The Architecture of Alfred Hitchock

One cannot watch the films of Alfred Hitchcock without some sense of space. When we first heard about this book, The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock (published by 010), we thought back to all the films we'd seen and in quite a few, the space, the structures, the architecture plays a primary role in the construction of the tales. In Rear Window, L.B. Jeffries (played by James Stewart) confined to a wheelchair due to a broken leg, peeks from the back window of his apartment house, the structure of the building, and where the tenants live defining the story. Or in North by Northwest the famous scene, where villains go toppling off the largest strangest monument in America, Mount Rushmore, or even in The Birds, houses are the only flimsy protections against the fatal attacks by nature.

In all of these movies, and quite a few more, Hitchcock, who worked as a set designer in the 20s, paid very close attention to the structures his stories played out in, often making them not merely plot devices, but strange and haunting characters, the Bates Motel looming at the top of the hill in Psycho; its crazed occupant leering down onto the rooms with a murderous gaze.

But if we can be momentarily expansive about the role of architecture, at the recent Festarch conference, artist Vito Acconci at a conference on the relationship between writing and architecture, simply stated that the two disparate disciplines both have a structure, both as sentences and in totality. We even use this phrase in discussing grammar: a "sentence structure." Cinema as well has a structure, one that Hitchcock was masterfully aware of, watching the below interview with Hitchcock, his sense of direction, and careful consideration of each shot, with who and where, plays directly on the psychology of the characters and the viewers, but also on a poetics of space, perhaps less emotive and nostalgic than Bachelard, but a sense of the poetic potential of not only the physical space of a story, but also the cinematic space from whence is the camera pointed and from there, where will it go, how is it showing the interior spaces filled with, a favorite Hitchcock word, suspense. Below is a clip from a very good interview, where Hitchcock, with the illustrative aid of clips, explains how he built some of the most potent scenes in Psycho.

Before that though, in case you missed it earlier, here's is the publisher's site for the book that sparked our musing. And click on the movie links, they all lead to the best Hitchcock trailers, where he personally tries to pitch the movie to the audience.

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