1 Hitchcock: Auteur–Vision, World View, Authorial Voice, Studio System

Research in progress: Dec 2, 2023–3837

Hitchcock: “Artistic Maverick in a Commercial Jungle”

Hitch, just like John Ford, had the ability to turn his hand to the assignments imposed on him by the studio system, while at the same time developing his own conceptions of cinema.

He was both avant-garde and commercial at the same time; experimental yet mainstream.

Auteurism: The public generally did not know who directed the films they saw, but they had seen H’s name in the press. (Montagu, 1972, 80).

What the notion of auteur really means?

The suspicion that auteurism was invented by Cahiers du Cinema in order to honor Hitchcock

Critical approach to H have occupied 2 extremes:

Auteur theory of late 1960s and early 1970s

Feminist and deconstruction theories that read H’s films as social and ideological artifacts

Auteur ignores context and examines films as unique expression of a gifted personality

Feminism: Laura Mulvey

One can bridge the 2 extreme theories, they are not mutually exclusive

H’s films are ideological artifacts that exhibit distinctiveness and development continuity thru a singular filter, and the filter is the filmmaker’s persona

Levy: But persona is not singular; it’s multi-faceted, full of contradictions


Robin Wood wanted to rescue H, a fave director, from feminism

He wanted to reestablish the authority of the artist

For Wood, political progressiveness has come to replace moral complexity as the criterion by which to judge H’s art

But the goal is the same, to justify the auteur to the public


Master of creating eerie atmosphere out of everyday situations.

H’s Reputation as manipulative master of suspense prevented the appreciation of the ambiguity in his work.

Ability to switch from the subjective to the objective POV and back, several times, between scenes, within a scene, enabled him to show mental processes without excessively explanatory dialogue.


H solidified his generic contract with the audience in the  1950s and 1960, after Psycho


As Capra achieved  comparable  standing with the Amer public in the 1930s (after It Happened), as one of the most popular and sought after directors

The romantic fable extolling the virtues of the “little man” in Mr. Deeds and Mr. Smith.

More important than self-promotion or individual sponsorship was the shift in film theory and aesthetics (auteurism, te French critics) as the decisive factor in reshaping H’s reputation.

H’s campaign in the 196s to reshape his reputation was ineffectual (Levy: I doubt this).

Only in the late 60s and early 70s,  when auteursim  became the dominant aesthetic discourse in academic and journalism, his reptaion improved (Kapsis, 70)

Once he achieved the status of “serious artist”, H and his heirs  faced the relentless challenge of maintaining that status.

Public image: No coherent image. (Elsaesseur)

The Brit and Amer H

The Catholic and the liberal

The moralist

The artist of the occult forces of light and darkness, and the master technician

The supreme showman

H: “Drama is life with all the dull bits cut out.”

H is now acknowledged after being immortalized as an institution and monument.

The secret and public places of his work.

He dedicated his life to his authorship.

Sublime expression of sense of humor

Mastery of timing

But many critics still perceive him as the jovial master of suspense, who had little or nothing serious on his mind.

H’s achievement as an artist, his position as cinema’s exemplary artist:

The relationship between H the artist, the authorial persona that he partially and ingeniously manufactured and controlled.

The relationship of his work to the larger socio-cultural-political forces that have shaped it.

Recurring theme: Not the discovery of crime, but the criminal tendencies that exist in innocent or seemingly innocent characters

Chance Encounters:

The collision of seemingly unrelated destinies

Strangers’ on Train, NBNW, Psycho, The Birds (first scene)

Aesthetic delight of what is a catastrophe

Identity as the violent supression of random gestures and exchanges.

Formal Dexterity

H’s formal dexterity does not operate in a void; rather it is constitutive of a “worldview” articulated by his works.

H’s presence is also invisible and pervasive

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.”

We should stop referring to Hitchcock as “the master of suspense,”  and acknowledge him and his work as an artist of the first order.

I would not have written these books about Hitchcock if I didn’t believe that I had found some aspects or angles or themes that have not be discussed yet, despite the hundreds of books and articles about him.

The scholar Thomas Elsaesser has noted: “Not only every generation, but every critic appropriates  hiss or her Alfred Hitchcock, fashioned  in the mirror of the pleasures or uncanny moments one derives from his films.” (p. 3).

