by Amanda McQueen, UW Cinematheque Programmer and Project Assistant
Not only is Alfred Hitchcock one of cinema's most popular directors, he is also one of the most studied and analyzed. It has helped, of course, that he was prolific; with a career spanning about 55 years, there's no shortage of material for critics, scholars, and fans to delve into. In the early-1920s, after some time designing title cards for silent films, he graduated to work as an art director, writer, editor, and assistant director - sometimes performing all four roles on the same film. Between 1925 and 1976, he directed over 50 feature films, spanning the transition from silent to sound and working in both Britain and Hollywood. He also produced and directed a number of additional projects for television, mostly for his series Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
When auteur theory arose in the 1950s and 1960s, Hitchcock was one of the first directors brought into the pantheon of great filmmakers. Since then, book upon book and article upon article have sought and analyzed the director's signatures - those elements of narrative, character, and style that seem to reveal his personal vision and that mark a film as definitively Hitchcockian. There's his preoccupation with blonde women, with doubles, and with false accusations and mistaken identity. There's his penchant for narrative twists, for favoring suspense over surprise, and for MacGuffins - those plot elements that turn out to be completely unimportant. And there's his interest in psychoanalysis, in sexuality, and in voyeurism.
Hitchcock films often explore the act of looking. Using camera movement, editing, and framing, Hitchcock is famous for putting the viewer in a voyeuristic position, but his films are also full of characters looking - watching each other and even breaking the forth wall to stare right at us. The Criterion Collection recently posted a wonderful, rather eerie video that speaks to this particular theme: "Eyes of Hitchcock."
But perhaps the most literal of Hitchcock's directorial signatures - and certainly the most fun - are his cameos. He makes a brief appearance in 39 out of his 52 surviving films, and spotting him has become a game for Hitchcock fans. (In my opinion, composer John Addison ruins the game in Torn Curtain by signaling the director's presence with the theme song from Alfred Hitchcock Presents). Indeed, the cameos were so popular, that audiences would become distracted searching for them and would not pay attention to the plot; so Hitchcock began putting his personal appearances into the first part of the film, to get them out of the way relatively quickly. Some of his cameos are tricky; there are times when he keeps his back to the camera or otherwise obscures himself from direct view. Many other cameos function as amusing gags, often unrelated to the plot, but providing moments of levity. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Internet is full of supercuts putting together all of the director's cameos, from that in 1927's The Lodger through 1976's Family Plot. Can you spot him in all of the clips compiled here?
See Hitchcock's 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much on Sunday, October 12, 2 p.m. at the Chazen Museum of Art, part of our ongoing More Hitchcock! series.