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Press release: Alfred Hitchcock (Austrian Filmmuseum, Dec 2007)

Press Information (December 2007)

Alfred Hitchcock

A quarter of a century after his death, Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) is still the most famous film director of all time. In part, the reason for his fame lies in Hitchcock’s sheer virtuosity as a filmmaker, particularly his perfection of the thriller genre – a cinema of suspense turned into a “machine” of aesthetic selfreflection.

In an unprecedented series of masterpieces – from The 39 Steps (1935) and Sabotage (1936) through Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Notorious (1946) to Vertigo (1958) and The Birds (1963) – Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) marks the climax of his popular success. As a new kind of horror film, however, Psycho also signalled major changes in his very own filmmaking base, ushering in a more violent era in Hollywood and European (genre) cinema. Borrowing from the "cheaper" aesthetic and the shooting methods of Television, the film indicates how the classical studio production system will come to an end. It was this system that had allowed Hitchcock’s inimitable mixture of individual mastery and mass entertainment to blossom: a signature of artistic genius in the midst of the Hollywood "factory".

The second principal reason for Hitchcock's fame lies in his (self-)stylization as the ultimate cinematic myth and the perfect auteur. He played a game with the audience's emotions not only on the screen, but also in front of it (and behind it). His knack for publicity was on a par with his cinematographic intuition. The inevitable cameo appearances in (most of) his films are an exemplary case: as the gifted raconteur Hitchcock once related to his great admirer François Truffaut, this tradition simply arose from a lack of extras... “Hitchcock/Truffaut”, the famous 1967 book of interviews where this anecdote can be found, is in many respects the ultimate document of the ongoing international success that the French politique des auteurs enjoys to this day. It wasn’t until this "theory" broke through in the 1960s, that Hitchcock started to be perceived as the centre of film art. In 1998, Jean-Luc Godard still dedicated an entire chapter in his Histoire(s) du cinéma to Hitchcock, reserving a unique rank in the pantheon for him.

According to Godard, Hitchcock’s mise-en-scène trapped the global audience in a spider's web, attaining "Le contrôle de l'univers" along the way.

It is in this role as "ruler" of our cinematic consciousness, as "Master of Suspense", that Alfred Hitchcock remains stamped in the awareness of popular audiences. The simplifications which go together with this role correspond to his own preferred interpretation of his works. The most comprehensive Hitchcock show ever to be presented in Austria now makes the offer to both follow and go beyond the official history of masterpieces. It enables audiences to also study the “untypical” aspects of his career, his fascinating missteps and dead ends, as well as the outside influences which he always liked to play down.

Strong traces of such influence can already be seen in the early oeuvre of Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, who was born in London and received a strict Jesuit upbringing. He started out as a title designer for Famous Players-Lasky in 1920 and soon worked his way up into more challenging positions. The experienced “cutter” and story editor Alma Reville was partly responsible for his speedy rise through the ranks at the studio; she later became his wife and was his most important film collaborator right up to his death. Hitchcock’s official directorial début came in 1925 with the German-British co-production The Pleasure Garden; his close contacts to UFA and his interest in the Expressionist films of Germany would have a lasting influence on his entire output in the silent era and beyond. The whodunit The Lodger (1927) is considered his first major work, given its "High Hitchcockian" subject matter, but the boxing melodrama The Ring (1927) is arguably his most mature silent film.

With Blackmail, originally conceived as a silent, he achieved a smooth and successful transition to sound film in 1929, already employing his characteristic interplay between image, dialogue and sound design. However, the transitional period of the early 1930s offers a number of "surprisingly atypical" Hitchcockiana such as the fast-paced and surreal diptych Number Seventeen (1932) and the frothy Johann Strauss Musical Waltzes from Vienna (1934). In the same year Hitchcock shot the gripping first version of The Man Who Knew Too Much with Peter Lorre, inaugurating a series of British murder mystery classics which were to make him world-famous: The 39 Steps, Sabotage, Secret Agent (1936), Young and Innocent (1937) and The Lady Vanishes (1938).

The delightful mélange of suspense, irony and romance which, in varying dosages, comes into play in these films caused Hollywood to take notice of Hitchcock. David O. Selznick signed him up for a multi-year contract. With his celebrated "British" melodrama Rebecca (1940) he immediately conquered the American audience, and followed up with a sequence of explosive espionage thrillers related to the war effort. Despite all of his wrangling with Selznick, it was in these years that Hitchcock achieved many of his greatest artistic successes, both on the terrain of screwball comedy (Mr. and Mrs. Smith) as well as with thrillers such as Notorious and Shadow of a Doubt, the latter a deadly tale of double identity set in a deceptively idyllic provincial town – it was to remain his own favourite among all his films.

The first part of the show, from December 1, 2007 to January 4, 2008, presents all films directed by Hitchcock up to and including 1947. Part 2 of the Retrospective (January 5 to February 4, 2008) contains his works for film and television from 1948 on, as well as numerous rare documents and lectures on the director.

Coinciding with the Retrospective, the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna will be presenting the film installation "Phoenix Tapes" by Christoph Girardet and Matthias Müller, a work of found footage circling around Hitchcock’s obsessions. The show opens on December 4. (Berggasse 19, 1090 Vienna, Tel 01/319 15 96)

Complete Retrospective: December 1, 2007 through February 4, 2008