Just a few days ago, I was asked what my favourite Hitchcock film is. While that wasn’t the first time, my answer is always the same, I just don’t know. However, I always add that I believe North By Northwest to be the ultimate Hitchcock film.
I go though phases with his films, and my top five changes constantly although is usually made up of the following, and in no particular order; Notorious, North by Northwest, Marnie, Psycho and Rear Window. Oh, and The Birds. See, I can’t even limited myself to just five!
What I love about his films is that every time I watch one, I will always find something new in it. In addition, I will stop everything to watch his film if I happen across one on television and if I know the BFI is showing one, I will always go to watch it – Hitchcock is so much better when viewed on the big screen.
Fittingly, the BFI is currently celebrating the Genius of Hitchcock at the Southbank. Not only are the showing almost the entire catalogue of Hitchcock’s work, there are also several talks including Camile Paglia: Women & Magic in Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren in Conversation, both of which I’ll be attending. The Guardian is also celebrating Hitchcock with its “My favourite Hitchcock” series. So, in light of all this and the fact that yesterday was Alfred Hitchcock’s birthday, I thought today was the perfect day to share some clips of my favourite sequences of his work.
*And before those of you who know me and start to groan at a Hitchcock-filled post full of all my thoughts.. it’s not like that, I’ll be keeping it short – HA!!*
(Unusually as far as Hitchcock is concerned, I do have a favourite sequence and it’s this one in The Birds.)
Everything you need to know about Cary Grant’s character Devlin in Notorious is laid out to us in his first scene (starting approx. 3 minutes in.) We only see his back, which of course as all us cinema goers know, means we don’t know anything about him and his true self will be hidden from the heroine for much of the film. What I specially like about this view is how it’s filtered down to tv of today and is now immortalised in Mad Men’s title sequence. This aside, I just love this scene, I love the mise-en-scene, Ingrid Bergman’s outfit and just how brilliantly their whole relationship is defined. The pairing of Alicia Huberman and Devlin is probably my favourite in all of Hitchcock’s films, and one that is best summed up courtesy of this picture/quote from Tania Modleski’s excellent book “The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory.”
Hitchcock believed in pure cinema, and the opening of Marnie is exactly that, far more so than the beginning of Rear Window. If you continue watching this clip, you’ll see the most wonderful wide shot as Marnie robs the safe, one that is so wide, it could actually be a split screen.
To my mind, Frenzy is one of the grubbiest films ever made. It’s just deeply unpleasant and unlike so many of Hitchcock’s previous films, it’s not beautiful in any capacity, even the casting and costumes add to this. London looks unattractive, as are the people who inhabit the film.
However, the film contains one of the most beautiful, almost serene sequences out of all Hitchcock’s films. What makes it even more remarkable is that we know exactly what horror is happening behind the closed door. The scene would not be the same with sound, and the drama is heightened by the camera pulling silently away back down the stairs the way it came in. I also love the cut between the location and the soundstage hidden by the man carrying the pig.
(Sequence commences approx. 2 minutes in)
NOTES AND OTHER STUFF
While I really wanted to use title sequences in this post, I felt that because they were a collaboration with other people, most successfully Bernard Herrmann (music) and Saul Bass (graphics) it wasn’t right. That said though, Psycho is my favourite:
Well, tied with North by Northwest!
I had wanted to use the cropduster sequence from North By Northwest because it truly is remarkable in as much as terror is created from out of nowhere and our attentions are drawn to it by the innocuous line: That’s funny, that plane’s dustin’ crops where there ain’t no crops.” Sadly, I couldn’t find the clip on Youtube but am sure you know what I’m talking about. And such is my love of the film in its entirety, I will probably write about the film at length at some stage.
Vertigo has recently been voted the top film of all time, and while I’ll freely admit it is to my mind a cliched choice (much like my wanting to use the cropduster sequence), but it is a most remarkable film, Hitchcock’s use of green light in particular:
(Green light was used in German Expressionist cinema to denote ghosts.)
I also think this squence is one of the most beautiful filmed by Hitchcock:
And yes, I know I have failed miserably in my aim of posting only a few Hitchcock clips. I make no apologies for this, the man is a genius. The consumate auteur, the best film-maker to have ever lived, cinema today would be a very different thing if he’d have not been born.
Main image features Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren on the set of The Birds, courtesy of Google. Image of Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman from Notorious, my own screen grab. Videos found on Youtube and Vimeo.