Saturday 16 May 2020

Plague Times Diary (32) - Peter Hourigan puts his files in order and rediscovers an evening with ALFRED HITCHCOCK

This weird time of being locked-in is a time for going through cupboards and shelves untouched for ages, as well as for some extra viewing. This week I came across a notebook with notes from some of the lectures I was lucky enough to attend when I was in London many years ago. One of the most memorable was with Alfred Hitchcock, on October 3, 1969. He was back in England to mark his 70th birthday that year. 

A small 18 minute excerpt from this lecture is still on-line on YouTube if you click this link

But he had a lot more to say. Hitchcock often gave an audience what they wanted – not just in his movies, but sometimes in interviews.  But he was also open and many of his answers were not what you’d have thought. So, let me share some of my notes from that memorable day.  These are not verbatim records, but I was trying to capture the spirit of what he said. I haven’t repeated any of the comments in the clip – enjoy that on-line.

Before the interview (with Bryan Forbes, picture above) began, a clip from Psycho was shown. Hitchcock drolly commented, ‘The bathroom.  They’ve cleaned it up now.’   
Unexpectedly, Alfred Hitchcock entered at the back of the National Film Theatre auditorium in London and made his way slowly down to the small stage under the screen.  Guests for the NFT lecture series, usually entered by a side door that let them straight onto the stage.  He made his way slowly down the wide stairs, very slowly. Applause accompanied him for the entire progress. I wondered if the great man had sized up the theatre in advance and schemed that this Grand Entrance would prolong the enthusiastic greeting.
       Colour should be reduced and desaturated down.  What you give the camera so it will record. Give it set decoration that will defy the efforts of Technicolor.
       Doesn’t believe in method actors. When he filmed with Montgomery Clift, he would turn up on set with a scene completely rewritten
           Now he has complete freedom – it itself is a handicap.  One enters into the field of financial ethics, a restraint.  Cart Grant should never have been in Suspicion– with a star as a murder suspect, then you have to compromise. The Front Office at one stage had a cut of 55 minutes – all references to Cary Grant as a murderer had been deleted.  Hence no film.
          Why remake The Man Who Knew Too Much?  He was short of a subject at that time and most suitable to the American public. The first version was more spontaneous, less logic, less reason. 
            Marnie  - The harbour scene – agrees it was bad.
           Bernard Hermann, a musician who always has his own way.  Plays it when it’s been orchestrated. 
         What makes you laugh? Bonnie Scotland – Laurel and Hardy. Laurel takes snuff and sneezes into the snuffbox.  The longest take before anything happened.
         Shadow of a Doubt. Gives him the most perennial satisfaction – suspense and melodrama combined with character. And Rear Window– the most cinematic film I ever made.  Montage and cutting creates drama.
          Torn Curtain – totally miscast.  Should have been a singing scientist.
           Under Capricorn – for the benefit of Ingrid Bergman. Bad for Hitchcock because it was a costume picture.   No-one in a costume picture ever goes to the toilet.
         Has cinema seen its best days? On stars, yes.  But this is being taken over by casting without compromise. 
          It’s powerful to know audiences in Tokyo, New York, London and West Berlin are re-acting in the same way – the greatest satisfaction a director can have. 
'the most perennial satisfaction', Shadow of a Doubt


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