Today I write about a man I have admired for many years. He is one of those iconic people who need no introduction, for the mere mention of his name or a glimpse at one of his quirky photographs, will send happy chills down any filmlover’s spine.

Born Alfred Joseph Hitchcock in London, England, in 1899, this man had audiences at the edge of their seats since the 1920’s. He knew exactly how to capture your attention and keep it firmly in his grasp throughout an entire film.

“The length of the film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.”

Fascinated with true life crime stories and the messiness of murder, this seemingly sombre genius transformed how people made movies. With his well-known classics like Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963), Hitch rocked the film industry with his unorthodox directing style and cinematic techniques. One of the main reasons he succeeded was because he was hands-on in the making of each his films, from producing, writing the screenplay, carefully choosing the cattle, er, I mean actors, to directing the film in a manner only he can.

Hitch began filmmaking career in the era of silent films at Paramount’s Players-Lasky Studio in London in 1919, illustrating title cards. This clearly shows in how he used body language and expression to convey emotions. Having watched Rear Window (1954) last week, I understand how he did it. He filmed James Steward staring out his window looking at his neighbours, then filmed one of his neighbours doing something, then brought us, the audience, back to Steward, to see his reaction on what he saw. This use of action and re-action is how he made the viewer “feel” what the characters were feeling. You lived the story with them as it unfolded before their eyes and your own, without a word of dialogue.

His Expressionistic approach to film, however, came as a result of the directing experience he gained whilst in Germany. His breakthrough film, The Lodger (1926), had the typical Hitchcock plot we know and love: an innocent character is falsely accused of a crime and ends up in a web of intrigue. His films were known to be fast paced, witty, and engaging. His first sound film, Blackmail (1929), showed just how technically genius and creative this man was when it came to writing dialogue and using sound effects to infuse terror.

But this is only a small part of what made his movies so theatrically brilliant. Hitch is known for putting some very daring images on screen, many of which would have been completely taboo during that period of film-making history. He was one of the first to show the link between sexual passion and violence in film. Psycho (1960) is famed for its shower murder scene, which was startling for its (apparent) nudity and graphic violence. What I especially love about Psycho is how Hitch focussed on capturing the eye and emotions behind it. He filmed the murderer’s perverse eye, as he peers through a peep-hole at his victim. Scenes later he then also captures the open eye of the dying / dead victim. There is no doubt that his use of light and shadow effects, camera trickery, and actor direction in films like these were simply revolutionary.

To a woman who complained that the shower scene so frightened her daughter that the girl would no longer shower, Hitch said:

“Then Madam I suggest you have her dry cleaned.”

Hitchcock’s theory for a great thriller was that suspense is developed by providing the audience with information denied endangered characters, and that no harm should befall the innocent. In his own words:

“Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.” “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”

For Hitchcock, evil manifests itself not only in acts of physical violence, but also in the form of psychological, institutionalised and systematic cruelty. In The Birds (1963), Hitch showed that evil was all around us, even in those we least expect. He wanted to show how messy and earth-shattering the act of killing really is, and the eternal symmetry between good and evil.

I love his films. I love how he cameos in them and how I can play my own version of Where’s Wally with my friends while looking out for that well-know balding figure, as he casually strolls out of a shop with dogs on a leash or boards a train with his cello. He even dressed up as an old woman in one of his films – not telling you which one, and don’t you dare Google it – and there are still so many of his masterpieces I have yet to see and experience.

The next one on my list is Notorious (1946), which I plan to view at 5 Ryneveld, in Stellenbosch tomorrow night. We recently discovered that Cinemuse Film Society is screening a different film there every Monday & Thursday evening and at several other locations within Stellenbosch, including a Drive-in Movie every Friday night at Bosman’s Crossing. I will be reviewing the drive-in movie experience next, so keep an eye out. For more information have a snoop at their website:

Let’s face it folks, we enjoy being shocked, frightened, horrified. Audiences “like to put their toe in the cold water of fear”, as Hitch so eloquently put it. So, stay entertained.

                          “Some films are slices of life, mine are slices of cake.”

And, honestly, who doesn’t like cake? 😉

  1. Craig Smith says:

    very interesting post! I still need to see Psycho. How shameful is that??

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