1 Hitchcock: Audience and Viewers Reaction–Theory and Practice

Research in progress (June 4, 2021)

Hitchcock’s complex approach to his audience and viewers

He said (Kolker, 143):

“I feel it’s tremendously satisfying  for us to be able to use the cinematic art to achieve something of a mass (collective) emotion.” (Note 28)

H always shows his methods, always gives the audience means to step back and observe what is being done to them, how it’s done, and why it’s done?

The ways viewers can be manipulated in and out of morally ambiguous situations (Kolker, 237)

The viewers react not only to what’s happening on screen but also to what’s happening within their own responses, reflecting different levels of awareness.

The power of images and sounds to move and touch audience into reaction and counter-reaction

The manipulative power of sexuality and  domination and fear that one character yields over another

H’s movies must be judged  as they stand now

His movies offer  new riches with each progressive viewing; their meanings change

They are profoundly disturbing, yet irresistibly amusing and entertaining

Elsaesser in R. Allen:

H splitting our gaze;

dividing our attention;

transferring our identification

switching our allegiance

forcing us to recognize the other part of ourselves

H forces us to acknowledge:

  1. film’s avoidance of intimacy
  2. our avoidance of intimacy in everyday life

Are we fearful that our desire for love is so voracious that we don’t give in at all

Our fear of being disappointed with love, or when we fall in love

How H uses the spectators’ emotional reaction for the progression of his films

How H plays on our fears and desires.

There’s fear, terror, prayer, blind faith

Our pity is the last chance of salvation.

Audiences  are made uneasy, guilty, discomfort, and more economically and quickly in a H movie than in any other director.

P.M. Cohen, p. 164

In the last decade of his career, H just wanted commercial success, exhibiting indifference to audience reaction

Unlike the 1930s, no sense of kinship with the audience

Unlike the 40s and 50s, no sense of complementarity with the audience

Unlike 60s, no bitterness toward them

In the 70s, H abandoned a literary notion of character inside his films; the audience became numbers, ticket buyers

Hitchcock orchestrates his stories in self-consciously playful and technically masterful mode, one that involves and addresses the audience directly.

Hitchcock and Pure Cinema

Hitchcock, influenced by the Russian director Pudovkin, has said: “The screen ought to speak its own language, freshly coined, and it can’t do that unless it treats an acted scene as a piece of raw material which must be broken up, taken to bits, before it can be woven into an expressive visual pattern.”

For him, pure cinema meant cinematic/stylistic narration without dialogue, without words.

Hitchcock on Universal Emotional Impact

Hitchcock had famously stated:

“If you’ve designed a picture correctly in terms of its emotional impact, the Japanese audience would scream at the same time as the India audience.”

In a way, Hitchcock first excites the “worst feelings” of his audience, and then through his complex and fascinating spectacles, authorizes them to be satisfied. There is a sense of catharsis: the earlier sense o horror gives rise to purer and nobler feelings.

Hitchcock encourages  what could be described as false identification with evil characters, such as Norman Bates in Psycho, only to change later that identification.

Robin Wood:

The construction of identification is a delicate and complex matter.

In the widest sense, it covers the whole spectrum of spectator response:

Feelings of sympathy; empathy; total involvement

They exist in a continuum and are not easily distinguishable.

H master of manipulating audiences’ feelings and desires, the unwholesome attitudes of the viewers.

Perverse identification techniques

Dial M. for Murder: The attack on Grace Kelly. How Ray Milland tries to get his wife from the bedroom to the living room?

Marnie: Just as we want Marnie Not to get caught

Psycho: Just as we want Marion’s car to sink smoothly into the mud.

Identification with the threatened victim:


We first identify with Alicia (object of aggression), then with Sebastian

Vertigo: the creation of tension through a conflict but different levels and models of identification.