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Alfred Hitchcock and Auteurism

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Introduction

            Film as a major form of artistic and creative expression is constantly subjected into uncompromising situations. This renowned work of art is consistently torn by various issues and intrigues. The controversies that surround the whole movie industry stem from different aspects. Some of these are often caused by the seemingly never-ending bickering of celebrities who want to keep the spotlight on their own. The quest for fame and the undying desire to prove their worth within the entertainment world frequently causes disputes and misunderstandings.

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But on a much serious level, films are often questioned about their artistic integrity and value. In as much as actors and actresses aspire to bring the realities of life into the big screen, directors are also in a constant pursuit of creating yet another groundbreaking contribution—both in the entertainment and cultural field. If films mirror the realities of everyday lives, relatively, they also have an impact on cultural aspects.

            Films’ importance can be equated to other works of art such as paintings, music and dance.

For every three-hour flick that comes out in the big screen, an indispensable material is being created. In recent years, the high veneration given for films never fails to inspire both directors and producers to excel in their chosen crafts. However, although this can produce a healthy competition and at the same time push creators to go beyond what is expected from them, another problem arises. Who has the right to take much of the credit and recognition? This question has always plagued many individuals within the film industry and respected members of the academe. Films involve not a single creator. As a matter of fact, multiple creators are present in many movies—the scriptwriter, the director, the cinematographer, the actors and the actresses are just some of the many characters who are all given equal rights in claiming a particular film as is or her own. Indeed, this conflict is far more problematic than scientific and mathematical equations.

            Nevertheless, a new school of thought emerged within the grounds of film theories and criticisms, which aims to answer the question of film ownership. This is no other than the auteur theory. The auteur theory suggests that it is the director who takes full control of the film. The director is the creator and consequently he or she is the owner. Alfred Hitchcock, the renowned master of thrill and suspense is one of the most critically acclaimed auteurs in the world of films. Despite of the fact that mystery and suspense have been closely associated with this director, Hitchcock showed the auteur in him via the symbolisms present in his films—the fetish for damsels in distress, staircases and windows; the underlying connotations shown in camera angles and shots and the sudden twists are distinct marks of the par excellence auteur, Alfred Hitchcock.

Auteur Theory at A Glance

            Needless to say, the French term “auteur” translates to being an author (Butler 2006, p. 429). According to Butler (2006), the main contention of being an author is that a material becomes a “good work” if and only if it is produced by a single individual (p. 429). Along with this masterpiece, regardless of whether it is in the field of visual arts or literature is the manifestation or reflection of the author’s “vision (Butler 2006, p. 429). Butler (2006) further added that the “images” of an auteur is commonly portrayed by an individual rigidly writing a poem in a seemingly dark and gloomy room (p.429). This kind of characterization, as Butler (2006) explained was highly exemplified by the respected writer, Lord Byron (p.429). Yet, in films, the screenwriter does not fit within the prerogatives of auteur theory. Rather, the director is considered as the dominant player (Turner 1999, p.43). Turner (1999) explained under auteur theory, films are perceived as individualistic creations. The collective endeavors observed in film-making are disregarded in this case. Directors become auteur because the way they treat the various film elements, the techniques they use to portray a particular theme are main determinants of the movie’s aesthetic appeal and artistry (Turner 1999, p. 43). This argument is supported by Asa Berger (1995), who elucidated that the director’s artistic “sensibilities” add more meaning in the overall film-making process (p. 93). The styles and techniques utilized by the director can be viewed as a “personal statement (Stam 2000, p. 89)” that cannot be readily manipulated by the producer’s influence and commercial considerations. For example, although a featured films has a remarkable screenplay, if the director fails to ask the actors and actresses to give the necessary emotions or if the appropriate cinematography is not applied (something that is also rest at the directors discretion), then the artistic and aesthetic quality of the movie involved tend to diminish. This makes the director as the auteur—or the primary source of creativity within the film industry (Berger 1995, p. 93).

            However, in order to understand how a director becomes an auteur, Berger (1995) noted that the analysis is not concentrated on a single film that the director involved has produced. A series of films created must be thoroughly discussed according to the commonly used stylistic treatments and theme developments. These criteria shall serve as the framework of examining Alfred Hitchcock’s works that gave him the auteur title.

