Reema Sengupta's Study Blog for RCP

HITCHCOCK’S HOLLYWOOD INDUCTION

Posted in Research Entries by reemasenguptacmp on October 30, 2009

above: David O. Selznick and Alfred Hitchcock (image taken from http://www.corbisimages.com/images/BE071209.jpg?size=67&uid=F8317DF0-8B9A-4D9C-9D51-E8BC933CBEF8 accessed on 30.10.2009)

Back in the early 1930s, Alfred Hitchcock was the top Producer-Director in Great Britain. The success of his films ‘The Man Who knew Too Much’ (1934) and ‘The 39 Steps’ (1935) got him considerable attention in the U.S.A. as well. Also, towards the late 1930s, the financial and political conditions in England were deteriorating. It was rather logical that Hitchcock move to the U.S.A. and work in Hollywood, which was flourishing under the studio system. At the same time, Selznick had started his independent practice as producer under ‘Selznick International Pictures’ and was doing quite well. Selznick wanted to sign Hitchcock as a director for Selznick International Pictures, and did finally manage to after nearly two years of persuasion and negotiation, on March 3, 1939. Hitchcock was signed for an exclusive seven-year contract, starting at $40,000 per picture. Initially, Selznick wanted Hitchcock to make Titanic, but on Hitchcock’s insistence and positive reviews about the novel, he agreed to let Hitchcock make Rebecca instead. Selznick and Hitchcock would go on to make movies like Rebecca (1940), Spellbound (1945) and The Paradine Case (1948) over a difficult seven years.

Selznick and Hitchcock were inherently two people with very different personalities. They had had very contrasting upbringings. Consequently, their style of working was very different. Selznick was a man who could never stop making movies. They were in his blood. He would want to be in control of the project, as the producer of the film. His dominance over scripting was well-known in Hollywood. In fact, at the time he wanted to sign Hitchcock, he was already alienating prominent Hollywood directors, because of his style of working. He was known to interfere too much and do things his way. So if he wanted to have a reading at two in the morning, that was when the reading would happen. Hitchcock, on the other hand, firmly believed in pre-planning. He had a plan, and liked to stick to it. He had his own sensibilities when it came to Cinema, which would, very often, clash with Selznick’s ideas and opinions. One of the reasons Selznick cited for wanting to sign Hitchcock was that he was a producer-director. However, as they started working together, there was an evident conflict with respect to who will emerge at the top of the hierarchy- the producer or the director. Selznick wanted complete authority over his projects, while Hitchcock wanted his creative freedom. Hitchcock’s style was to adapt a story to his taste. This is what he wanted to do with Rebecca as well, and Selznick’s strong disapproval of his alterations created a lot of friction between the two. After the seven-year contract ended, Selznick went downhill, to never come up again, as Hitchcock ascended to success and acclaim.

When Hitchcock entered the Hollywood scene, the producers or studios ran the show. Directors were treated simply as employees and were usually appointed very late into the preproduction of the movie. Towards the end of Hitchcock’s seven years with Selznick, there was a paradigm shift in the way directors were seen in Hollywood. They had then become- ‘auteurs’, and were given credit for their personal creative vision.

What was Hitchcock like on the sets?

How did he work with his actors?

REFERENCES:

The information used (and not directly quoted) in the above entry has been taken from the following sources:

1. Thomas Schatz, ‘Selznick and Hitchcock: Balance of Power’, The Genius of the system- Hollywood Film-making in the Studio Era, Faber and Faber, 1988

2. Documentary: ‘Hitchcock, Selznick and the end of Hollywood‘, Directed by Michael Epstein, Channel 4, 1 January 2000

SUSPENSE AS HITCHCOCK TREATS IT

Posted in Research Entries by reemasenguptacmp on October 26, 2009

Alfred Hitchcock has been one of the most prominent filmmakers in the suspense thrillers genre. He has undoubtedly developed a distinctive style of his own when it comes to working with suspense. In his essay ‘Hitchcockian Suspense’, Pascal Bonitzer discusses the techniques and elements employed by Hitchcock to create suspense and how “Hitchcockian suspense” distinguishes itself from “mechanical suspense” as executed by D.W. Griffith.

1. MCGUFFIN

A McGuffin is simply a “token object” that precipitates a chase  (Bonitzer). To put it simply, it is “a plot device which advances the story but which is itself secondary to the development of the plot. It can be a person, a quest or an object” For, Example: the painting in Vertigo (http://tviv.org/MacGuffin) However, I am of the opinion that it is not just Carlotta Valdes’s painting but Carlotta Valdes herself, that acts as a McGuffin. In the case of Vertigo, the statement that “McGuffin is nothing at all” (Hitchcock, 1996, interview by Francois Truffaut, cited in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MacGuffin) seems all the more appropriate, given the fact that Carlotta is indeed nothing at all, just something Elster made up to execute his plan. It is Carlotta’s supernatural influence on Madeleine that sets into motion the events of the movie, particularly, Ferguson’s quest for truth.

