Hitchcock’s techniques

Those who were on the set recall that Hitchcock’s famous attention to detail was heightened more than ever on Vertigo. The color the visuals the perfomances- everything had to be perfect.

(Vertigo DVD- Newly restored version / Production Notes)

Alfred Hitchcock was the director who had already known everything he wanted to do with his movie, and see on the big screen even before the shooting process. He knew whom he wanted to work with, where he wanted to shoot his scenes and so on. Sometimes he even found the shooting process quite boring, because in his head the film was ready, he just had to explain the actors what he wanted to see from them.

Every single act, item, effect is planned in the film.

“Hitchcock was a wonderful director. I remember he came up to me that first day and it made me laugh, because he said, “Now Barbara, look up,” and I’d looked up. And he’d say,” Now look down,” and I looked down. And “Now look left” I’d looked left, than he’d say, “CUT! Very good, you see,” So that was that.”

Barbara Bel Geddes, (Vertigo DVD/ Obsessed with Vertigo)

Every picture  I worked with him on was always storyboarded. Hitchcock was the only director I’ve known who never looked throught a camera. He didn’t even stand close to the camera. He would say, “You’ve got three-incher on then and you cut there.” He’d tell them where they cut and he’d always be right. He just transformed himself into the camera eye.

Peggy Robertson – Script Supervisor

On the other hand Kim Novak says:

Technical points were his main thing.  He’d always look through the lens to watch your performance, unlike directors who sit off to the side. You’d never have a sense looking at his face how he thought it was going.  He was the camera and I always felt comfortable with the camera.  It was always difficult to have a director off to the side.

Whether he looked through the lens or not, he knew all the ingredients for a good movie recipe!

On the internet there is an interesting page ( http://www.borgus.com/think/hitch.htm ),  where is a list of the most significant film techniques that were used by Alfred Hitchcock written by Jeff Bays, December 2007. (He is a graduate of the Webster University School of Communications, and is an award-winning radio producer and independent filmmaker. )

Jeff Bays writes a list which includes 13 steps to get closer to Alfred Hitchcock’s film techniques:

1. It`s the Mind of the audience

2. Frame for emotion

3. Camera is mot a camera

4. Dialogue Means Nothing

5. Point of view editing

6. Montage Gives you control

7. Keep the story simple

8. Characters must break Cliche

9. Use humor to add Tension

10. Two things happening at once

11. Suspense is Information

12. Surprise and twist

13. Warning: May cause MacGuffin

I would like to have a closer look at Jeff Bays’ 5th and 6th step:

5th step: The Point of view editing

Putting an idea into the mind of the character without explaining it in dialogue is done by using a point-of-view shot sequence. This is subjective cinema. You take the eyes of the characters and add something for them to look at.

You can edit back and forth between the character and the subject as many times as you want to build tension. The audience won’t get bored.  This is the most powerful form of cinema, even more important than acting.  To take it even further have the actor walk toward the subject.  Switch to a tracking shot to show his changing perspective as he walks. The audience will believe they are sharing something personal with the character.  This is what Hitchcock calls “pure cinema.” (Truffaut)

Note: If another person looks at the character in point-of-view they must look directly at the camera.

The point of view editing puts the audience as active as the leader character. We can see the actor to look something, then we see what he is seeing, than we are back to the actor and see his reaction. In Vertigo when Jimmy Stewart is detect after Kim Novak for long minutes, there is no dialogue, only shot after shot with the point of view editing technique. That is what he called and believed in: Pure cinema.

6th step: Montage give you control

Hitchcock said  “transferring the menace from the screen into the mind of the audience.” (Schickel)  The famous shower scene in Psycho uses montage to hide the violence.  You never see the knife hitting Janet Leigh.  The impression of violence is done with quick editing, and the killing takes place inside the viewer’s head rather than the screen.  Also important is knowing when not to cut. (Truffaut)

In this short interview Hitchcock shows us how the meaning of the shots can easily be changed. The key is always in the mind of the audience!




Vertigo DVD/ Obsessed with Vertigo

Vertigo DVD- Newly restored version / Production Notes

Questions arising:

1. What details the other 11 steps on the list contains?

2. The Psycho scene become famous because the audience saw a real murder in the cinema. Logically we use our imagination… can the modern cinema destroy our imagination?

3. Who is/was Truffaut, Schickel? What connection did they have with Hitchcock?


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