelves of dreams and adventures and endless pleasures. I always made straight for the horror and ghost stories, the monsters and creatures from some dark beyond lurking inside their covers. I liked Poe, I liked Blackwood, I liked James, I liked Bradbury, I liked Bloch, I liked Hitchcock. The librarian always scanned the covers with her cool blue eyes, fin-tailed spectacles tied to a chain around her neck. “Isn’t this book a little old for you?” she would ask tapping a finger on the cover of the latest Alfred Hitchcock compendium of tales. I didn’t think so, and protested, saying I’d read all the others she had, so what could possibly be wrong with this one? “But he’s so macabre,” the librarian replied, taking out the stamp, dampening it on the ink pad and punching out a return date. “I hope you don’t get nightmares, now,” the librarian said as I ran down the stairs and back home through swirling autumn leaves.

Of course I wanted nightmares, that was the whole point—why else would I read Alfred Hitchcock’s “tales to make my skin crawl” or “tales to make my heart stop”? That was the whole idea. I knew Hitchcock didn’t write the stories, but knew he had chosen each story because they were supposedly so terrifying, so gob-smackingly horrific, and I always hope that they were. In my innocence, I believed that in facing up to the worst terrors an imagination could conjure up would only make me stronger.

The covers may be different from the books I borrowed from the mobile library, but the titles and the tales were the same. The trick of thrilling suspense, as Hitchcock once said in an interview in 1966, was to make the reader or viewer identify with a central character and bring in the unexpected—like a man who sees a road accident, sees the dead body and moves on, only on a second look does he suddenly recognise the dead man. And then we’re hooked, like I was once hooked on these Alfred Hitchcock books.

More classic Hitchcock covers, after the jump…

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‘Eyes of Hitchcock’: Glorious video montage from the films of ‘The Master of Suspense’
10:16 am


Alfred Hitchcock

Here’s a wonderful video montage from Criterion Collection of powerful scenes in Alfred Hitchcock films that solely focuses on the human eye.

You can see just how well each actor emotes fear or batshit insanity without any dialogue. Their eyes alone speak volumes.

Anthony Perkins? His crazy eyes win by a longshot.

via Boing Boing

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A video montage of every Alfred Hitchcock cameo
08:47 am


Alfred Hitchcock

Here’s a nice little montage of all (or nearly all) of Alfred Hitchcock trademark cameos in his films. By far, his most clever cameo is in the 1944 film Lifeboat, IMO. Just watch.

The films are as follows: The Lodger (1927), Easy Virtue (1928), Blackmail (1929), Murder! (1930), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), Sabotage (1936), Young and Innocent (1937), The Lady Vanishes (1938), Rebecca (1940), Foreign Correspondent (1940), Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941), Suspicion (1941), Saboteur (1942), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Lifeboat (1944), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), The Paradine Case (1947), Rope (1948), Under Capricorn (1949), Stage Fright (1950), Strangers on a Train (1951), I Confess (1953), Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), To Catch A Thief (1955), The Trouble With Harry (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), The Wrong Man (1956), Vertigo (1958), North By Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), Marnie (1964), Torn Curtain (1966), Topaz (1969), Frenzy (1972), Family Plot (1976).

Via The World’s Best Ever

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Awesome Alfred Hitchcock action figure unveiled at Comic-Con
12:30 pm

Pop Culture

Alfred Hitchcock

Photo via Ain’t It Cool
I was a little apprehensive when I heard there was going to be an Alfred Hitchcock action figure. Would Austin’s Mondo—known for their gorgeous posters—be able to do the great director justice in three dimensions? Well, I think they certainly have if this photo of the toy figure that’s starting to make the rounds on the Internet is anything to go by. Mondo did an excellent job with “The Master of Suspense,” IMO.

Sporting a fine-tailored suit, this replica of the legendary horror director comes with his directors chair, clapboard, cigars, and props from his most famous films—including a butcher knife, a raven and a seagull. The figure also comes with interchangeable hands and a stand.

I wish there were better images, but these will have to do for now. More to follow.

Via Superpunch

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Alfred Hitchcock’s unseen Holocaust documentary to be restored

It is claimed Alfred Hitchcock was so traumatized after viewing footage of the liberation of the Belsen-Bergen concentration camp that the legendary film director stayed away from Pinewood Film Studios for a week.

Hitchcock had been enlisted by friend and patron, Sidney Bernstein to make a documentary on German atrocities carried out during the Second World War. The director was to use footage shot by British and Soviet film units during the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. The material was so disturbing that Hitchcock’s complete film has rarely been seen. Speaking to the Independent newspaper, Dr Toby Haggith, Senior Curator at the Department of Research, Imperial War Museum, said:

“It was suppressed because of the changing political situation, particularly for the British. Once they discovered the camps, the Americans and British were keen to release a film very quickly that would show the camps and get the German people to accept their responsibility for the atrocities that were there.”

According to Patrick McGilligan in his biography Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light:

[Hitchcock met] with two writers who had witnessed the atrocities of Bergen-Belsen first-hand. Richard Crossman contributed a treatment, while Colin Wills, an Australian correspondent, wrote a script that relied heavily on narration.

The director had committed himself to the project early enough to give Hitchcockian instructions to some of the first cameramen entering the concentration camps. Hitchcock made a point of requesting “long tracking shots, which cannot be tampered with,” in the words of the film’s editor, Peter Tanner, so that nobody could claim the footage had been manipulated to falsify the reality. The footage was in a newsreel style, but generally of high quality, and some of it in color.


The footage spanned eleven concentration camps, including Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Buchenwald, Ebensee, and Mathausen. The filmmakers ended up with eight thousand feet of film and newsreel, some of it shot by allied photographers, the rest of it impounded. It was to be cut and assembled into roughly seven reels.

