KWAME HOLMAN: It probably is the most famous shower ever. And 1960's "Psycho" firmly established Alfred Hitchcock as Hollywood's master of suspense.
ACTRESS: Hello? Hello?
KWAME HOLMAN: In more than 50 films, Hitchcock strove to terrify, to make his audience squirm.
ACTRESS: Hello? Hello? Hello? Hello?
KWAME HOLMAN: The thriller was Hitchcock's signature, but while defining that genre, the director also transformed the world of making movies. Over a 55-year career, Hitchcock often blended several ingredients - brand-name Hollywood stars, humor, sex, and cutting edge studio effects to garner huge box office success. Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born in London 100 years ago today. He studied art and engineering and directed his first movie in 1925. In 1940, he made his Hollywood debut with "Rebecca," a romance thriller that won the Oscar for Best Picture. Later projects included "Rear Window," about a photographer turned voyeur, turned crime witness; the action chase movie, "North by Northwest." (Children screaming) -- and "The Birds," a horror movie about the dark side of Mother Nature. In a 1972 appearance on the "The Dick Cavett Show" Hitchcock talked about the pleasure he took in scaring people.
ALFRED HITCHOCK: If we're designing a film, I'm sitting with a writer. And you say, "Well, wouldn't it be fun to kill them this way, or that way?" And then you say, "Well, this scene will make them scream." So you do it with a sort of lushness of enjoyment, no different from the man who's driving the nails in that scaffolding who's making the roller coaster. He knows they're going to scream eventually.
DICK CAVETT: That's right. People will submit themselves to a good scare.
ALFRED HITCHCOCK: Oh, no question. I call "dipping their toe in the cold waters of fear."
KWAME HOLMAN: Another of the director's signatures was the cameo. Hitchcock's appearances in his films were wildly popular with audiences, so popular in fact Hitchcock feared they were upstage the movies themselves. So in later films, he inserted his cameos early, sometimes even during the opening credits. And there was Hitchcock on TV too. In the 1950's and 1960's he hosted "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," the stories hued to his theme of placing ordinary people in not-so-ordinary situations. It also was an opportunity to showcase his own eccentric style and dry wit.
ALFRED HITCHCOCK: Those of us who work in television have a technical term for this part of the program. We call it the end.
KWAME HOLMAN: In 1980, Hitchcock was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in his native Britain. Later that year, Sir Alfred Hitchcock died from complications of heart and kidney failure.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And for more on Hitchcock, we turn to Curtis Hanson, who wrote, directed and produced the 1997 film "L.A. Confidential," the first film ever to win Best Picture and Best Director from every major critics organization. He also directed "The Bedroom Window," and "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle," among other films. Annette Insdorf, professor in the graduate film division of Columbia University's School of the Arts, and executive producer of "Shoeshine," a live action short film which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1987. And Drew Casper, the Alma and Alfred Hitchcock Professor of American Film at the University of Southern California.
Curtis Hanson, tell us, from a director's point of view, what you most appreciate about Hitchcock.
CURTIS HANSON: Well, Hitchcock almost defines the au tour as director. He was the most precise filmmaker I think of them all. He was controlling. He planned, he premeditated, and he executed with just flawless expertise his stories, as he told them. He's had an unbelievable influence on I think all filmmakers, not just people who make pictures in the suspense genre, but I think all story tellers.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Describe that influence. In what sense? For example, on your own work, how was he influential?
CURTIS HANSON: Well, I think he influenced me in my private life at least as much as in my professional life because I'm still hopelessly in love with Grace Kelly and the character that she played in "Rear Window."
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You and lots of men.
CURTIS HANSON: Exactly. But you know, Hitchcock more or less invented the suspense film. He defined it, he developed the vocabulary with which those stories are told, so much so that the word "Hitchcockian" has entered the language as an adjective for a certain kind of film, an adjective that unfortunately is misused as often as it is used correctly. But any time any filmmaker tells a story that ventures into the world of suspense, we are all laboring under the enormous shadow of Alfred Hitchcock.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Annette Insdorf, he made us identify with disturbed and disturbing people, didn't he, like Norman Bates in the early part of "Psycho"?
