Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. The man Hitch. What a guy. No other fat guy in history commands as much respect as old Alfie, and he deserves it. A sort of Anti-Father Christmas, a kindly old man who instead of toys distributes incredibly disturbing films. Hitchcock treads the line between artistic vision and commercial success in a way not often seen. He was a master of imagery, of the mis-en-scene, and a major inspiration to the French New-wavers of the sixties. He was also one of the most visually innovative directors of his time. Witness the dream sequences in Vertigo and Spellbound (directed by Salvador Dali).
When you sit down to a Hitchcock film, you pretty much know it’s going to be a good’un. While he has admittedly done a couple of duff ones (Topaz and Jamaica Inn don’t really bear repeated viewing) considering the number of films he churned out the quality levels are usually set surprisingly high. And that’s not including the classics, such as Psycho or Rear Window. And in Vertigo, which I consider the pinnacle of his career, we have one of the all time greatest films of all time ever. There are better directed films than Vertigo, and other directors with good track records, but I honestly cannot think of a director as consistently good as Hitchcock.
You might claim a limited range, but he could do it all, from psychological thrillers to psychologically thrilling black comedies. But his strength was in his ability to unsettle. He could do it with something as simple as a striped cushion in Spellbound, or as explicit as the rape scene in Frenzy, filmed in unflinching long shots and as a result a lot more uncomfortable than the jump cuts of the infamous shower scene. Apparently all Hitchcock’s fears derived from a time when he was locked in a prison as a child, to teach him ‘what happens to naughty boys.’ His greatest gift is the ability to recreate this childhood sense of fear and helplessness.
He is helped in this by usually having a fantastic cast. There could not be a more icily beautiful leading lady than Grace Kelly, nor a more effortlessly likable and charming leading man than Gregory Peck or Jimmy Stewart (though slightly miscast as a Nietzschean in Rope). He even got Richard from Keeping Up Appearances for Frenzy. But the biggest star was always Hitch himself. He created a cult of personality around himself, unusual for a director. He made sure he made an appearance in each of his films, though usually near the start so people didn’t spend the whole film looking for him. He even managed to make a cameo in a film set entirely in a life boat with two men in it. And he had a very distinctive silhouette. Imagine how good 24 could have been if Hitchcock had been around to direct it.
My brother mentions the fact, familiar to all self-respecting cinephiles, that Hitchcock made a point of appearing in cameo roles in all his own films. What is equally fascinating but less well-known is that he also appears in each of the movies of Molly Ringwald. Adopting a series of ingenious disguises, the corpulent presumed-dead auteur can be seen in such fleeting but memorable roles as 'Geeks father' in The Breakfast Club, and 'Prom Bitch no. 2' in Pretty in Pink. Hitch would keep his identity secret from everyone else on the set, only revealing himself when principal photography was completed by posting to Ms. Ringwald a set of photographs of herself he would take over the course of the shoot using his trusty telefocus night-vision camera. It is widely rumoured that the strain precipitated by this behaviour caused Ringwald to suffer a massive nervous breakdown, resulting in her otherwise thoroughly inexplicable expulsion from the upper echelons of cinematic stardom.
Of course, these days it is generally accepted that Hitchcock is indeed dead, but still across the land there are those who keep the faith; whispered rumours wherever brave men dare to gather that he did not die, but went into hiding; standing vigilant against the dark day that Molly Ringwald's career should rise again. Waiting, forever waiting...