Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock

Synopsis

Nicholas Haeffner provides a comprehensive introduction to Alfred Hitchcock's major British and Hollywood films, navigating the audience through a wealth of critical commentaries. One of the acknowledged giants of film, Hitchcock's prolific half-century career spanned the silent and sound eras and resulted in 52 films of which Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960) are now seen as classics within suspense, melodrama and horror genres.

Excerpt

1
Hitchcock’s heritage:
class, culture and
cosmopolitanism

In an article for a French journal published in 1960, Hitchcock confessed that ‘subconsciously we are always influenced by the book that we’ve read. The novels, the paintings, the music and all the works of art in general, form our intellectual culture from which we can’t get away. Even if we want to’ (Gottlieb, 1997, p. 142). Hitchcock immersed himself deeply in many different forms of culture, soaking up all he could, frequently displaying the breadth of his knowledge in interviews. Jay Presson Allen, who wrote the screenplay for Marnie (1964), puts Hitchcock’s thirst for knowledge down to his ‘sense of being uneducated. He was very defensive about class…. He had no education but read a lot. People like that are sponges and learn a lot from educated conversations’ (in McGilligan, 1997, p. 24). It’s important to establish at the outset that one of the unique features of Hitchcock’s films, which partly helps to explain their status as both ‘popular culture’ and ‘high art’, lies in Hitchcock’s own objective class position, which was poised between his family’s working-class roots and his own cultural aspirations. The former gave him a firm grounding in popular culture, while the latter led him to absorb influences which are more usually associated with elite culture. The resulting cinema, as Hitchcock understood, was neither ‘highbrow’ nor ‘lowbrow’ but rather part of an emerging culture of the ‘middlebrow’.

Hitchcock was one of the key figures in the development of a British middlebrow cinema, which aimed to combine cultural respectability with more popular sensationalist fare. Lawrence Napper has suggested that the growth of a middlebrow theatre and cinema during this time was an inevitable consequence of the emergence of the new suburban middle class ‘anxious to consolidate hard-won but precarious improvement in social position and living standards’ (2000, p. 115). Hitchcock frequently spoke of the need for a middle-class cinema in Britain and emphasised the distinctive qualities of English films when compared to American ones. ‘My policy’, he announced to the Daily Herald, ‘is to make popular pictures . . .

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