By Doug Cummings
Arizona Daily Wildcat
"Some people like to film slices of life," Alfred Hitchcock used to say, "I like to film slices of cake."
Hitchcock was poking fun at his understanding of dramatic form, seeing it as a condensed and more intense form of life. In his eyes, audiences went to the movies to escape domestic banality.
Hitchcock is widely con-sidered cinema's master of suspense. His directorial career spanned from the silent films of the '20s to modern films in the '70s.
Hitchcock's love of Soviet montage and the dark psychology of German Expressionism allowed him to craft a unique approach to filmmaking, presenting movies about contorted psyches through the assembly of evocative imagery. His understanding of cinematic tempo and the emotional effects of pictorial composition enabled him to successfully manipulate his audiences into tension-wrapped voyeurs.
While virtually any of Hitchcock's fifty-odd films can provide an evening well spent in front of the tube, he reached a creative peak in the late '50s. Three of these movies show Hitchcock at his very best: "Rear Window," "Vertigo," and "North by Northwest."
"Rear Window" (1954) tells the story of a crippled photographer (Jimmy Stewart) who, watching from his window, becomes convinced his neighbor is a murderer. The movie is filmed completely within his apartment, looking out his movie screen-like window at other people's lives. The wonderful mystery unfolds into a confrontational climax.
"Vertigo" (1958) is widely considered Hitch-cock's most psychologically complex film, and it consistently appears on critical polls as one of the best films of all time. It stars Jimmy Stewart as a retired detective who falls in love with a fatalistic woman he is trying to save from psychosis. Stewart's character's battle with guilt and helplessness is confound-ed by psychological possessions, mistaken identities, and falls to the death.
"North By Northwest" (1959) is often considered the forerunner to the James Bond films with its exotic locations, action-filled espionage, adventurous romance, and robust score. It stars Cary Grant as an innocent man who becomes involved in a CIA plot to apprehend a criminal, and climaxes with an edge-of-the-seat chase across Mt. Rushmore.
Hitchcock's films have aged well, partly because of his uncanny under-standing of visual psychology, and partly because many of today's most successful directors, including Steven Spielberg and Brian DePalma, readily admit to having been directly inspired by Hitch's work.
In today's age of explicit shock tactics, Hitchcock's restraint and psychological complexity is a testament to the power of creative cinema.
"I Like to Watch" is a Thursday alterNation feature offering favorite movie recommendations available on video.
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