Alfred Hitchcock- The Master of Suspense
Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock is perhaps the most respected director of all time. He was known in equal parts for his controversial comments on the film industry as well as his groundbreaking film techniques. He single-handedly established the genre of the modern suspense thriller and made his mark across multiple genres.
Film students study his techniques and consider him a master, and students of acting get to boo and hiss at his disdain of their craft. Regardless of which side you’re on, the entire film industry still studies his techniques and opinions.
His career spanned the better part of the last century, and he was a staple in the golden years of Hollywood. There is no doubt that a thousand years from now, should humans still exist, they will look back at this era and our forms of entertainment, and the name Alfred Hitchcock will undoubtedly come up.
The Life and Death of Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born on the 13th of August 1899, in what is now a London borough. He was one of three children in an Irish Catholic family (both of his parents were half Irish). During WW1 Hitchcock was called up, but was given light duty on the home front due to his physical characteristics (possibly regarding his weight or some other medical condition).
He went on to work in advertising and began writing original short stories with twist endings- a prelude of things to come. Around the same time, Alfred was employed by a London studio creating silent films. Alfred made himself invaluable to the studio, playing multiple roles and working his way into more prominent positions over the next five years.
Eventually, he got his big break as a director in his first feature film. The aptly named Number 13 was canceled due to money issues. Things didn’t get much better when Hitchcock’s first completed film, The Pleasure Garden, was a total flop. The start of the career of one of the most prolific directors of all time was off to a dubious start.
Things took an abrupt turn for the legendary when Alfred Hitchcock presented his first suspense thriller The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog. This story of a Jack the Ripper style character was an immediate success. He would go on to replicate this success and by the end of the 1930’s England had dubbed him Alfred the Great. It was time for him to ascend to the Mecca of filmmaking, Hollywood.
Hitchcock’s first American film occurred in 1940. The film, Rebecca, starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine and won Best Picture at the Academy Awards that year. Alfred Hitchcock had cemented his place amongst the best the film industry had to offer.
For the next 40 years or so Alfred would go on to create masterpieces across the genres but would be best known for the unique and captivating thrillers he immersed the audiences into. His 1960 hit Psycho remains one of the most watched films to this day – even getting a reboot a few years ago. Ironically, Hitchcock never won an Academy Award for best director – though he was knighted in 1980.
I hate to skip over what are likely the best years of his life, definitely the most interesting, but if I tried to go in depth, I would end up describing the drama around literally 40+ films. I suggest you take a look at his IMDB and see how many films you immediately recognize. Each one is a series of stories in itself. Suffice to say, he kicked in the door and just kept kicking – the amount of blockbuster films he directed is the envy of every aspiring filmmaker to this day.
Alfred Hitchcock’s death came from kidney failure in 1980. He was still planning on directing a film right up until the end. The screenplay for that film was eventually published in the book The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock.
Alfred Hitchcock, Master of Suspense
There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.
Alfred Hitchcock is the definition of suspense. The Hitchcock suspense techniques have been studied by film student for decades now, and many of the techniques he pioneered are still used to this day. But just how did Hitchcock create suspense?
Alfred Hitchcock’s famous film techniques included pioneering the use of camera movement that imitates a human gaze, creating a voyeuristic effect. This installs the viewer into a scene more completely and breaks down psychological barriers between the audience and the action. He was a master of framing shots in just the right way to build tension and anxiety. Hitchcock’s film techniques have been built upon, and still form the basis of most suspense and horror film cinematography.
The Vertigo zoom, the different usage of light, novel camera movements and angles, double exposure, and many others were all techniques he brought to the big screen in breathtaking ways.
His theories on suspense are best exemplified in Hitchcock’s bomb theory.
This was only a small sample of the quotes, stories, opinions and techniques having to do with Mr. Hitchcock. You can learn more about the Master of Suspense on Geeker with Patrick McGilligan’s ‘Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light’.