Saturday, August 13, 2011

Happy Birthday, Alfred Hitchcock!

Yes, he was the Master of Suspense. But on 113th anniversary of his birth today, I prefer to focus not on his films, but on the man himself--particularly, his intelligence and indubitably dry wit. These aspects of his personality--coupled with his love of the macabre and the unending power of his films and TV work, of course--were what made him into a superstar. I believe that when informed people think of the word or the profession "director," they think of Alfred Hitchcock. As an explanation to why this is so, here are ten clips that I also offer as tribute, and as a mini late career bio, to this unique artist who truly changed how we see the world:

Here he is, in 1954, as the mystery guest on the TV game show What's My Line? As he signs in, we get to see Hitchcock compose the famous, impossibly elegant 9-line caricature this one-time storyboard artist wryly concocted for himself (here, it's an 8-line drawing--he omits that slight hairline on the show's blackboard). I love his references to Grace Kelly at the end of the clip--"What did you do about it?" This tells us so much about the man.

I imagine TV execs really got a hungry sense of Alfred Hitchcock's surprising on-screen dynamism while watching him on What's My Line. The following year, in 1955, he began hosting his own anthology series, suitably called Alfred Hitchcock Presents. His appearances on the show--in which this devotee of cinema often derided the necessary trappings of TV (particularly its need for commercials)--are what I think made him an even more stellar household name than he already laid claim to being. This intro, from 1955's episode titled "The Other Sister," is a fine example of his unforgettable hosting style.

Mr. Hitchcock was a pioneer, too, in the construction of film trailers, even though no director--even Steven Spielberg--has ever attempted to do what he did with them. This development in his on-screen personality become more intense after his TV show became a long-running hit. As a result, his home studio Universal allowed him to indulge in unusually long trailers for his films. The Psycho preview is justifiably famous. But so should be this advanced look at his 1963 effort The Birds, in which not even one actual shot from the film is shown (even the glimpse of lead actress Tippi Hedren was filmed specifically for the trailer).

Hitchcock wisely dissects what frightens people here in 1964, on the BBC interview show Monitor. I love how Hitch's handsome facial profile is captured here.

The film-specific crafts of editing and scoring are smartly used in this 1965 segment shot for French television, in which Hitchcock pointedly discusses the dynamics of arguably his most famous film Psycho and then deftly practices his impeccable French on the interviewer.

On the director's 1970 appearance on The Dick Cavett Show (in one of the best episodes of that series, available on Cavett's Hollywood Greats DVD collection), Hitchcock comments correctly on the effects of sex on the Hollywood elite, and then defiantly admits to one of his favorite forms of repartee, in a statement with which I wholeheartedly agree.

Another Hitchcock trailer, this time for his 1972 tale of murder called Frenzy (his late-career return to British filmmaking and still his most personal film, if you ask me). The initial sight of Hitch floating on the Thames is highly amusing. "How do you like my tie?"

Part one of Tom Snyder's very revealing 1973 interview with Hitch on the Tomorrow show; Snyder starts by asking Hitch what scares him. The other five parts are on You Tube.

One year before his death in 1980, Alfred Hitchcock was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute. Surrounded by a truly astounding collection of moviemaking royalty, he is, as usual, hilarious and articulate. But here he is also unexpectedly touching, as he pays tribute to his wife and collaborator of 53 years, Alma Reville Hitchcock who, dutifully sitting by his side, is visably moved throughout.

And, finally, no tribute would be complete without noting the director's famed cameos in his own films. This You Tube post from royvanderzwann collects all but eight of them, and deftly points out each of Hitchcock's sometimes imperceptible on-screen appearances, backed with French composer Charles-Fran├žois Gounod's "Funeral March for a Marionette," which of course forever became Hitch's instantly recognizable theme song.

Happy birthday, Mr. Hitchcock, wherever you are. And thank you, for everything.

(John Candy as Hitchcock on SCTV--to fully view the segment, click here.)


Lisa said...

Thanks for sharing this tremendous post with us, from filmicability!! It's wonderful!

Dean Treadway said...

Thank you, Lisa. It's one of the rare posts with which I feel comfortable posting on both FILMICABILITY and THE FLAMING NOSE. Because, let's be truthful--if it wasn't for TV, Hitchcock would not have been as popular. I like how the collection of clips becomes a little mini-bio of the man. And, indeed, he was unfailingly witty!

Dhiraj said...

The characters are average people with ordinary intelligence and subdued by ordinary fears. This realism makes the haunting occurrences more shocking.