Alfred Hitchcock – the Master of Suspense

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Alfred Hitchcock – The Master of Suspense

Introduction

Alfred Hitchcock was a British film director who was regarded as the most important director during the 1950s. He was called “the master of suspense” for his pioneering technique in creating suspense in his movie. Therefore, understanding Hitchcock’s style of suspense is an important step in studying his films. This essay will introduce some of the films he had made and relationship between suspense and those films. Then, it will look into one of his most renowned films Vertigo, focusing on the main theme discussed and the suspense throughout the film. Finally, it will analyze one of the most remarkable senses in Vertigo, discussing how and why suspense is created, and the possible relationship between the main theme and suspense.

General Session
Alfred Hitchcock was born in London in 1899. He entered the film industry to work as a film title-writer in Paramount’s Famous Players-Lasky at Islington in 1920. Within thirteen years in his early film-making career, he made twenty-four films. The film The Lodger was Hitchcock’s first solely directed film. Later in 1929, he created the first British sound film called Blackmail. Other films he made in Britain includes: Thirty Nine Steps (1935), The Secret Agent (1936), The Lady Vanishes (1938), etc. His films are in the visual style of European art cinema, which means German expressionism and Soviet Montage. (Richard and Sam, 1999: 6) After success in Britain, he moved to America. However, at first he was only regarded as one of the immigrant directors over the period. In that space of ten years he made relatively minor films. Most important ones include: Rebecca (1940), Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Spellbound (1945). From 1948 -1963, Hitchcock’s name recognition and popularity with the general public rose by a large extent. That was the time when he made the most popular films like Rear Window (1954), The Wrong Man (1956), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest(1959), Psycho(1960) and The Birds(1963). Most of Hitchcock’s films contain suspense plot. So what is suspense? ‘Suspense relies upon the audience’s strong sense of uncertainty about how events will play out’. (Deborah and George, 1999: 108) Hitchcock’s films share a lot of common themes containing uncertainties in in which suspense takes place. The first one is the unpredictable world faced by the individual, in addition to individual’s powerlessness to influence events. For example, characters are under the lethal attack from tremendous amount of birds out of nowhere in The Birds. In The Lady Vanishes, Iris notices the missing of an old lady but most people in the train ignore that, accusing her of mental illness. (Raymond, 1974: 143) In North by Northwest, advertising executive Roger is mistaken as an F.B.I. agent and get into series of trouble and danger. In The Wrong Man, the powerlessness of Nanny when he is caught for robbery is emphasized. Suspense takes place when the audience is anxious to know the safety of the characters. Another uncertainty is the characters’ identity – they are often mistaken or confusing. For example, In Vertigo, Scotty was asked to investigate and protect a “possessed lady” who turns out to be deceiving him. In Psycho, audience is never shown Norman’s mother in person and has no idea about the combined identities of Norman and her. In Spellbound, Constance falls in love with the new asylum’s director Dr. Edwards but then find out he is not whom he claims he is. (Raymond, 1974: 193) When characters search for other’s identity, it creates great tension and suspense. Hitchcock excelled at creating different kinds of cataphors. What is a cataphor? Hans J. Wulff suggests that the experience of suspense relies on the spectator’s recognition of specific future-directed narrative cues called ‘cataphor’. (Deborah and George, 1999: 108) For example, the $40000 Marion steals in Psycho is an object cataphor, directing the audience to imagine...
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