August 13, 2008
Happy Birthday Hitch!
A day like today, 109 years ago, one of the my most favourite filmmakers of all time was born: Alfred Hitchcock, the one and only Master of Suspense. I remember vividly the first Hitchcock film I saw, "Psycho", his most popular movie. I was 14 years old and dissapointed with what cinema offered at the time, decided to give old movies a try and rent a few thatlooked interesting (or that I had previously read about them) for a weekend. My three choices for that weekend were Tod Browning's "Dracula", James Whale's "Frankenstein", and Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho". The Hitchcock film was the one I saw first and I was just hooked by the very beginning. The powerful musical intro by Bernard Herrmann together with Saul Brass' visuals was just unlike anything I had seen before. I had seen my fair share of old classics, but this was different. Maybe I had matured, but that was the first time I saw cinema as an artform, not just enterteinment. And the film was glorious. Still is. It's probably th emovie that I have seen the most times (saw it three times that first weekend. Now I see it religiously at least once every year).
I bought the film as soon as I had the chance. And kept hoping that one day I could see more of the Master's work. After "Psycho" and that powerful Universal Horror combo, I became a cinephile, and began the travel through the past, discovering and rediscovering cinema, as I saw it now under a new light. Movies I liked before now I loved even more, and some I liked were now dissapointing. But the magic could be present everywhere. Later, when DVD became more accesible, I saw the chance of finding more from Hitchcock and yes, with the release of his most famous American films by Universal and Warner Brothers, I finally was able to discover what was so mysterious about uncle Charlie, why was Guy Haines so afraid of Bruno Anthony, what was the meaning of the plane dusting crops, and how beautiful a woman named Grace can be. Despite his disdain for actors, Hitchcock introduced me to some wonderful one, such as the above mentioned Princes of Monaco, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Peter Lorre, Teresa Wright, Henry Fonda, and many, many more. I still have more films by him to watch (his early British period, but hopefully I'll watch them soon), and I'm sure the trip will be interesting.
In a way, my whole cinephilia exists thanks to the day I put the "Psycho" tape on my VHS. For that and more, today this humble blog remembers Sir Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense, who would be 109 years old if he was alive today. So like any respectable cinephile would do, I present now my list (oh, the lists!) of favourite films, by the legendary filmmaker:
5) "Psycho" (1960)
Even when the plot and twist is so deeply ingrained in our collective mind, it STILL is a powerful experience. With self imposed limits of budget and resources, Hitchcock proves that a low budget horror b-movie can be a masterpiece, with the proper directing. A landmark of horror (it played a key role in the developing of the slasher subgenre, as well as inspiring the filmmakers of the 60s and 70s), "Psycho" may not be really perfect (not even on its initial release), but it's so enjoyable that it feels perfect in every way.
4) "Strangers on a Train" (1951)
Two men meet on a trip by train and one comes up with a novel idea: one man will kill the other's "biggest problem", and since they are not related, it'll be a perfect crime. Suspense is the key here, as while one (Guy Haines, played by Farley Granger) of the two refuses the proposal, the other (Bruno Anthony, a marvelous Robert Walker) won't take a no for an answer, and so a battle of wits between the two begins, with Bruno Anthony haunting the Guy's world, and consuming every piece of it. And it all started with the meeting of two strangers on a train.
3) "Rope" (1948)
Hitchcock famous "one take" experiment is often labeled as a merely a gimmick (because of the film's concept of attempting to look as if no editing had been done, with everything in an apparent one long take), however, "Rope" is one marvelous film, gimmick or no gimmick. What I like the most is the dynamics between Dall, Granger and Stewart, and the subtle (ok, not so subtle) hints of homosexuality that Hitchcock managed to put in fron of the censors... and they didn't notice it.
2) "Shadow of a Doubt" (1943)
A dark story about the horrors at home in the story of the visit that the favourite uncle, Charlie, pays to a quite dysfunctional family. Everything looks fun, but as time goes by, the young daughter, also named Charlie (who idolizes her uncle), begins to suspect that her favourite uncle may actually be a serial killer. I love everythign about this, but most of all, it's gorgeaous Noir look, and the whole concept of horror entering a small town in order to corrupt it. And the whole suspicion thing, which just works perfectly. I must admit I fell in love with Teresa Wright in this one.
1) "Rear Window" (1954)
Probably the film that best captures the Hitchcock style of black comedy. Sure, he made "The Trouble with Harry" as a straighforward, in-your-face black comedy, but I feel that it is here where it works the best, as part of a bigger story, the story of a man paralyzed in his apartment, who begins to suspect that his neighborh has killed his wife. The whole thing about vouyerism is just marvelous, and well, what can I say about Jimmy Stewart and the beautiful Grace Kelly. Just perfect.