Saturday, June 3, 2017

On Hitchcock

"I am never satisfied with the ordinary," Alfred Hitchcock said in his famous interview with Francois Truffaut in 1962.  This desire to be innovative in his cinematic style is one of the things that the French filmmakers of the Sixties admired and why they elevated the Anglo-American director to the pantheon of artists, not mere entertainers.

To be sure, several of Hitchcock's Hollywood features are mediocre or uneven; watching his final movie, "Family Plot," recently was a chore since neither the characters nor the plot had much appeal. I saw few signs of what I most value in the master of suspense: wit and the sense of having our leg pulled by a naughty, clever director.

It's the wit and ingenuity in "Strangers on a Train" or "Rear Window" that, along with tight editing and a striving for perfection in each scene, make these films among his best, along with "Psycho," "Notorious," and "Rebecca."  Also great are "North by Northwest" and "Vertigo," but here the characterization, often a weak spot in Hitchcock, along with the overly complex psychodrama involved, make it one of my least favorites.

Watching the DVD "Hitchcock/Truffaut" I was struck by how much more of an artist he was than "the master of suspense."  He exploited fears masterfully in images that, with painstaking precision, are memorable and original.  He mentioned the sad loss of silent films since, for him, the image is paramount, the dialogue quite secondary.  Some humor and motivation would be lost if his films were shown with music and no other sound, but they would remain great.

I watch my top "Hitch" favorites at least once a year and never tire of them. I can't say that for the work of other directors, and I believe, if Truffaut had not emerge to canonize Alfred Hitchcock as an "auteur" and master craftsman, others would have done so.

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