In the Master's Shadow: Hitchcock's Legacy (2008) - transcript
Transcript for the documentary "In the Master's Shadow: Hitchcock's Legacy (2008)", based on the subtitle track from a DVD.
The following people appear in the transcript:
- Donald Spoto
- Martin Scorsese
- Mark Goldblatt
- Eli Roth
- John Murphy
- John Carpenter
- Gary Rydstrom
- Bill Pankow
- Craig McKay
- David Sterritt
- Jack Sullivan
- William Friedkin
- Joe Carnahan
- Guillermo del Toro
- Ruth Myers
Films beget films. Filmmakers influence other filmmakers constantly. But the most influential filmmaker of all time is Alfred Hitchcock.
Guillermo del Toro
Hitchcock is cinema.
Anybody who attempts a thriller owes a great debt to him.
I knew DeMille's name, I knew John Ford, too, but Hitchcock's name was synonymous with something that was gonna be very special.
To talk about Hitchcock's influence is to really talk about the history of movies.
In 1951, when I was 10 years old, I went to the local theater and saw Strangers on a Train.
The audience reaction was like a communal rollercoaster.
When you watch something like that, it doesn't matter what you know or don't know about the person who made it, you know that you're watching something unique that just grabs you by the collar and never lets go until it's over.
I remember when I was a kid, The Birds was on television, and it was an event when that movie was on. But I remember just waiting to get to that scene with the eye pecked out.
At the time we had this parrot, and I was kind of watching this film... I was literally about five or six, and I'm, like, looking over my shoulder at this parrot in the cage, you know.
My first Hitchcock film memory would be back in the '50s, probably Rear Window.
Rear Window must have been on television when I was a kid. I remember for years, remember this image of a little dog. The dead dog in a garden.
The first Hitchcock memory I have is actually watching Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I remember watching that with my family, and particularly my grandmother, who had a heavy Russian accent, and it was amusing when she would pronounce his name. Let's go watch Hitchka.
I was probably around nine years old and I saw The Trouble with Harry. I really became fascinated with this morbid sense of humor.
The first Hitchcock experience that I had was seeing Vertigo when it first came out in 1958, when I would have been 14, 15 years old. I remember to this day that the movie starts, and the first thing you see after the credits is this horizontal line going across the screen. And I thought, What is that? and then, a hand appears. And then the camera pulls back, and you see that it was a rung on a ladder. I'd never seen a movie before where the first shot of it, you didn't know what it was.
The music just knocked me out of my chair. And then shortly after that, North by Northwest came out, and I saw that and I was blown out of my chair yet again. And then Psycho came out and just freaked me out for years.
Psycho is the film that made me feel that film could be an extremely powerful medium. And it scared the hell out of me.
When I saw it as a kid, it was just this... It was like a Victorian freak show. I think it was the first time I was really cognizant of the fact I was being manipulated.
Guillermo del Toro
The first Hitchcock film I saw was I Confess. It was very important for me because at that time I was still Catholic. The way Montgomery Clift portraying this priest almost like a beatific, beautiful entity, and the way Hitchcock handled the moral dilemma in an expressionistic way, it affected me deeply, and I wanted to know more about this filmmaker.
Hitchcock is one of maybe two or three directors where his name has become a term. If you say something is Hitchcockian, you know exactly what that means.
The thing about Hitchcock is that at the same time as being frightening, mysterious, the plot is so absorbing, and the look is always so immaculate that you are completely carried away by what you're seeing in front of you.
Guillermo del Toro
Normally he creates incredibly polished suspense melodramas. With a few exceptions, including the brilliant exception of Frenzy where he just dispenses with any appearance of pulchritude or decency and he just portrays the world as a brutal place.
You knew when you went into a Hitchcock film that you were going to be entertained. You might be scared, on a few occasions, you might be horrified. You're going to have a lot of laughs, 'cause he was a master of humor as well.
Nothing is happenstance in a Hitchcock film. You don't just throw handheld cameras on your shoulder and let 'er rip. It's all very, very specific. He was able to really, like a puppeteer would... You just pull this string, you get this reaction, you pull this string, you get this reaction.
What gets you riveted to the screen is he forces you to identify with the characters in the movie through use of point of view.
I think he's certainly one of the great directors of all time and did something really hard to do, which made for a distinctive style that is hard to copy. People try to do Hitchcockian things. It's very hard. There's something distinctive about his personality. This quirky, dark sense of humor with a sense of romance and a sense of just devious, dark view of humanity, and you put it together into something pretty unique.
