There are many different kinds of directors. Some are actor’s directors, others masters of spectacle and awe. Then there are directors who just get the schematics of film on a gut level. Their films are often constructed with the unerring precision of a Swiss watch: symphonies of sound, visuals, and editing working seamlessly in synchronicity. David Fincher belongs in this category, as does Michael Mann. But the granddaddy of them all is still the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.
The man’s knowledge of his craft was practically limitless and it was always a joy to hear him talk about it. Hitch was also imminently quotable when it came to the filmmaking process. His recollection of writing the act of a character simply walking through a door (the big question being “how” this is done) is note-perfect in capturing the frustration inherent in perfecting one’s art. In case you need a fresh shot of Hitch to get you through the day, we have here a great Masterclass originally recorded in 1976, right around the release of “Family Plot,” the last film he received a directorial credit on.
The Masterclass was recorded towards the tail end of the director’s long, storied career, and he often carries himself with the self-deprecating air of a world-wizened charmer. Full of bone-dry wit and rapturously entertaining stories, he knows he’s playing to an audience and his speechifying is and always will be a thing of beauty to watch. Throughout the hour-and-a-half segment, Hitchcock speaks eloquently about his writing process, why he “puts everything down on paper” (storyboarding, in other words), how he feels about improvisation on set (not very good), and what it takes to cast the right actor.
Q&As are always a little awkward. Directors are subject to broad and far-reaching questions about their work, audience members will sometimes intuit meaning in the subtext that the director may or may not have intended. Occasionally, folks will answer their own questions while asking them. And yet Hitchcock is gracious with his audience here, and also extremely funny. In one particularly memorable instance, he perfectly answers one question about what the mandatory age should be for a director to retire (his response: “reel twelve”). He also talks about his working relationships with Bruce Dern and Grace Kelley, his friendship with French New Wave pioneer Francois Truffaut, the issue of morality in his films, and the difference between a “mystery” picture and a “suspense” picture. Why are you still reading this? If you love movies, watch the whole thing below. [Eyes On Cinema]