Hitchcock, the Man Who
Knew Too Much (to Tell)
When the British film director Alfred Hitchcock died in Bel Air, 32 years ago today, he was in effect ending the second, and most rewarding, phase of his career. He’d already achieved a level of proficiency and acknowledgment while still in England, as some recently restored silent features show. But it was in America that he mastered his superb skills at building and sustaining suspense.
The box office success of some of his arguably most arresting masterpieces, Psycho, The Birds and North by Northwest, to name only three, tend to obscure their rigorous inner structure, plot development, timing and incomparable sense of style. But not everyone recognized such qualities. The Academy Awards, for one, never gave him an Oscar for Best Director.
In fact, actors and collaborators, such as the also successful author Raymond Chandler, are said to have hated his methods while they were working on the screenplay of Strangers on a Train, and wound up leaving the production. The film, based on New York-born and France-resident writer Patricia Hindsmith’s story, is set against the noirish backdrop of the 1950s in the city.
Besides formal rigor and distinctive style, Hitchcock work was also infused with the psychoanalytical ideas of his time, as reflected in the deeply conflicted and contradictory inner lives of his characters. No wonder some of the greatest actors in the business worked under his tutelage and his choice of a string of striking blond actresses as leading ladies is legendary.
His films also display a veiled ambivalence towards human traits, at times expressed in equal parts of dreadful gore and a killer sense of humor. His own personal cameos became the stuff of academic studies, as much as his choice of settings, social strata and personal failures, which all remain even. Hitchcock the person was as methodical and pragmatic as the killers in his movies.
But that is as far as we’re going with our dilettante approach to cinema in general, and his filmography in particular. After all, being perfectly blunt about it, we couldn’t sustain an intelligent line of argumentation about why we like Hitchcock films so much. We just do and still have this eye-popping sense of wonderment every time we catch one on late night TV.
Instead, we bring you some precious links. Chief among them is a revealing audio interview conducted by French Nouvelle Vague director, François Truffaut, in 1962. Also, a link to news coverage of a full retrospective of Hitchcock movies by the British Film Institute, to be taken place this year in London.
Plus a few extras, such a wonderful time-lapse reduction of Rear Window, put together by Jeff Desom, a Tribute Art Show to the master, a selection of stills of his movies, and a clip of an undated interview about his definition of happiness.
It’s all capped by the news, of course: Louisiana State University researchers have identified the episode in Monterey Bay shore, in 1961, when thousands of seagulls began killing each other and throwing themselves at houses and cars, resulting in countless bird deaths. The episode, of course, is considered the major inspiration for Hitchcock’s The Birds, released two years later.