CURTIS HANSON: Well -
ANNETTE INSDORF: As well as others like -
CURTIS HANSON: James Stewart in "Vertigo" -
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Right.
CURTIS HANSON: -- and James Stewart in "Rear Window." I mean, Hitchcock dealt with troubled characters who were wrestling with the problems that we all wrestle with.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Right. Let me ask Annette Insdorf about this. Go ahead, Ms. Insdorf.
ANNETTE INSDORF: Well, it seems to me that to the degree that he led to us identify with these compelling and perhaps deranged characters, there was a moral vision being expressed too. He wasn't just a consummate visual storyteller. There's a sense in which we're invited into a growing discomfort, made aware of our own questionable or perverse desires and emotions. So it's a process invested with moral significance to the degree that we exam our own responses to the characters as we get too close to them for comfort.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Because he has us watching as for example, Norman Bates watches Janet Leigh undress, and we're part of his voyeurism you mean?
ANNETTE INSDORF: Absolutely. I mean, Hitchcock was the master of cinema as vicarious voyeurism, but if we watch his films carefully, whether it's "Psycho" or some of the other 50's films like "Rear Window," well, you realize there's a price to be paid for peeping. In other words, we don't get off that easy. Once we realize the extent to which we identify with a peeping tom or a murderer, we're no longer so pure or innocent. So in a way he's suggesting that the price to be paid for this voyeurism is that we can no longer think of ourselves as pure.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Drew Casper, not everybody thinks he's so great, right? Pauline Cale, then writing reviews for the "New Yorker" said that he was a trickster, that he wasn't really an artist. How do you respond to that?
DREW CASPER: Well, everybody has their own point of view, and that's Pauline's point of view. And the -- other people have other points of view. So she's very welcome to her point of view. I mean as an artist, I mean he was a primitive or intuitive artist, Hitchcock, in that , you know, he did set out to entertain. I think if you asked Hitchcock, "Were you working a work of art," I think he would deny it. He was an entertainer, but because he brought these - what -- emotional truths and these ironies from the deep dark recesses of his soul and because he was able to do it in he language of film, you know, express this through the medium of film, it became artistic and hence, very unselfconscious. You know, as soon as a work becomes very self-conscious, it creases to be art. Art is very unselfconscious. And he was a very, what we call a primitive or intuitive artist.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Professor Casper, staying with you, what were the sources, just briefly, of that, of his work? Tell us a few of them.
DREW CASPER: The sources of his work - well, first of all -
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The Catholicism, for example.
DREW CASPER: Well, the Catholicism, well, let's go back even further. I mean he's English, isn't he? And he's in a culture that emblazons the tabloid, you know, the murder and the Sunday papers you know, he loved that. He was very much into that. And then, of course, his Roman Catholic background, particularly his Jesuit education, that gave him this moral heft, and that what he was talking about -- the moral heft in his work, it's incredible, you know, the stuff. And then of course studying the Germans, the German expressionistic school of filmmaking that taught him the use of space, and then the Russian constructivists afterwards that taught him how to use time. And, of course, there was Grierson, John Grierson's whole documentary movement which "Hitch" didn't like to say that he used but he did because there's such a documentary detail to everything he did, not only in England but in America. And all of these forces - all of these forces come together. And of course I - and he has - and here is someone, you know, who has an enormous, inordinate, neurotic fear of disorder. And that's from which he makes his art. He always has his people in a moment of disorder. They think they're in control, they think they have power, they think they have order, and then he just slips the rug out from under them to see what they're going to do.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Curtis Hanson, as a director, tell us what he -- how he did what he did. What kind of techniques did he use to create this incredible suspense? F or example, you don't really see the knife plunging into flesh in "Psycho."
CURTIS HANSON: Well, no, you don't. He managed to suggest and invite the audience to use their imagination in that particular situation. How he did what he did is part of the magic, I suppose, of great storytelling. You know, people can attempt to imitate Hitchcock, but they can never match him. You know, any of us-- by us, I mean any movie lover-- can look the a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock movie and within a few shots recognize the Hitchcock style. And yet if one tries to imitate it, as many have over the years, they always fall short.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: That's very interesting. Can you explain why?
