Analysis of Filming Techniques Comprising Alfred Hitchcock’s Unique Style

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Alfred Hitchcock once said, “The only way to get rid of my fears is to make films about them.” And he certainly did on his way to becoming one of the greatest directors of all time. He has over 50 movie credits to his name. Many of his Films have a plethora of similarities which reflect Hitchcock’s unique style. Hitchcock is often referred to as the master of suspense, and rightfully so. In the world of knots, a “hitch” is a rope that ties other ropes together to form one. Hitchcock’s movie style had a “hitch” which tied together certain techniques used in most all of his films. These include his innovative use of camera movement, music, and the probing of issues underlying his characters’ motives and actions. Three movies which show case these skills are his 1954 film Rear Window, his 1959 North by Northwest, and his film Psycho made in 1960. Through these films the audience can see numerous techniques that tie into Hitchcock’s overall style.

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Hitchcock’s use of music is absolutely superb. Music is an important in film making. Hitchcock understood the significance of having something orchestral to set the mood. Using music helped set the suspense of his films like the shower scene in Psycho, and the corn field scene in North by Northwest. The shower scene in Psycho uses silence to help grab the audience’s attention. When the music suddenly spikes so does our anxiety/fear. The music in the cornfield scene in North by Northwest builds much like the same way in Psycho. He achieved this with the help of his composer Bernard Herrmann. He worked with Herrmann for the majority of his career. Together they made some of the most memorable soundtracks in movie history. In an article by Edward Rothstein, he goes on to talk about how important music was to Hitchcock:

Bernard Herrmann, for example, who created the scores for 'Psycho,' 'North by Northwest' and some of Hitchcock's other masterpieces, said there were only ‘a handful of directors like Hitchcock who really know the score and fully realize the importance of its relationship to a film.’

But it was more than that. For Hitchcock music was not merely an accompaniment. It was a focus. And it didn't just reveal something about the characters who sang the score's songs or moved under its canopy of sound; music could seem to be a character itself. Hitchcock definitely treats music as its own character offering additional emotional information throughout the movie. This is possibly what makes the interaction between music and action in his films so seamless.

One technique that Hitchcock is also well known for is his innovative camera movement. He uses the point of view to evoke emotion from his audience. The POV used in Rear Window is made to mimic the view which Jeff, our main character, is seeing through his camera lens from his apartment. In a sense we feel whatever Jeff is feeling in each moment. In North by Northwest Hitchcock focuses in on the face of Roger, the protagonist, face to show emotion making us feel like we are there with him. It is best said in an article by Kurt lancer, “Hitchcock made dialogue scenes cinematic by filming subtext — what characters think and feel made visible through the eyes, gestures, and the full body language of his performers”. Hitchcock uses a camera effect known as the “Dolly zoom.” When using this technique, it creates the illusion that the world is closing in around us. It gives the audience a sense of paranoia or impending danger. The use of camera angles actively conveys the feeling of suspense. In North by Northwest and Rear Window, Hitchcock puts a lot of long shots in them. Rear window has one sedentary long shot for the majority of the film. The particular long shot is of Jeff’s back yard where he partakes in some voyeurism while he is immobilized and recovering from a broken leg. In North by Northwest there is more of a variety of long shots. The shots are often on the go making us feel the stress of being chased like the main character.

In Hitchcock’s films he tends to use a specific mold when it comes to women. He uses a lot of blondes. His most well-known films each have a blonde in the central role. The blondes, however, aren’t just some eye candy thrown up on the screen. While there is no doubt that the women are stunning, they also serve a much greater importance to the films in which they appear. They also project the qualities of independence, poise, sexuality, determination and, most significant, mystery. No Hitchcock film would be complete without his use of “Icey Blondes.”

Hitchcock is also unique in the sense that he often portrayed a lot of sensual moments. Prior to North by Northwest no one had talked so openly in movies about sex. They never said the word “sex” outright, but they definitely alluded to it with little room for doubt. North by Northwest has an easy and more pleasurable use of intimacy. In Psycho, it explores the more dark and sinister side of sex. Norman, the antagonist, has a Psychologically disturbed perception. He feels guilty for having so many sexual thoughts that he thinks murdering someone will make up for his lustful thinking.

There are many “mother issues” in Hitchcock’s films, especially in Psycho. Norman suffers from major mommy issues. He has a bit of an Oedipus complex. Theorized by Sigmund Freud, the Oedipus complex states that the “the idea of the young person having a phantasy and obsessional feelings about possessing the opposite sex parent, and ridding him/herself of the same sex parent so as to dispose of the rival”. This theory is abundantly clear in Psycho, Norman never transferred his love and continued to love his mother too much and in a very twisted way. He killed her in a jealous rage at her new boyfriend. Now, whenever he gets a new love interest, he ends up murdering them as well. In North by Northwest Roger and his mother just have a basic lack of trust and understanding with each other, which of course is nothing when compared to Norman and his mother.

North by Northwest, Psycho, and Rear window all have a common psychological theme. They all have an underlying theme of criminality. In North by Northwest our protagonist doesn’t commit a crime but is accidentally brought into a complicated conspiracy. In Psycho the characters have actually broken the law. There are two criminals, Marian and Norman, though they vary in the severity of their crimes. Hitchcock makes his characters have a strange sense of morality. It shows that “Hitchcock’s avoidance of abstract moralism may seem inconsequential, but it is the key to the parallel he draws between the normal and the abnormal and the transferability of desire”. In Rear Window Jeff, the protagonist, doesn’t commit a crime himself (although his voyeurism is ethically troubling) but instead witnesses a crime happen. As well as having the theme of criminality, the films also share the fact that the central characters are also victims in their own way. Roger was a victim of mistaken identity; Jeff was a victim of circumstance and Norman was a victim of his mother’s cruelty. Having crime as a key point in movies makes for a decent mystery. Hitchcock seemed to pick up on that dynamic.

Hitchcock also uses a plot device known as a “MacGuffin” in most of his films. A MacGuffin is the source of the motivation behind the actions of the characters even though it isn’t actually significant to the story, and often remains vague. It can be an object or even an event. In North by Northwest the MacGuffin is the “government secrets” that the antagonist is trying to sell for his own personal gain. The secrets are never really elaborated on and are only mentioned in the film a handful of times. In Psycho the $40,000 dollars is the reason for our whole plot progression. In Rear Window it is more apparent as to what the MacGuffin is. The suspected murder committed by Lars Thorwald is what drives the story. This MacGuffin is more present throughout the film compared to the others.

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Alfred Hitchcock is without a doubt one of the most innovative Directors. Hitchcock has a formula that he uses in most of his films. He skillfully does so in a way that isn’t repetitive. There are plenty of similarities in his stories like the way he utilizes music, camera angles, characters and similar themes. Hitchcock has an iconic style that the audience can see in his films North by Northwest, Psycho, and Rear Window. The above techniques form the stylistic “hitch” of Hitchcock. 

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Analysis Of Filming Techniques Comprising Alfred Hitchcock’s Unique Style. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 28, 2023, from
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