Analyzing Alfred Hitchcock: The Psychological Genius Mind

Sir Alfred Hitchcock

Introduction

The movies of Alfred Hitchcock, seem to have a permanent place in both American and Global Cinematic history. He is a common topic to turn when discussing auteur directors, film history,  suspense and psychoanalysis. His visual style is very distinct, the close-ups, subjective camerawork, unusual camera angles and the list goes on. Today, in this article, we intend to analysis the visual choices of Hitchcock’s most well known works including Vertigo, Rear Window and Psycho.

Sir Hitchcock before the shooting for Psycho (1960)

About Alfred Hitchcock

Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock  (13 August 1899 – 29 April 1980) was an English filmmaker who was one of the most influential figures in the history of cinema. In a career spanning six decades, he directed over 50 feature films, many of which are still widely watched and studied today. Known as the “Master of Suspense“, he became as well known as any of his actors thanks to his many interviews, his cameo roles  in most of his films, and his hosting and producing the television anthology Alfred Hitchcock Presents  (1955–65). His films garnered 46 Academy Awards nominations, including six wins, although he never won the award for Best Director despite five nominations.

Sir Hitchcock

Techniques and Methodology of Hitchcock’s Works

Alfred Hitchcock’s attention to detail in his films is one of the many things that makes him one of the most recognized film auteurs of all time. He was very particular what about he wanted seen on screen and how he wanted to get those shots. From camera movements to the things found in the mise-en-scène, Hitchcock was very precise about every little thing that is seen in his on screen worlds. He would strategically place objects throughout the mise-en-scène and have characters wear certain clothing. By doing this, Hitchcock is able to let the audience know things about the characters and the plot without it having to be said on camera. Hitchcock once said that “If it’s a good movie, the sound could go off and the audience would still have a perfectly clear idea of what was going on” . To Hitchcock, the conversations in his films were not important.  Visuals were of the utmost importance.  He loved point of view shots, which showed a shot of the actor and then cut to a shot of what the actor was looking at in order to convey what the actor is looking at; pretty much, the Kuleshov effect.

Sir Alfred Hitchcock on the set of one of his movies

The soundtrack was extremely important to Alfred Hitchcock, as he managed to sync the music with the actions of the scenes.  His most famous scene would be the shower scene in Psycho, where the orchestra is perfectly correlated with the murder.  In his famous film, Hitchcock also incorporated the use of shot/reverse shot, a standard shot pattern that directors use to film conversations between two characters. In general, the actors avoid speaking directly to the viewer, because doing so acknowledges the audience’s presence and destroys the illusion of a naturally unfolding story. From panning shots, to tracking shots Alfred Hitchcock used his techniques in filming and editing in order to create great products that continue to intrigue audiences to this day.

James Stewart as Jeff and Grace Kelly as Lisa Carol in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) movie

Analysis of The Film “Rear Window” (1954)

The cinematography of Rear Window mainly focuses on the use of lighting and shadows. With the darkness and mystery of the film, Alfred Hitchcock was able to use his lighting to his best advantage. The light always is picking up on important symbols or messages in the scene. Such as the scene when the salesman finally comes into Jeff‘s room, the light only picks up on Jeff’s most valuable senses; his hands and eyes. Along with the lighting, the interesting angles are very common.  Not only did it create suspense, it creates confusion and the viewer wants to see more. Mise en Scene was very important in this film, as all of the scenes happened in the same group of apartments. In the city of New York, everything is very tight because of the huge population. The use of the differently decorated rooms also created personality and character for the roles who didn’t even speak

Scene from Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) movie

Although sound and music weren’t always in the film, it was there when it needed to be. The traffic and sounds of the city were placed delicately to remind the viewer of the area. The mix of piano from the songwriter in one apartment, from the screeching violins during nail-biting moments, created emotions for the viewer. Editing was evident everywhere, especially during a fight scene, or used very consciously during high suspense. The fades were apparent from day to day, which helped the viewer better understand the passage of time.

