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The Guardian (30/Apr/1980) - The Mystery Manipulator




The Mystery Manipulator

Alfred Hitchcock is dead. There will, almost certainly, never be another like him. He was the film-maker who, par excellence, managed to be both a great entertainer and a great artist – thus completely quashing the notion that to be the first somehow compromised the possibility of becoming the second.

Hitch, as the world knew him, teased audiences and critics alike. Even those who scarcely knew of the existence of the auteur theory went to see a Hitchcock film simply because it was made by him. And those who study theory have never ceased to attempt to analyse his appeal and fathom the psychological implications behind him and it.

All this amused Hitch greatly, and he tended to play the various games people wanted him to play. That way he could keep making films, and getting them seen as widely as possible. Towards the end of his life, he received enough tributes to make most other directors sink in a welter of self-esteem towards a luxurious retirement. But it did not turn his head. He regarded himself merely as a craftsman who knew his job backwards. To continue being allowed to do it was enough.

'If you've designed a picture correctly," he told Truffaut, 'the Japanese audience should scream at the same time as the Indian audience." To someone else he said: 'By the time I get to the actual shooting, I'm frequently bored. You see, I've worked everything out precisely in my mind. There are no more surprises."

The only surprises left, in fact, were for the audience. That was what he was after: the confounding of expectations. Everybody screaming together as that strip of film goes through the projector, mathematically manipulated by a master technician who has left nothing to chance.

Yet, whatever he said, and he was often careful to outrage, what went into even the merest of his films was rather more than a perfect plan. Truffaut found Hitchcock's place 'among such artists of anxiety as Kafka, Dostoevsky and Poe." Others have talked of his Catholicism, his concealed search for God, his complex moral sense, his illumination of our basic fear of somehow being found out. Hitch never said no to all this. But he never said yes either. One imagines that he merely smiled to himself and rubbed his hands with glee.

In all, he made 53 films which spanned more than 50 years, at least 20 of which are acknowledged masterpieces. And the astonishing thing is that, given this long span, he never tired for a moment. The reason, he has said, is that 'pure film" is fascinating – what you can do with it to other people.

What is quite certain is that [he] has had a profound effect, not just on audiences but on other film-makers. Almost all, Chabrol, for instance, is a homage to him. And so many Americans copy his strategies that one sometimes wonders if his influence is not too great. No, there will never be another Hitchcock. But everybody has a perfect liberty to try.