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Who Done It? Hitchcock the Master of Suspense

The Arts Society Gibraltar recently held a talk on Alfred Hitchcock in the Garrison Library, delivered by guest speaker John Francis.

By Julian Guilliano

John Francis described Hitchcock as an unrecognised genius, a hero and perhaps one of the most underrated film directors of the 20th century.

Mr Francis took The Art Society’s guests through an exhilarating journey, from Hitchcock’s early years in East London to the height of his film making career and fame in Hollywood.

Hitchcock was born in East London in 1899, son to very catholic working class parents. Hitchcock’s initiation into the film making was through art school given he was a good drawer.

This skill was his ticket into the film industry where he wrote the titles for silent films. Hitchcock subsequently moved onto lighting and other aspects of filmmaking, Mr Francis compared him to the Picasso of films, given his ability to leave his stamp in everything he did.

‘Blackmail’ was his breakthrough film, where the theme of the blonde woman in her underwear, representing beauty and sexuality was first introduced to later become on of his trademarks.

Sex and violence was his universal theme, one that became irresistible to audiences. Hitchcock played with the impact that a dark cinema room had on the viewer whilst challenging their interests in what were at the time taboo topics, that of lust, desire and sexuality, always underpinned with violence.

He wanted the viewer to leave the cinema having gone through a psychological and personal experience. It was this that lured the masses to his style of film making.

Owing to the disturbing nature of his films Alfred Hitchcock has gained the title “Master of Darkness”. In ‘Dial M for Murder’ with Ray Milland, Grace Kelly and Robert Cummings the theme of sex and violence is yet again present in this love triangle where the protagonist Kelly, is murdered by picking up the phone.

Hitchcock loved everything to do with film making, he liked making his audiences feel tense and this was achieved through clever use of camera angles and shots.

The set was always used as a giveaway for clues of what was to happen next and he would stretch out scenes to heighten the suspense and drama. Hitchcock’s artistic knowledge allowed him to use his films as canvases where everything from the composition of the set, actors, lighting, colour and mood of the scenes where all carefully orchestrated, without forgetting his genius choice for soundtracks.

‘Psycho’ 1960 must be one of Hitchcock’s most famous films as well as one of Hollywood’s greatest murder classics. Based on the novel by Robert Bloch, actress Marion flees after stealing $40,000 from her boss. In the heavy downpour of that night, she stops at an out of the way motel belonging to a young man who lives with his mother.

Marion is killed off within the first half hour of the film, violently murdered in the famous shower scene. Hitchcock plays with the main character; she is portrayed in different lights to play with the emotions of the audience where the rain and music is used to accentuate drama.

Voyeurism, desire and violence are all intrinsically linked whilst Marion is having a shower.

Mr Francis alluded that this scene represented the actresses change in heart about having stolen all this money and her will to now return it.

The water running down her body is to represent the washing away of her sins, yet the scene quickly changes into one of extreme violence and brutality.

This scene took two weeks to edit, close camera shots picked up the fear in Marion’s eye as she was stabbed to death by Master Bates.

Censorship did not allow for the actual attack to be filmed, however, Hitchcock’s clever use of lighting, camera angles and music left audiences believing they had.

Mr Francis concluded; Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Danny Boyle and Quentin Tarantino et al all acknowledge a huge debt to the maestro of the East end of London and his undisputable contribution as the forefather of suspense and murder films.

Tomorrow the Arts Society Gibraltar will hold a talk on the ‘Master of the Society Portrait: John Singer Sargent’. The talk begins at 7.30pm and will be delivered by Mary Alexander in the Garrison Library.