Alfred Hitchcock’s Style

Sir Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock was an English filmmaker and producer. He was born on the 13th of August 1899, and died at 81 on the 29th of April 1980. He has a distinctive and easily recognisable directorial style, his signature camera movements including mimicking eye movement. His movies all feature extensive suspense and use visual emotions. Most movies also have twist endings and MacGuffins, but these only really serve to fully examen the complex psychologies' of the characters. A MacGuffin is an object or goal the main character is after, usually heard about in the beginning of the movie. It is used as a foundation for the main plot and is most of the time forgotten about by the end of the movie, especially in Hitchcock's movies. Money, glory, survival, a source of power or even secret documents are all examples of common MacGuffins.
To capture emotion and control the audience's emotions, there is a technique where various shots portray different messages. For example, a wide shot would mean very little emotion, whereas a close up of a face would fill the screen with deep emotion. Also, having awkward angles, such as looking down at the actor were used to heighten the anxiety, creating the perfect feeling of suspense. Hitchcock used this theorem of proximity to control when the audience would feel relaxed and when it would be anxious. Another camera aspect Hitchcock used was to tell the story visually rather than with dialogue. Hitchcock's career started with silent movies, so he managed to perfect this style. A specific way of depicting the story visually was to make the camera move like an eye, rather than just mechanical movements. The camera swooping around a room, looking for something, then zooming into the object that caught an interest is an example of such a camera technique.

A close-up of the actor portrays stronger feelings of fear. Screenshot from Psycho

Hitchcock also liked to add what he called 'pure cinema'. Pure cinema can be explained as when a close-up shot of an actor shows an expression and the scene cuts to what the character was looking at. We can cut back to the actor for reactions, and cut back to what he/she sees as many times as is wanted. This does not keep the audience bored as one would expect, but instead, it allows them to connect very personally with the character, as well as heightening the suspense.
For action scenes, Hitchcock's style consisted of a series of close-ups almost flashed in succesion. A flash of an arm descending down, a flash of uncovered skin, a flash of the victim's face and/or body as they react to inflicted wounds, a flash to the attacker, a flash to the weapon, back to the attacker, then the victim, and so on. This style can be confusing when written down, but it almost seems natural when viewed. It is excellent to show the aggressiveness of an attack, the closer the camera, the more aggressive and mortal. As another way to increase suspense, Hitchcock shows the audience a crucial piece of information which could harm the character, and we are made to watch the character go towards impending doom, a doom which only us know about, the character being oblivious. This heighten's the sense of suspense considerably, as you watch the character turn the corner where they will most certainly die.

Seeing a flash of the attacker's silhouette heightens anxiety during action scenes. Screenshot from Psycho

Despite all these similar filming techniques, Hitchcock's movies were never the same. This is greatly because of the simple stories he used, with added twist endings. His characters always defied common stereotypes and he prided himself on always delivering the unexpected. The unexpected could mean that the good guy suddenly turns to the other side, or that the main character suddenly dies in a freakish accident, or we may receive the most predictable story just because we were expecting something else from the beginning. All this and more is what makes Alfred Hitchcock one of the best directors of all time.
I have only seen three of his movies to date: The Birds, Psycho, and Vertigo. All these films displayed the special characteristics seen in almost every Hitchcock movie mentioned above.


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