CURTIS HANSON: Well, why can't somebody imitate Rembrandt, do you know? You can analyze, you can study technique, you can do all of that from now till, as they say, the cows come home, but as far as that odd mixture of human qualities that creates genius, it's a mystery.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Annette Insdorf, there are some really grotesque mothers in his films: Norman Bates' mother, Marni's mother. Tell us about that and how he viewed women generally.
ANNETTE INSDORF: Well, it's problematic how he viewed women generally, and one cannot generalize because there were different periods in his work. I mean, the easy response is women were often victims in his work, beginning with his first sound film "Blackmail" where a woman is a victim of an attack right up through films like "Rebecca" and "Suspicion" and "Dial M for Murder" and "Psycho," and poor Tippy Hedron in "The Birds," for example. On the other hand, if you look at characters like Grace Kelly in "Rear Window" to some extent, Eva Marie Saint in "North by Northwest" and Ingrid Bergman in "Notorious," I would say that when he worked with actresses that he clearly admired profoundly, they seemed to be a bit stronger and feistier. Mothers on the other hand - ay carumba -- when I think back to "Notorious" and to "Psycho," the whole notion of weak sons and mothers with disquieting glances, Hitchcock was a master at depicting that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Drew Casper do you have anything you want to add to that?
DREW CASPER: Sure. Annette, that face of a mother is foreboding in "Notorious," I agree with you completely. I also want say something about this: Hitchcock, when he worked with one of the stars -- that's another influence -- you now, the whole American studio system -- he took his women and he plugged into their persona, but at the same time subverted them, like Doris Day in "The Man Who Knew Too Much" -- he plugged into -- and what she stood for -- the all-American gal, you know, and then subverted I -- at the same time. It was amazing. He did that with Cary Grant. He did that with Jimmy Stewart. They stood for something, and he plugged into it and at the same time subverted it. It was credible - not only with the women, but also with the men, too.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Curtis Hanson, do you think he would have appreciated this summer's big thriller "The Blair Witch Project?"
CURTIS HANSON: Well, yes, I think he -- you know, obviously I'm projecting here, but I imagine that Hitchcock would have at times been bored with the loose improvisational style of the movie because he was such a precise disciplined filmmaker, the most disciplined I think of all. But I think he would have very much enjoyed the creative daring of the picture, and he would have loved the way that it invites the audience to use their imagination. You know, it's the audience's imagination that makes that picture scary. And Hitchcock was second to none at engaging the imagination.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And go on about his control of everything, because you've referred to it several times. He really knew exactly how he was going to shoot the film before he got on the set, right?
CURTIS HANSON: Yes. He knew how he was going to shoot the movie, and he pretended, you know, in that famous statement about actors being cattle and so forth, that it was kind of a mechanical exercise. But I believe this was all an act of Alfred Hitchcock's, because he was a wonderful director of actors. He elicited wonderful performances from any number of actors, which is why they loved working with him again and again. And he added -- in the making of the picture -- that indefinable something that is the magic of the moment, which is why, when for instance, they just remade "Psycho," shot by shot, it's nothing like the original "Psycho" because it doesn't have Alfred Hitchcock there on the set.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Annette Insdor, what do you think his most lasting legacy will be?
ANNETTE INSDORF: That he was in touch with these really dark forces in the psyche and found an extraordinary visual language, a cinematic language, to express it. For example, the phenomenal success of "The Blair Witch Project" this summer merely fulfills something that Hitchcock's films already exemplified. And that is that we go to movies not just to feel good, not just to laugh and be entertained and empathize with kisses and catharsis. We go to feel scared, as he said "dipping the toe into the waters of fear," but to be scared in a protected environment. And he was so good at scaring the daylights out of and, therefore, playing upon a basic reality of the cinematic experience, namely paranoia. You go into a dark theater, the doors are closed, and you're trapped. Other filmmakers, perhaps filmmakers I admire more, like
Jean Renoir, Francois Trufeau, Kristof Kislufsky, more humanist, more open, more able to touch moral goodness in us - well, Hitchcock wasn't that interested in moral goodness; he was interested in exploring the darkness.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you all very much for being with us. Enjoy your Friday the 13th.
ANNETTE INSDORF: Thank you.