ALFRED HITCHCOCK, AUTEUR FILMMAKER 

"Hitch is a gentleman farmer who raises goose flesh." -- actress Ingrid Bergman

"I read in Cahiers du Cinema that a filmmaker is like a peeping Tom."
-- young male character in Bernardo Bertolucci's film The Dreamers


Film director and master technician Alfred Hitchcock is deemed an auteur for two major reasons:
          1.  His modus operandi gave him considerable control over his films.
          2.  Running throughout his oeuvre are recurrent thematic, aural and visual motifs.      

Modus Operandi
    Hitchcock preplanned every detail of his films. He drew a series of sketches (storyboards) that resembled comic strips, spelling out each aspect of a given shot. These dictated the arrangement of actors/objects within the film frame; camera movements, angles and distances; colors (if used); use of light and shadow; and, editing techniques. He designated how sets should look, handpicking on-location sites (when employed) and appropriate furnishings. He oversaw his stars' wardrobes, too, and even stipulated the shade of blonde that Grace Kelly's hair should be in the films he made with her. (With each successive film, her hair become lighter.) If Hitchcock resembles James Stewart's controlling character in Vertigo, who decrees what Kim Novak's hair color and style, make-up and clothing should be, it is not surprising; Hitchcock's heroes are his filmic alter egos -- tall, handsome leading men so unlike himself.

    Hitchcock did little improvisation in front of the camera. In fact, the director practiced what's known as "cutting in the camera." This means that the only time he had to film a shot more than once was when an actor flubbed the lines, a prop got knocked over or, if on location, the weather didn't cooperate. Because Hitchcock took care of every detail in advance, shooting usually went smoothly, bringing his film projects in on time and under budget. This means the producers of his films gave him a good deal of freedom and rarely interfered with his filmmaking procedures. Even those who didn't want to cede control had to; they weren't able to recut Hitchcock's films because they were so tightly shot.

    But doing so much work in advance work also had a downside. Because the details were worked out ahead of time, Hitchcock's films needed little direction. By the time shooting began, there was little to oversee, and Hitchcock would be bored. To keep from being bored, he'd begin working out the details of his next film project.

Thematic Preoccupations

     SHADOW OF A DOUBT

"We're not just an uncle and a niece. It's something else.
I know you. I know you don't tell people a lot of things. I don't either.
I have a feeling that inside you there's something nobody knows about . . .
something secret and wonderful. I'll find it out."
-- Charlie Newton, speaking to her Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt
 

    Hitchcock's favorite among his own films and the second to be given landmark status by the National Film Registry, an arm of the Library of Congress, is 1943's Shadow of a Doubt. After making Saboteur, the Master of Suspense turned down Gaslight, the romantic thriller costarring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman (one of his  favorite leading ladies), and Joseph Cotten (Uncle Charlie in Shadow), because he didn't want to tackle another period piece so soon after the failure of Jamaica Inn. He toyed with making a movie about a ventriloquist whose dummy pushes him to commit bigamy and murder, but he ended up making Shadow instead.

    The film explores one of Hitchcock's favorite themes -- the doppelgänger, a German concept referring to a living person's shadow, or evil twin. It was a popular subject in late Victorian literature (the period of Hitchcock's boyhood) in works such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Hitchcock was already intrigued by the concept of guilt; it makes sense that the idea of a good person having a bad or a dark side would also interest him. (Actually, Hitchcock's proposed film about a ventiloquist and his dummy would probably have been quite similar in theme.)

    Shadow is based on a bare-bones story by Gordon McDonnell, whose wife was the head of film producer David O. Selznick's story department. It centers on a young woma, Charlie Newton, who lives with her family in the placid town of Santa Rosa, California. (Think of Grovers Corners, the idyllic locale of Thornton Wilder's play Our Town, as Wilder was the main screenwriter on Shadow.) One day her mother's younger brother -- her beloved Uncle Charlie, for whom she's named -- comes to visit. At first, young Charlie is thrilled; her uncle's visit breaks the monotony of her life. Soon, however, she not only discovers some awful truths about her uncle but she also learns that she is not the pure soul, the "clean slate," she thought she was. By the film's end, Charlie realizes that everyone -- even she herself -- is capable of wrongdoing, even committing murder.

    Throughout the film, Hitchcock underscores the notion of the two Charlies as twins by presenting a series of aural and visual doubles. For example, there are camera set-ups that occur twice, one focused on the uncle, the other on the niece; words and phrases are repeated; many characters have double letters in their names; there are two scenes in a specific location; and, there are doubles of several people and objects, e.g., two telegrams, two pins on young Charlie's coat, two girls who wear glasses, etc.


FOR YOUR ASSIGNMENT

You need to first read the week's assignments and then see Shadow of a Doubt, either on your own or in IMS, where it is on reserve. As you watch the film, make note of various kinds of doubles, as explained above. 

Prepare two copies (typed) of your doubles list. You'll hand in one copy at the beginning of class and then have the other to refer to during a discussion of the film's doubles. (You should have twenty different doubles at a minimum.) Please note: Failure to follow these directions properly will result in a failing grade on this assignment.  If you miss class for any reason, you must either e-mail it to me or deliver it to my departmental mail box within 24 hours. I will not accept it any later than this unless you produce a note from the dean's office.                 


INTERNET LINKS:

 
Shadow of a Doubt
as a noir construct: http://www.imagesjournal.com/issue02/infocus/shadow.htm

  An article which focuses on Hitchcock's daughter, Pat, who appears in three of her father's films, including Strangers on a Train (You'll need to scroll down to access it.)

  A piece on "Hitchcock's goofy endings," by Steve Burgess, which includes the denouements of both Shadow of a Doubt and Strangers on a Train. (Again, scroll down to find it.)

  An article proffering the views of noted post-feminist Camille Paglia, who teaches in Philadelphia at the University of the Arts, on Hitchcock as cinema's Picasso (Scroll down yet again.)