”To reproach Hitchcock for specializing in suspense is to accuse him of being the least boring of film-makers; it is also tantamount to blaming a lover who instead of concentrating on his own pleasure insists on sharing it with his partner. The nature of Hitchcock’s cinema is to absorb the audience so completely that the Arab viewer will forget to shell his peanuts, the Frenchman will ignore the girl in the next seat, the Italian will suspend his chain smoking, the compulsive cougher will refrain from coughing, and the Swedes will interrupt their love-making in the aisles.”
Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock
Francois Truffaut, a renown filmmaker in his own right, convinced Alfred Hitchcock to sit down for an interview that would cover the span of his career up to 1966. They recorded over fifty hours of tape over several days and the result is this book. It is written in interview form lending it a tennis match feel of the reader actually being there swiveling our head from one person talking to the next person replying.
It is absurdly good.
I lost sleep on more than one night because I just couldn’t bear to put it down...just one more chapter I would reassure the part of brain that was wanting to go to bed. The book is brimming with photographs of his films and also of Hitchcock working on set. Even if someone didn’t want to read the book, which would be a shame, the pictures alone are worth owning this book.
”During a Hollywood press conference in 1947, Alfred Hitchcock stated: ‘I aim to provide the public with beneficial shocks. Civilization has become so protective that we’re no longer able to get our goose bumps instinctively. The only way to remove the numbness and revive our moral equilibrium is to use artificial means to bring about the shock. The best way to achieve that, it seems to me, is through a movie.’”
My son is getting ready to start, in a few short weeks, at the University of Kansas majoring in History, and minoring in film. He has always been interested in movies, but mostly recent movies so this summer under the guise of... well of course if you are going to study film you can’t show up to class not having seen at least the most important Hitchcock films. I convinced him to go on a tour of suspense films with me. It turns out he is a chip off the old block. The first Hitchcock film I ever remembering seeing was The Birds.
It scared the crap out of me.
I don’t know how old I was, but probably the perfect age to have my mind warped ever so slightly by experiencing this terrifying spectacle of birds, these creatures we see everyday that decided for no definable reason to start attacking people. I thought that Tippi Hedren was the most beautiful woman in the world until I saw Grace Kelly in Rear Window.
Did anyone else feel the urge to boink Jimmy Stewart on the head every time he was dismissive of Grace Kelly?
The joy for me was watching my son watch these movies. That famous scene when Grace Kelly is over at the murderer’s apartment searching for clues and we can see the murderer returning is probably still one of the most tension filled moments in cinematic history. My son pulled one leg up and pressed his face against his knee and put a hand to the other side of his face as if he were shielding himself from a blow. His eyes were of course riveted to the screen. Joseph Cotten’s wife had a similar reaction.
Alfred Hitchcock Of course, when the character is attractive, as for instance Grace Kelly in Rear Window, the public’s emotion is greatly intensified. As a matter of fact, I happened to be sitting next to Joseph Cotten’s wife at the premiere of Rear Window, and during the scene where Grace Kelly is going through the killer’s room and he appears in the hall, she was so upset that she turned to her husband and whispered. ‘Do something, do something!’
I can’t think of a better compliment to a director than to see an audience so caught up in your movie that they feel they are IN the movie.
Hitchcock was famous for his blondes. I mentioned already Tippi Hedren, and Grace Kelly, but there was also Janet Leigh in Psycho. There was discussions about filming that movie in color instead of black and white, but lucky for us Hitchcock decided to stick with black and white. He filmed a scene that made the whole world afraid to take a shower. The details are spectacular and would have been lost in the garish splash of blood if color had been present. His leading ladies were elegant and sophisticated which lent more tension to the plot as their circumstances became more perilous. Hitchcock explains his views of his leading ladies.
Hitchcock: Sex on the screen should be suspenseful, I feel. If sex is too blatant or obvious, there’s no suspense. You know why I favor sophisticated blondes in my films? We’re after the drawing-room type, the real ladies, who become whores once they’re in the bedroom. Poor Marilyn Monroe had sex written all over her face, and Brigitte Bardot isn’t very subtle either.
Truffaut: In other words what intrigues you is the paradox between the inner fire and the cool surface.
Hitchcock: Definitely, I think the most interesting women, sexually, are the English women. I feel that the English women, the Swedes, the northern Germans, and Scandinavians are a great deal more exciting than the Latin, the Italian, and the French women. Sex should not be advertised. An English girl, looking like a schoolteacher, is apt to get into a cab with you and, to your surprise, she’ll probably pull a man’s pants open.
Hitchcock and Truffaut discuss every film. One point in one film moves them to another point in another film. Hitchcock is very candid about what he did wrong and when he was right and when everyone else was wrong. They discuss nuances that even though I’ve watched a film several times I’ve never noticed. For instance: in Shadow of a Doubt when Joseph Cotten is arriving in town on the train, the smokestack is boiling out black smoke as if to herald the arriving of the Devil.
At the end of the film when the train is leaving the station the smoke is white. Reading this book will increase your enjoyment when you rewatch his films. If you have not seen many of his films be sure to avoid the footnotes discussing the plots of the films being discussed.
Watching these films with my son has been to quote the Mastercard commercials...priceless. TCM is devoting the month of September to Hitchcock and I wish that Caleb was still going to be at home to watch them with me, but we will be coordinating what films to be sure to watch with his school schedule and my work schedule and the discussions we have afterward will still be...priceless.