Films were a great form of entertainment from their debut in the early 1900’s and continued to grow more popular over the years. The film making business hit a growth period in the 1920’s. In Hollywood, the assembly line “studio” system of producing a movie was changed and refined, and the famous studious that dominate Hollywood production today, such as Universal Studious, were being put together. Censorship regulations were being formulated for the first time, and Wall Street began to take a more prominent, powerful role in film making. It was the era of short silent films that were backed by organists who could play a variety of famous composers such as Beethoven, and Sousa, and who mastered other sound affects for further enhancement of the movie. It was a time when movies came and went quickly and films that had no pretense of being art were made in mass. Nobody ever expected a movie to have an afterlife. They were made only for entertainment and to make money, and were considered disposable back then. It took decades to develop movies as a concept of art. During this time of rapid change in the film making business, a certain aspiring director began his dream of working with cinema. Eventually, the talented and mysterious director, Alfred Hitchcock, played a huge part in establishing his and others’ masterpieces as an art.
Born on August 13th, 1899, in London, England, Hitchcock’s childhood was that of a lower class Roman Catholic child who attended church regularly. His parents were greengrocers, William and Emma Hitchcock. A strict man, William once told a five year old Albert to go to the police station with a note from his father after some mischief making. Upon reading the note, a sergeant put young Alfred in a cell and left him there for ten minutes. The policeman returned only to tell him, “This is what happens to naughty boys.” This story and Hitchcock’s Roman Catholic background encompassed all the themes Hitchcock would later put in is his work such as terror inflicted upon the unknowing, and sometimes innocent victim; guilt, both real and the appearance of it; and fear and redemption. He grew up with his older siblings, William and Ellen Kathleen in Leytonstone, part of London’s East End. Fascinated by numbers and technology, Hitchcock was educated at the Jesuits’ St. Ignatius College, a day school for boys. He loved maps and times tables. He is said to have memorized the schedules of the English train lines. Most of his adolescence was spent working to help support his family. He left school at 16 though to study engineering and navigation at the University of London. Three years later, in 1914 when his dad died, he started work as a technical estimator at Henley Telegraph and Cable Company specializing in electric cables. He soon began to study art, economics, drawing, history and painting in the evenings. When his employers discovered he was taking art courses he was switched to the advertising department. There, he began to draw, designing ads for electric cables.
Hitchcock was drawn to the silver screen. He read every technical film magazine he could. He was fascinated bye the mystery fiction of Edgar Allan Poe and spent much time at the local cinema. American and German films particularly appealed to him. After learning that Famous Players Lasky, now Paramount, was opening a studio in London, he submitted a portfolio of his work. He was hired as a title designer for silent films. His passion for films and eagerness to learn led him to apply for the job of Assistant Director. This gave him the experience of film making from every angle.
At age 22, in1922, he started work on his directorial debut, the film Number 13. Although the two reeler was never completed, during production Hitchcock met his future wife Alma Reville, who also worked for the company. They were married in December of 1926 at Brompton Oratory. Alma had a good sense to detail and would go on to collaborate on all of Hitchcock’s projects including one of his own favorite, Psycho. She oversaw initial script development through final post-production. It is said that it was Alma who noticed Janet Leigh’s dead body twitch in Psycho which was immediately corrected. In 1928, their daughter Patricia was born. She later appeared in three of her father’s films including the previously mentioned Psycho.
Because Number 13 was never completed, the first film to bear the mark “Directed by Alfred Hitchcock” was The Pleasure Garden in 1925. A young Alfred’s uncanny wit and cinematic flare came forth in this movie. The year after, in 1926, The Mountain Eagle was released as Fear O’ God. Hitchcock hated this film, and called it “very bad.” In fact, no existence of this film is to be found.
Film number three, The Lodger, is the one that most people consider to be his first authentic film. It also marked his first cameo appearance, which later became a trademark of his films. The theme of the film is simple; a man wrongly accused of a crime. The moral ambiguity that frames the film gives it its true Hitchcock style. Its great success launched his career in England and he soon became the most successful and highest-paid director in England eventually directing six more feature length silent films. With each of these films, his natural talent grew more and more.
