This post was originally published on the New Beverly Cinema blog on August 29, 2017. It is being republished here with full permission of the New Beverly. For the original post (with different artwork) please see the original post here.

In 1964, Alfred Hitchcock appeared on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Channel) documentary series Telescope. Interviewed by Fletcher Markle, the Master of Suspense revealed one of his primary approaches to filmmaking. “Please don’t think me presumptuous if I give you the analogy of, say, a painter who paints a tree, a landscape, or even a bowl of fruit,” said the legendary director, “I’m sure that the painter is not a bit interested in the apples for themselves alone, but in the technique of his work which stimulates the emotion of the viewer of his picture. After all, all art is experience. People look at an abstract and say, ‘I hate it!’ but the mere fact that they use the word ‘hate’ means that they are going through an experience…therefore if you apply these principles to film, as I see it, it is not the pure manner of the content, in other words it is not just the story but what you do with it.”

Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was a summer baby, born on August 13, 1899. His father was a grocer and his mother had other children to raise so Hitchcock’s description of himself as a well behaved but lonely child is reasonable. Hitchcock’s nondescript yet religiously strict upbringing played a large role in many of his films later. Raised Catholic but sent to a Jesuit School, Hitchcock said to Francois Truffaut, “It was probably during this period with the Jesuits that a strong sense of fear developed – moral fear – the fear of being involved in anything evil. I always tried to avoid it.” Works such as I Confess (1952) and The Wrong Man (1952) are explicit examples of how Hitchcock utilized religious themes and visuals to provoke and examine ideas of terror in works of suspense. This skilled director was even able to centralize the benevolent precept of “love thy neighbor as thyself” and quilt it into a tale of ultimate anxiety in the Technicolor tale, Rear Window (1954).

After studying art, Hitchcock became an advertising man. Many years later, career in full bloom, his past in the ad industry makes sense. No other director in film history is as commercially recognizable as Hitch. The famous 9-stroke-line-drawing of his silhouette (designed by Hitchcock himself), the portly shadow on any screen (film or TV) are enough for almost anyone to make the connection, let alone the highly publicized series of posed photographs promoting his later films like The Birds (1963) or Psycho (1960). These shoots feature him with his conspicuously expressionless face and a prop item signifying his latest production. Advertising indeed!

Truth be told, Paramount certainly had some weight behind the Psycho (1960) campaign, but its promotional work changed film exhibition and directorial sway for good and was truly incredible. Take a look:

Hitchcock’s gift for commercial work and talent was balanced entirely by his partner/wife, Alma Reveille. He met Alma, herself a film editor and a script girl,  just after moving on from designing the art for intertitles (the dialogue or narrative cards that accompany or assist in the continuity of silent pictures). For the rest of his/their careers, there would never be one single film that she would not advise him on. According to their daughter, Patricia, if Alma wasn’t keen on a script, Alfred wouldn’t even give it a second glance. Their team efforts provided them a happy life and a happy career. Whatever you may have heard, you have only to go to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and see the AMAZING home movies in the Alfred Hitchcock Collection to see the loveliness of Hitchcock family life. I particularly recommend the home movie where Hitch is pretending to “uneat” a banana.

After meeting Alma, Hitch made a few more silent films. He directed the Jack the Ripper-inspired work, The Lodger (1926), the first of his many films to look at issues of wrongly accused individuals. It began his style of recurring visual motifs and, most importantly, is a great example of Hitchcock’s tremendous capacity for thinking outside the box. His ability to translate what was inside his head to what made it to the camera’s lens was legendary. In the production of The Lodger, a plate-glass floor was specially manufactured in order to show the lodger pacing back and forth (this was shot from below). The “ceiling” also allowed for a chandelier to swing with the lodger’s stride. Later on, this would have been unnecessary – the pacing, the chandelier – could have been done with sound. But not in 1926.

The director carried this method over into other films. It was, in fact, part of what he felt was the language of cinema. Being able to tell a story with a greater concentration on image and less on dialogue is critical to understanding Hitchcock’s work. He created all kinds of props and manipulated a variety of visual cues in order to underscore the more emotive factors of a given scene. For 1938’s train thriller, The Lady Vanishes, Hitchcock had extra large glasses fabricated and shot through them in order to intensify the drama but not detract from the actors. For the highly Freudian and Salvador Dali-dream-sequenced Spellbound (1945), a gigantic hand and gun were created for a finale sequence. The infamous coffee cup in Notorious (1946) is far bigger than any caffeinated beverage container I have ever held (although I have never had the glory of being served by Cary Grant so perhaps I do not know from whence I speak).