2. GAZE:

Bonitzer makes his first reference to the term ‘gaze’ in the following way:

“What, then, is the object that this anxiety or suspense releases, revives and sets going? I would hazard the response that this object, which emerged at the same time as the close-up was discovered, is, because of its characteristic malice, the gaze.”

He then goes on to explain how a revolution came about in cinema, whereby, a significant shift took place from cinema in which the camera was simply put on a tripod and what was being filmed was essentially loud and burlesque in character, to a form where the wild gesticulation was replaced by increasing immobility. “Once the body had been rendered immobile and the attention was focused upon the face or the gaze, the law, desire and perversion made their entrance into the cinema.” (Bonitzer)

The gaze is the way the audience views the characters. According to Bonitzer, the gaze can ‘Hitchcockize’ even a Lumiere brothers film simply by interposing a crime, and cinematically suggesting it’s happening. Bonitzer mentions Godard’s observation that “it is the gaze which creates fiction”. He states that “suspense is an anamorphosis of cinematographic time…”. In order to create suspense, the audience must first be shown a distorted picture, and then, when the time is just right, given the clear one. In Vertigo, there is an approximately 11 minutes long sequence where Scottie is following Madeleine. There is no information being given in the form of dialogues or a narration. The audience is watching Madeleine as Scottie is watching her. For most of this sequence, only Madeleine’s back and chignon is seen. She is hidden, and anything that is not revealed completely invokes mystery and suspense.

3. STAIN:

A stain is an anomaly, something that doesnt fit right in the scenario, or as Bonitzer puts it, “an object which goes against nature”. It is the “perverse or inverted element” which disrupts the normalcy or the naturality of the background. Against the backdrop of the redwoods forest, that signifies the natural progression of life, Carlotta is seen making her presence in Madeleine felt. Carlotta’s spirit, back from the dark crevasses of death, an anomaly in the natural ways of life and death. When Scottie sees the painting midge has painted, the camera tilts from the bottom of the painting to the top. As the audience sees Carlotta’s body, they come to expect to see Carlotta’s face as well, but are taken by surprise to see something against the natural state of the portrait: Midge’s face instead of Carlotta’s. In the given excerpt, as Scottie and Madeleine kiss, Madeleine’s distraction serves as a stain, building up the suspense.

4. NATURAL LANDSCAPE:

Bonitzer states:

“Hitchcockian narrative obeys the law that the more a situation is somewhat a priori, familiar or conventional, the more it is liable to become disturbing or uncanny, once one of its constituent elements begins to ‘turn against the wind’. Scenario and staging consist merely in constructing a natural landscape with its perverse element, and in then charting the outcome. Suspense, by contrast with the accelerated editing of races and chases, depends on the emphasis which the staging places upon the progressive contamination, the progressive or sudden perversion of the original landscape. The staging and editing of the suspense serve to draw the audience’s attention to the perverse element…Hitchcock prides himself not so much on directing the actors…as on directing the audience.”

Even in the scene of Madeleine’s faked death, the camera movement has gone from wider shots to close-ups as the suspense builds. In his book ‘The American Cinema-directors and directions’, Andrew Sarris explains that if a murder was to take place in a haunted house or a dark alley, it would make no meaningful statement as the audience tends to withdraw from such bizarre settings. But if the same happens in a very clean motel bathroom, during a cleansing shower (as it did in Psycho, Hitchcock, 1960), “the incursion of evil into our well laundered existence becomes intolerable”. The deaths taking place in the Mission House serves the same purpose. The audience relates to the church on a personal level. The possibility of such happenings in a place where they go ever so often, to feel protected, makes an unsettling and lasting impact.

5. PROLONGING OF TIME:

Hitchcock effectively uses slowing down of time to build up and sustain suspense. Bonitzer states that in order to create suspense, an event that, in real-time is very short, is broken down into as many parts as possible. This can be seen when Madeleine runs up the stairs in the Church, and supposedly jumps off. The event is simple, Madeleine running up the stairs and jumping off, but the treatment is such that the it seems much longer.

6. THE ROLE OF THE AUDIENCE:

In his article ‘Hitch et son public’ in Cahiers du Cinema 113, November 1960, Jean Douchet expresses the opinion that “In a Hitchcock film, it is the spectator who creates the suspense; the suspense only meets the request for it. ” (Douchet, 1960) Douchet states that as the auteur, Hitchcock intends to “unmask reality and show it to us in triple form.” The first reality is that of the ‘everyday world’. This can be related to the initial part of Vertigo, where a disheartened Ferguson finds himself responsible for a colleague’s death, realises he is acrophobic, and retires. The second reality, according to Douchet is the ‘world of desire’. From the point where Scottie starts following Madeleine, up to when he sees Judy  wearing Carlotta’s necklace, this second reality is dominant in the movie.  Even in the given excerpt, it is the world of desire that overshadows the other realities. The final reality is that of the ‘intellectual world’. This is the part where the mystery or crime is solved objectively, in terms of logical reasoning, as is seen at the end of Vertigo.

