Hitchcock deserves his status as an auteur. Explain why this is so making reference to the methods he uses to create suspense and horror in

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Franklin Barr

Hitchcock deserves his status as an auteur. Explain why this is so making reference to the methods he uses to create suspense and horror in “ Psycho”.

Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born August 13, 1899, Leytonstone, England, and died in 1980 in Los Angeles, USA, of liver and heart problems. He went to Ignatius College in London, to the School of Engineering and Navigation, and then to the University of London. He started his film career in 1919 illustrating title cards for silent films at Paramount ‘s Famous Players-Laskey Studio in London. There he learned scripting, editing and art direction and rose to assistant director in 1922. By 1925, he had directed his first finished film, ” The Pleasure Garden” shot in Munich. His breakthrough film, “The Lodger”, came a year later. Alfred Hitchcock directed over 50 films in total, including “Vertigo” (1958), “Psycho” (1960) and “The Birds” (1963), and they earned him the title “the master of suspense”.

Hitchcock the Auteur

Hitchcock achieved the title “master of suspense” particularly through his mastery of the technical means to build and maintain suspense. He used innovative camerawork (viewpoints and movements), editing techniques, soundtrack, lighting and mise en scene. Because of this unique style, Hitchcock is considered to be an auteur. “Auteur” is a French word meaning “author” and was first used to describe a film director by Francois Truffaut, a French film theorist. The term refers to a film director with solid technique, a well-defined vision of the world and a degree of control over production. It is really a way of saying that a film has a particular director’s signature on it.

Psycho – an overview

“Psycho” was such a revolutionary film it founded a whole new film era, the modern horror genre. The film is about a motel keeper who has a pathological obsession with his mother and the murder of an innocent woman who accidentally intrudes into his life. The film begins with Marion, who steals $40,000 so she can afford to get married. She drives from the city to her lover and, on the way, stops at the Bates Motel where she meets the owner, Norman, a very nervous but friendly young man. After hearing over tea with Norman about his relationship with his mother, Marion retreats to her room where she has a shower before bed. While in the shower she is brutally murdered by what seems to be Norman’s mother. Later, when a private investigator goes looking for Marion, he is also horrifically murdered by the “mother” and only when Marion’s sister, Leila, accompanied by Marion’s lover, Sam, comes looking for her do we discover that the “mother” is actually Norman. He had been dressing up as his mother since killing her, along with her second husband, many years earlier.      

The Parlour Scene

A key scene in Psycho is the parlour scene. Nothing horrible happens in this scene but it provides the audience with clues that something is not quite right. In particular, it begins to reveal the darker side of Norman’s personality and his pathological obsession with his mother. Hitchcock uses camera work, lighting and mise en scene, particularly birds, to create a sense of menace.

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The scene starts with Norman inviting Marion into the parlour – like the nursery rhyme “come into my parlour said the spider to the fly”. Norman enters the room and turns on a single lamp. Through the use of this low key lighting, with the sharp contrast between light and shade, Hitchcock creates an atmosphere of gloom and foreboding. Marion, on entering the room, sees two stuffed birds of prey, first a raven and then an owl both frozen in attacking position. These point of view shots suggest this is no ordinary motel and there is something sinister about ...

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