Deconstructing Hitchcock

            The suspense, mystery and thriller genre seemed incomplete without Alfred Hitchcock’s presence. As previously mentioned films of these kinds proved to be Hitchcock’s trademark and forte. Derry (2001) described that Hitchcock have perfected this craft and that he seemed to be the only director who fully understood what it meant to generate feelings of suspense, thrill and at the same time, establish a mysterious atmosphere (p. 8).  Derry (2001) added that Hitchcock is already an institution—so much so that it seemed like suspense, mystery and thriller films of today’s generation were mostly influenced by Alfred Hitchcock (p.8).

            From a critical perspective, it can be seen that Alfred Hitchcock capitalized on madness, deceits and even obsessions for that matter. These three themes can be highly observed in his (Hitchcock) films. Take for example the case of Jamaica Inn, Under Capricorn and Psycho. In Under Capricorn, Henrietta’s image strongly evoked the aura of an individual who is suffering from a serious mental illness. This notion was efficiently projected when Henrietta was introduced into the film. Barefooted, she slowly entered the dining room and joined her husband and his colleagues for dinner. The eerie feeling was further reinforced the moment Henrietta spoke. She seemed to be drunk and experiencing extreme anxiety. This behavior is quite unlikely to happen to women who came from a well-off family and being married to a fine and rich man. When Henrietta screamed because she allegedly saw something underneath her bed, her madness and delusions were further highlighted. Obsession was also very apparent in Under Capricorn. Milly was very much obsessed with Henrietta’s husband, Sam Flusky that she was more than willing to take drastic measures to destroy the couple’s marriage. It also turned out that Milly was the one responsible for the odd and eccentric actuations of Henrietta. There was deceit since the wrongdoings of Milly was exposed just when the film was about to end. Her obsession and deceitful acts were rather unsuspected because she was previously portrayed as a faithful and concerned house maid.

The articulation of madness was also expounded in the film Psycho. Evidently, the title already suggested a certain degree of derangement. Like Milly in Under Capricorn, Norman Bates also acted as if he was concerned about Marion’s situation. However, the mastery of deceit was even exploited when Hitchcock managed to tell the viewers that Norman Bates’ mother was still alive. This notion was even supported when Norman carried his mother into the fruit cellar to hide her for the crimes that she allegedly committed. In addition to that, the fact that Norman Bates can change his voice readily implied that his mother still exists. Apparently, Norman Bates was obsessed to the idea that he and his mother alone should live together. This obsession led him to conduct murderous crimes.

In the meantime, although Jamaica Inn served as a reminder of Hitchcock’s failure as a director (Sullivan 2006, p. 56), this did not demerit his auteur capabilities. Rather, this can be understood as the starting point of developing his story-telling skills and techniques. Jamaica Inn revolves around a young orphan woman whose search for her aunt led her to a haven of sea pirates and criminals. Basically, there is deception since Mary, the orphan protagonist has literally mistaken Sir Humphrey as an ally. But the truth is, Sir Humphrey is also one of the criminals that she should be war of.

Basically, Alfred Hitchcock had this passion for playing with the extreme side of the human mind and he has masterfully exemplified this through the characters in his films. However, playing with the human mind did not end with his film characters. Hitchcock wanted his audience to be involved. It looked like he wanted his audience to become active participants of the movie by deconstructing the events shown in his movies. This is in stark contrast with the intention of spoon-feeding the viewers with predictable plots and endings. The human mind is such a powerful force that it is capable of defying the odds and making the impossible. Hitchcock was very much aware of this aspect and he readily gave his audience a taste of the human mind’s strong capabilities. He knew that thrill and suspense can be only achieved if the audience, while watching his films, were utilizing their vivid imagination.

Despite of the fact that Hitchcock that suspense and mystery was Hitchcock’s masterpiece, it can be observed that he was able to achieve such cathartic effect without placing much emphasis on using gore and blood. More often than not, films who are dabbling into suspense and mystery arena would often use bloody scenes. But Hitchcock knew that blood alone would not make a thrilling and mind-boggling film. Even in Psycho wherein the famous “shower scene (Santas 2002, p. 123)” took place did not witness the heavy use of blood. But how did Hitchcock manage to elicit such uncanny and peculiar feelings? The answer is simple. Hitchcock used symbolisms. In Psycho example, Norman Bates was fond of taxidermy and he is specifically interested in stuffing birds. The victim’s name is Marion Crane. A crane is a bird and some members of the crane family tend to migrate. This served as a signal that Marion Crane was about to meet her tragic death—that she would be soon “stuffed” like the birds that were hanging in the Bates’ Motel. Marion Crane was also in a sort of migration as she tried to move into another place after stealing the $40,000. In the meantime, as for the case of Under Capricorn, a symbolic image was also seen. In the movie’s opening, a skull was shown to Henrietta’s husband. This scene seemed to tell that Henrietta’s madness had something to do with the skull and that the skull had many stories to tell.  A human skull can be only seen once an individual is dead. Therefore, the skull in Under Capricorn implied that death of someone in the past. Relatively, the skull corresponds to the death of Henrietta’s brother who died in her own hands and continued to haunt her. As for the case of Jamaica Inn, when Mary arrived at her aunt’s house, the manipulation of light seemed to show that something suspicious was going on with the place.