Poster of Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) movie

Analysis of The Film “Vertigo” (1958)

Vertigo is a 1958 suspense thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock, written by Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor and based upon the 1954 novel ‘D’entre Les Morts’ by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. Starring James Stewart, Kim Novak and co-starring Barbara Bel Geddes.

James Stewart as John Ferguson and Kim Novak as Madeleine in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) movie

Vertigo is a film which functions on multiple levels simultaneously. On literal level it’s a mystery suspense story of a man hoodwinked into acting as an accomplice in a murder, his discovery of a hoax, and the unravelling of the threads of the murder plot. On a Psychological level, the film traces the twisted , circuitous routes of a psyche burdened down with guilt, desperately searching for an object on which to concentrate its repressed energy. Finally, on an allegorical or figurative level, it is a retelling of a immemorial tale of a man who has lost his love to the death and in hope of redeeming her descends into the underworld,  the most famous of these stories being that of Orpheus and Eurydice in Greek Mythology. Vertigo’s complexity however does not end with this multilevel approach to its tale, the film also succeeds in blurring the already fine line between objectivity and subjectivity . It takes the viewers so far into the mind of its main characters ( Scottie, played by Hitchcock veteran James Stewart), that audiences’ own objectivity, at least initially, is lost and replaced by complete identification with Scottie’s fantasies and obsessions.

Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) movie

Analysis of The Film “Psycho” (1960)

Hitchcock’s Psycho has been commended for forming the archetypical basis of all horror films that followed its 1960 release. The mass appeal that Psycho has maintained for over three decades can undoubtedly be attributed to its universality.

Scene from Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) movie

In Psycho, Hitchcock allows the audience to become a subjective character within the plot to enhance the film’s psychological effects for an audience that is forced to recognize its own neurosis and psychological inadequacies as it is compelled to identify, for varying lengths of time, with the contrasting personalities of the film’s main characters. Hitchcock conveys an intensifying theme in Psycho, that bases itself on the unending subconscious battle between good and evil that exists in everyone through the audience’s subjective participation and implicit character parallels. The initial confrontation between Marion and Norman Bates is used by Hitchcock to subtly and slowly sway the audience’s sympathy from Marion to Norman. Hitchcock compels the audience to identify with the quiet and shy character whose devotion to his invalid mother has cost him his own identity. Upon the introduction of Norman, Hitchcock introduces the first of several character parallels within Psycho. The clash between Marion and Norman, although not apparent to the audience until the end of the film, is one of neurosis versus psychosis.

Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates and Janet Leigh as Marion Crane in Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) movie

The fear that Psycho creates for the audience does not arise from the brutality of the murders but from the subconscious identification with the film’s characters who all reflect one side of a collective character. Hitchcock enforces the idea that all the basic emotions and sentiments derived from the film can be felt by anyone as the unending battle between good and evil exists in all aspects of life.The effective use of character parallels and the creation of the audience’s subjective role in the plot allows Hitchcock to entice terror and convey a lingering sense of anxiety within the audience through a progressively intensifying theme. Hitchcock’s brilliance as a director has consolidated Psycho’s place among the most reputable and profound horror films ever made.

Scene from Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) movie

Conclusion

Alfred Hitchcock who has been entitled to the master of apprehension, suspense and fear, entices the audience to discern his unknown inner in a simulation over cinema curtain. Human, sets back his instincts for years; withholds sex and anger and wrap it in his inner depths where even is impenetrable for himself. But there is always probability of arising it in the society as a coarse event. Eruption of anger from sub-consciousness of Hitchcock’s characters brings along murder, crime and often imagination, tragic psychic disturbances. Anyone might be involved with the condition of these characters in real world. Most of Hitchcock’s movies create suspense in very first minutes of the show. The propensity to know arouses in him. He limits and draws attention of the audience to the film.Dark spaces, long and fearsome roads, deserted places and empty of habitat, are signs and symbols which sometimes refers to unaware and its inner events. Making use of sharp-pointed lines and thorn-shaped edges in locations and shades, which are taken from Gothic style, makes the movies horror and terror. Hitchcock through increasing vigilance, guides the audience toward making a powerful “ego” against incidents which mostly indicates determinism.