In this article from the Catholic University, the author describes how staircases are used throughout Hitchcock’s films. Staircases are symbols of many things including the occult and the unconscious. A large part of some of Hitchcock’s movies is the discussion of the unconscious part of the brain, for example in Spellbound. A number of Hitchcock’s films reference the unconscious. The article also makes a point of showing how the stairs usually have men with mother issues at the top.
A major motif throughout Hitchcock’s films is a use of shadows in building suspense and revealing characteristics that were unknown or bring attention to objects. At first it sounds strange; shadows are supposed to hide not reveal. But not in the hands of Hitchcock.
Hitchcock was one of the best people to make suspenseful mystery films; he truly had the disposition.
As we’ve discussed in previous classes, Hitchcock did not shy away from recycling certain shots. In a visual occupation such a film-making, I believe that the best directors are the ones who leave images in your head that never leave. Hitchcock’s dark and ambiguous style particularly stays with an audience long after watching his films, and this is a big reason why his films are considered timeless. Here are some of my favorite reoccurring shots from his films.
Shadowy people by lamp-posts.
Faces obscured by darkness.
The use of reflection.
Throughout many Hitchcock movies it is evident that the relationships between men and women are imperfect. In Vertigo and Rear Window it is evident that the relationships are carried on under the man’s conditions and what he wants.
In Rear Window, Jeffries (James Stewart) is obsessed with secretly looking into his neighbors rooms and being a voyeur. He seems uninterested in his relationship with Lisa (Grace Kelly). Lisa is a beautiful woman who is willing to do anything for him, but he is more interested in what is going on in the rooms he peeps into.
When Lisa complies with Jeffries wishes and goes across into a neighbors room to help solve the case, he then appreciates her and loves her as she has become part of his voyeuristic obsession. This shows the woman in the relationships altering herself to fit the conditions of the man.
A similar phenomenon is experienced in Vertigo. Scottie (James Stewart) fell in love with Madeleine (Kim Novak) and became depressed after her “suicide” which was actually her participating in a plot for a man to kill his wife. She then became Judy. Scottie then met Judy (also Kim Novak), who oddly resembled Madeleine.
He decided to change everything about Judy, like her clothes and her hair, to further resemble Madeleine, his lost love. Judy complied since she is Madeleine and is in love with Scottie. Here is another example of the woman changing who she is for the love of a man.
Hitchcock has a tendency to use Jewelry in a way to show female beauty, male power, and greed. I feel that in Shadow of a Doubt and To Catch a Thief that Hitchcock is using jewelry to show the lack of power the man holds of the female and the temptation that the jewelry holds.
Hitchcock uses jewelry to show many different things. In the first gif (of Charlie’s hand as she walks down the stairs) Hitchcock is using it to demonstrate male power, or lack there of. I feel that Hitchcock is using this to show how young Charlie now holds power over Uncle Charlie with this ring. She now holds the evidence she needs to prove that Uncle Charlie is the “Merry Widow Murderer.” Before young Charlie finds out about the ring we believe that Uncle Charlie had all this money and nice things because of his mysterious job. Afterwards, she figures out where the ring truly came from. Uncle Charlie has made it clear to the audience at a point that he feels that women living off their dead husbands’ money is a waste. He hates the widows who clearly flaunt their money and spend it on ‘trivial things.’ (One thing being jewelry)
I also feel in this that Frances, like young Charlie, is trying to use jewelry to hold power over a male character, John Robie. In Shadow of a Doubt young Charlie is using that ring to basically tell her uncle the gig is up, that she knows and now she has the proof she needs. He can no longer use his ‘power’ over her. Here in To Catch a Thief, up until this point jewelry has been used to show the status of the women who are stolen from. All the women are upper-class women who can afford expensive jewelry which attracts the thief to go after next.
In both of these movies I believe that Hitchcock is using the jewelry to show how women use jewelry to not only look beautiful but to show how much money the have in their possession, which can lead to their downfall. I also feel that Hitchcock is not only using the jewelry as an identifier of wealth but as a temptation as well. In Shadow of a Doubt, young Charlie is tempting her uncle to challenge her. She in this scene holds all the cards and dares him to try and stop her with all these people around. In, To Catch a Thief Frances is on to John Robie, “the Cat” and wants him to try and steal from her. She knows who he is and is tempting his “inner thief” with an expensive necklace. These women are holding power, as little as it may be, over the male character in these two scenes (Uncle Charlie and John Robie). Young Charlie holds enough power to ‘convince’ her uncle to leave town, which eventually leads to his death at the end.
As an audience we willingly give ourselves to Alfred Hitchcock and his collaborators on the film. We subject ourselves to Hitchcock’s will and manipulation to view what he creates for us, and in return we give our time and commitment of thought. Occasionally the audience’s relationship with the actors and the stage is directly addressed through eye contact with an actor, or passively by putting us (the audience) in the viewpoint of the actor. By doing so, Hitchcock makes the audience see and feel what the character is seeing and feeling. Especially in the case of “breaking the fourth wall”, so to speak, the audience isn’t only observing the emotions and actions of the characters, we are sucked into the narrative and forced to feel and react. This motif of reaction is common in a number of Hitchcock’s films and can be seen through the following gifs.
In the gif (brought to you by this guy) we are seeing through Guy’s eyes and forced to feel the way Guy feels.
In this gif we are even more drawn into the role of Charile as her uncle, very menacingly, looks over her/our way, as we accept the role of Charlie in this shot. (source)
In Rear Window, the major theme is the idea of looking in on the happenings of others, which is the audience’s role when going to see a film or play. Naturally, the audience can relate to Jeffries easily as he looks in to the lives of others as we are, thus we share his viewpoint several times through the film. From Rear Window we can see the connection of audience and character, both directly and passively. For example:
looking in on others
communicating with others
and when he’s caught.
We relate to these different characters because, with consent, we are subjected to the manipulation of Hitchcock, notably through the connection between us and these characters.
In Robert Stam and Robert Pearson’s “Hitchcock’s Rear Window: Reflexivity and the Critique of Voyeurism,” they discuss cinema as a “window on the world” and eyes as windows themselves. The film addressed our interest as human beings to observe others and almost mocked the fact that we vicariously become involved in movie characters’ feelings and lives.
This immersion of audiences into the film is seen in many Hitchcock films, and it can be done for numerous purposes: whether to induce fear or excitement, to express a message, or even to mock.
One key example is in Psycho.
This key shot works as a double entendre. It not only highlights Bates’ craziness, but it also acts as a shout out to the audience, immersing them into the story that they are watching. This amplifies the horror of the scene.
Furthermore, afterwards he looks directly at the camera, as if he is escaping his film and staring out at the viewer.
This kind of shot is also seen in Rear Window, when Thorwald finally figures out that Jefferies is spying on him. Because Jefferies is the surrogate for the audience, this shot almost mocks the voyeurism of the audience.
Finally, another example I thought about was in Shadow of a Doubt. I couldn’t find it on the internet, but in the end of the movie, right before Uncle Charlie falls from the train to his death, there is a shot of him waving to a woman on the train. The woman is located behind the camera when he waves, and it looks as if he is waving directly into the camera and at the audience. Through this wave goodbye, Hitchcock foreshadows Charlie’s coming death. This shot is an excellent example of Hitchcock’s immersion of his audience into his films for the purpose of driving a plot.