Posted September 26, 2012 by Peter D. Marsay in Features
 
 

Hitchcock And Welles


Alfred Hitchcock. Orson Welles. Two names that instantly inspire admiration and fascination in the heart of any self-respecting cineaste.

Alfred Hitchcock. Orson Welles. Two names that instantly inspire admiration and fascination
in the heart of any self-respecting cineaste.
How could they ever be compared? Welles’ titanic achievement, Citizen Kane, suffered a rude awakening
recently at the hands of Hitchcock’s psychological masterpiece Vertigo (Top right Picture), when the latter was voted the
greatest film of all time in Sight &
Sound
’s Once A Decade poll of directors and critics. A poll which ended
Kane’s unprecedented fifty-year reign.
What better occasion could there be to explore these two universally
lauded filmmakers than that?

Hitch
Alfred
Hitchcock, affectionately referred to as Hitch, is well known as ‘The Master of Suspense’ because he
directed a wealth of tension filled thrillers. He is quoted as saying “Always make the audience suffer as
much as possible”, and from the agonising and eerie tension of films like The Birds and Rear Window, to the non-stop chases of apparently ‘lesser’ films
such as Saboteur and Torn Curtain, the man certainly knew
how to put his punters through the mill.

He
was raised a Catholic in the then largely Protestant London, and there is a
well known story of how, at the age of five, his father sent him to a police
station with a note, which he handed to an officer, who promptly locked him in
a cell for five to ten minutes saying, “This is what we do to naughty
boys”. Who knows what terrible act
of mischief Hitch had committed to deserve such a harrowing punishment, but we
can be almost certain that he never did it again! From the outset, Hitch felt an outsider, afraid to do wrong
and yet fascinated by those who commit evil. This fed into his films, giving them a distinctly
voyeuristic flavour as he often forced his audience into the perspective of an
unseen outsider looking on and bearing witness to all sorts of heinous
doings. His penchant for the
macabre, and a dark and sometimes perverse sense of humour, stemmed from his
formative years, leading Hitch to effectively psychoanalyse himself for more
than five decades on film.

Among
his technical innovations is the now overused Hitchcock Zoom, also known as the Vertigo Effect, as it was
pioneered specifically for that film, to exaggerate the perception of depth and
to produce vertigo-like giddiness in the viewer. And if you think that 3D
is a recent invention then think again: Hitchcock was an early pioneer of the
device, using it with striking restraint in Dial M For Murder.

His
legacy is immeasurable. He
pioneered cinematic grammar and techniques. He fought for cinemas’ legitimacy
as a worthy art form. And, with countless major directors citing him as an
influence, there is no telling what cinema today would be like had that Bobby
kept poor Hitch locked up forever.

A
film about his time making Psycho is
currently in the works and renowned actors the world over have been vying for
the chance to play Hitch. The
film, simply titled Hitchcock, is
due out in 2013, with Anthony Hopkins
landing the prize role. Amazingly,
despite all his success and influence, Hitchcock never won an Oscar. Perhaps Hopkins will win one on his
behalf!

Welles
Consistently
voted the greatest director of all time, both by fellow directors and his
adoring critics, in his day Orson Welles was one of the most obviously talented
but famously frustrated filmmakers in Hollywood. Terry Gilliam
excepted, no director is better known for having his artistic visions thwarted
at every turn, by studio re-edits and lack of funding. From his butchered masterpiece The Magnificent Ambersons, to perhaps
his most famous unfinished project, Don
Quixote
(making more comparisons to Gilliam inevitable, see Lost In La Mancha) Welles’ filmography
contains far more films than are actually available to view in a finished
form. Were there such a thing as a
no strings attached limitless budget, who knows what other influential
masterworks the man could have unleashed on the world.

Though
born into an affluent family, Welles learnt self-reliance and worked hard from
an early age. His parents
separated when he was four, and at the age of ten he ran away from home with
his half-sister Marjorie, only to be found a week later busking. Welles’ creativity and passion for
performance flourished, and he staged his own plays during his early teens at
school. He soon found work as a theatre actor, with a particular flair for
Shakespeare. By the mere age of
twenty he was also working as a radio actor, during which time he met many of
the collaborators with whom he would begin his film career.

For
his debut – and best – feature film in 1941, Welles was granted for the first
and only time the holy grail of every film director: total artistic control. That film was Citizen Kane, the
legendary picture that, as of 2012, is supposedly inferior only to
Vertigo! It is an embellished
exposé of the life of William Randolph Hearst, a powerful newspaper baron and
sometime politician. The twenty
five year old Welles’ first feature length film was, in many ways, decades
ahead of its time, and left its mark forever on the way films were subsequently
made. Welles’ ingenious
innovations spanned every department; from the way depth of field is used in
cinematography, to lighting techniques that allowed sets to have ceilings.

Welles
may have changed cinema forever, but he was still never able to fulfill his
potential. Sometimes it was his
own fearless impulsivity that left his work open to tinkering (the studio
reworked the ending of The Magnificent Ambersons while he was AWOL in South
America). His brilliance spilled
over into everything he turned his hand to, and he died the envy of everyone
who had an admiration for the art of moving pictures.

Alfred Hitchcock. Orson Welles. Who is the best? Rather
than attempt the impossible and compare the two, perhaps we should just be glad
that they were both blessed with the opportunity to make such good movies. It’s meaningless to call the one
‘better’ than the other and, at the end of the day, such polls are only there
to raise awareness of these must-see classics. To borrow from Citizen Kane’s audacious tagline: ‘they’re terrific!’


Peter D. Marsay

 
I'm a filmmaker based in London, freelancing as a cameraman, camera assistant, editor, writer & director. I have a Sony HXR-NX5 camera, camera assistant kit & Final Cut Pro 7 edit suite.