Essay: Alfred Hitchcock – auteur

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What are some of the key stylistic features that identify Alfred Hitchcock as an auteur? Answer via the analysis of two or three Hitchcock films from different periods.
The ways a film stages a shot, arranges a sequence, executes a scene, is almost directly linked to the director —- Auteur Theory

(Sarris, 2007)

The Auteur Theory was developed by a French screenwriter named Francois Truffaut. Truffaut published his ideas in a 1954 essay called “Une Certaine Tendance” or “A Certain Tendency in French Cinema.” In these works, Truffaut claimed that ilm was a great medium for expressing the personal ideas of the director.The auteur theory suggests that a director can use the commercial apparatus a filmmaking in the same way that a writer uses a pen, or a painter uses his paint.

Auteur theory suggests that the best films will bear their maker’s signature which may manifest itself as the stamp of his or her individual personality or perhaps even focus on recurring themes within the body of work. Alfred Hitchcock plays this idea up in most of his movies where he make sure that he appears on screen in a brief cameos spot. And what is even more interesting, is a symbolism behind certain cameos that reflects larger topics. For example, the image of a bird is recurrent throughout certain of Hitchcock’s cameos. In “To Catch a thief” there are two caged birds nearby. This use a bird imagery is obviously expanded lager during Hitchcock’s work in “The Birds”. The cage birds are no longer caged. Symbolism of birds is an obvious mark of Hitchcock’s work, as his signature is always marked by that symbolism.

Based on The auteur theory of 3 Premises ( Technical Competence; Personality; Interior Meaning) of an Auteur according to Andrew Sarris. (Sarris, 2007)


Firstly, a great director needs technical competence and elementary flair in cinema. The master of film language, same as novelist must have master of written language (Sarris, 2007). If there is no mastership of technical, then not an auteur. that is to say, the director is not master of own work.

Technical- Mis-en-scene

(Look at hitchcock and technical competence with mis-en-scene cinematography editing and sound, so technically in the mis-en- scene which will relate to the style and personal meanign also the underlying meaning later on, in technical elements of Hitchcock ….)

Women are almost always blonde: Marion Crane in Psycho ; Melanie Daniels- The Birds; Brenda Blaney-Frenzy

Other elements of Mise-en-scene we see brandy across several different films and brandy in birds and frenzy and these huge glasses that look like breasts usually other elements in his Mise-en-scene includes Staircases and staircases having this foreboding look, so for instance you have in Psycho who falls down the staircase you have the brooding staircase when looking up at the Victorian house you also have staircase in Vertigo, so throughout all of him films he’ll use staricases he also reflections in mirrors quite often a lot of the reflections through mirrors.

Birds : Behind Norman Bates in the office – Psycho, the birds that overlook everything its dwan in phoenix or opens up in phoenix arizona phoenix is a bird, also he says to Marion crane you eat like a bird and he has the stuffed birds in the birds you have birds also, also in his mise-en- scene you see that these objects often embody some kind of visual representation so the shower is entrapment in Psycho; the Phone booth is entrapment in The Birds you have ties being a symbol of entrapping women in frenzy so obejcts really embody visual representation inside of Hitchcock’s films so the mise-en-scene has this element of meaning and often entrapment for women.

The technical camera:

Hitchcock loves POV shots he loves voyeurism so we have Norman Bates watching Marion crane in the birds we have Melanie Daniels watching the explosion so we have Jimmy Stewart literally stalking the female in vertigo we have the peeping tom and /in ? frenzy its about watching It is about voyeurism. Technical elements with camera also includes the Hitchcock rule so the size of the object in the frame should be equal to the importance of visit in the story at the time so if you’re at a close-up of a person they’re the most important thing in the story the time if they’re at an extreme long shot they’re not the most important thing in the story so we have teh technical element of the Hitchcock rule we also have the establishing shots of landscapes at the beginning and so he masters this kind of way of establishing an area of San Francisco at the beginning the birds we have Phoenix the beginning of psycho we have London at the beginning frenzy.

