Dial H for Thriller

I watched a shapely blonde undress down to her too-large-for-today underwear and fell in love with an old, fat, ps3British dude.

I do not remember how old I was when I first watched Psycho, I only know I was in my teens and probably not mature enough in my tastes to be able to appreciate it on all its levels. But luckily for me, my tastes still knew what they liked and what they did not. Me being forced to peep on Marion Crane like Norman Bates later would, found itself among the former. The story continued to unfold and I was hooked until the very end and Norman’s skull-like grin. I would say “no small feat for a decades old black-and-white movie” but my unsophisticated tasted were diverse and old-fashioned even back then.

vert2
as seen on TV in the background of all the things

Cineastically speaking, I ventured on to discover Spaghetti Westerns, 30s gangster movies, hard-boiled detectives, film noir, 70s dystopias and even movie musicals. But always, without fail, I found myself drawn back to the Master of Suspense. Over the years, I came to know his oeuvre quite well, and the rare Hitchcock that still eludes me is an intriguing and tantalizing temptation, one that I dread to give in to, knowing that the fountain of Hitchcock movies is a limited resource and will stay dry once depleted.

From the thrill and suspense of a North by Northwest to the subtlety and suspense of a Rope to the theatrical intimacy and suspense of a Dial M for Murder, I grew to love, or at least appreciate, everything the old Englishman did. Even though I have to admit I do not much care for Vertigo, aside from its poster and the famous dolly zoom it invented.

vertigo
The second most famous dolly shot right after Jaws

Much has been said, written and analyzed about Hitchcock of course. Having once done some of that writing myself once for a paper, I am acquainted with all the point that keep being brought up when it comes to Hitch. From his occasional cruelty towards his leading ladies and him being put in jail as a young boy in an attempt at pre-emptive parenting all the way to his thing for trains and so on.

But what for me is both the most apparent and yet least talked about aspect is the artificial look and feel of his movies. Hitchcock famously abhorred shooting on location, and it shows. Whether it was because of convenience or because he wanted to be able to control as many aspects of what ended up on film as he possibly could, who is to say?

Tippi Hedren famously starts walking on a real street in The Birds, and when she passes a billboard she finds herself in a studio all of a sudden. It was skilfully done, but it shows. The backyard in Rear Window looks so much like a studio, the only character that fits right in is the ballet dancer James Stewart keeps ogling. It does not even come close to comparing with the gorgeous fairground scenes in Stranger on a Train, where in turn, Guy Haines seems wooden and a little fake, to be honest.

the birds
From street to studio – note the shadows

Why does it still fit so well, though? The artificiality even adds to the overall experience. I could go on and on about the reasons and navel gaze even more than usual on this, rambling on and on about the fetishization of realism in commercial cinema, auteurship, the way cinema perpetuates a long obsolete point-of-view it forces the ‘reader’ into, but honestly, what’s the point?

Suffice to say, I am still in love with the old chap’s movies, be it because of their artificiality or despite it. The thing is, Hitchcock movies have all but become a genre unto themselves, the small and relatively obscure ones like I Confess or The Lodger just as much as the famous, often quoted ones like North by Northwest and The Man who Knew too much. And the only occasion I enjoy watching one for the umpteenth time even more than I usually do is when I watch them with someone else and find that they can enjoy them, too.

Because finding out other people are just as engaged, thrilled, scared or suspensed as I was makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

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