It must be the colors of spring that makes me think about his films, but March always reminds me of Hitchcock. Especially in reflection of Women’s History Month, as while he is a brilliant filmmaker, he really was cruel to his female actors on set. So therefore, I’m going to instruct how one gets into Hitchcock, but with remembrance of how much of an asshole he was. It’s not uncommon to do that with many filmmakers throughout the years.
This post will also celebrate the performances in Hitchcock films, as they make the film what it is. When watching Hitchcock, you are looking for color theory, queer theory and femme fatales. The way that his films shifted throughout the years to become something more than he initially intended is why we still study Hitchcock with a ferocity and with a self-aware eye of who he was and what he did. Therefore, here is a quick guide to get into Hitchcock if you haven’t made the dive yet.
A note: Hitchcock films are predominantly thrillers. Psycho and The Birds, however, are horror films that directly affected the modern definition of horror however, so therefore, I consider him a horror filmmaker in this article. Without his craft of suspense, horror films and its scares would not hit as hard.
An Introduction: Psycho
If you clicked on this or follow my blog, you have to see this film. Other than Peeping Tom, which came out mere months before Psycho, this is the groundwork for the modern slasher film. It also is home to some of the greatest plot twists of all time–how long Janet Leigh is actually in the film and the reveal of the killer. These reveals were so great, that when it released in theaters, there was a record that played in the foyers that acted as an announcement to when the film was going to start, and they would refuse entry once the opening credits played. Now, I do realize that I mentioned Hitchcock and color in the introduction. However, due to the graphic nature of this film for the 1960s, it was filmed in black and white to keep costs and gore down.
While the color theory is out the window for this one, Psycho does have a queer subtext. Anthony Perkins is a legendary queer actor and his performance as Norman Bates can be interpreted as internal frustration and anger of a confused, homosexual man. That could explain his choice of alter-ego (which might have been a way to get around the Hayes Act) and the violence towards women–an act of jealousy of something he could never have. It also explains the rage and contempt that he has for his mother–the one who ‘made’ him this way–as well as the adoration he has for her–someone to cling to as an outsider in this mid-century, homophobic society. Something to think about on your first watch or your latest rewatch.
His Most Accessible: North by Northwest
Rather than focusing on a murder, North by Northwest plays out as a spy suspense-drama. In fact, its final act plays out as an action film really, showcasing that iconic scene of Cary Grant booking it away from the propellor plane. Now it’s controversial, I know, but I haven’t seen this film–not that it hasn’t interested me. I will watch it for sure and it is one that critics recommend to Hitchcock newbies constantly.
This film has the suspense of the Hitchcock but feels like it lacks the main things I derive out of Hitchcock films. Although, I am not against Cary Grant being the biggest badass ever. All because he is mistaken for a government agent. Therefore, if you are looking for the psychological horror element of Hitchcock, have this down the list a bit. If you want to jump into all things Hitchcock, give it a whirl.
Let’s Look at something a bit more relatable: Rear Window
Ah, spying on your neighbors. We’ve all done it at some point. Well, what if that partial voyeurism causes you to be witness to a murder? If Shia LaBeouf just popped in your head, let me point you to the source material of Disturbia. Rear Window is a masterpiece with a conflicting protagonist. It’s romantic, it’s funny, it’s suspenseful. Definitely not as gritty as its bastardized remake. It also features one of the most elaborate sets, with the entire apartment complex built on a soundstage. There were 31 fully functional apartments constructed on that set, which is wild.
This film features the wonderful Grace Kelly and Thelma Ritter–extremely headstrong, empowered characters. Due to Jimmy Stewart’s Jeff confined to a wheelchair, it is Kelly’s Lisa crawling through windows and risking her life at the hands of the murderer. They are the voices of reason when it seems that Jeff seems to take it too far in his ‘investigation.’ Also, the muted colors of the wardrobe of the film convey both the climate of the setting as well as the understanding of what is going on. It transitions to black and white as the murder confirms itself. It is a must watch, even if you’re not into Hitchcock’s style of a slow burn.
Remembering Tippi Hedren: The Birds
This film is a little more uncomfortable to watch given the release of Tippi Hedren’s memoir. Everyone was well aware that Hitchcock was cruel towards Hedren on the set–to the extent that he had live birds thrown at her which resulted in her and the birds’ extreme distress and injuries towards Hedren. However, she revealed that Hitchcock basically pulled a Weinstein, and sexually assaulted and harassed her several times, and her refusal to sleep with him led to all of that cruelty. This is why I push those to admire Hitchcock’s films but with a large grain of salt.
