In a display of ambitious editing, author, filmmaker, and Vimeo user Steven Benedict has compiled a video essay that studies common themes found in Alfred Hitchcock’s work. The essay—which Benedict describes as analyzing “falling, ascending and descending staircases, opening curtains, reading newspapers, poisoning drinks, women’s hairstyles, shoes, train compartments, sleeping and dreaming, pulling away from and dollying in on the action, overhead shots and characters looking directly into the camera”—is comprised of clips from the 40 feature films Hitch directed between 1934 and 1976.
Watching the essay, Hitchcock’s style and tastes become readily apparent. Fingers grasping for life and slipping. Deadly falls. Knife murders. Eyes. Eyes. Eyes. It’s hard to deny Hitch was inclined toward certain images. We’re not sure “overhead shots” constitutes a theme, so much as a cinematic technique, but Benedict’s point is well made. With over 40 years of Hitchcock films back-to-back, it’s easy to see the director’s signature, from “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to “Family Plot.” Oddly, the only dialogue in the video is a brief bit of voiceover from “North by Northwest” citing Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill as a murder suspect.
Keep in mind, Hitchcock’s career began over a decade before the earliest films Benedict cites. He first attempted directing a film in 1922 with “Number 13,” though that production proved as lucky at its titular number. Not until his third attempt behind the camera did Hitchcock successfully complete a film, 1925’s “The Pleasure Garden.” His early work, much of which was silent, undoubtedly influenced the aesthetic used in later films, those that Benedict uses in his gallery.
Give the essay a watch. How many of the films can you name? (“Psycho” almost doesn’t count, it’s in there so many times.) What other themes do you detect? Full disclosure—we also weren’t sure we quite bought “women’s hairstyles” as a theme, but there sure are a ton of buns in these clips. [35MM]