As the film industry began introducing sound to the cinema, Hitchcock continued to progress with the times. In 1929, Hitchcock’s Blackmail made history by becoming the first British “talkie.” Although the film originally begun as a silent one, Hitchcock immediately re-shot certain portions of it after he learned of the ability of sound. In 1930, Hitchcock released two films, Juno, and the Paycock, and Murder. Audiences loved these films. Murder is one of the more interesting and daring “who-dun-its.” The plot, as in previous Hitchcock films, involves a woman wrongly accused of murdering her friend. The real murderer turns out to be a transvestite circus performer. Many following films continue in this one’s bold nature. Immediately following Murder was The Skin Game in 1931. Hitchcock did not make this one by choice and showed very little affection for it. Rich and Strange, an original script by his wife Alma was made in 1932. It involves a married couple a bit bored with their everyday routine. The surprisingly are left and inheritance and use it to travel around the world. After many entanglements and deceptive affairs they return to their same home life.
While the onset of World War II hung over Europe in 1940, Hitchcock came to the United States to direct Rebecca. This Hollywood debut was nominated for a total of eleven Oscars and won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Although nominated for Best Director, Alfred did not receive it for this film, and never would. He did go on to receive honorary Oscars later in his career.
Between 1950 and 1960 Hitchcock made several films. This productive decade would prove to produce minor classics such as Dial “M” for Murder, To Catch a Thief and Strangers on a Train. Four well-known masterpieces were also made; Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho. Upon its initial release, Psycho sparked endless debate over the film’s onscreen violence because it was uncommon in those days.
In the middle of his busy period, in 1955, he became a United States citizen. Later that year he launched “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” the television show that catapulted Hitchcock from honored director and celebrity to icon. The fact that he hosted the show for ten years, and that the episodes were made to evoke little Hitchcock movies helped make him a household name all over the world. “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” was a huge commercial success, a factor that may have kept Hitchcock from gaining critical respect in America. It was not apparent to his fans, but Hitchcock’s involvement in the show was small. He directed only twenty of the 370 teleplays produced by Shamley Productions and offered only occasional suggestions to his associates.
A few weeks before the summer of 1972 release of his next to last film, Frenzy, the first film he had shot in England in two decades, Hitchcock received an honorary doctorate from Columbia University. By the time of Frenzy’s release, a number of influential American critics had finally come to accept the “new” view of Hitchcock as a great artist. They liked his hidden meanings, personal vision, universality, reflexivity, and thematic stylistic consistency and coherence. The growth of Hitchcock’s artistic reputation was supported by other developments at the time. First, the long awaited English edition of Truffaut’s influential book on Hitchcock was published in 1967. Also, in the spring of 1973 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented him with the Irving G. Thalberg Award for a consistent high level of achievement by an individual producer. He had also been nominated four times for a directorial Oscar, but, as he frequently put it, he “had always been the bridesmaid.” The Directors Guild of America also honored Hitchcock that spring with the prestigious D.W.Griffith Award for his directorial achievements.
Up until 1979, Alfred wrote, produced and directed films. Some of his best-known later works include The Birds, Marnie, and Family Plot. In his later years with his family, he led a quiet and unostentatious life. They preferred the comforts of home to the Hollywood surroundings. On January 3, 1980, Hitchcock received one of the highest honors his native country had to bestow; he was formally invested as a Knight Commander of the British Empire. When Hitchcock died at home in Los Angeles at the age of 80, on April 29, 1980, he had accomplished professionally what he had always been attempting to achieve; world wide respect as both a premier popular entertainer and a true artist of the cinema.
Today, neither critics nor fellow filmmakers can escape the Hitchcock influence. Whether influenced by his own childhood, or just born with natural talent, his master of the thriller and genius of cinematic form has allowed his reputation to flourish more than sixty-five ears after the release of his first film. This is partly because of his wide range of work, but also because many of his films have been able to sustain a diversity of interpretations, which is, after all, what makes art, art.
Comment: what exactly did Hitchcock’s films hold that is being used by other directors now? that is, how exactly does his work influence filmmakers? Rating: 8