Once you've sort of mined the classics and they become like logos that you see everywhere, the beauty of Hitchcock's work is that the more subtle moments are even more powerful and more lasting, I think, ultimately, in the less bravura scenes in pictures like Psycho. In Psycho we have two or three very strong bravura moments which, of course, are the shower scene, the killing of Martin Balsam, the shocking ending...
But the sequences that continually give me inspiration are the sequences in which she's driving. The camera is very, very dead center on her, it's very precise. And when you see her point of view, it's dead center. It isn't slightly off, that's a big difference. These are very specific shots and they exist in almost an abstract way. You know, here it's stripped down black and white.
It's like a dream, and yet you're still awake. And you know with that music, too, that something terrible is going to happen to her. But it can't because she's the lead of the film. Come on, she stole 40,000 dollars, she's on the lam, she's running away, that's the plot of the picture, let's see what happens. So I was one of the ones who bought that completely.
We were up there that night at the Mayfair Theater, it was called. And that was one of the first films I ever saw that said, Please do not reveal the ending. We were yelling at people as they were coming out of the theater, saying, What happens, what happens? Don't ask, don't ask, we're not saying. We were all laughing and running. It was like a circus ...a circus.
Hitchcock worked in Germany for a while. He saw what the German expressionist filmmakers were doing with shadows and ominous kind of effects. So he put together these and many more influences that came to him, started using them in ways that nobody had ever used them before. Now his influence has gone out to other filmmakers all over the world.
Try to name a thriller that isn't in some way, shape or form, associated with Hitchcock. The nomenclature of that, I think he really introduced into modern cinema. That didn't exist prior to him being here.
I borrow from Hitchcock. Everybody borrows from Hitchcock. But there's nobody who carries a legacy of Hitchcock. Just as there's no one who carries a legacy of Howard Hawks or John Ford. These guys were artists who had a very particular point of view. They were expressing things personally in the form of a Hollywood movie.
Hitchcock was really one of the first directors who understood how to use that subjective camera point of view of watching what was happening to create suspense. I love that. I mean, I will definitely do that. Even before Josh is killed in Hostel, the whole opening shot where we don't know where we are or what this place is, it's all shot through a little hole in a bag and it's just sort of looking around the room. And we're just getting little pieces of information, as the character gets. I mean, you can trace that going all the way back to Rear Window.
I guess Cape Fear... We were consciously trying to live in that world for a while, creatively, utilizing technique, style. Even the traditional walk down the corridor. At the end of the corridor, you don't want the person to go in, but they do go into the room. And there's Uncle Max there sitting on the stage, smoking a cigarette. Juliette Lewis goes down the aisle to the stage.
But it becomes a scene that's inspired by the undercurrents in the Hitchcock pictures, where Max Cady character in a medium shot, and Juliette in a medium shot... And it was an emotional and psychological violence that he does to her. But the camera doesn't move in those cases, and that has to do with, certainly, the quieter scenes in Hitchcock pictures, there's no doubt about that. There's so much more than just quick cutting and shock moments in Hitchcock.
A very good example of a Hitchcock type of film would be the Bourne films. They're not stolen out of Hitchcock but they're clearly influenced by Hitchcock. Now, those scenes are much more graphic than anything that Hitchcock ever did but that's because you can do more graphic stuff today. He couldn't. He was limited by the ratings code.
There are a lot of directors that draw directly from Alfred Hitchcock, and the one that comes to mind more than any other is Steven Spielberg. They had all this disastrous trouble with the mechanical shark. So all of a sudden Spielberg was left with, Okay, I've got to tell a story like Hitchcock, which is that you don't show the shark for most of the movie. You see the reactions of people to the shark, you see the shark towing things through the water, you see the blood, you see the people being yanked underwater, but you never see the shark, and that's something Hitchcock would have done.
There are some filmmakers who have made it almost a specialty to be influenced by Hitchcock. The most famous of them is Brian De Palma. And the interesting thing about Brian De Palma, and I've talked about this with him, is that he isn't trying to put anything over on anybody. He is the first one to tell you, I got that out of Hitchcock. You know, That whole idea came from Hitchcock. The way I did that... Oh, yeah, Hitchcock did that. So he regards himself as the kind of artist who takes what he needs from other filmmakers and puts them to use in new ways.
