Hitchcock, Alfred (1899–1980)

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English film director.

One of the most popular directors of motion pictures, Alfred Hitchcock always paid attention to the possible reactions of the audience and established a special and permanent relationship between him as a director, the actors, and the spectators. He personally supervised some of the trailers of his films in such a way that the truth of the story hung in the balance until the beginning of the screening. He often made a short appearance in his movies, driving the spectators to try to spot him. From 1955 to 1965, he was the host and producer of a television series entitled Alfred Hitchcock Presents; his voice, image, and figure thus became instantly recognizable. He directed some fifty films over the course of his career, with several of them becoming box office hits, which are still highly valued in the early twenty-first century.

Hitchcock worked first in England, his native country, where he got his start in film in 1920 in London, designing the titles for silent movies. He stayed for a while in Germany at the UFA, the major Berlin studio, where he supposedly discovered the work of Fritz Lang. He made a name for himself with The Lodger (1926) and Blackmail (1929), his first talkie, where he explored the dramatic and symbolic possibilities of sound. During the 1930s most of his films were influenced by the prewar atmosphere of Europe (The 39 Steps, 1935; Sabotage, 1937; The Lady Vanishes, 1938). Asked by his friend Sidney Bernstein, head of the British Ministry of Information's film division, to make two shorts for supporting the French Resistance during World War II, he directed Bon Voyage and Aventure malgache (1944). If a political consciousness manifests itself here, it is mixed with a good deal of humor and suspense. However, he also contributed to the editing of a one-hour documentary on the story of Nazi concentration camps (Memory of the Camps, 1945).

By the end of the 1930s he came to the attention of Hollywood. The mogul David O. Selznick invited him to come to America to direct Rebecca (1940), an adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier's best-selling novel. Rebecca had been a project initiated by Selznick, not Hitchcock. While the film won an Oscar, Hitchcock did not win for best director and never would, although he would receive honorary Oscars. It was a French director coming from the "Nouvelle Vague" (new wave), the former critic François Truffaut, who made possible the recognition of Hitchcock as an "auteur." Truffaut had a long interview with Hitchcock in August 1962, in Universal City, which became a book known as the "Hitchbook."

In Hollywood Hitchcock experimented with color films, widescreen formats, and even 3-D in Dial "M" for Murder (1954), working with stars like Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ingrid Bergman, and Janet Leigh. The common themes of his movies—fear, sex, evil, innocence or guilt—cannot be separated from their mise-en-scène. Hitchcock was not interested in the perpetrator of the action, or in the action itself, the famous "whodunit," but, as Gilles Deleuze emphasized, in "the set of relations in which the action and the characters are taken" (Deleuze, p. 270).

To take only one example, in Vertigo (1958) the titles (Saul Bass), the music (Bernard Herrmann), the projection technique (VistaVision, developed by Paramount to compete with Fox's Cinemascope), the "real" locations (San Francisco), all help to create very complex feelings. At one stage in the film, Madeleine/Judy (Kim Novak) and Scottie (James Stewart) are in a redwood forest. On an old sequoia, some landmark dates are inscribed from the center of the tree trunk to the edge. Madeleine thinks of her own lifetime and suddenly disappears behind the trees. The perception of time is rendered with a great intensity, and at that point Hitchcock creates some of the most haunting mental images he ever made. Suddenly we bump into the "portals of the past," and we try to take the plunge. It is not surprising to see how Hitchcock influenced a lot of filmmakers, the most talented being Brian de Palma (Obsession, 1976; Body Double, 1984), the most scrupulous, ChrisMarker (The Pier, 1962)—both of whom were inspired by Vertigo—and the most unexpected being Gus Van Sant, whose exact, shot-by-shot re-creation of Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) was released in 1998.

See alsoCinema.


Allen, Richard, and Sam Ishii-Gonzáles, eds. Hitchcock: Past and Future. London and New York, 2004.

Auiler, Dan. Hitchcock's Notebooks: An Authorized and Illustrated Look inside the Creative Mind of Alfred Hitchcock. New York, 1999.

Deleuze, Gilles. L'Image-mouvement. Paris, 1983.

Hitchcock, Alfred. Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Writings and Interviews. Edited by Sidney Gottlieb. Berkeley, Calif., 1995.

Krohn, Bill. Hitchcock at Work. London, 2000.

McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. New York, 2003.

Rohmer, Eric, and, Claude Chabrol. Hitchcock, the First Forty-four Films. Translated by Stanley Hochman. New York, 1979.

Ryall, Tom. Alfred Hitchcock and the British Cinema. 2nd ed. London, 1996.

Spoto, Donald. The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock. Boston, 1983.

Truffaut, François. Hitchcock. Rev. ed. New York, 1984.

Christian Delage