“Hitchcock/Truffaut” – An Homage to the Master

14 12 2015

Today’s top film directors – including Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, tumblr_no6ty0GSHi1r6ivyno1_1280David Fincher and many others – pay tribute to the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, in the very engaging new documentary “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” directed by Kent Jones.

The film uses the historic 1962 weeklong interview sessions between Hitchcock and French film director Francois Truffaut as its starting point. The two men were on the same page from the beginning when it comes to the language of film: Both saw its potential as an art form, and as a medium for self expression; Truffaut may have been the first film theorist to recognize Hitchcock as more than a genre specialist.

The modern day directors featured in the film sing Hitchcock’s praises too, pointing out his skills as a visual storyteller, frame composer and planner of shots, using some of Hitchcock’s best movies, like “Vertigo,” “Psycho,” “Sabotage” and others to make their cases. At the same time, they trace Hitchcock’s use (and reuse) of thematic elements: Falling, imprisonment and obsession; fetishized objects like keys and doorways; and meaningful camerawork that reveals things even someone on the scene might miss.


Left to right: Francois Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock and translator Helen Scott

The film also contains a run of rarely seen home movie footage of Hitchcock, bringing his energy and playfulness to life in a  way one rarely sees, particularly in some of the recent films that have illuminated certain times in his life.

For anyone interested in Hitchcock’s work, this is a master class, and the directors are the guest lecturers who explain just what the Master of Suspense was really doing in his best films.

Here’s the trailer to “Hitchcock/Truffaut.”



Rare Hitchcock Items Up for Auction

8 06 2013

Check out emovieposter.com, which currently has a fantastic collection of over 100 posters and other print items from Alfred Hitchcock up for auction. The items come from countries across the globe, and include rerelease posters, lobby cards and (maybe my favorite) a door-sized French poster advertising the book “Hitchcock” by Francois Truffaut:


Here are a couple of other items that I liked: A lobby card for “Suspicion,” with a delightfully unattractive caricature of Hitchcock that carries a palette and paintbrush, and a poster for “Saboteur” with the theater owner’s handwritten recommendation that “everyone should see it.”

wc_saboteur_JC08009_LYou can see the entire collection, which includes many non-Hitchcock movies posters, at  http://www.emovieposter.com/agallery/15.html.  The auction ends on Sunday, June 9, so go and see if there’s anything you want to bid on!


Alfred Hitchcock Before He Was Alfred Hitchcock

7 01 2010

One more post before we start looking at Hitch’s movies, just to set the stage a bit. Alfred Hitchcock was born on August 13, 1899, in Leytonstone, London, and grew up sheltered and lonely, the second of three children. As an adult, he often said that when he was eight years old – or ten, or twelve, depending on which version of the story you heard – his father brought him to the local police station. The chief locked him in a cell for a few minutes, saying, “That’s what we do with naughty boys.” The incident made an indelible impression on Hitch; he remained terrified of the police the rest of his life.

Growing up, he became interested in crime, and in particular, murder. The memory of Jack the Ripper was then still fresh, and the British tabloids were as sensational as they are today, with stories full of sex and violence. Hitch also became an avid fan of movies and the theater, and took in everything he could in the early days of the silents and on the London stage, absorbing an enormous amount of craft as well as ideas for stories and how to tell them. His Catholic faith also greatly influenced his worldview.

In his late teens, Hitchcock landed a job as a draftsman with an electric cable manufacturer, where he worked on advertising and catalogues. He became involved in the company’s magazine, and contributed a number of short stories to it, all of which are reprinted in Patrick McGilligan’s excellent 2004 biography “Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light.”

By 1920 Hitch had a new job as a designer of title cards for silent films, first for the British precursor to Paramount Pictures, then with several other companies as well. His sense of graphic design served him well, and he was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. Movies were made with very small crews at the time, and he worked closely with the writers (or “scenarists”) and directors to enhance their stories. Between 1920 and 1925, when he switched to directing full-time, he worked not only as a title card designer but also as a scenarist, set decorator and assistant director. All the while he continued studying film and theater, pulling influences from German expressionist movies by Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau, American epics directed by the likes of D.W. Griffith, as well as the plots and actors of the British stage.

While this title card, from the Hitchcock film “Champagne” and possibly designed by Hitch, does not seem that impressive, it’s important to remember that the title cards represented the only verbal cues the audience had – and that while the scenarist would write the story, the title card designer was responsible for for both the look of the cards and also the text itself. There had to be a balance of the amount of text and its look, so that it could be read by the entire audience without boring the faster readers or leaving the slower readers behind.

By 1925, Hitchcock had worked on about 20 movies, including one, “Number 13,” that he directed, but which was never finished due to budgetary issues. He was more than ready to move onto his life’s work.

In preparing for this blog, I also reread the invaluable book “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” originally published in 1967 after a weeklong series of interviews that examined Hitch’s entire career. Truffaut, a former film critic for the French Cahiers du Cinema and proponent of the auteur theory of cinema, was a well-regarded director himself, whose films included “The 400 Blows” and “Jules and Jim.” His depth of cinematic knowledge and understanding of the medium helps make “Hitchcock/Truffaut” a mesmerizing read; nevertheless, I get an occasional feeling of false modesty from Hitchcock. He seemed continually dissatisfied with his work, and happiest when discussing his creative solutions to technical challenges. Still, no one can claim to study Hitchcock seriously without reading this book. The discussion of his work is so methodic, so thorough, that I was able to pull a quote from Hitch about each and every film up until the interviews themselves took place; I’ll be sprinkling these quotes throughout the blog as I look at each movie.