H’s Films as Poems

H’s films are more analogous to poems than to novels. He focuses the attention and perception of his spectators, controls their reactions through the rhythms of editing and camera movements, just as a poet controls those of his readers through verse rhythms

H’s films derive their value from the intensity of their images, it’s an intensity created and controlled by the total organization of the elements, rather than from well-rounded characters.  The characters are part of the mise-en-scene, which in its overall scheme and impact is more important than the characters per se.


My goal is to help viewers see the unknown, look beneath and underneath Hitchcock’s explicit plots and surface images.


The H dread of repressed forces is accompanied by a sense of emptiness of the surface world that represses them.

The H sense of life at the mercy of terrible unpredictable forces that have to be kept down and tamed, if not utterly destroyed.

H as a later-day “Victorian,” the stereotype of  bourgeois caution and conventionality, but in choosing film (and not literature) as a medium, he became more modern.


What is considered infallibly right, true and good

What’s commonly called “evil”?

The prestige and power accorded to legal authorities, such as the police, lawyers, who seem righteous

The figures of law and order and the notion of common good are all potentially themselves corruptible.


Some scholars attempt to substract from H’s films all their narrative and contents in order to isolate the intensity of their formal attributes.


Hitchcock is celebrated for camera flourishes, realistic detail

Provocative motifs: staircases and women’s legs


French Critics Reevaluation

 Truffaut and Eric Rohmer analyzed him as profound explorer of metaphysical anxieties

His eloquence in the language of cinema (visual) was remarkable.


One of the most famous directors, recognized by the public.  Audiences went to see his films on the basis of his name alone. He is also the most written about directors by scholars and critics.


Modleski: His films possess extraordinary hold on the public’s imagination beyond mass audience’s desire for sensational violence (against women) and cheap erotic thrills.


Though Hitch chose to limit his thematic range to the genres of suspenseful melodramas, it’s It’s impossible to dismiss him as just Master of Suspense.


Critics charges against Hitch:

Lack of seriousness or interest in important social issues, which is unfair

Supreme technician and stylist, dismissing or underestimating his unmistakable personal imprint/signature

Meticulous director who plans every shot with great care

Rarely deviates from his script and storyboarded sketches

He edits into the camera.  Under studio systems, he did not give much footage so they won’t edit (John Huston and John Ford used the same strategy)



His ability to manipulate the minds and emotions of audiences.   Hitch liked to play games with the audience and with himself.

Elsaesser in R. Allen:

As showman, the need to startle, baffle, and shock the audience.

As practical joker, H attracts and holds audience in order to distance himself from it.

A private person, who cultivated public persona, apart from his work

He knew he was a star, and dramatized himself as a star.

The entertainer, the serious artist, the Catholic, the supreme showman, the master technician, the stylish craftsman

H offers a dual analysis:

Analysis of the audience watching the film, and analysis of the chaos that’s always at the fringe of ordinary experience.


In Richard Allen. Hitchcock, pp. 16-17

H favored humor over sentiment

Action over reflection

Visual over literary

Present over past (though past is a prominent theme)

Film as a new narrative form, defined through its difference from literature

Formal allegiance to the medium of film

Self-conscious support of film as film

Being in control on a movie set

Keeping film from contamination by other influences


Formal Technique

The continuous shot of Rope


The greatness of H’s work is both public and hidden

H films are like roller-coaster rides in their combination of confinement and movement.

The connection between thrill and suspense, what he called the time factor


Motifs: Time

The ever-diminishing period of time left for the hero before impending disaster, as danger draws ever closer.


A recurring strategy in all of H’s films is a line of dialogue and a framing comment on each other, combining dramatic irony and self-reference.


Robin Wood: Hitchcock as a serious artist.

The theme of his American films: the therapeutic formation of the couple and the family.

H’s films have wit, rich humor, complex in irony, confidence in the possibilities of the camera, economy and neatness in execution, moral ambiguity, density of detail in all of is scripts.


Recurrent Themes:


Grip of the past on the present

We are all, to some extent, dominated by the past

Our present is limited and interfered with by unremembered and unassimilated past experience.


Ambiguity of guilt and innocence

Transference of Guilt from one individual to another (Strangers on a Train, Psycho)

Fascination with guilty women


Anxiety and Chaos

Uniquely cinematic portraits of complex mental states of confusion, trauma, fear, guilt, and chaos.


