September 11, 2014

WATCH ME IF YOU CAN | Hitchcock Classics

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By MARINA CAITLIN WATTS

Prior to the fall semester starting up, Cornell Cinema was abuzz, screening Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo multiple times. The psycho-thriller came out in 1958, starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak. Vertigo didn’t initially impress critics nor film viewers, but decades after the fact it is now hailed as Hitchcock’s masterpiece. There is nothing like gripping the edge of your seat, scared to watch what happens next, yet simultaneously dying to know where the twists will take you. Vertigo leaves its audiences feeling this way, fearing heights in a somewhat irrational fashion. It has been highly regarded by the American Film Institute, making several of their “Top 100” lists. It has also replaced Citizen Kane in the Sight & Sound critics poll as the greatest film of all time in 2012. And for a good reason too.

Many filmmakers have strived to create good thriller films, but no one has done it quite as well as Alfred Hitchcock. He didn’t focus on gore, like many contemporary directors did. Hitchcock went for the shocking, the twists that had audiences more dumbfounded than grossed out.

If checking out Vertigo awakened a newfound appreciation for the brilliant Hitchcock, there are plenty of other cinematic masterpieces of his to appreciate, including the following:

Rope (1948): Not only does it offer a good storyline and Jimmy Stewart, but it has cinematography that shouldn’t go unnoticed. The film opens with a murder scene as two college students strangle a classmate; they call it the perfect murder. However, their professor (Stewart) smells a rat.  At the time, reels could only hold nine minutes of film at a time. In Rope, Hitchcock moved his camera around the scenery for the entire film as though to make it look like it was all one continuous shot. Viewers think that the film was done in one shot, as the camera pans the rooms and actors.  You feel as though you are walking throughout the set alongside the cast members, which effectively attempts to break the fourth wall without actually doing so.

The Birds (1963) was intended to evoke unending terror (the film doesn’t even finish with “THE END”).  The film stars Tippi Hedren as she searches for a pair of lovebirds for Mitch Brenner’s (Rod Taylor) sister’s birthday.   As the movie progresses, they develop a relationship, and the birds begin acting increasingly strange.  Many people in San Francisco fear that the apocalypse is approaching in the form of birds, as the menacing creatures cause havoc for the duration of the film.  As all the birds migrate south for the winter, paranoia will take over your mindset, flocking in bountiful packs overhead.  Basically, your perfect autumn film.

Rear Window (1954): The film that inspired the Shia LaBeouf film Disturbia, Rear Window, is sure to increasingly keep you on the edge of your seat as the plot progresses.  Injured sports photographer L.B. Jefferies (Jimmy Stewart) sits in his apartment during the heat of the summer. As he watches the people who live in his apartment’s courtyard, he discovers that a man who lives across the way is a murderer.  With the help of his girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly), they spy on him as he tries to cover up the evidence of his murdered wife.  My heart pounded upon my first viewing, and even though I know how it all ends, I cannot help but have panic attacks during the climax of the film each time I watch it.  The more recent film Disturbia is based off this classic.  Needless to say, this one is much better and deserves a watch.

Marina Caitlin Watts is a Junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She may be reached at mcw236@cornell.edu.