            Speaking of the manipulation of light, it can be said that Hitchcock was indeed well-versed in this field. In Psycho, the dim lights used in Norman Bates’ house and also in the opening scene of Jamaica Inn readily evoked deceitful feelings. Dim lights often stand for uncanny and weird situations. This was also manifested when the wrongdoings of Milly were exposed in Under Capricorn. The scene which showed that Milly used the skull to remind Henrietta of her almost forgotten crime used a dim light. Low key lighting is one of film’s aspects that Hitchcock has efficiently used. The interplay of bright and dark lights is perhaps one of the secret ingredients as to why Hitchcock is hailed as the king of mystery and suspense.

            On the other hand, Hitchcock also knew how he can fully utilize the camera—the very medium that he was using to create his masterpieces. The movements, angles and focus of his cameras did not only connote motion. Rather his camera manipulation added to the intensity of his films. For example in Psycho, when Norman Bates and Marion Crane were talking to each other, there was a scene wherein the camera was placed underneath Norman Bates. Thus, Norman Bates exemplified more power and force—that he can immediately devour Marion Crane in an instant. In addition to that, the casual and steady close-ups given to Norman Bates while the two were talking added to the suspense and thrilling effect. This is also true during the final part of the movie wherein Bates was left alone in jail. The focus on the fly and the slow shift to Bates’ face as the latter gives a sly smile seem to project that his derangement would still continue in prison. In as far as Jamaica Inn is concerned, the opening scene that focused on the pirate’s face, already preempted that a grim and dark secret was to be exposed soon. This added more drama into the film, although it cannot be denied that Jamaica Inn is one of Hitchcock’s cinematic failures. But even if he failed in that movie, still he has managed to pull through it. As a matter of fact, the stabbing event in the opening scene can be best understood as “Hitchcock’s practice,” years before he created psycho. For Under Capricorn, whenever Henrietta’s husband was in doubt, it can be noticed that close-up shots were always employed. In this context, it can be also concluded that Hitchcock is one of those geniuses who knew the importance of mise-en-scene.

            Another thing that can be noticed in Hitchcock’s films—a factor that further strengthens his stand as an auteur is his incorporation of damsels in distresses. In the three films mentioned, it can be seen that female protagonists are often trapped in uncompromising situations. The three films discussed revolved on how three damsels in distress, struggled to be saved by their respective heroes. Although the heroic act is portrayed by men characters, it can be seen that much of the story were really placed on the female ones. These films become even more interesting since crimes of passion were often involved. Milly was madly in love with Henrietta’s husband; Norman Bates was passionate about his mother and Jamaica Inn talked about the undying passion for wealth that resulted to inhumane acts.

Conclusion

            Although Hitchcock has had his own downfalls in the film industry, he is still an auteur. His films were way ahead of his time. But most importantly the technique and strategies that he used can never be copied or imitated—a trademark known for many artistic moguls— a trademark of a true auteur.

References

Berger, A. 1995. Cultural Criticism: A Primer of Key Concepts. Sage, London

Butler, J. 2006. Television: Critical Methods and Applications. Routledge, New Fetter Lane,      London

Derry, C. 2001. The Suspense Thrillers: Films in the Shadows of Alfred Hitchcock.          McFarland, North Carolina, USA

Santas, C. 2002. Responding to Film: A Text Guide for Students of Cinema Arts. Burnham          Inc, USA

Stam, R. 2000. Film Theory: An Introduction. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK

Sullivan, J. 2006. Hitchcock’s Music. Yale University Press, USA

Turner, G. Film as Social Practice. Routledge, New Fetter Lane, London

Cite this Alfred Hitchcock and Auteurism

Alfred Hitchcock and Auteurism. (2016, Aug 11). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/alfred-hitchcock-and-auteurism/

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