Taking Cues from Hitchcock

A reflection on how his classic films can inspire designers

Since I was young I’ve loved all things old: music, fashion, movies, etc. This interest was enabled by the two VHS collections my aunt and uncle kept at their cabin – James Bond and Alfred Hitchcock. I always looked forward to a visit because I knew it would involve watching one of those movies at some point.

As I have grown older, my affection for both series has not dwindled, but each has manifested itself quite differently. My appreciation for James persists despite his lasting faults, bolstered by the dependable formula of corniness, glamour and winning. But it is Alfred who makes me view anew each time, magnetizing me with every watch.

Rear Window was my favorite from an early age. I think I liked the mini stories spied through the opposite apartment windows. 15 years later, it does not escape me that what is so remarkable about the movie is that Hitchcock seamlessly weaved these six or so side tales into the plot, all from the point of view from a single window. It’s like watching moving photographs, each story unfolding through the frame of a window, each perfectly composed to express modest but potent details, and mostly without sound.

I appreciate this frugal use of speaking time—he uses the quiet as a tool. It’s not uncommon for older films to be less noisy than movies of today, but Hitchcock makes his silences speak so loudly. A friend once asked me how I could watch such movies (Dial M for Murder was playing at the time). He had been watching the movie for a few minutes and there hadn’t been any dialogue or music; I hadn’t even noticed the so-called silence.

Each scene is so carefully considered, the actors’ movements through them intentional, yet artful; every moment lends itself to a screenshot worthy of hanging on the wall. It is this way of communicating only what is necessary, and doing so with elegance, that continues to captivate me as a designer. Hitchcock took care not to add unnecessary complexity to the storyline, approaching it with straightforward camerawork and limited use of scenery and sound. His discipline is a lesson in restraint for us all, and it has left us with some beautifully balanced work.

This month, the the MFA will be showing some of Hitchcock’s films. AIGA Boston members will be attending Rope on December 16th at 8pm and we encourage you to join us! We’ll be meeting at the Taste Cafe and Wine Bar (in the museum) before the show at 7pm. If you’d like to come mingle before the show, email Lauren Yanko so we know to look for you. Purchase tickets in advance here.

If you can’t catch up with us for Rope, I highly recommend seizing this opportunity to watch another Hitchcock film in the theater where no distractions are allowed. That’s the only way to appreciate the finer points!

For further reading on Hitchcock, you may be interested this article that explores Hitchcock’s collaboration with Saul Bass, and questions who is responsible for Psycho’s famous shower scene.

Photo by Insomnia Cured Here Flickr user, published under the CC BY 2.0 license.

Published December 6, 2015