Greatest Film Directors: Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock's filmography is almost wall-to-wall hits.

Source: No Film School

There are few filmmakers who have left as memorable a stamp on cinema as Sir Alfred Hitchcock. As famous now as he was during the 1960s, the film director and producer made a major impact on cinematic history, changing the Hollywood system forever. Whether you know Hitchcock from his famous silhouette or the shower scene from Psycho (1960), you’ve no doubt come across him before. But if you’re in need of a quick summary, here’s all you need to know about the legendary auteur.

Who Was He?
Alfred Hitchcock was born on the outskirts of east London in 1899. After trying his hand at mechanics, he began his film career in silent cinema. Showing a niche flair for the art, Hitchcock went on to make some of the most famous films of the 50s and 60s. As a notoriously stubborn man, Hitchcock defied classical Hollywood convention and fought against the restrictive censorship board.

Hitchcock is known for his talented eye and perfectionism, but also his ‘dark side’ that translated into the sinister themes of his films. Hitchcock also set up a tradition of cameo appearances throughout his filmography – a fun little game to play amidst the frightening tension.

Style and Autership
Dubbed the “Master of Suspense”, Hitchcock pioneered the thriller genre. Themes of obsession, crime and duplicity recur as trademark motifs in Hitchcock’s work. He was a meticulous planner during pre-production, and often clashed with members of the cast and crew over his insufferable need for control. This is evident through the precise geometry of his movies, with polished and controlled cinematography executed within every movie. Hitchcock’s fastidious style probably stemmed from his experience as a mechanic, as well as his early career in silent cinema.


Alfred Hitchcock’s Best Movies

Strangers on a Train – 1951
This 1951 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel plays on noir and thriller genre conventions. Farley Granger, Ruth Roman and Robert Walker lead the movie, which tells the story of two strangers, both wishing to rid someone from their lives.

Walker plays the psychopath who suggests “swapping murders”, but Granger isn’t convinced. Strangers on a Train received mixed reviews at first, but has since gone on to be praised for its metaphorical themes and use of “doubles”. Hitchcock blurred moral boundaries while maintaining a strict contrast of black and white, always placing villainous characters on the left of the screen, and heroic or dominant characters on the right. A perfect example of Hitchcock’s technical astuteness.

North by Northwest – 1959
With a 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, North by Northwest is remembered as a classic Hitchcockian thriller. Hitchcock films have been cited to invent many new filmmaking techniques (the McGuffin prop or contra zoom, for example), one of which was kinetic typography in the opening of North by Northwest.

Despite Hitchcock’s claims that the movie was a light-hearted break from his usual, heavily symbolic films, North by Northwest has been analysed for its themes of identity and moral relativism. North by Northwest tells the tale of an ad executive (Cary Grant), who is mistaken for a government agent by a spy, played by James Manson. Thus, he is forced on a journey across country to escape the false accusations.

Rear Window – 1954
Picture this: Jimmy Stewart in a leg cast and wheelchair, gazing through a telescope with a frightened expression. Look familiar? Rear Window was one of Hitchcock’s first major hits, starting off the prime era of his filmography.

Stewart plays a temporarily house-bound photographer, who passes the time by spying on neighbours. But of course, this is Hitchcock we’re talking about. Therefore, a murder plot arises when Stewart witnesses some suspicious activity. A mystery movie in stunning Technicolour, Hitchcock’s recurring theme of voyeurism begins to surface. The use of framing and visual manipulation makes Rear Window a stunning film to study in terms of aesthetics (or to just sit back and enjoy).

The Birds – 1963
Birds are a persistent motif throughout Hitchcock’s film canon, possibly due to their wild, often frightening disposition. They are most heavily used in his 1963 movie The Birds, starring Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor.

The crows act an omniscient force that plague Bodega Bay for no particular reason. The editing and special effects made The Birds a milestone in cinema history, and the use of montage cutting is expertly employed to build tension. The attack of the birds was inspired by true events from California in 1961, as well as a fictional story by Daphne du Maurie. However, Hitchcock intentionally leaves out an explanation for the outbreak, enshrouding the viewers in mystery and horror.

Psycho – 1960
Of all Hitchcock’s movies, Psycho is without a doubt the most famous. Anthony Perkins plays renowned villain Norman Bates, alongside actress Janet Leigh, who stops off at the Bates Motel after running away with a wad of stolen cash. The iconic shower scene, sparking the invention of the slasher genre, marks one of the biggest plot-twists in cinema.

Hitchcock masters the art of dialogue, music and cinematography to riddle Psycho in suspense. The black-and-white visuals saturate the movie in darkness, with Hitchcock constantly hinting to the twisted truth that hides beneath the surface.

Vertigo – 1958
As one of the most analysed films ever made, Vertigo is a psychological thriller idolised for its symbology and invention of the contra zoom. The colour palette and cinematography of Vertigo make it a masterpiece of cinema, despite initial criticism.

Hitchcock was arguably an artist before his time, as audiences disliked the idea of anti-heroes and plot-twists midway through the movie. However, contemporary critics now hail Vertigo as the best movie in history. Starring Jimmy Stewart once again, Vertigo follows the fractured mind of an acrophobic investigator who spirals into a frenzy of obsession, paranoia and guilt when witnessing the death of the woman he was tasked to follow.

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