1. Hitchcock as Adapter
Read one of the original works (e.g. short story, novel, etc.) that Hitchcock based his screenplay upon. Discuss how Hitchcock adapts a particular aspect of that source – a character, a scene, the narrative order of the story, etc. – in order to develop a particular theme or idea for the film as a whole. It will be helpful to find some criticism on Hitchcock’s use of that source in the film you chose. Try the references at the end of the related chapter in the Hitchcock book and the MLA Database.
For example, from the discussion of Rebecca: In the novel by Daphne Du Maurier on which the film is based, we discover that Maxim in fact murdered his first wife, Rebecca. Hitchcock, in order to appease the censors, makes her death appear accidental. How does knowing this change your view of Maxim’s relationships?
2. Hitchcock Reviewed
Choose a Hitchcock film and write a review of the film, showing how it responds to critical questions about the film and/or the traditions associated with it. The goal of this review is to show how a particular film provides (or fails to provide) a “Hitchcockian” performance. Consider how convincingly or effectively all aspects of the production – acting, costuming, set design, lighting, music, cuts or additions to the text, etc. – convey the particular “dramatic vision” of the director.
Consider this example from past discussion: Many critics and viewers have found Spellbound to be a disappointment, but most agree that the “disappointments” are interesting, Many critics and viewers have found Spellbound to be a disappointment, but most agree that the “disappointments” are interesting: a. Gregory Peck’s performance; b. the love at first sight between Peck and Bergman; c. the presentation of psychoanalysis; d. the Salvador Dali dream sequence; e. the melodramatic ski scene that unlocks Peck’s repressed memories. Choose one of these “disappointments.” Is it a disappointment for you? Why or why not?
3. Hitchcock on Sexuality
Sometimes the screen sizzles with sexual tension, sometimes it gives the creeps, and sometimes it leaves one cold. Explore a relationship’s cinematic sexual tension (or lack of it), with special emphasis on film techniques. This could be done within one film or in comparing relationships between two films.
Compare these examples two from a past discussions: (1) There are no sexually explicit scenes in Rebecca, but there is a great deal of sexual tension, especially between Maxim and the dead Rebecca and his new young bride; and Mrs. Danvers radiates a sinister sexual tension whenever she appears. What techniques does Hitchcock use (camera angles, camera movement, lighting, music, etc.) to create this tension? How does this tension relate to the theme of the movie? OR (2) from The 39 Steps: Compare the relationship between Daisy and the Lodger (in The Lodger) and Hannay and Pamela (Madeline Carroll). How does Pamela differ from Daisy? How does Hannay differ from the Lodger? Does Hannay become an “enlightened” male by the end of this movie?
4. Hitchcock’s Use of Point of View
Focusing on a moment that does not use dialogue (or uses minimal dialogue), how does Hitchcock use the camera to forward his story?
Consider this example from a past discussion of The 39 Steps: Pay particular attention to the scene (in the middle of the movie) between the aged crofter, his young wife, Margaret (Peggy Ashcroft), and Hannay when they sit down to dinner. Very little is said here, and yet a great deal is learned about the characters. What do we learn about each character, and why is this extended scene a tour de force of cinematic art?
5. Hitchcock’s Use of Suspense
Give special focus to the use of film techniques, including: editing, camera angle, music, use of special effects, sound/silence, dramatic irony, etc. to develop a sense of suspense – or failures in these areas to develop suspense.
Consider this past discussion question from Shadow of a Doubt: Hitchcock is known as “the master of suspense.” What exactly does this mean? What is it that puts Hitchcockian suspense in a class of its own, that makes it more complex than the suspense found in most movies? On one hand, there are technical reasons. Pay close attention to how Hitchcock builds suspense in Shadow of a Doubt, through camera angles, point of view, mis-en-scene, lighting, editing, etc. On the other hand, there is a moral quality, a thematic importance to the suspense. How does Hitchcock’s suspense go beyond creating physical anxiety in the viewer to something more complex?
6. The development of Hitchcock
Taking the long view of Hitchcock’s filmmaking career, consider how he developed as a filmmaker and his influence on Hollywood. Compare two specific films and use specific examples to show this change. Give particular emphasis to film techniques, such as editing, camera work, special effects, music, etc.
For example, compare these questions from past discussions: (1) In The Lodger, consider the use of mirrors, especially near the beginning when we see a man’s covered face reflected in a distorting piece of metal. What does this image suggest? Later on, there is an extraordinary scene of the Lodger with his back to a mirror and a portrait of a woman on the wall. In what way is this scene significant? (2) Hitchcock’s camerawork in Notorious is flawless, daring, and justly famous. Consider the long-take that begins in the interior of Sebastian’s (Claude Rains) mansion, on a landing overlooking the party, has the camera swoop down for above and eventually end in a close-up of a key in Alicia’s hand. What happens next? How does the editing create suspense as this scene plays out? How significant is the key?
7. Develop your own topic
Discuss with me ideas you may have that fall outside the above topics. Your paper topic must be first approved by me.
Here are a few specific questions, any one of which could yield an interesting essay. The reading for this week can provide a starting point, or perhaps an ending point.
a. Why does Hitchcock show Young Charlie planning to marry the detective while at a funeral where Uncle Charlie is being eulogized as a saint?
b. Why does Hitchcock show us wads of cash strewn about Uncle Charlie’s boardinghouse room? How does his attitude towards money contrast with that of Joe, the banker?
c. What is the importance of the scene in the “til Two” bar where Young Charlie encounters an old classmate who is now a waitress?
d. Discuss the significance of the cameo appearance of Hitchcock in Shadow of a Doubt. He is one of the bridge players on the train that is bringing Uncle Charlie to Santa Rosa.
e. Discuss the significance of the ring that Uncle Charlie gives to Young Charlie, and which keeps turning up. How does it move the plot forward? What various things does the ring symbolize?
f. Does Hitchcock do anything to make us feel sympathy for the devil? (i.e. Uncle Charlie)