Today is the 113th birthday of perhaps one of the few filmmakers whose work and name is universally recognisable. No one aside perhaps Spielberg, Chaplin or Kubrick (and even then) has found greater success in the West and, later, the East.
I can’t remember when my own personal experience with Hitchcock began, though as a young child I will never forget seeing a single image that has continually haunted me ever since.
For those who have seen Psycho, it may surprise you that this image has left a greater mark than a woman screaming, or a knife slicing through skin, or a very very old woman, etc. But perhaps this is what Hitchcock did best – at his most disturbing, his films crawl under your skin giving you a shiver akin to hearing an unusual noise in a dark alley at night. Soon after I saw my grandparent’s DVD of North By Northwest, which prompted me to purchase this 14 disc box set which I’d thoroughly recommend to any cinema lover. Systematically watching through these works and finding later films on TV, it’s simply an absolute treat for any film fan to work through Hitchcock’s vast portfolio of suspense-filled, erotic, terrifying, often hilarious and occasionally moving thrillers, as well as his other movies outside the genre. Though some of his work has left me indifferent (The Birds and Notorious I find difficult to enjoy) this is more than surpassed by his ability to delight and to innovate. It’s exciting to discover, even after seeing many of his most well known films, imaginative moments such as in Rebecca when the camera pans across an empty room as Laurence Olivier describes the last time he saw his wife alive. This kind of ineffable understanding of the cinematic form is expressed not only on screen, but also through his many anecdotal interviews. If ever one there was one filmmaker aspiring directors should study, it would be Hitchcock.
He also is in possession of one of the longest and most influential careers in cinema, from introducing German expressionism to mainstream cinema via his 1929 silent ‘The Lodger’ to the outright absurdity of Alec McCowen’s dinner table conversations amongst the neck-tie killings of his underappreciated 1972 picture ‘Frenzy’. One of the other exciting things about Hitchcock is that even though I would like to think of myself as something of an expert, there are still dozens of Hitchcock films out there to discover (and rediscover) that further expand the retinue of this rare talent. It is indeed difficult to avoid his stylistic influence on cinema whether it be in the slasher genre, or Jaws, or every other Brian De Palma film, or any Danny DeVito picture (DeVito, in my opinion, is the best director to manipulate Hitch’s style for comedic purposes). And so Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s legacy lives on strongly, no less exemplified than in the recent Sight and Sound poll in which 191 critics voted Vertigo the greatest film of all time, or in the recent BFI Hitchcock season, or in the endless repeats of Psycho on ITV3. It would appear that decades later, his films are still leaving audiences, old and new, Spellbound.