The Auteur In Alfred Hitchcocks Rear Window

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The Auteur In Alfred Hitchcocks Rear Window



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Inside the Classic Realm of Alfred Hitchcock's: Rear Window

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There's an endearing photo of the director from , in his trademark black suit next to a tower of all his films. He stands on tiptoe to place the latest addition on the top: Torn Curtain. This was a rare disappointment, a cold war thriller starring Julie Andrews and Paul Newman. But taken as a whole, it is astonishing how many outright masterpieces he created, films you can watch repeatedly, sometimes noticing a new angle, sometimes just thrilling all over again to the same brilliantly framed moments of danger, humour or fear.

But 10 is nothing like enough. I haven't mentioned To Catch a Thief from Ostensibly, this is a piece of fluff about cat burglary set in the French Riviera, but it is crammed with moments that are resonant, suspenseful or just plain fun, such as a cigarette being extinguished in a fried egg, Grace Kelly wearing the most ridiculous — yet stunning — gold frock, and one of Hitchcock's most delicious cameos, on a bus, giving Cary Grant a look of plump consternation. Hitchcock's personal favourite of his movies — a surprising choice — was the relatively unknown Shadow of a Doubt starring Joseph Cotten as a serial strangler who comes to stay with his adoring older sister and her family in Santa Rosa, California.

Bit by bit, the strangler's niece Charlie — who has always doted on her uncle — starts to suspect him. One of many visual cues is the moment when we see Cotten strangling a piece of toast at breakfast. As the tension builds to its climax, the film manifests what the critic Arthur Vesselo called Hitchcock's mastery of contrast, "balancing the normal against the abnormal, slowness against speed, sound against silence, humour against terror".

He was happy to work with a range of writers, including John Steinbeck who wrote Lifeboat , a strange disaster movie featuring Tallulah Bankhead and a motley assortment of survivors, who end up being saved by the Nazi officer who torpedoed their ship , Thornton Wilder and John Michael Hayes, who wrote four scripts for Hitchcock, including the wonderfully witty Rear Window. Having spent two formative years designing title-cards for a movie production company, Hitchcock always understood that film was a collaborative business. Vertigo is as much a showcase for Edith Head's costume designs and Bernard Herrmann's music as it is for Hitchcock's images.

His first and fondest collaborator was his wife Alma Reville, an editor and scriptwriter whom he met in when working for Famous Players-Lasky in London, on the set of a silent picture called The Prude's Fall. He delayed marrying her for five years, until he had three films under his belt, because — he later hinted — he needed this status to be sure of securing her. Alma's remained the one opinion he minded about most because — their daughter Pat said — "she was the one person who he relied on to tell him the truth". After watching the initial cut of Vertigo , Alma said it was terrific but he must ditch a shot of Kim Novak running across a square where her legs looked fat. Sure enough, he cut the offending shot out, even though it caused continuity problems, because without the running, Novak seems to leap from one side of the square to the other.

But to please Alma, he changed it. In , when accepting a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute, he begged permission to thank four people who had given him the most "constant collaboration". One was a film editor, the second a scriptwriter, the third the best cook he knew and the fourth the mother of his daughter, "and their names are Alma Reville".

Donald Spoto's biography The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock depicted him as a creep with a mother fixation — a wannabe Norman Bates — whose films were autobiographical projections of his own sick erotic fantasies. For Spoto, he was a "macabre" artist whose unquenchable desire for perfect blondes led him to torture them both on screen and off. It is admittedly true that late in his career something went wrong in his relationship with Tippi Hedren, with whom he became fixated. She was a fashion model when he "discovered" her for The Birds , and he took it upon himself to mould her acting.

The relationship soured on the set of Marnie. Hitch made some kind of indecent proposal to her, as well as chiding her once too often. She then did "what no one is permitted to do. She referred to my weight. With most of his actors, however, male or female, Hitchcock was remarkably hands-off. This did the trick. The pleasure of watching Cary Grant in a suit — he has a certain debonair way of putting a hand in one trouser pocket — is never greater than in his Hitchcock performances.

The director had much the same confidence in James Stewart, mostly leaving him to do his own thing; and well he might, given that Stewart's presence in a Hitchcock film meant an extra million dollars at the box office compared with Grant or so he told the actor James Mason. Hitchcock also gave free rein to Doris Day, Stewart's co-star in the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much , even though the role was a significant departure from her usual musical comedy. Day played Stewart's wife, a famous singer who is driven to hysteria when her only child is kidnapped on a trip to Morocco. After the location shoot was finished, Day was left feeling puzzled because "not once, in any situation, did A Hitchcock say a word to me that would have indicated that he was a director".

When she eventually asked what was wrong, he replied: "But dear Doris, you've done nothing to elicit comment from me. If he did not allow the same latitude to Joan Fontaine in Rebecca whom he needled into by far the best performance of her career as the nameless heroine or Kim Novak in Vertigo , it was not because he was a sadist to women, but because it was what the part required.

For Vertigo , the script stipulated that the lead character of Madeleine wore a grey suit; indeed it is integral to the plot. So it wasn't exactly helpful when Novak said she'd prefer to wear any colour "except grey". In forcing Novak to wear the grey suit — just as Scottie forces poor Judy to wear it — Hitchcock was only putting the work first. Colour was not a trivial detail to Hitchcock: the shading of light and dark on a screen was the larger part of cinema.

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