What one does wonder is that, if Hitchcock’s suspense creating mechanisms can be so generalised, wouldnt the audience know what to expect, thereby killing the suspense factor? Or is it the desire to re-experience Hitchcockian suspense just as it is supposed to be, make the audience watch his films over and over again, and still find the movies engaging.

REFERENCES:

1. Pascal Bonitzer, ‘Hitchcockian suspense’, Everything you always wanted to know about Lacan … but were afraid to ask Hitchcock, edited by Slavoj Zizek, Verso 1992

2. Andrew Sarris, The American Cinema- directors and directions, The University of Chicago Press, 1985

3. Jean Douchet, ‘Hitch and his audience’, Cahiers du Cinema volume 2- The 1960s New Wave, New Cinema, Re-evaluating Hollywood, edited by Jim Hillier, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986. Article originally appeared as ‘Hitch et son public’ in Cahiers du Cinema 113, November 1960.

4. http://tviv.org/MacGuffin : accessed on 26.10.2009

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MacGuffin : accessed on 26.10.2009

BACKGROUND MUSIC-impressions generated

Posted in Research Entries by reemasenguptacmp on October 23, 2009

The background music in the excerpt is particularly dynamic. As the characters kiss, the music has a feel of love and passion that has finally been expressed and reciprocated. When Madeleine retreats towards the church, the tempo picks up reflecting the dilemma in Madeleine’s (and Judy’s) mind. Its like her heart is racing and she is torn between what she wants to do and what she is being made to do. When Madeleine kisses Scottie for the last time, there is a sense of finality in the music as well. As she breaks into a run, the music changes into what can appropriately be called, signature vertigo background score. It has recurring circular sounds that give the impression of a repeated, never-ending frenzy; something that penetrates sharply and incessantly into your mind. It is very disorienting, like the protagonist’s acrophobia. This music dissolves very briefly into something somewhat peaceful when Scottie enters the church, giving the audience some hope, but resumes strongly as soon as Scottie realises that Madeleine is running up the stairs. Counterpoint has been effectively used to build up drama and portray the multi-layered complexity of the situation and the emotions involved. As soon as Madeleine jumps from the belfry, there is a sharp sound like something piercing through one’s heart. As Scottie registers her death, the music becomes more heavy than fast, like that feeling you get as if there is a vacuum in your heart that is painfully filling up with heaviness. The background sounds and music are rather loud throughout the movie. They tend to be overwhelming to the point of distraction. The question is, was that the intention of the director and the music composer in order to emphasize on the film’s key theme: obsession, and acrophobia’s disorienting nature, or was it simply an unfortunate consequence of the audio restoration?

INITIAL PERCEPTIONS AND QUESTIONS

Posted in Research Entries by reemasenguptacmp on October 23, 2009

The given excerpt from the movie Vertigo directed by Alfred Hitchcock, takes place 1 hour, 11 minutes and 24 seconds into the movie. The scene is a crucial turning point, and has a climactic feel to it. As the scene opens, we see Scottie and Madeleine passionately kissing and professing their love to each other. Hitchcock seems to be playing with the side of human beings that doesn’t quite conform to societal norms and regulations. Their love is, at this point, to the audience and to Scottie himself, an extra-marital love.

Does Hitchcock play with the imperfections of human nature in most of his films? If so, how is this subtle and instinctive non-conforming side of human nature depicted and how does it shape the characters and the course of the movies?

The audience cannot make sense of the context of Madeleine’s distracted murmurings early in the scene, or of her strange expression of love in dialogues such as “…and I wanted to go on loving you”. The scenes preceding the given excerpt are intense and dramatic, leaning in favour of the supernatural.

What techniques does Hitchcock employ to build up suspense in his movies? Is it apt to call him ‘Master of Suspense’ (Andrew Sarris in “The American Cinema-directors and directions 1929-1968”)?

Madeleine then runs into the church and up the stairs towards the belfry, from where she plummets to her death. Because of his Vertigo, Scottie couldn’t save her. Vertigo is a movie that starts with death, has death as its most crucial turning point, and ultimately ends with death.

How does ‘death’ affect and complement the theme of obsession that runs strongly through the movie?

What qualifies Vertigo to be called a ‘Classic film’?

Why was it that Vertigo did not get as much appreciation when it was first released, as it did after it was re-released?
(wikipedia)

REFERENCES:

This post is based on primary source research.

Some of the information used, as cited in text, was taken from:
1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vertigo_(film) : accessed on 23.10.2009
2. Andrew Sarris,THE AMERICAN CINEMA-Directors and Directions,  The University of Chicago Press, 1985)

FILM SCENE: Excerpt from Vertigo (1958) Dir: Alfred Hitchcock

Posted in Uncategorized by reemasenguptacmp on October 23, 2009

Sourced from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnpZN2HQ3OQ : accessed on 23.10.2009