Theme: There is no safe place. We can encounter the murderous and bizarre anywhere.

Therapeutic functions of obsession and vulnerability

Equation of knowledge and danger



Fear of the devouring, voracious mother

Kolker, Psycho book, p. 248


Dependence on cinematic form.




Narrative that creates a bleak hopeless world, dominated by terrifying forces.

An important American modernist film

Dark visions of human individuality

H is not the first ironist in Hollywood, but he is its first absurdist



Dana Brand, p. 132:

The world is unknowable, intractable, irregular. You cannot reduce it to a clockwork mechanism.

Profound studies of the condition of human identity, love, knowledge


Sustained, serious reflections on the conditions of the art of film

Combination of high-art ingenuity and mass audience popularity


Consistency and technical ingenuity, strong technical facility and exceptional ability.


The Eye and the Gaze

Hitch as the master of the gaze

H’s films are structured on interchange of look

Tracking gaze: A character is walking, intercut with a tracking shot of what or who the character is walking toward

Example: Lila walking up the stairs to the Bates house in Psycho


Ideas and Good Movies

Saboteur: imaginative, clever entertainment but not a very good film

Hitchcock to Truffaut: Ä mass of ideas, however good they are, is not sufficient to create a successful picture.

Foreign Correspondent:

H told Truffaut: “There were lot of ideas in that picture.



Unrecognized density and complexity of characterization

What may at first seem thinness in H’s films appears on further reflection a toughness and self-discipline, a strict reduction of materials to essentials to give the presentation extreme clarity and force.



Balancing pairs of characters


H work depicts some form of duality

Light and shadow

Unity and duality

Eternal and finite

Being and Nothingness

Life and death



First shot: landscape of Phx daytime, shot in harsh light (sense of eternity)

Then the second shot establishes absolute darkness. The spectators are engulfed along with the camera until a room is revealed.


 Deviance: Love vs. Duty (Violation of Professional Code).

 In Paradine, a married lawyer falls for his client (Alida Valli)

In Spellbound, a single psychiatrist falls for her patient (Peck)

Gregory Peck in both




North by Northwest

Hitchcock and Fritz Lang

Andrew Sarris: H and Lang transformed movies about the war against fascism into demonstrations of their own thematic and stylistic idiosyncracies;  They showed that auteurism and deconstruction are not mutually exclusive



Sarris: Morality is not a function of sympathy, but a rigorous set of principles. If we can becme momentarily indifferent to the fate of a promiscuous blonde (Janet Leigh), or a spoiled playgirl (Melanie Daniel), then we have failed the test.




I Confess:

The longest flashback in his films (how long?

Anne Baxter’s subjective flashback about the romantic past, a flashback of lie and wish fulfillment.




Shadow of a Doubt:




Stage Fright:

It is not the only H film to contain a lying flashback.


 Rothman, p, 340


Hitchcock as Artist

One myth of art is that the artist gives a part of his life to each of his works. During lifetime of creation, he dies many times and is reborn by stages, until he is finally recreated as the creator of his movies.

An artist is immortal: His art triumphs over human mortality

Every authentic work of art bears a murderous. It calls for its creator’s death and allows for his birth


Positive Conventions that diminished

Ascent to truth and love

Helpful denizens

Lucky coincidences

They all diminish or disappear or return as parodies


Hitchcock 1970s: No Movie Stars

There are no star personae in the last three films made by Hitchcock, “Topaz” in 1969, “Frenzy” in 1972, and “Family Plot” in 1976 (his last film).

One reason is that there are more ensemble than star-driven. The parts in these pictures do not call for—or lend themselves to–star personalities of the caliber of Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart in the case of men, or Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly in the case of women.

The last three films eschew the idea of strong individualistic characters for which the Hollywood famous star system was known for.

Even “Torn Curtain” of 1965, which did have two of the 1960s most popular performers, Paul Newman and Julie Andrews (right after winning the Best Actress Oscar for Mary Poppins) did not benefit from the presence of its stars. In fact, it might have suffered, due to the disappointing turns by both Newman and Andrews and the lack of chemistry between them, most noticeable in the film’s first scene, in which the two are in bed.

Always a shrewd filmmaker, Hitchcock might have been the first major director to realize that the star system as we know it, which dominated Hollywood for five decades, is rapidly declining and about to go through major changes.

American viewers of the new era did not pay attention to the old stars of the studio system.


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