Once Ingrid Bergman was working in a Hitchcock movie and she was getting increasingly worried as she was not able to get into the characters she had to portray. The more she tried to get inside the role, the more she found it difficult to express herself while acting. Hence she went to meet Hitchcock and told him how this character had become a source of a nightmare to her. She was so concerned with getting it right (which justifies why she was such a great actress), that she spoke at length about this to the maverick director. He sincerely listened to her with patience. Once she was done talking, Hitchcock in his usual dry tone replied, “My dear Ingrid, you worry too much. It is just a movie“. It is just a movie… at that point of time this reply perhaps reflected the fate of his movies, that he was making just a movie and nothing more serious than that.
"Television has brought back murder into the home – where it belongs (Hitchcock)"
Since then, this quote became famous and film lovers and filmmakers often reference this when they are talking about Hitchcock and his movies. But at the subtext of this, lies the mystery of Hitchcock’s art. One feels that this was the usual self-sufficient response of the filmmaker to label his movies just as the movies because he truly believed that sooner or later the world will recognize that these movies were also trying to shed some light on the complexities of human life and were not just high on entertainment value.
This thought became evident soon as important filmmakers of French new wave saw him not only as an entertainer but a significant artist of his times & an undisputed master of cinema. Francois Truffaut (the influential filmmaker who made films such as 400 Blows (1959) and Jules et Jim (1962) was a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock & conducted extensive interviews with the director where he discussed the movies Hitchcock made right from the early phase of his career. Since then this interview ( published in the book titled Hitchcock/Truffaut ) has become an important influence in securing the reputation of the master of suspense as an original artist and entertainer par-excellence.
Approach of Hitchcock: The Analogy of Duality:
Alfred Hitchcock’s films represent the best case of movies under the genre of popular entertainment and uncomprising art at the same time. His movies always worked on two simultaneous levels (at least) all the time. On one level, they were meant to entertain whole-heartedly with their gritty suspense stories and then on a more sub-textual level these are the movies which continuously keep referencing the various permutations of humanity. Although a lot of filmmakers borrow a lot from film history and films previously made, Hitchcok was a true innovator and his movies referenced a lot from various streams in which he was interested throughout his life.
Below are the two sections that talks about his films. The first corresponds to the areas of his interest and his sources of inspiration. Second is related to the recurring themes in his movies and the famous films on them.
Areas of Interests:
His movies were always a case for examination of people and their circumstances. He was very interested in psychology and a lot of ideas in his movies are taken from seminal thinkers such as Sigmund Freud and the rest.
Hitchcock was an avid art collector, as a result of which a lot of movies were inspired from art itself. The famous house in Psycho (1960) was modeled on a painting called ‘The House by the Railroad (1925)’ by Edward Hopper.
The House by the Railroad (1925)
In Spellbound, there was this elaborate dream sequence which was designed by the Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali, suggesting the reverie nature of dreams.
Hitchcock was always known for the inventive editing and ground-breaking camerawork. He has been hailed as a master of using film technique to arouse various emotions in the audience. This control over the craft probably comes from the fact that the filmmaker had his early education in engineering which instilled in him the instinctive ability to use technology for the sake of art.
Themes in his films:
There are numerous other motifs which constantly recur in his movies through which he explored the potential of cinema and created a universe of suspense and psychological thrillers. His seminal films are often the example of his favorite themes; voyeurism, perversity, obsession and the one dearest to him – an innocent man who is wrongly accused.
Arguably considered as his most personal movie, the film is about the continuous obsession of a man to turn the woman he loves into his idea of the perfect and desirable woman.
The Wrong Man (1956):
An innocent man is caught in the web of unfavorable circumstances. Perhaps originating from his deep-rooted fear of the police, this film is the classic example of his favorite theme; a man arrested for the crime he did not commit.
Rear Window (1954):
The movie which brought back the discussion of voyeurism in common culture at the time it released. It is a classic in cinema where the main character (James Stewart) is continuously watching others through his window. A very British take on the subject of voyeurism which influenced another seminal movie dealing with this subject, Peeping Tom (1958).
Even a brief discussion of Hitchcock’s movies will go on too long and is out of scope here. On a short note, the effort here is to serve as a reminding tribute to the cinema made by Alfred Hitchcock which continues to entertain and educate us. In the end, everyone who watches his film keenly realizes the power of cinema and individual brilliance…Indeed just a movie!