Hitchcock watched “all the film as it came in,” recalled Tanner, although the director “didn’t like to look at it.” The footage depressed both of them: the piles of corpses, the staring faces of dead children, the walking skeletons. The days of looking at the footage were long and unrelievedly grim.

In the end, the planned film took Hitchcock and his team much longer than anticipated, and when it was delivered, the perceived opinion was the documentary would not help with Germany’s postwar reconstruction. Despite protests from Bernstein and Hitchcock, the documentary was dumped and five of the film’s six reels were deposited at the Imperial War Museum, where they were quietly forgotten.

Some later thought Hitchcock’s claims of making a Holocaust documentary were mere flights of fancy, that was until 1980, when an American researcher discovered the forgotten five reels listed as “F3080” in the Museum’s archives. These were screened at the Berlin Film Festival in 1985, and this incomplete and poor quality version was then shown on PBS under the title Memory of the Camps, with its original commentary by Crossman and Wills, narrated by Trevor Howard.

Now, the Imperial War Museum has painstakingly restored all six reels according to Hitchcock’s original intentions. This has led to some “wariness” over seeing the documentary as a “Hitchcock film” rather than as an important and horrific record of Nazi atrocities.

Haggith, who worked as an advisor on the project, has said the film is “much more candid” than any previous Holocaust documentary, and has described it as “brilliant” and “sophisticated.”

“It’s both an alienating film in terms of its subject matter but also one that has a deep humanity and empathy about it. Rather than coming away feeling totally depressed and beaten, there are elements of hope.

“We can’t stop the film being incredibly upsetting and disturbing but we can help people understand why it is being presented in that way.

“Judging by the two test screenings we have had for colleagues, experts and film historians, what struck me was that they found it extremely disturbing.

“When you’re sitting in a darkened cinema and you’re focusing on a screen, your attention is very focused, unlike watching it on television… the digital restoration has made this material seem very fresh. One of the common remarks was that it [the film] was both terrible and brilliant at the same time.”

Work on Hitchcock’s documentary is almost complete, and the film (with as yet to be announced new title) will be shown on British TV in early 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the “liberation” of Europe. The film will also be screened at film festivals and in the cinema.

The following is the 5-reel version of Hitchcock’s documentary. Warning: the film contains horrific and disturbing images, which may not be suitable viewing for all.

Via the ‘Independent’ with thanks to Tara!

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A helpful crow lights Tippi Hedren’s cigarette, 1963
10:23 am


Alfred Hitchcock
The Birds

A gentlemanly crow lights Tippi Hedren’s cigarette.

I think we can safely assume that this was a promotional shot for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Via Retronaut

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Alfred Hitchcock vinyl toy
09:55 am

Pop Culture

Alfred Hitchcock

Nice Hitchcock vinyl toy by Atomic Blythe.

More photos on Flickr.

Via Super Punch

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Steve McQueen visits Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh on the set of ‘Psycho’

A moment of Hollywood cool. Steve McQueen had already made 2 episodes of Alfred Hitccock Presents, and was about to start filming The Magnificent Seven, when he visited Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh on the set of Hitchcock’s Psycho. I wonder what they were talking about?
Previously on Dangerous Minds

Alfred Hitchcock: Rules for watching ‘Psycho’

Via Decaying Hollywood Mansions

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Alfred Hitchcock: Rules for watching ‘Psycho’

To ensure he made a return on his investment, Alfred Hitchcock created a set of rules for watching his 1960 classic horror film Psycho.

We won’t allow you to cheat yourself. You must see PSYCHO from the very beginning. Therefore, do not expect to be admitted into the theatre after the start of each performance of the picture. We say no one — and we mean no one — not even the manager’s brother, the President of the United States, or the Queen of England (God bless her)!

In foyer’s across the States, a Pinkerton guard was hired to bar any late comers.

Hitchcock had invested $806,947.55 of his own money, via his company Shamley Productions, into Psycho, after the Hollywood studios denounced it a sick film which would most likely destroy the great director’‘s reputation. It didn’t. Instead it made Hitchcock a lot of money, a generation of younger fans, and inspired a whole range of psychotic slasher movies.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

Happy Birthday Norman Bates: ‘Psycho’ turns 50 today


Behind the Scenes: Alfred Hitchcock directs ‘Frenzy’ in 1972

Via Open Culture

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Behind-the-Scenes: Alfred Hitchcock Directs ‘Frenzy’ in 1972

Incredible behind-the-scenes footage of Alfred Hitchcock directing Frenzy from 1972.

Frenzy was greatly undervalued on its initial cinematic release - considered by many as too dark, unnecessarily seedy, and not worthy of Hitchcock’s talents, but I always thought it a superbly suspenseful and complex film that captured the lonely heart at the center of our everyday world. Taken form the novel by Arthur La Bern, Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square (which is worth reading), it was Hitchcock’s last great film, and contained some exceptionally fine characterizations by Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Anna Massey, Billie Whitelaw and in particular Alec McCowen as Chief Inspector Oxford.

The sound quality is non-existent, but just enjoy the pictures.

With thanks to Nellym

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Alfred Hitchcock on ‘Happiness’
10:08 am


Alfred Hitchcock

Cinema’s master of the macabre defines “happiness.”

Via Dude Craft

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Original footage from Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ used to make panoramic timelapse
10:04 am


Alfred Hitchcock
Rear Window

Nice panoramic timelapse of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window by Jeff Desom. According to the information on Vimeo, “The order of events is pretty much as seen in the movie.”

Via Nerdcore

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
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