Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Art of Suspense - Alfred Hitchcock's Cinema

Alfred Hitchcock
(1899 - 1980)
On August 13, 1899, English film director and producer Alfred Hitchcock was born. Reknowned as England's best director, he pioneered many techniques in the suspense and psychological thriller genres. Hitchcock directed more than fifty feature films in a career spanning six decades and often is considered the most influential filmmaker of all time.

Alfred Hitchcock enrolled at the London County Council School of Engineering and Navigation and became a draftsman and advertising designer with a cable company afterwards. During his time at the company, Hitchcock apparently submitted articles for the company's in-house publication, The Henley Telegraph. He also started his interest in photography in this period and found a job as a title card designer at what would become Paramount Pictures and other film companies. Hitchcock came to Potsdam, Germany around 1924 to co-author the film The Blackguard and it is assumed that he was highly influenced by the works of Fritz Lang and F. W. Murnau. The first films, Hitchcock directed were financially unsuccessful until in 1926, when he produced his first thriller, The Lodger. The suspense film was about the hunt for a serial killer in London similar to Jack the Ripper and was an instant success [1,2].

About two years after releasing The Lodger, Hitchcock began working on another film that was later considered a milestone in filmmaking. The film is based on the play Blackmail by Charles Bennett and is about a woman from London who is blackmailed after killing a man that tries to rape her. After starting production as a silent film, British International Pictures decided to convert Blackmail into a sound film during filming. In it, Hitchcock began his long tradition of using famous landmarks for suspense sequences. Further films of the period include a musical film revue Elstree Calling and The Man Who Knew Too Much, which was released in 1934. One year later, The 39 Steps was produced and it was considered the fourth best British film of the 20th century, which also made Hitchcock incredibly popular in the United States. In the New York Times, a feature writer stated: "Three unique and valuable institutions the British have that we in America have not. Magna Carta, the Tower Bridge and Alfred Hitchcock, the greatest director of screen melodramas in the world"[1,3].

The director and producer moved to Hollywood and in the early 1940s, the film Rebecca, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. In his early years in Hollywood, Hitchcock produced Shadow of a Doubt and it is assumed that it was his personal favorite of all his films. In the film, the young Charlotte Newton suspects her uncle Charlie Oakley of being a serial murderer and it was filmed in Northern California in 1942. A few years later, Hitchcock founded an independent production company through which he made his first film in color, Rope. However, after his 1949 production of Under Capricorn, he returned to black-and-white films for several years. In 1955, Hitchcock became a U.S. citizen and five years later, he produced his presumably best known film, Psycho. The film became popular for the famous shower scene, which features 77 different camera angles, and for the early death of the heroine. The film broke box-office records around the globe and was probably one of the most profitable black-and-white sound film ever made [3].

The master of suspense directed more than 50 feature films during his long career. Today, his work is admired worldwide, and he’s considered one of our finest directors. Although many of his landmark films remain copyrighted, some of his important works, particularly his early ones, have slipped into the public domain. At yovisto, you may enjoy the film Jamaica Inn from 1939.

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