Hitchcock’s careful attention to his visual topography was not to be outdone by those motifs that ran through his films. The aforementioned “wrong man” scenario is huge in his cinema as is the idea of guilt or a guilty conscience (he was raised Catholic, even if he did go to a Jesuit school). Explorations of male desire and sexuality can be found in every film he ever made. Many Hitchcock films examine sexual fetishes, psychoanalytic ideologies and address what is deemed as “deviant behavior” or some level of deviancy in terms of the homoerotic. While films like Rebecca (1940), Rope (1948), and Strangers on a Train (1951), are famous examples of Hitchcock’s involvement of intense queerness, other films such as Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958) reveal the perversity of those men who might seem to be the “average Joe.” While Hitch’s queers are murderous, his normal dudes are voyeurs and perverts. Which is worse? The landscape that this British gentleman painted may not be comfortable, but boy howdy is it fun to dig into! As Hitchcock said about his masterful Shadow of a Doubt (1943), “What it boils down to is that villains are not all black and heroes are not all white; there are greys everywhere.”

Alfred Hitchcock may work mostly in the suspense and thriller genres but his comic ability is top-notch. It is true that the majority of his films do carry an overall serious tone and the topics that are covered are somber (murder, mystery, horror). But please note: you are allowed to laugh. And not nervous laughter either. Hitchcock is funny. INCREDIBLY FUNNY. While it would be wildly inappropriate to laugh at his films for being outdated (that’s never cool when dealing with classic cinema, folks, get with the program), what many fail to realize is there is a level of comedy included in Hitch’s darkness that allows you (as an audience member) to enjoy the film more. Whether it is the inclusion of a wacky side character or sewn into the skillful dialogue, laughing is ok. The Trouble With Harry (1956) is unapologetically a murder-comedy while To Catch a Thief (1955) and North by Northwest (1959) are truly some of the more hilarious suspense thrillers made. Every Hitchcock film includes his humor. And if you doubt his comedic intent, simply look at a few of the introductions to his television show that ran from 1955-1965 on CBS and NBC, respectively.

Please…Think of the Children: The Role of Children in the Hitchcock-verse

Hey all!

So as some of you may know, I’m the president of the student chapter of the Association of Moving Image Archivists over at UCLA. I’ve been trying to get the members to participate in the annual Film Preservation Blogathon and so…instead of posting my piece on Hitchcock and children over here, I decided to post it on our student chapter blog for some team spirit!

Soooo….if you’re interested (you know you are) and you wanna read my thoughts on Hitch and kids (you know you do) and you may wanna give the NFPF a few bucks towards this year’s project (think you might?) click on the lovely little graphic below….

Mother Knows Best

From the very opening of Grace, I had a feeling that it might be a slightly different kind of film. With its very delicate and feminine visuals and sounds, it opens as a film that is very much in accordance to what ends up being the subject matter: maternalism and child-rearing.  However, as it is indeed a horror movie, the light and airy features of these opening shots and the camera drifting languidly over Jordan Ladd’s recumbent naked form seem remarkably eerie when the promos so very clearly advertise death and something “unnatural.”


So the opening, with its almost Downy-commercial-type cleanliness, seems to be underscoring not only the most physically sensual elements of the female but the very natural elements of the female body in general, as the first action we see in the film is the sex act (and what could be more natural than that?).

Throughout the film, what is “natural” seems to be a running theme, which I found to be quite interesting. At first, since there were so many discussions about health food, midwifery and non-traditional health methodologies in general, I initially took the film to be making a critique of all these kinds of hyper-liberal vegetarian/vegan sensibilities. However, I then realized Grace had much deeper-seated and smarter thematics then that. See, ANYONE can take a horror film and chuck in a few “Oh, check out the seitan-eating, soy-milk drinkin’, edamame chompin’ folks!” jokes. That’s simple. Put a few of those in, then have them be the first to suffer and/or die, and *presto*!!  Instant laughs from the horror community!  Hell, I’d probably laugh…if they were funny! But it takes a pretty special film to take these issues and involve them into a deeper seated narrative that discusses mother issues and what is natural to being a mother. It also was pretty impressive to me, as a female, that there was a male director who was able to hit on as many issues as he did in this film without it feeling in any way, shape or form invasive, exploitative or disgusting.

This was a horror movie. No doubt about it. But it was very sophisticated and brought a great many women’s issues to the forefront, whether intentionally or not. To a woman like me, who digs on women’s issues? I found that pretty exciting.

So let’s get my problems with the film out of the way first: the lesbian shit. There was one character who had a jealousy issue and…the actress wasn’t my fave and the lesbian jealousy weirdness angle is…a bit played out in my opinion. HOWEVER, it was done with a bit more class than normal, and I’m not sure if I could see another route to take if they were gonna have that involved, and it sorta was part of the story, so…I guess it was alright. I really do wish that there could have been a different way that the narrative could have gone without using the age-old (and somewhat tired) old college-relationship between 2 women that comes back as a central figure within the film, but…hey- it didn’t distract me SO much that I didn’t like the movie. It was the ONLY thing that I had ANY problem with and to say that? That’s pretty awesome. It means that this is a pretty damn good film.