Technical elements of editing;

we use the POV identification which is related to the Kuleshov Effect and so Hitchcock has his thing where he talks girls in bikinis and it’s really about cutting to the glance from the glance we cut to the object then we cut back to the glance and then back to the object and as Hitchcock says you keep cutting back and forth until you beat it over the audience’s head that you’re supposed to identify with him, we see this in psycho where we first have a lot of POV shots from Marion crane, for exmaple, looking out the car and then when she’s about to die we then trade POV shots over into Norman Bates’s characgter as he’s looking through the peephole

Suspense- set up a scene in the beginning that the audience knows, but main character doesn’t, then edit the scene with suspense in backgorund

he also uses parallel editing to show relations of characters or doubles and so you’ll have two different characters, for example, in strangers on a train and they are literally reflections of one another or doubles of one another and this will relate to the fact that ofen the wrong person is accused in the film and so they have to prove themselves to be right, we also have parallel edting used to show kind of this elements and balance of good and evil.

Technical element of sound:

He loves to sue silence, for example in the birds we have before the major bird attacks the birds all silence, so as you see, Daniel’s walking into the school the birds are slowly gathering on the palyground before they have this major attack and start trying to kill all kids. We have Norman Bates watching at the beginning the shower scene which is silent or ambient sound and then we have the breaking the dead girl’s fingers in frenzy as you have this silence and in the snapping of the fingers. Another element of sound with Hitchcock use dialogue, so when Hitchcock has people talking which is speech it’s not really usually about what they say, because what they say doesn’t matter, its about what’s being seen and it’s about the interaction, dialogue is interaction between two people, speech is what is said to two people, so dialogue does not have to be speech, you can have dialogue without speech and so Hitchcock is about dialogue he’s not about the talking, and that’s a visual elments, that’s mastering the visual element and it’s one reason why serious will say that Hitchcock is one of the most technical advance people in all of cinema.

(Dialogue- most talking scenes in Hitchcock’s films is focused more on the interaticon between two people (dialogue) versus what is actually being said (speech))

Hitchcock’s personality:

Secondly, the distinguishable personality is another a criterion of value to seen as an auteur. Over a group of films, the signature of style as recurrent characteristis (Sarris, 2007). The films has the sense of belonging to the direcotor, that means the clearly relationship to the director by the judege of audiences in a way. using the visual codes to express personality instead of the literary content.

Have recurrent characteristics relating to the expression of the the director, the personality of American directors they’re forced to show visually due to censorship happen in the United States, rather through literary.they can’t do the literal translations of stuff like they could in Europe, so in the United States we have the Hays Code and it was very difficult to get things through the censor, so you have people smoking cigarettes in bed and you know what means instead of showing them having sex which you couldn’t do you show them having a cigarette, the American directors also kind of develop an abstract style to get around things, so the personality of the American directors is often kind of a little bit more abstract. So once again, with censorchip and getting

Personality and style of Alfred Hitchcock:

One of the more problematic aspects of auteur theory is the question as to what constitutes personal style:form or content, story or theme, genre or acting? The next question in this process is to determine what specific aspects of Hitchcock‟s movies reflect thatpersonal style, and which movies can be deemed to be the apogee of this style. We know there has to be something recurrent in an auteur‟s work for it to bebranded as “personal style”, but the limitations of what that something is have been challenged, and effectively open to a wide range of interpretation.

