Brief considerations on Alfred Hitchcock's style

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By VANDERLEI TENÓRIO*

From the Hitchcockian perspective, it was important that the audience knew more than the characters, in order to create suspense.

The Hitchcockian style includes using camera movement to emulate a person's gaze, turning viewers into voyeurs, and devising shots to maximize anxiety and fear. Film critic Robin Wood said that the meaning of a Hitchcock film “is in the method, in the progression from shot to shot. A Hitchcock film is an organism, with the whole manifesting itself in every detail and every detail connected to the whole”.

In collaboration for the website Fact Mirror, Miguel Cunha dos Santos described that for Hitchcock the camera was much more than an instrument for capturing images. Whatever the filmmaker used, they had a purpose greater than their primary function. The cameras were the spectator's eyes and it was through them that Hitchcock told and constructed the narratives.

In this opportunity, Cunha analyzes that, despite being fundamental and always present, dialogue for the filmmaker was nothing more than a simple noise in the midst of many others. It served to tell stories because it is part of being human: it is who we are and it is our main communication tool. Even so, in the films of the master of suspense, the dialogues were placed at a lower level than the visual narrative.

From the Hitchcockian perspective, it was important that the audience knew more than the characters, so that the true moment of suspense could be created: the second in which we know that something is about to happen, that the character may be in danger and that the spectator, with nerves on a fringe, you just want to scream "Get out!".

Hitchcock used to include a murder or crime at the beginning of his films, so that the audience would be curious to know how the plot would develop and what its outcome would be. Sérgio Alpendre says that the visual ideas proposed by Hitchcock are always striking, that is, that since his silent films the director realized that, as he did not have audio as a collaborator, he needed to draw attention through the visual to retain viewers.

Alpendre underlines that the death represented in the director's films would then be a remarkable event, which places viewers as eyewitnesses, whether impartial or sympathetic to one of those involved. Usually placed at the beginning, it encourages the viewer to watch the rest of the film and see how the story will end.

In 2018, the article published in the journal Displinarium Scientia, written by Eduardo Biscayno de Prá and Michele Kapp Trevisan highlighted another great differential in Hitchcock's films: the sound. The Englishman realized early on that the treatment of sound contributed to capturing the public's attention. In the master's thesis, entitled "Music in the Construction of Cinematographic Narrative (Alfred Hitchcock & Stanley Kubrick)”, Ana Patrícia da Silva Gonçalves explained that regarding the use of sound in films, Hitchcock, from his first sound films, considered it as a new expression of cinematographic art – sound helped to create feelings such as excitement, tension, and even , to express what is implied, the unspoken subtext.

Music was another crucial component in the director's films. Hitchcock used music to create or maintain suspense, express the emotions or mood he wanted in the scene, creating a familiarity between the audience and the film by linking a certain character with a certain sound or melody. An important fact, therefore, Hitchcock was concerned with creating a connection through emotion with the spectators.

To confirm the importance of the soundtrack for technical structuring, we can cite, as an example, the memorable soundtrack composed by Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) for Psychosis (1960). In the feature film, the soundtrack itself consists of a total of 34 insertions throughout the film, based on different themes – this means that, throughout the film, there were 34 scenes that contained music, with the rest of the film being composed of dialogues or silent scenes.

Therefore, the audio in the director's films was worked more on the basis of the musical score than on the speech of the characters, creating, at times, an atmosphere of suspense that carried the intentions intended by the director. The silence of the characters, used as a dramatic pause, corroborated to increase the atmosphere of tension, generating the curiosity of the spectators.

In line with the Hitchcockian narrative, the English filmmaker had his own narrative method, which he called MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or Maguffin), which consisted of introducing an object into the plot whose function was solely to be a pretext for the advancement of history. story, apparently random to the development of the narrative.

Jorge Louraço reinforced that the MacGuffin is what motivates the character's action, a pretext to make the action happen and activate the spectator's attention – to better visualize, for example, the MacGuffin in the movie Psychosis it's the money stolen from the boss. Money is only used to drive the character Marion Crane to the Bates Motel, but when arriving at the motel, money loses its importance in the course of the story.

 

Building Characters:

Shana Silveira Torres described that Hitchcock worked a lot on the profile of his characters, as he believed that they should not have a linear identity throughout the film, since the conflict would be revealed immediately and, thus, the viewer would not be interested in the plot. At this point, regarding the typically Hitchcockian characters, that is, types of characters present in the director's films, she classifies them into three main archetypes, namely: the icy blonde, the villain and the hero.

