by Laurent Kelly
The first in a recurring series which takes a look at seven shots that define the filmmaking gifts of a particular director. This first installment focuses on the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock.
SHOT 1 – WALKING ON THE CEILING TRICK FROM THE LODGER (1927)
Lots of factors had to be considered before the invention of sound like for example how to engage the audience with the thoughts of the characters on screen. Of course a puzzled frown does the trick but in The Lodger, Hitchcock demonstrated excellent early visual awareness with a stunning shot that showed concerned family members imagining their mysterious house guest pacing along the floor in his room up above.
It was pulled off through a cunning lighting trick that showed the lower half of the lodger’s body wondering ghost like through the lamps and is wonderfully convincing in its ability to evoke the paranoid and panicked mindset of the characters.
SHOT 2 – THE MURDERER’S IDENTITY REVEALED IN THE YOUNG AND INNOCENT (1937)
In a brauvada piece of filmmaking we travel with the camera through a hotel ballroom knowing that there is a murderer in our midst. All we know about the killer is that he has a distinct twitch and so the shot finally settles on a blackfaced drummer who makes a striking motion with his face that gives himself away to the audience as the villain.
This is a brilliant example of dramatic irony being used as an exhilerating cinematic tool whilst taking the audience on an unpredictable
SHOT 3 – THE OPENING MURDER SEQUENCE IN ROPE (1948)
You’ve got to hand it to a man who decides to start a film by showing the savage nature of his characters first and then exploring their emotional drive in the scenes that follow. As we watch two men murder one of their college companions we should be too appalled to want to spend any further time in their presence but instead we find ourselves oddly fascinated by their plans to invite around a whole cast of characters with the body hidden right under their guests noses.
Hitchcock has faith in his audience to be intrigued by his violent lead characters and thus he works from a enlightening standpoint that at first you display the horror and then leave the audience with the nagging feeling of needing to understand and come to terms with what they have seen.
I’m not sure that any other filmmaker has been so skilled at getting under his audiences skin in such an original and visually captivating fashion.
SHOT 4 – THE KILLER IN THE CROWD SEQUENCE FROM STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951)
Want to draw attention to the villain amongst a packed tennis crowd? Then why not just show his chillingly still face whilst everyone else bops their head to an fro in rythm with the ralleying of the ball.
This simple but effective shot has a powerfully unnerving effect amongst the viewer as well as presenting a unique and eye grabbing visual.
SHOT 5 – THE CHILLING ENDING TO PSYCHO (1960)
Too much has been written about the incredible shower sequence so I’ll focus instead on another brilliantly crafted moment from Psycho. After the psychologist has given his long winded babble about Norman Bates’ condition towards the end of the film we are treated to a shot of Bates himself alone in his room, head down and morose whilst we hear his mother’s thoughts via voiceover.
Eventually he turns his head up and reveals a twisted, enigmatic smile as he promises to show the institution that he couldn’t so much as harm a fly.
This is the perfect ending to a film because it manages to create intrigue around a sequel (which did come eventually) but doesn’t
feel gimmicky as a consequence. The voiceover is used in expert fashion to show his double sided personality and the slow rising of the
head is more frightening than any amount of gore could be in its place.
At the end we are very much reminded that its the seemingly normal men like Bates who are the real monsters of society. Not so much a powerful or ground-breaking theme in 2011 maybe but definitely revolutionary for a film ushering in the sixties.
SHOT 6 – THE PLAYGROUND SEQUENCE FROM THE BIRDS (1963)
The skill is in the patience. We sit and watch Tippi Hedren’s protagonist smoke a cigarette in the school playground whilst finding ourselves soothed by the calming sound of the childrens singing. We are so relaxed in fact that we think nothing to one bird suddenly arriving on the aparatus in the background. Then one more arrives however. And then another. And before we know it all hell is getting ready to break loose.
This remarkable piece of filmmaking is so impressive in its ability to transition from a deep sense of calm to a dreaded sense of
panic and also by the manner in which the power is given to the audience as it enables them to be offered a crucial plot that heightens their connection with the naive character on screen.
Even more striking is that the children’s beautiful singing continues throughout juxtapising with the killing intent of the birds in a rather chilling and unforgettable fashion.
SHOT 7 – THE IMPLIED MURDER SEQUENCE FROM FRENZY (1972)
Typical of Hitchcock, as one of the most powerful death scenes ever committed to celluloid is never actually shown. Rather we learn the crucial bits and pieces beforehand as Robert Rusk, a man we know to be the neck tie murderer walks a woman up to his apartment. He charms her towards his door and then tells her that “your my kind of woman”… the very line that he uttered before violently turning
against one of his victims in the first act.
After hearing this catchphrase again we no longer need to witness anymore and the camera simply travels back downstairs leaving us only to imagine what kind of terror is taking place inside his apartment.
Whatsmore the camera keeps moving backwards until we are suddenly amongst the hustle and bustle of market life, as if nothing had just happened and thus reaffirming the starkling truth that we live amongst this type of violence every day with its reality cleverly disguised by the aura of normality that evil can so easily camouflage itself in.