Parallel comparisons between characters, sometimes being the wrong person. The wrong person is accused looking at something like strangers on the train looking at frenzy you have this kind of balance between good and evil this person may be good evil, and this person may be evil with a little bit of good and we’re going to accuse the good person over the bad person we have the fact that mothers are often dominant and they intrude into children’s lives, so for example, in Psycho Norman Bates’s mother literally intrusion to his life after death we have Marnie and how her mother has completely destroyed her life, we have in the birds Melanie Daniels has to deal with Jessica Tandy who plays the mother of her love interest in the film. So you have this woman who’s very cold to Melanie Daniels. So you have domineering and very intrusive mothers. In addition, Hitchcock embodies tons of sexuality in his films. For exmaple, the cigarette smoking at the beginning of psycho and Marion crane is standing around in her bra at the beginning this was extremely risky and pushing the boundaries of censorship to the almost boundary you could be. Also, sex and how the killer is sexually repressed in Frenzy, the birds as a manifestation of sex, in the diner there’s a woman who says to Melanie “I think you’re the causes of all this”.and not only represents sex coming into this small little island and once the sex comes there the birds come there. We see the police are incompetent in Hitchcock’s films. So for example, the police cant do anything about the brid, in psycho, when they call the police what happens, youre stupid because Norman Bates’s mother’s dead we’re not gonna go check it out he’s a good boy. In Hitchcock’s film we have the women trapping the male and then once the woman in is trapping the mail she didnt falls into being in distress and the needs to be saved by the male – women traps the male, but ti saved by the male, so for exmaple, Marion crane in psycho where she has this sexual control over Norman Bates and then she must be saved as her sister and her sister’s husband or boyfriend comes out to save them, also Norman Bates who’s trapped by his mother, the sister then who is trapping her boyfriend but then needs to be saved by her boyfriend. Same thing happening in the birds where Melanie Daniels walks up into the attic and she becomes trapped and she must then be saved,so its constantly happening where women are always trapping the male then they get themselves into trouble and they have to be saved by the male that they were often trying to trap. Also, transference of guilt, this can be seen in psycho from hte mother on to Norman Bates, and the same thing happening in the brids as the transference of guilt goes on to Melanie Daniels.

Interior Meaning :

The third one of the auteur theory interior meanning, the cinema as an art.This deals with elevating cinema from a low art to a high art. So one of the reasons for auteur theory is that cinema is often seen a low art form it was a commerical art form and commercial art forms are not true art, so how do we lift ouselves from being a commerical into high art and that’s done because there is the “tension between a director’s personality and his material ”. And the director walks in with this kind of attitude towards life, an attitude towards the world and life , and by seeing this attitude by creating this meaning by understanding this meaning, we can create a higher element of art, this can be seen through the technical level and the personality and style of the director on screen and that transfer meanning. And even through the director may not have intended the meaning, it is the responsibility of the viewer, critics, and theorists to uncover meaning. This is the one thing that Pauline Kael had completely gone against when she was against the auteur theory as she says you’re making up meaning just make up meaning but looking at Richard Maltby in Hollywood cinema, he says “What permits the endless variety of meanings to be generated from a film are in large part the critical practices themselves”. Hollywood cinema. P501.

David borwell the author of film art, he says that it is the audience’s response or responsibility it is also critics responsibility to find meaning even if the director doesn’t have any desire to have that meaning, it is our responsiblity to find that meaning, so it is about find that meaning.

Interior meaning in Hitchcock :

Women cannot be trusted and may even represent castration this is the stuff written by Laura Mulvey, thus they should be tamed before they take control (Sarris, 2007). So with Marion Crane we have to kill her because otherwise she will take control of us and we will become castrated. in the birds, you cant trust Melanie Daniels she’s just soical light and she jsut cant be trusted, so you have to have the brids literally attack her till she passes out and then you can take control of her. In vertigo, you cant trust the main character the female, she has to be controlled because she is literally keeping Jimmy Stewart under a spell. So women are never trusted in Hitchcock films,and they go so far as taking away all masculinity from the male. Interior meaning also in Hitchcock is about voyeurism and by being voyeuristic gives you power, and watching someone gives you power and by having that power to tame and repress sexuality. The cinema is voyeuristic. You’re looking into people’s are beeing a peeping tom you are watching people in their everyday lives. So this voyeuristic element in Hitchcock even goes further and it gives you the power, its why you feel guilty after Hitchcock ‘s films. Look at it and at the end of psycho you see the car coming out of the water and you know that Norman Bates it can . When you look at the end of the birds, the brids aren’t dead the birds are everywhere as they’re driving out off the island , and this is about repressing sexuality.