The thing about Hitchcock was that he was a master craftsman. He knew all the tools and he knew how to employ them to achieve the effects that he was after. The shot of Martin Balsam being murdered on the steps where the camera seems to move down the stairs with him as he's struggling to maintain his balance, I used that in The Exorcist. Well, frankly, it's a shot of a character being grabbed by the scrotum by the young girl who was possessed, and he falls backward, screaming. And I attached the camera to him. I found out how Hitchcock did that effect. He attached the camera to Balsam, and that's what we did in The Exorcist.
One thing that I loved about Hitchcock was that Hitchcock was really that first director that put his personality before the movie. I mean, it was Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest, even though Ernest Lehman, of course, wrote it, and, of course, the novel and the script of Psycho but it's Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. You really feel his personality in all the movies. And I've always tried to do a little walk-on cameo in my films, in all my films, because of Hitchcock. That's why every director does a cameo in their movies, because Hitchcock did it.
Guillermo del Toro
Hitchcock was always concerned about the appearance of things. He was always concerned about things that seemed good but were really corrupt, or things that seemed corrupt but he found the good or the fragility in them. I share that fully with him. He was very interested in playing some sort of a strange family drama, which I also have a big empathy with.
But more than anything, the fact that he used his stories as moral parables in which he was not worried at all about reality. He didn't mind stylizing the camera moves, the wardrobe, the lighting. What he was seeking was not realism, he was seeking the truth. And in that I, again, have a big empathy with him.
At the end of North by Northwest, when Cary Grant is trying to pull Eva Marie Saint to keep her from falling off Mount Rushmore, and he says something like, Here you are, Mrs. Thornhill. And you're still seeing him from that scene, and all of a sudden they cut to him pulling her up into the bed on this train. That's guts, that's really a ballsy thing to do.
Certainly that's had a huge influence on me. I did Smokin' Aces. It was all... One scene led to the other, but it always a gesture in one scene that led to something in the next. And that's a direct corollary to my exposure to guys like Hitchcock. Particularly that because I thought that he really sought to make the experience of a movie singular.
Guillermo del Toro
Hitchcock brought the sanctity of the storyboard, the sanctity of pre-planning, his European sensibility, all of this came with Hitchcock to America, and his point of view of the corruption of a little town can be traced all the way to David Lynch's Blue Velvet. You can trace any of his movies directly to Spielberg’s Duel.
In Raging Bull, I guess the boxing scenes have a lot to do with the action sequences in my mind. All this editing and all this camera movement that I'd been exposed to for the past 25 years or 30 years came into play in those sequences, and Hitchcock had a lot to do with it, there's no doubt, particularly in designing the scene where Sugar Ray Robinson, in the third bout that they have, when La Motta's on the ropes, looks up at him, and Sugar Ray comes in for the kill. And there's a kind of edited sequence of punishment that this character's taking. I based it on, shot by shot, the shower scene of Psycho. And so I designed it correspondingly, in a way. The glove corresponds to a knife. And so, we shot it that way.
Psycho, you think for the first 35 minutes of the film that you're watching a story about a woman who has embezzled some money. And a half an hour later, she's dead, she's not in the movie anymore. He completely took away your stability by killing the star, and I literally used that in a film I made called To Live and Die in L.A. I had the star of the movie killed about 20 minutes before the end of the film.
Hitchcock's work was a huge influence on me, not just in Cabin Fever but in HosteI. In fact, I stole the protagonist switch from Psycho. Let's just take a guy, make him the main character, say, This is our star, this is his story, then just kill him off halfway through. Now you're stuck in a strange country, you don't know the language, you don't know the people, there's the fear of the police. Which Hitchcock had a real fear of police, that's certainly in there. We were going for a Hitchcockian style, and that's really our nod to Hitchcock and Psycho and North by Northwest.
I don't think young people who want to study film need to go to film school. I never did. They need to watch Hitchcock's films. You watch Hitchcock's films, and it's a quarry for filmmakers.
Guillermo del Toro
Hitchcock is an idea, like Dali is an idea, like Disney is an idea, like Spielberg is an idea. When you say that name, it evokes things that you think you know and you may not even be able to put them in words, but it's a feeling, people would say a brand. I just think it's something more powerful than that.
I tried once to approach a dialogue scene in a car between these two guys, and they're talking. I said, Let me do this like Hitchcock would do a suspense scene. So I had somebody storyboard it for me, and it's a lot of close-ups of hands and faces. It seems to me that's the one thing you could do, that you could take Hitchcock's ideas and apply them some other way. Apply them to dialogue or exposition as opposed to suspense. So you might try and experiment that way.
What film was that?
I'm not telling you!