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Alfred Hitchcock is probably one of the most written about film directors of all times. The movies of Hitchcock have oftentimes become the classics of the thriller, the genre he invented, long before they were even shown at the movie theaters. What is so attractive of Hitchcock's movies, which draws the scholars again and again to the study of his works? In this paper I will examine the use of standard set of directors tools such as editing, performance, doubling, and camera movement, in the two of masters films. One is North by Northwest, and the other is Strangers on the Train. When coming to the idea of doing an analysis of Hitchcock cinematographic it is very important to define certain patterns, which are the building blocks of his films analysis.
We first look for patterns in individual movies to draw conclusions about that movie, and then we look for similarities and differences in patterns of both movies in order to come to a conclusion about the similarity (or difference) of the two movies. A good place to start is with the kinds of stories that Hitchcock tells. Without a story there is no movie, and the typical Hitchcock film would have a very outlandish and exotic storyline. In Hitchcock's movies, all of a sudden relatively normal people find themselves involved with murder, assassination attempts, and espionage (Newsweek).
Hitchcock uses his storylines to relay a number of themes to his audience. The North by Northwest and The Strangers on the Train are not exceptions from this set of directors rules. For example, in Strangers on a Train, Guy Haines gets involved in a murder scheme because a stranger started a conversation with him on his way home. And in North by Northwest, the lead males worlds are thrown into disarray when they become objects of mistaken identity. Hitchcock is also known for exploring the theme of ultimate sin or evil in his works. In Strangers on the Train he goes to great lengths to show that everybody has an evil side to them but most of us are able to suppress this side.
In this movie there is incessant linking between Guy Haines and Bruno Antony as Hitchcock shows us how both have thoughts of murder and that there is a very fine line between those who act on this urge and those who do not. Hitchcock believes that everyone is capable of both good and evil. When analyzing the cinematic techniques of the author we should review the both movies apart from each other. I will focus on the North by Northwest first. This movie instantly drew my attention with clever dialogues, and music that is accompanying the events on the screen in such a way that only strengthens the viewers attentions to the development of the plot. I noticed there were strong beats and drums for climatic and intense parts such as the fight scenes.
Softer music for the calm, dont-worry-everything-is-safe scenes. I think sound played a major part in the scene were Robert Thornhill (Cary Grant) is out in the field waiting for Mr. Caplin. Waiting for the sound of the cars to get louder, which means they are close brings impatience. And then when the plane comes into the scene, the increasing sound is not desired because we know its after our hero. Its one of those scenes where you dont know what the hero should do since hes incredibly vulnerable all out in the open with virtually nowhere to hide.
Also, that scene is important because it makes the love interest, Ms. Eve Campbell (Eva Marie Saint), look like an accomplice to murder. Lighting and viewpoint played big roles in determining the mood for this movie as well. I noticed that the lighting gets very soft and misty when theres a romantic scene.
It is often low in the mysterious scenes as well. The scene where Thornhill is spying on the bad guys is an example. The viewpoint is from the lower corner. This gives the viewer a feeling of mystery. Also, the actors face if often very illuminated. This draws the watchers attention to their facial expressions to help overall understanding of the characters feelings.
Another place where the camera leads the eye is at the train station. Campbell is in the phone booth and the camera moves down to show that one of the bad guys is in a booth also talking on the phone. Then he gets up and leaves. She steps out right afterwards. This confirms that she is in cahoots with the bad guys (Barton). One more thing I noticed was how having other things going on can draw the viewers attention.
For instance, at the auction, the viewer knows that the bad guy has bid and bought a piece of artwork but because there is an important confrontation going on, we dont think of its significance. What I find so intriguing about Hitchcock's Strangers on the Train was his editing style. It seems that this film is a perfect example of how a film is supposed to be cut. The scene that shows great cutting and great pacing is the scene in which the lighter is dropped in a storm drain by Bruno and he is trying to reach it while at the same time it is inter-cut with Guy playing tennis. The scene plays for about a minute but the tension built by the cutting makes us feel like cheering and crying, hoping and giving up. This is simply one of several scenes that make this film, such like all of Hitchcock's films great due to great editing.
I also thought that Hitchcock's use of similar shots was a true sign of what was going on deeper in the film. Specifically the shots of the glasses used to show the killers point of view and what is going on inside his head. The extreme close-ups of the glasses with Guy in the background is amazing cinematography. Something we most definitely see in these works of Hitchcock is the way the director structures the film. A common theme in almost all Hitchcock movies is that we (the audience) start from far out and go farther and farther in, both literally and psychologically. The movement of camera from distant shots to the closest possible perspective in virtually no time allows the viewer to feel own presence in the movie.
This all has to do with Hitchcock's idea of movie going, which is that when we watch a movie we chose to go from being outsiders into the very intimate / psychological happenings of a persons life. The logical next step to this concept is what has earned Hitchcock the label of being a very subjective director: his use of point of view shots. Hitchcock does more than let his viewers watch the characters from a distance. He actually brings his audience inside the heads of his characters and makes the viewer an active participant in his films. Another way Hitchcock does this is by placing the viewer in a position where they are forced to identify with the main character because we know as much as they do. All of this has to do with Hitchcock's interest in taking us from outside his characters worlds and bringing us into their deepest psychological depths.
The author attempts to make us feel and recognize in ourselves insecurity, fear, compassion and relief. (Truffauth) Hitchcock is also famous for favoring the particular type of the character in his movies. One of the common theme of two movies is the presence of the domineering / sadistic character of mother. In Strangers on a Train, Bruno's mother files his nails, and in North by Northwest, Rogers mother berates and humiliates him in public. Also, the blonde woman is appearing in not only the two movies I examine but in most of other works by Hitchcock. For example, Ms Kendall of North by Northwest is a typical Hitchcock woman -- beautiful and has blonde hair and blue eyes. Now I would like to talk about the two major formal elements, both of which appear in the discussed movies of Alfred Hitchcock.
These are mise en scene and montage. These two topics are far too important not too talk about, but they are also far too broad to go into in much depth. The point here is that Hitchcock uses both techniques very effectively and would do so in his typical movie. To show this I will be looking at examples of both.
In Strangers on a Train Hitchcock effectively uses framing and reframing in the scene with Guy and Bruno at Guys apartment. Here Bruno starts behind the gate (symbolic of prison bars) and Guy is not framed behind the gate. As the scene progresses and Guy learns that he is involved in the eyes of the law he is renamed to be behind the bars with Bruno as the scene ends. Hitchcock is able to manipulate mise en scene in many ways to tell us about the characters. Hitchcock effectively uses editing for different purposes too. Often times it is used to associate two characters.
This occurs between Bruno and Guy in Strangers on a Train as they are crosscut many a time during the movie. This is especially prominent in the opening sequence as they walk to the train to show how similar they are. Hitchcock, in North by Northwest, uses the same approach in the auction scene. The auction sequence begins with a musical segue as he enters the building, this is used to create a flowing motion rather than one that stops and starts. It is important to note that Thornhill (Captain) is purposely putting himself into danger-why is he doing this-an enigma is created in the audiences mind. We then cut to a CU of a mans hand dominating round a womans shoulder-Ms Kendall.
This signifies his masculinity and power that he has over her-it is quite ambiguous. The camera zooms out to reveal three people surrounding her-she is encoded and represented to be very weak. The collection of three people in this way is known as a triumvirate. After a tracking shot there is then a revealing one, which exposes our hero -- Thornhill. He is in the place of danger with a triumvirate of people against him. Ironically he is in a public place, which would suggest to us that he is safe.
Hitchcock then gives us a Classic Hollywood shot-Thornhill looks immaculate-his hair is perfect and his clothes fit him absolutely and are flawlessly clean-similar to a hero shot, it is a star shot (Cook). More enigmas are created as an unusual shot is used by a craftsman-there is a line that goes directly through his head. To complete his masculinity his facial expression is very stern and serious-he has an objective. All of this is very much similar to the James Bond character.
These are the examples of how Hitchcock both takes advantage of and plays to the strengths of the cinematic medium. In both films Hitchcock's camera follows the characters, including camera movements and changes of shot. He manages to add visual interest in both scenes. The changes in camera setup mirror subtle changes in the characters' emotional states in both works, as well. The restaurant scenes in the North by Northwest recall the dining scene in the Strangers on the Train. Both are shot in similar styles.
The scene in the first movie is much less intense than the one in the second, however. This decrease in intensity is a common feature throughout North. Scenes and images that have an intense emotional charge in the first film return in the second in much more light hearted forms. It is as if Hitchcock were making a psychological recovery from the tragic emotions of the first film to the melodramatics of the second. I conclude that by the use of the set of cinematographic tools and standard to Alfred Hitchcock models of plot and character development we have seen a lot of similarities present in the discussed movies.
Hitchcock's masterful directing tells us a lot of information with using exposition-show dont tell has been used throughout. Also the use of metonymy is also frequent as a lot of little things actually reflect the whole thing. Hitchcock is truly a unique director, whose works are gaining more respect and value with time. One of the things that proves it, is that back in the days when his movies were shown at the theaters many reviewers did not pay enough attention or acknowledge the things, which became classic today. Besides, many new directors follow the path that Hitchcock has pointed out to them. One of the most controversial todays film directors Quentin Tarantino after receiving the Cannes award for his Pulp Fiction dedicated it to Alfred Hitchcock for teaching him how to hold the camera and use the sounds in the movies.
Bibliography: Truffauth, Francois. Hitchcock. November 28, 2003. Found at: web "Alfred Hitchcock, director. " Newsweek v. 47 (June 11 1956) p. 105 - 8 Barton, Sabrina. Crisscross': Paranoia and Projection in Strangers on a Train. Camera Obscura, vol. 25 - 26. 1991 Jan-May.
pp: 75 - 100. Cook, P. North by Northwest. (review) Films in Review v 31 Dec 1980. p. 615 - 16.
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