The Birds is brilliantly shot and has one of the best scenes in a film ever–the jungle gym scene. However, when you watch this, please remember what Tippi Hedren had to go through, and watch it for her. It will make for a hard watch and reading her experience might taint Hitchcock for you forever. However, it is another case to separate the art from the artist. The Birds is more of a strict horror film rather than a psychological thriller too, so if you’re on this page for horror, this is the film for you.
Red, green and blue: Vertigo
We see Jimmy Stewart again in a pretty conflicting role as John Ferguson, an ex-cop who suffers from a bout of vertigo due to a traumatic incident while on the force. Then we have Kim Novak. She plays a double role in the film, and truly steals the scenes she is in. If you want to see tension–both the love and the hate kind–this is the film for you. I can’t say much more without giving anything away, however, I will talk briefly about the color theory and what you should look for when viewing my personal favorite.
Madeline is green, John is red. In an iconic scene (pictured above), we see Madeline in this gorgeous green gown against a red background–which is the first time John sees her. It speaks to the instant infatuation he has for her, and they go on to wear these colors and eventually wear each other’s. Novak’s other character, Judy, wears cool blue, and it plays a stark contrast to John’s hot red, which reflects his obsession and anger that he falls into due to events that occurred with Madeline. It is an important tool that reflects how the characters are feeling without using a spoken internal monologue.
The Unsung Gem: Rope
When I said Vertigo was my favorite Hitchcock, this one is basically tied with it. This film is a brilliant piece of cinema that is one of the easiest to see through queer theory. Two men who share an apartment kill someone and store them in a cassone, which they set up for a dinner party. For those that may not know, a cassone is a marriage chest, and the act of placing something dead inside can be read as the concept of marriage being dead to these two lovers. The glances they exchange throughout the film confirms this intimacy.
They filmed Rope in a single shot-single take, meaning they had to act like a play. They would always focus on a wall or something still to switch out the roll of film. For the year 1948, that is deeply impressive and only adds to the brilliance of this film. It is an intense thriller that I could not recommend more. It also is free use copyright at the moment, so you can catch it for free on YouTube–even more of a reason to check it out.
Who knew tennis could make you anxious?: Strangers on a Train
A casual flirtation with murder turns deadly serious in this film. Strangers on a Train is another film that is dripping with queer context. I’ll kill your wife if you kill my father is the deal with a one-sided agreement. The intense eye contact between Guy and Bruno while talking about such grandiose “solutions” to their issues further confirms the queer theory, so definitely keep an eye out for the intimacy between the two men–it’s subtle but it’s there.
There are two scenes in this film that shoots this film up to one of Hitchcock’s best. That is the carnival scene and the tennis match. Hitchcock already took the intensity of a tennis match and combined it with such dread and anticipation that you will be squirming in your seat.
Remaking his own film: The Man Who Knew TOo Much
Another film that I haven’t seen (don’t sue me), but it has a bit of a weird timeline. Hitchcock made this film in 1934, and then decided to one up himself and cast Jimmy Stewart–his muse–as well as Doris Day and remake his own film 22 years later. Hitchcock also loves to write about innocent people getting caught up in government affairs. This is also the film that introduced the lovely song “Que Sera Sera,” in quite an intense scene.
This is considered to be Hitchcock’s family film. It really puts a strain on the couple in question about where their values lie and how they rely on each other in a situation that they can’t bring to someone who could intervene easily. It’s not necessarily one to watch with the little ones, but more of a reflection for those of us sucked into day-to-day life and not realizing we should rely on one another to make progress. In this case, they do it to save the life of their son.
Here is a brief list, which don’t include many other amazing films. Rebecca, The 39 Steps, Dial M for Murder, Notorious… the list goes on. Hitchcock is a true mastermind. While he is–to put it politely–a piece of shit, his work should not be forgotten. It is also notable to remember the women in Hitchcock films and try to keep in mind what they went through to create such art. While his queer subtext in most of his films infer a possible queerness in Hitchcock–which can foster violent self-inflicted homophobia–he had no right to take that out on others, especially the women who were not only brutalized in the fiction he was writing, but also in reality.
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