|Submitted by edithh on Tuesday, May 2, 2006 - 12:51 |
Analysis of Alfred Hitchcock’s Filming Techniques
Alfred Hitchcock is an ingenious director who has entertained his audiences for ages with his daring and clever thrillers as well as other masterpieces. Two particular movies he directed, North By Northwest and Spellbound are very different in their stories but they both fit the general category of his works and inhibit many of his typical filming techniques and styles. Each is a unique and fascinating work of art that keeps audiences enthralled until the very end when the plots are resolved.
North by Northwest was made in 1959 and it is a typical suspenseful thriller that Hitchcock is known for. This film is one of Hitchcock’s most famous suspense stories of his entire career. The film starred Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint; Cary Grant collaborated with Hitchcock in Suspicion, Notorious, and To Catch a Thief in addition to North by Northwest. This film contains many themes typical of Hitchcock’s other suspense films such as mistaken identity for the innocent, ordinary ‘Wrong Man’ hero, false pretenses, and survival in 20th Century during the Cold War. The Leo G. Carroll character in the film that was the head of the American Intelligence Agency was probably modeled after two 1950s real-life figures: Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen W. Dulles, head of the CIA.
Alfred Hitchcock was known for using suspense in his films and North By Northwest is a prime example of the kind of suspense he was known for. He would tell or show something to the audience that the characters in the film do not know and then artfully builds tension around what will happen when the characters finally learn the truth. In North By Northwest this was achieved when Roger Thornhill is mistaken as George Kaplan and framed for a murder he did not commit yet the audience soon learns that the real George Kaplan is nonexistent and the government is using Thornhill to capture criminals. The audience learns this before Thornhill does and the plot centers on how Thornhill will learn that Kaplan does not exist and what will happen once he does realize this. Hitchcock is also known for a certain device called the “MacGuffin” that derives the plot. It centers on a detail that drives the plot and motivates the actions of the characters and within the story incites curiosity and desire. The detail’s specific identity and nature however, is unimportant to the spectator of the film. In this film the MacDuffin is the secret information sought by the spies and also the mistaken identity at the film’s start.
Hitchcock is known for incorporating famous locations into his movies as well. In North By Northwest the United Nations Building, Grand Central Station, and Mount Rushmore. In some of his other films he has included such famous locales as The British Museum, Albert Hall, and The Statue of Liberty. Hitchcock is also known for typical relationships in his films. These entail male characters struggling with their relationships with their mothers. North By Northwest is a perfect example of this; throughout the whole film Thornhill struggles with his mother believing him about his predicament. She basically just laughs in his face throughout the whole film and never really believes a word of his ludicrous stories. A particular scene that is quite humorous is when Thornhill and his mother are in the elevator at Kaplan’s hotel and Thornhill’s captors are in the elevator with him and his mother jokingly asks them if they are going to try to capture his son. The whole elevator proceeds to laugh except Roger Thornhill of course. Hitchcock was known for portraying his women characters as lovely cool blonds who seem proper at first but when aroused by passion and danger respond in a more sensual or criminal way. Eve was an exemplary portrayal of this typical women character in the film; Hitchcock was so very known for this portrayal of women that he was often times thought of and accused of being sexist.
Spellbound was produced in 1945 and while North By Northwest represents a typical Hitchcock thriller, Spellbound on the other hand does not. This particular film deals with psychoanalysis which has been used as a plot device in suspense thrillers since the 1940s where an analyst would solve a mystery instead of a more traditional detective or private eye. Spellbound was the first film to ever use this plot. Freudian psychodynamic theories were very current and fashionable at the time of the making of Spellbound. Sigmund Freud died in London in September 1939 and Spellbound began being made four years later. Spellbound is a unique and unlikely combination of psychoanalysis and a thriller/murder mystery. Since Hitchcock was known more for thrillers this particular film is one of his lesser known films because it moves away from his usual plots. This film explores themes that are central to Freud’s work such as the unresolved tension between ‘material reality’ (what actually happened) and ‘psychical reality’ (what our conscious allows us to believe happened). Hitchcock opens the movie with a quote reminding audiences that this story is a fantasy and this particular fantasy is a version of the Oedipus story with desire and repressed guilt. One of the main characters, John Ballantine, has repressed guilt from an accident that happened in his childhood and this causes him to have amnesia and then believe that he committed a crime he really didn’t. Constance Peterson, the lone female psychiatrist in the group, falls in love with him and makes it her mission to figure out what really happened in his childhood. Constance is portrayed as incapable of feelings, distrustful of intuition, and having masculine devotion to her job. However, once she falls in love she seems to be incapable of clear thought and her rational judgment because she risks her life as well as her job to help this supposed murderer. Hitchcock intended to mean that women can’t function while in love which goes along with his general negative portrayal of women which is in North By Northwest as well as in this film.
One of the themes that are ever present in this film is the idea of things being divided. The world of psychiatry has the old and new ideas, the main characters have two identities: Edwards or JB, is Constance an objective doctor or a woman in love that has gone crazy. The audience wonders if we are responsible for our actions or just victims of circumstance as the plot unfolds and the difference between ‘material reality’ and ‘psychical reality’. All of these thoughts are reflected best in the dream sequence scene which was devised by Salvador Dali. It entails a central image of an oversized pair of scissors cutting through an eye painted on a curtain. The images of the dream sequence reflect this first theme of dividedness. It particularly portrays both aspects of the turmoil going through Ballantine’s mind. Some images reflect the actual events he has lived through which gives the audience clues to his ‘material reality’ while other images indicate the ‘psychical reality’ of the Oedipal complex which is the second theme of the film.
Alfred Hitchcock delighted himself in technical challenges of filmmaking. In Spellbound two unprecedented point-of-view shots were achieved by constructing a large wooden hand (which would appear to belong to the character whose point of view the camera took and outsized props for it to hold. For added novelty and effect the climatic gunshot was hand colored in red on some copies of the black and white print of the film. This film presents these technical challenges as does the famous locations incorporated in North By Northwest. Another interesting fact about Alfred Hitchcock was that he made cameo appearance in almost all of his films. In North By Northwest Hitchcock makes a cameo appearance missing a bus at the end of the opening credits. In Spellbound he makes a cameo appearance coming out of an elevator carrying a violin.
Alfred Hitchcock is a master of suspense and even though both films take on different subjects, they both center on similar filmmaking styles and techniques. Hitchcock uses this suspense to hook audiences and take them on a riveting journey until the end of the film when the plot is finally resolved. Because of this suspense and the various other corky techniques and themes that his films center around, people want to watch his films and they thrive on his work and what he will come up with next. He keeps audiences guessing and intrigued and that right there is why his work is worth viewing.
North By Northwest. DVD. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Universal. 1959.
Spellbound. DVD. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Universal. 1945.
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