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Hitchcock 101: Alfred Hitchcock on how to make movies

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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…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Bryan Forbes: An interview with the quiet man of British Cinema, 1971

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It seems that if you are talented and you live long enough, then you will eventually win some recognition for your art. Last year, actor, writer and director Bryan Forbes won a British Film Institute Fellowship. It was a hell of a time of a time coming for a man whose greatest work was made during the 1950s, 1960s and1970s, and who hasn’t made a movie in over 20-years. Yet, the award was more than deserved, and only a small token of praise directors as diverse as Forbes merits. I hope this award (which undoubtedly should also have been given to Ken Russell during his lifetime) will bring a reassessment to one of British cinema’s quite mavericks.

Bryan Forbes is responsible for such classic movies as Whistle Down the Wind, The L-Shaped Room, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, The Whisperers, and The Stepford Wives. If that wasn’t enough, Forbes has also directed Of Human Bondage, George Segal in King Rat, Michael Caine in Deadfall, Malcolm McDowell and Nanette Newman in Raging Moon and the fairy tale romance, The Slipper and the Rose.

Forbes started off as an actor, and was hailed as one of best Shakespearean actors of his generation. On film he is a recognizable face in many of those British “Bulldog Breed” flicks of the 1950s. From here, he progressed as a writer, with over 30 film screenwriting credits to his name—from The Cockleshell Heroes, to the brilliance of The League of Gentlemen, to Robert Downey’s Chaplin.

In the late 1960s, Forbes took up a position as Head of Associated British (EMI) Films, where he was involved in financing such films as The Railway Children and The Tales of Beatrix Potter. However, he resigned his position in 1971, frustrated by his inability to develop and produce films that he believed in. Forbes view on film is summed-up by an answer from this interview, made after his resignation in April 1971.

‘Life is pretty grotty, and anything that brings back a little Romanticism to life is not to be despised.’

There is a truth here, and while we hanker after films that push boundaries and shock our imaginations into overdrive, there is much to be said for those who can deliver strong, emotionally rewarding entertainments—like Bryan Forbes.
 

 
With thanks to NellyM
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment