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[(Alfred Hitchcock)] [Author: Peter Ackroyd] published on (April, 2015) - Peter Ackroyd

”Give them pleasure - the same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.”
---Alfred Hitchcock

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TCM a year or so ago decided for a month to stream Hitchcock movie on the weekends. I was able to catch several of his movies I’ve never seen before and watch some old favorites. To say which is my favorite is impossible, but the first movie of his that I ever watched was The Birds and I never forgot it. I was somewhere around ten years old when I saw the movie. We lived in the country and the large elm trees surrounding our property were always full of noisy blackbirds and sparrows. Barn swallows and pigeons lived in the rafters of the barns. Swallows, as I soon learned, had no fear and if they didn’t want me in “their barn” they would launch themselves at my head screeching past my ears like miniature subsonic jets.

You can imagine how a boy with an overactive imagination and who occasional was dive bombed by deranged swallows might be powerfully affected by a movie about birds turning into killers. I had nightmares about that movie for years. So many in fact that when I was older every time the dream projectionist would load it up again it was like seeing an old friend.

I didn’t know who this man was who cost me so many pleasant nights of sleep until I left the farm and went to college. It was quite a revelation finding movie shops which allowed me to rent movies when I wanted to watch them instead of waiting for some programmer who worked for one of the three channels we could get on our TV to put on a movie I wanted to watch. (Technically we got four channels, but most days the fourth one just rolled.)

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The audiences screamed with her.

Psycho is a movie that no one can forget. I was so fortunate to watch the movie without having any idea of what was going to happen. One of the advantageous of being culturally deprived in the sticks. I’m not surprised to learn that audiences were terrified by this movie. ”The filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich recalled that Psycho is the moment in movies when for the first time movies weren’t safe. I remember coming out of the screening and feeling I’d been raped or something, or mugged, it was absolutely terrifying, no one recovered from that shower scene, you couldn't hear the soundtrack because the audience was screaming through the entire forty-five seconds. I never heard those violins.”

I was stunned that someone would kill someone so beautiful, and do so in such a brutal fashion. Suddenly showers had become kill chutes, blind boxes, with the sound of water cascading around our ears to mask the sound of someone approaching. And then:


Hitchcock loved his blondes. He was quoted as saying ”Blondes make the best victims. They're like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints” He liked to abuse them as well. His relationship with Tippi Hedren took a pathological turn when she spurned his advances for wanting more than a working relationship. The scene in The Birds where the birds attack her in the attic was filmed over and over again until people were becoming ill on the set from the abuse that Tippi was receiving. It was nothing less than torture.


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The situation with Hedron could be attested to a spurned want-to-be lover, but in To Catch a Thief Peter Ackroyd reports that Hitchcock insisted that the scene where Grant grabs Grace Kelly rather roughly be filmed over and over again until she was bruised. It leads me to suspect that Hitch may have enjoyed seeing his icy blondes get hurt.

Hitch insisted that he saved Kelly’s career by casting her in roles that softened her image. ”He once explained to a journalist that ‘she’s sensitive, disciplined and very sexy. People think she’s cold. Rubbish! She’s a volcano covered with snow.

He is such a clever round little man. He knows how to build the tension and then give it an extra twist so the audience is totally under his control. He shot Rope in continuous ten minute takes that had the actors practically coming unglued with tension. One mistake and they had to start all over. The anxiety from the actors is conveyed to the audience. It was a trick or gimmick that didn’t really improve the film except for the fact that the tension the actors were displaying was real. It does make a great discussion point for film classes. Jimmy Stewart swore he'd never work for Hitch again, but thank goodness he changed his mind and gave us the spectacular Rear Window and the fascinating Vertigo.

Hitchcock was not an easy man to deal with. He was highly creative, insecure, high strung, temperamental, sarcastic, phobic, and stubborn just to name a few of his characteristics. This meant that he needed a very special person with the patience and the ability to ride the waves of his changing disposition . ”Her liveliness did much to dispel his nervous fear, of which she was well aware, and it is doubtful whether he would have been able to make his way in the world without her support.” That woman would be his wife Alma. Hitchcock would never have been Hitchcock without her.

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He did not particularly like his customers, the movie going public. He was in fact as disparaging of them as he was actors (cattle). The moron millions he called them. ”This was a paradox of his position. He needed to consult the tastes of his audience, and to a certain extent pander to them, while at the same time he believed himself to be an artist rather than a mere entertainer; this would encourage odd contortions on his part.”I once had a friend say that one should never meet their heros because they rarely prove to be who you think they are. Your vision of them will never match the reality. I also had another acquaintance who said that writers should never meet their readers. They are not that person who you have in your mind of who you are writing for. Obviously Hitch met his viewing public and found them not worthy of the magic he was always trying to create.

The writer Edgar Allan Poe inspired him to be creative. Hitch had some intuitive thoughts about Poe that resonated with me.”I felt an immense pity for him because, in spite of his talent, he had always been unhappy.” Artists and writers tend to be more sensitive than the average person which means they are prone to larger emotional responses to setbacks, roadblocks, and losses.

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Peter Ackroyd is a novelist so I had no doubts this book would be highly readable. The book is full of interesting facts about Hitchcock and his films. His foibles and his brilliance are all on display. He was a strange man, difficult to ignore, sometimes difficult to like, but always pushing himself to be better. He changed film, and now when a film is suspenseful, original, with a great twist then, invariably, someone will say it has Hitchcock elements. I plan to read The Dark Side Of Genius: The Life Of Alfred Hitchcock in the very near future. I’m hoping for even more revelations about quite possibly one of the strangest men to ever work behind a camera.

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