In Hitchcock, evil is always present and cannot be completely ridden from the at the end of psycho, Norman Bates he would not harm a fly but his mother has taken over him completely he is the embodiment of castration but still his evilness the fact that Norman Bates wasn’t killed he’s still in that cell or in the insane asylum, his presence is still there evil is still there the brids are still there, hitchcock film you have evil still exists it is not written from the world, and then also with Hitchcock we have authority is incompetent.

Authority is incompetent and one must take it upon one’s self to move forward. Teh psychiatrist in psycho, the psychiatrist who tries to come out and expain it but he’s incompetent you look at the police figures they’re incompetent. So in Hitchcock it is a responsibity of the male the protagonist male to take it upon oneself to move forward to fix things if anybody else tries to do it they are incompetent but if you do it .

The underlining meaning are some of.

Alfred Hitchcock’s influence

Hitchcock’s works are inundated with themes and elements of his life. During the 1920s, Hitchcock was sent to Babelsberg Studios in Berlin, here he become exprerienced with some expressionistic set designs for the film the “Black Guard.” This film was widely appreciated by the German audiences, for the film the “Black Guard.” This film was widely appreciated by the German audiences,who had been significantly influenced by the horror film genre and film noir. This film influenced Hitchcok to include expressionist elements to his work. In Psycho, the shadow of Marion’s assailant is reminiscent of an iconic scene of the shadow of “Nosferatu,” a German expressionist film of 1922. Hitchcock has explicitly stated that is adaptation to techniques of German Expressionism were not coincidental. Hitchcock’s filmmaking has in its turn influenced many other filmmaker and so has been one the vehicles which have propelled German expressionist techniques into the present day. It is assumend that no aspect of Hitchcock’s films are coincidental. Hitchcock :”The poisoned wine situation or the drugged wine the character usually picks it up and goes like that and all of a sudden says ‘oh by teh way you said this, and he does this about a half a dozen times, which is such a cliche so I decided to aovid that cliche and merely leave the wine there untouched until the last minute. But in order to keep the audience reminded of it’” . Elements influenced by genres are incorporated, but Hitchcock does not show a dependence on the genre as do other films. By observing common themes throughout Alfred Hitchcock’s works, we understand the importance of shot composition and arrangement outweighs the importance of the genre. As we have seen with the example of expressionism. Hitchocck was influenced by many of his life actions. Hitchcock therefore did not appeal to his audience by developing a genre, instead he uses his film to relate elemnts of his own life,

Hitchcock’s Attitude

Hitchcock’s works also reflect his own attitude and style. For example, his opinion towards the Hollywood bans of the time can be seen in examples as a couple kissing to a train entering a tunnel. Hitchcock’s depiction of sexual undertones are persistent trhoughout his work as he challenged the censorship throughout his career.

In conclusion, To visualized the auteur theory based on The three premises, the outer circle is technique; the middle one is personal style, inner circle is interior meaning in this concentric circles. However, nowdays, it cannot ingore the phonoma that people can become a director without the technical konwldge of cinema, even the basic skills of photography or editing. Instead, using an expert production crew to compremise the director’s “ loss of the skills”. Based on the three premises of the auteur, from it has been discussed above that it can find out the difference between a director or an auteour. a pattern . That means Auteurism Makes distinctions between auteurs that has a strong artistic signature- and who are merely competent directors – or metteurs-en-scéne. From Hitchcock


Robin Wood, (1977) ‘Ideology, Genre, Auteur’, Film Comment, 13, No. 1

Truffaut, François (1978), Hitchcock Paladin, London

Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962’, in Braudy & Cohen (eds), Film Theory and Criticism; extract in Caughie, Theories of Authorship, pp 61-67

Sarris, A., 2007. Notes on the’Auteur’Theory in 1962. Kwartalnik Filmowy, 59, pp.6-17.

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