| Twenty-one years after his death, Alfred Hitchcock
remains the most imitated filmmaker who ever lived. No other director so peerlessly
combined craftsmanship and personality, popularity and genius. Though his work has been
pillaged and parodied - in films as inspired as David Lynch's Blue Velvet and as
ersatz as Brian DePalma's Obsession - a scene from Hitchcock remains unmistakably
Hitchcock. No one has touched the cool perfection of his best work.
Naysayers dismiss Hitchcock for both his lurid subject matter and the
technocratic assurance of his craftsmanship. They miss both the wit and the emotional
complexity of his work. His films are always as funny as they are unnerving, and he rarely
settled for a thrill ride or an easy shock. Hitchcock instead used his unparalleled
technique as a means of entangling the audience, binding us to his (often disturbed, even
sociopathic) characters and thus making us experience the terror they face at first hand.
Identification is always a vexing issue in Hitchcock. Long after the
shock of the shower scene has worn off, Psycho remains haunting, in part because
Anthony Perkins is so disarming, so flustered and charming, in his conversations with
Janet Leigh. Our sympathies shift from her to this puzzling, lonely man, until, of course,
we realize what he really is. Hitchcock follows with a typically perverse joke at our
expense, killing off every interesting character but this psychopath, so that by film's
end Norman Bates is the only person we can side with.
Hitchcock's morbid interest in drawing us into morally untenable
positions reaches its zenith in Vertigo, among the greatest of all films. James
Stewart's Scotty is both our point of identification and a profoundly disturbed man, a
manipulative stalker who works out his own sexual obsessions on the person of a woman who
is helplessly drawn to his machinations. That Hitchcock sustains our interest in his
sickness is extraordinary; that he manages to draw us into Scotty's pathology with such
skill that we don't realize the extent to which we've indulged his fantasies (and, by
proxy, our own worst impulses) until it's far too late is moviemaking at its most sublime.
Hitchcock's prodigious craft is, for the most part, invisible and
seemingly effortless. His command of the medium is so absolute that his technique rarely
calls attention to itself. Each shot is simply inevitable, captured from exactly the right
position and held for precisely the right amount of time. There is no single stylistic
flourish that defines his work, no one technique that instantly says Hitchcock. His style
is something rather more complicated: the fullest culmination of Hollywood classicism.
On the occasion of his centennial, AMC is presenting 32 of the master's
richest films. Drawing from Hitchcock's entire career, the festival features virtually all
of his major work. The best of these films - Vertigo, Rear Window, Shadow of a Doubt,
Notorious, Strangers on a Train - are as strong as anything the cinema has ever
produced, uniquely entertaining and endlessly evocative. They repay revisiting.
- Gary Mairs