It’s impossible to underestimate the influence Alfred Hitchcock had and continues to have on filmmakers who follow in his footsteps. Two of the filmmakers I interviewed at the Toronto Film Festival last week cited him in discussing their own work.
Fifty years after debuting with the classic Twelve Angry Men, Sidney Lumet is still going strong: his new film, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,
is scheduled to open in late October. Talking about how the process of
filmmaking works for him, he dismissed the popular notion that
Hitchcock was only interested in the preparation work he did prior to
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Don’t you believe what he said for a minute. I saw him on the set, and he loved every second of it. However, it’s absolutely true that he did the picture in his head. I’m sure he’s not the first one who did it, but certainly among the directors I knew he was the first to use storyboards for every single shot. I remember I asked Henry Fonda, who had just finished The Wrong Man, I said Hitchcock is getting on, this is New York in the middle of winter, how did he get through it? He said, Very easily—in the car. He would take his sketch of the shot, the cameraman would come over, he’d roll down the window, hand him the sketch, and the photographer would do the set up. But he watched the performances very carefully. I was on the set when he shot Rear Window—Grace [Kelly] was an old friend of mine—and he saw it all.
David Cronenberg, whose name is as synonymous for terror and tension for a later generation as Hitchcock was for his, describes a scene in his new Eastern Promises in terms of what is probably Hitchcock’s single most famous sequence. Discussing the already-infamous fight between Viggo Mortensen and two Russian assassins in a steambath, he said that there was no question that the star had to do the scene sans towel:
Given the level of reality in the movie, he has to do it naked. And you want that scene to be in the steambath because it’s all about betrayal and vulnerability—it’s like the shower scene in Psycho. You’re naked, you’re hot, and there are guys with knives that want to kill you. That’s pretty vulnerable.
Cronenberg disagreed, however, with the Hitchcockian stereotype of the omnipotent director:
Any artist has always known about chaos theory – you cannot predict the reaction to your movie. I’m always amazed at some aspect of the reactions I get to movies. That whole Hitchcock paradigm is false, the idea that you’re a perfect manipulator, that you know what the reactions of everybody are going to be like a puppeteer, operating a marionette. It’s never like that. I wouldn’t want it to be like that.