She explains that Hitchcock dedicated a lot of energy to the aesthetic composition of his muses, he didn't like it when the studios chose an actress who wasn't elegant, pale and blonde. Hitchcock's blondes are, for the most part, independent women, who work and do not lead a life limited to domestic tasks, or even, socialites well dressed and elegant.

With regard to villains, Hitchcock conceived people who had no scruples. The genius of horror believed that a character should arouse feelings of both repulsion and identification in the spectator in order to confuse him, thus creating bonds. Hitchcock's villains are well constructed, mainly because they do not have the same linear profile throughout the plot, and may even become the victim at the end of the film, as an example, I quote Kim Novak in A Falling Body (1858), who ends up falling at the end of the film from the top of a church tower.

And finally, the hero, like the villain, does not have a linear identity throughout the film. Hitchcock created his villains and heroes with the same pretext, so that the spectator could see both qualities and defects in the characters, thus, there would only be certainty of his character at the end of the film, with the outcome. Many of his heroes are unfairly accused, becoming false culprits, but, in general, his purpose is to unmask the criminal before society.

In movies we can find different types of heroes, ranging from the representative of the law, such as the Dial M for Kill (1954), to those struggling to solve a crime, like James Stewart (1908-1997) in Indiscreet Window (1954) who, upon realizing the disappearance of a neighbor, suspects that she was murdered by her husband.

In view of this, I reiterate that the hero and the villain must provoke different feelings in the spectators, making them identify and create bonds with the same, both one and the other have qualities and defects exposed throughout the film.

 

The female role in Hitchcock's works:

Tiago Svaletti details that in Hitchcock's films women can have varying degrees of visibility. According to him, the first would be the absent or omnipresent women, who dominate the film without ever appearing on screen. An example is Rebecca herself from the movie Rebecca' (1940), who, even dead since the beginning of the film, is present through comments about her and objects with her initials engraved.

The opaque women, on the other hand, are described by Stivaletti as those who have a great mystery around them, who end up reinforcing their figure and who enchant the male characters, who will try to unravel them anyway. An example is the blonde played by Kim Novak in A Falling Body.

And, finally, the transparent women, that is, those that the spectator, and most of the characters, know and have full control of their feelings and thoughts, therefore, end up arousing less charm. They are usually victims of male characters, as is the case of Oscar winner for Best Actress (1955), Grace Kelly in Dial M for Kill (1954), or even victims of omnipresent women, such as Oscar winner for Best Actress (1942), Joan Fontaine in Rebecca - Fontaine won an Oscar for Suspicious (1941), a classic thriller directed by Hitchcock, from an adapted screenplay by Samson Raphaelson and Joan Harrison.

However, I maintain that there is no doubt that Hitchcock was one of the pioneers of modern cinema. From films that, at the time, manipulated an entire audience, he broke the barriers between terror and suspense, unveiling, still, obscure parts of the human psyche. The filmmaker is “immortal” as he has contributed immensely to horror and its subgenres. Hitchcock didn't just create modern horror, he validated it.

*Vanderlei Tenorio Bachelor's Degree in Geography at the Federal University of Alagoas (UFAL).

 

References


ALPENDRE, Sergio. Death and falsehood in young Hitchcock's cinema. In: PINHEIRO, Mariana (Org.). Hitchcock. São Paulo: CCBB – Banco do Brasil Cultural Center, 2011. p. 59-66.

GONÇALVES, Ana Patricia da Silva. Music in the Construction of Cinematographic Narrative (Alfred Hitchcock & Stanley Kubrick). 2014. 90f. Dissertation (Master in Cultural and Literary Mediation) – University of Minho, Institute of Letters and Human Sciences, Braga, Portugal, 2014.

LOURACO, Jorge. Figures of speech of the unspeakable in Conversations with my father. Spectacle Dossier – Conversation with my father. Black Room, Sao Paulo. v. 14, no. 2, p. 182-186, 2014.

TORRES, Shana Silveira. The Costumes of the Doubles and Characters with Split Personality in the Films A Body That Falls and Dial M to Kill by Alfred Hitchcock. 2012. 94f. Monograph (Graduation in Journalism) – Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre-RS, 2012.

STIVALETTI, Thiago. The Hitchcockian Woman: Absence, Opacity, Transparency. In: PINHEIRO, Mariana (Org.). Hitchcock. São Paulo: CCBB – Banco do Brasil Cultural Center, 2011.

PRÁ, Eduardo Biscayno de; TRIVISAN, Michele Kapp. Hitchcockian Style: Systematizing its characteristics in audiovisual narrative. Magazine Disciplinarum Scientia. Series: Arts, Letters and Communication, Santa Maria, v. 19, no. 1, p. 45-56, 2018.

 

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