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Analysis of The Distinguishing Style of Alfred Hitchcock

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Topic Analysis

Alfred Hitchcock is one of those filmmakers that’s so good he has his own style and to be an element in an Alfred Hitchcock film, one would need to be: a platinum blonde bombshell, riveting plot twist, or an innocent man accused of a crime. Though these are surface-level attributes to the Hitchcockian style, they make up several of his most well-known works from the 1940s to 1965.

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In films like Vertigo, Rope, and Psycho, Hitchcock was able to establish the bases of what would later become his iconic style, Hitchcockian. Hitchcock gained his distinguishing style and aesthetic through his understanding of German expressionism, which translated via visual and narrative elements, added with a created suspense produced through editing.

The effects of World War I on the global film industry were deep and intoxicant. Not only were there political consequences from the war, but there was a psychological influence on the emerging filmmakers at that time. Many European film industries were corrupted by the war, but German filmmakers took hold of a stranger and darker attempt to disorient their audiences. Placing the audience in the mindset of the main characters; became an aspect of the psychological depth of the German Expressionism era. These films became more narrative with complex stories rooted in specific experiences held by their characters. This common trope is employed by Hitchcock in his 1958 film Vertigo, telling the story of retired detective John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart).

Scottie takes a case to help an old friend with this possibly insane wife. Hitchcock manipulates the audience’s idea of the events to come by using the protagonist’s perception of the world in a visually remarkable way exposing the façade of the story’s world. Continuing with Hitchcock’s distinct narratives and perspective, the textbook A Short History of the Movies by Gerald Mast and Bruce Kawin explores his unique blends of the two. Mast and Kawin write “Hitchcock takes time out to focus on a subtle physical detail or ironic.

The plots revolve about the wildest possibilities… every Hitchcock film is the structure of the chase, the accelerating rush toward a climactic solution”. Though Vertigo might seem like a love story through the eyes of Scottie, in true Hitchcockian style, nothing is as it seems. Perceptions formed from the audience see this world being portrayed subjectively through the echoes of the eyes of the characters. With the view of the male protagonist, the audience feels emotions of love, obsession, and madness in Vertigo.

Character perspective was not the only aspect of German Expressionism used by Hitchcock. In his most esteemed work, Psycho (1960), Hitchcock exercises light, shadows, and unusual imagery to convey an eerie tone across the film and establish moods for its characters. These visual facets are apparent when Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) are talking in his office. The conversation turns dark as they begin to discuss Bates’ mother.

The audience gathers a sense of darkness in Bates’ not from his dialogue but through the set design and lighting. This film-noir atmosphere creates a foreshadowing of the premeditation that’s alive in the Hitchcockian style. Rope equally uses this visual detail by being shot entirely in one location time passes by naturally, and the characters interact naturally, giving a glimpse into the nature of the characters' motives. From the website Alfred Hitchcock: A Visual Analysis, they discuss the iconic shower scene and how, “because of this back and forth series of shots, the audience is at once able to feel the fear of Marion of been killed, but also the rush of being the killer.”

These choppy visuals enable the audience to experience something they normally would never experience as well as building separation from that experience. Hitchcock allows for these scenes to create emotion out of the audience, starting with the character's face guiding the eyes of the witnesses by his direction. Calling on a wide, close-up, or medium shot depending on the power of drama it brings, the frame can create an illustrative picture, and Hitchcock uses that to his advantage.

Hitchcock’s style of editing allowed him to cultivate an added layer of suspense in his films. Take his 1948 murder mystery Rope where there is almost a lack of editing involved, but a heightened degree of suspense formed from it. The mystery in Rope is gone before we even hear a person talk. The film's first couple of minutes open on the strangulation and ends with a blackout on Brandon’s (John Dall) back, lasting around 9 minutes, making the audience feel like a witness to what will soon unfold in this one location.

Reinforcing this idea of the audience peering into this world, Hitchcock made the movie feel as though it was all one shot. As described in a New York Times article written by Vincent Canby in 1984, he discusses how this idea of a one-shot in 1948 would not be possible because “there would have to be a disguised break every 10 minutes, which was as much film as the camera could contain.” The technology of that time did not allow for one long continuous take, but that did not stop Hitchcock from trying to hide the cuts in a dip to black. Others were a little more visible. Although they are slightly hidden, there is still an emphasis on the major theme of Rope, manipulation.

The one-take feel allows Hitchcock and the audience to examine the vileness of the upper class without these hidden cuts these complex themes would not have held up throughout the film. Hitchcock also practices the Kuleshov effect, montage editing. In the second murder in Psycho, he contrasts various compelling medium shots unexpectedly with an extreme close up. Montage editing used first by the Russian to evoke the desired emotion out of the audience. In this case, Hitchcock uses this style to assemble the shots at a rapid pace to induce shock and horror from the audience members.

Hitchcock utilized many early to mid-20th-century film techniques in his work, which combined helped him earn his name of “The Master of Suspense.” The techniques of German Expressionism (or American film noir) and montage editing paved the way for Hitchcock. He uses subjectivity to his advantage with the help of manipulation of suspense, producing his desired emotion from the audience. It is appropriate that he would acquire these tactics since the great works of the era before him practiced them.

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Learning from his predecessors, Hitchcock earned himself his unique Hitchcockian style. A style he acquired through his vast understanding of the visual and narrative elements of German Expressionism with an added flare of suspenseful editing.

Works Cited

  1. Canby, Vincent. “Hitchcock’s ‘Rope’: A Stunt to Behold.” The New York Times. 1984. https://www.nytimes.com/1984/06/03/movies/hitchcock-s-rope-a-stunt-to-behold.html
  2. Mast, Gerald, and Bruce F. Kawin. A Short History of the Movies. Pearson, 2012.
  3. “Other Theories.” Alfred Hitchcock: A Visual Analysis, people.southwestern.edu/~bednarb/su_netWorks/projects/marr/other.html.
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Analysis Of The Distinguishing Style Of Alfred Hitchcock. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 28, 2023, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/analysis-of-the-distinguishing-style-of-alfred-hitchcock/
“Analysis Of The Distinguishing Style Of Alfred Hitchcock.” GradesFixer, 06 Aug. 2021, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/analysis-of-the-distinguishing-style-of-alfred-hitchcock/
Analysis Of The Distinguishing Style Of Alfred Hitchcock. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/analysis-of-the-distinguishing-style-of-alfred-hitchcock/> [Accessed 28 Sept. 2023].
Analysis Of The Distinguishing Style Of Alfred Hitchcock [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Aug 06 [cited 2023 Sept 28]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/analysis-of-the-distinguishing-style-of-alfred-hitchcock/
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