I’ll also mention the one other book on Hitch that I read, many years ago: “The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock,” by Donald Spoto. While it’s been a while since I read it, my recollection is that this book is a bit like the Neal Gabler bio of Walt Disney, or the David Michaelis bio of Charles Schulz, in that the author had a preconceived idea of the story he wanted to tell – in this case, that Hitchcock was a moody, bad-tempered, imperious director – and that he shaped the facts of Hitch’s life to fit his narrative.

There are quite a few other books on Hitchcock as well, of course, and I was pleased to discover just recently that there is a Hitchcock wiki site at http://www.hitchcockwiki.com, which is loaded with rare photography, details on the films and his life, and much more.

That’s it from me tonight – but next time, we’ll look at “The Pleasure Garden,” the first completed film directed by Alfred Hitchcock!

Why Alfred Hitchcock?

20 12 2009

Welcome to “Alfred Hitchcock and Me,” a blog by me, Adam Philips. If you know me, you probably know that I’m a big fan of music, TV, comics, books and movies. And while I work by day in Marketing at DC Comics, I’m here to talk movies. I love movies, and thanks Turner Classic Movies, I’ve been able to catch up on lots I’ve missed in the past. Just recently, for example, I watched “The Shop Around The Corner” and “High Sierra,” both for the first time.

“High Sierra” offers a great look into the old Hollywood studio system. Here, Ida Lupino gets top billing over Humphrey Bogart, yet it’s Bogart’s movie from start to finish. The action traces his story arc as Roy “Mad Dog” Earl, who is paroled from prison, brought in on a heist and tied to a farm family heading for California. After the heist goes south, the police corner him in the Sierra mountains, where (spoiler!) he is shot when his position is given away by the barking of his loyal dog. Yes, Lupino is there from about 20 minutes in, and nominally, she’s the star, but it’s Bogart’s movie. He’s in virtually every scene of the movie, and every step of the way he commands the camera and dominates his fellow actors. From that time on, he would be a star.

 It’s a terrific product of the studio system, and features some recognizable actors, notably Henry Travers, who a few years later played the angel Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Meanwhile, in “The Shop Around the Corner, also from 1940, I was pleased to see Frank Morgan, fresh off his multiple roles in “The Wizard of Oz,” who is delightful and understated as the owner of the titular shop.

Since then, I’ve watched “The 400 Blows,” “Passage to Marseilles,” and “Becket,” all great movies in their own ways. 

For years now, I’ve been in the habit of looking at TCM’s schedule for movies I want to see, and every week, I watch for find movies directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Has any director ever equalled the career of Alfred Hitchcock? You could make arguments for other filmmakers in one specific area or another, but when you add up his accomplishments, Hitchcock is the greatest director ever. Hitchcock was prolific, thrilling, subversive, surprisingly funny, often tender. On top of that, he was a brand, thanks to his TV series, magazine and books; from the late 1940s, he was labeled “The Master of Suspense” by his studios’ publicity departments. He also was a natural showman, starring in his own movie trailers and introducing his TV shows with a droll sense of humor. And recently, I realized I had only seen fourteen of his movies – which meant that my impressions of his career were based on only about a quarter of his film output.

My idea, my quest, is to watch every one of Hitchcock’s movies in one year and write about each of them — in order, as much as possible. From the silents into the sound era, from black and white to color, from formative murder mysteries to assured studies of psychoses, I plan to watch all the classics, as well as the unfortunate missteps and quirky digressions. (I count 52 movies because at least one completed film, Waltzes From Vienna, is lost. And so far, I haven’t found his very first directorial effort, The Pleasure Garden, on DVD. There are a few other exceptions and footnotes that we’ll look at later.)

As the line at the top of this page says, I consider myself a film buff. Okay, I admit I’m not a walking encyclopedia of film – I certainly don’t have the depth of knowledge of, say, Glenn Kenny. But I’ve watched my share of movies, and then some.

When I was a kid, my paternal grandfather took me to science fiction movies that were waaay over my head, like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” as well as “Planet of The Apes,” “The Andromeda Strain” and “Marooned” (a major bore). And during the years I went to Syracuse University, I probably spent more time watching movies than going to classes. 

I know that watching a bunch of movies may not measure up to Julie Powell’s quest to cook her way through Julia Child’s “Mastering The Art of French Cooking, but that’s okay.” You have to follow your passion, and watching movies is a big one for me.

So: Some ground rules. Assuming I can find it, I will start watching and writing about the movies in January with 1925’s silent film “The Pleasure Garden.” While it’s not officially the first movie Hitchcock directed, it’s his earliest surviving, completed movie. (There are a few others from the early part of his career that are lost to the ages, including “Waltzes from Vienna” and “The Mountain Eagle.”)

Also, I don’t plan to get into his television work. While he appeared on “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and its successor, “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” he only directed about twenty episodes total. So I’m going to skip over them, unless I get really ambitious. As to his propaganda films produced during World War II – at this point, I’m on the fence about them. We’ll see how it goes.

Lastly, I’m going to try and apply the same critical judgment to these films that I did back in 1986 when The Beatles’ albums were first issued on CD. Every time a new one was released, I would rush home and listen to it as though I’d never heard it before — and, in some cases, I hadn’t heard the British version of the album, or I hadn’t listened to a particular album in many years. The point is, I came to them with fresh ears, and it’s with that sense of open-mindedness that I want to approach these movies.

Where will this quest take me? Will I learn more about the language of film? Will I explore my own inner dramas as I watch Hitchcock work out his own issues onscreen? Will my family lose patience with me spending too much time watching all these weird old movies?

We’ll see.

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