I want to tell you about two Alfred Hitchcock movies I recently watched, but first allow me some space for a few preliminary thoughts.
When we approach the work of an artist we’ve heard a lot about but experienced little, our expectation of the encounter comes in the way of looking at it for what it simply is: a work of art. But when do we ever explore art we know little about? We read reviews of the work, hear about it from friends, familiarize ourselves with the artist’s biography, and by the time we come upon the work our minds are conditioned – we are no longer that blank slate on which the artist wishes to sketch her landscape.
And what can equal the joy of that chance encounter with something beautiful that strikes a chord within – that piece of symphony you stumble upon while switching channels on the radio, or that unforgettable scene from a movie you come across by chance on TV? Untainted by reputation, these encounters carry the power of something original, pure; a mystery surrounds them, and they leave us in delight and wonder.
The two Hitchcock movies I watched were Vertigo and Rear Window. Vertigo was my first Hitchcock movie in a long time, and I approached it carrying all of Hitchcock’s reputation as a master of suspense. No wonder, then, that I came away disappointed. The suspense was there all right, but it was too dramatic and overt to my liking. Further, the parts where Kim Novak tries to seduce Jimmy Stewart with her charms appeared artificial, and, consequently, a bit ridiculous.
With this experience behind me, I started Rear Window knowing what to expect. And here I was pleasantly surprised. Unlike Vertigo, the suspense in Rear Window is subtle: it moves like a slow, slithering snake that may or may not strike.
I shall not reveal details and spoil all the fun, but let me tell you about an aspect both these Hitchcock movies share. In both, the viewer knows more than the protagonist does for a good part of the movie, which is a interesting device because it introduces a layer of mystery into the plot. You think you know more than the poor hero who is trying to crack the puzzle, but, as you’ll see in Rear Window, you never can be sure.
Rear Window makes me want to watch more of Hitchcock’s classics; you should do the same if you haven’t seen them yet. And remember to leave behind all that you’ve heard about them.