On to the good stuff: EVERYTHING ELSE. This movie has tension coming out of every pore of celluloid. When we stayed for the Q&A, the composer discussed some of the aural reasonings why and I thought that those reasons ALONE were incredible. Turns out that Austin Wintory recorded actual baby cries and then mixed them into the music that he composed for the film. The reasoning for this, he said, beyond the actual sound which increased tension in and of itself, is that the pitch of a baby’s cry is the one sound that every human can hear (well, unless you’re deaf, I suppose), no matter what. Scientifically, he reported, the sound is at such a level that your body will respond to that sound in a way that it does not respond to anything else in the world. Indeed, I would say, this does seem to make sense, as somehow we can ALWAYS seem to hear babies crying whether we want to or not. Wintory used the example of being on an airplane and being able to hear a child in the very back of the plane and yet having it sound like the infant was right in your face. Ever been there? Thought so. At any rate, I am a huge sucker for music in film, and THIS FILM had it, and I will say that Wintory’s intermingling of baby sounds with the rest of his lullaby-esque tunes as well as the other scoring was incredible. A good score/good music can make or break a horror movie for me. Would Halloween have been the same without that tune? Psycho? Exactly. So…well done, Mr. Wintory, good addition!


Margaret White *seriously* loved HER daughter!

On to the story now…Within the horror film genre, we have seen some pretty interesting mother figures,  have we not?

Norman tried to please you, Mrs. Bates, he really did!

Norman tried to please you, Mrs. Bates, he really did!


Dude, Mrs. Voorhees, we get it. We would've been pissed if Jason was our kid, too.

Dude, Mrs. Voorhees, we get it. We would've been pissed if Jason was our kid, too.

The mothers represented within Grace bring forth a whole new kind of mothering to the horror world that I feel has begun within the last few years, and I last saw represented within the astonishingly fantastic French film, Inside. It seems to me that there has always been a certain amount of fascination with the mother figure within the world of horror. Clearly, as shown above, that figure has not always been the figure of protection in, um, the most positive manner, shall we say? Now within films like Grace and Inside I feel like we may have turned a corner. I’m wondering, since men made BOTH of these films, if there hasn’t been a certain change within the way that these directors have come to synthesize the maternal representatives within the slasher genres at large, as well as other horror cinema venues. It seems that, with these films, we are starting to witness a kind of sea change that, frankly, is ALL TOO WELCOME.

Fuckin’ A, do I love a good horror movie. Slashing, hacking, blood, guts. You name it? I love it. I ADORE GORE. But I’m not one of those people who loves without discrimination. I *am* particular. But what I love, I do love very much. And I am extremely fascinated by this new turn in the world of horror. It seems that for years and years we have had a certain set of (for lack of a better term) Horror “Family” Values, many of which have been covered by academics such as Carol J. Clover, Barbara Creed, Harry Benshoff, just to name a precious few (as there are *so* many goodies!). These Horror Family Values have very stringent ideologies in regards to sexuality and motherhood. Essentially, in a horror movie, if you fuck, you’ll die and if you’re a mom, you’re a crazy homicidal bitch with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, emphasis  on the crazy, if-you-please. While I think we’re still all waiting for a film where kids can safely orgasm and survive past the post-coital beer (if they even get that far before a knife/axe/murdering-object-of-choice rips through their young nubile flesh), the Mother Issue seems to be making a change.

I hate spoilers, EVEN in reviews, so I’m not going to give anything away. But I will go so far as to say that starting in the film Inside and now continuing on with the film Grace, I’m seeing an evolution in the depiction of motherhood in horror which I quite like. While I could attempt to use some of my Freudian feminist film scholarship stuffs on this, I’m not sure I want to at this juncture. My feelings about this transition probably need more fodder in order for that kind of highly formulated (and quite possibly extensively boring to many) discussion on Sigmund and where he’s at today. I’d probably use the ol’ Virginia Slims adage, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.”  I think that the concept that we are no longer treating the mother figure with anger and exposing her to the kind of harsh negativity within the horror film that we have been doing for YEARS is a big step.

It could definitely be argued that both of the mothers seen in Grace have elements of Teh Crazy in them, and Have Issues. However, on the whole, I feel that their portrayals actually have a kind of yin/yang sensibility to them, and do more for exploring female mother issues and issues of loss and attachment. And to say that there are characters in a horror movie that are explored with class and sensitivity is a pretty bold statement, but it must be said. This is a very mature film, and comes with high recommendations from me.

So, here’s to ya, boys. Its fascinating to see that it took a few young men to promote women and motherhood within the horror world. I like it. I like it a lot. I hope to see more people do it. It has actually brought the calibre of the horror film UP, significantly, which, in my eyes is DREADFULLY needed sometimes! End points? If you haven’t seen Inside, holy shit- SEE IT!!! And if you haven’t seen Grace? WELL, what’re you waiting for?

See ya in the front row!