All Channels

Why Alfred Hitchcock is Overrated

Max wrote:

"This is not a rant. I know many of you have a love for the films of director Alfred Hitchcock, and this article is not meant to prove you “wrong” somehow. This article isn’t meant to shove my personal taste in films in your face while dismissing yours."

Read Full Story >>
JL4720d ago (Edited 4720d ago )

I have to strongly disagree, especially for calling him overrated due to the reasons listed here. I've already commented on this article over on AM, so I'm going to paste that here as I feel that my comments points out some things that need to be pointed out in defense of Hitchcock's methods. And it's way too long of a rant/counter-argument for me to go through again:

"I have to disagree about Hitchcock being overrated. Personally, he’s one of my favorite of all-time and I consider him to be one of the best. Definitely one of the most influential as well.

As for the way he did protagonists, like someone else mentioned, this is intended. Granted, this might make the movie less enjoyable for you personally, but it’s hardly a reason to discredit the man or call his work overrated. For me, it’s stuff like that that added to his movies and helped make him the master of suspense that he was.

His method was one that put the audience in a voyeuristic place. This gives the impression of watching the movie from the outside rather than being drug into the story so to speak. This adds to the level of suspense by creating a certain tension. This method of putting the audience in a voyeuristic position gives that feeling almost that you’re watching something you shouldn’t be seeing, almost adding that “I hope I don’t get caught watching” type of tension.

This is further helped by often using protagonists that you can’t really “root for” as you put it. Not creating that emotional attachment. Without that emotional attachment, you’re kept an an arm’s length, maintaining that voyeur role rather than being pulled in. The part that pulls you in is supposed to be the suspense and mystery. You only become attached to the story, rather than the characters. This is further shown in his often use of “bad guys” that are given some type of redeeming quality that somewhat makes you “sympathetic” of them to an extent. This method creates a balance between the protagonist and antagonist which keeps you from choosing sides almost. Again, keeping you at an arm’s length away to maintain that voyeur position, but also adds to the suspense by putting you in that position of being like “What am I supposed to think here?”. Not knowing which side to choose or who is really the bad guy deep down.

Again, the whole keeping you at arm’s length thing is purposeful and I actually think it adds to the element of suspense in his films. You’re not meant to get attached to the characters, but rather the story. And though I mentioned above he has that way of blurring the lines between good guy/bad guy, you always know who’s supposed to be the protagonist and who’s the antagonist. So, I don’t think that whole “you don’t know who to align with” argument works in the fullest. But you’re not supposed to necessarily “root” for anyone. You’re supposed to enjoy the thrill of the story, not go on some emotional journey with the characters.

JL4720d ago

I know you’ll make the argument “Well it’s hard to be thrilled if I don’t care about the characters and thus I don’t care about what happens to the protagonist”. But it’s not supposed to be about that. We’ll use Rear Window as an example since I actually just re-watched that yesterday. You’re not meant to be a cinematic ally of sorts with Jeffries, and left sitting there thinking/worrying/wondering “Will they believe him? Will he help justice be served? Will he escape being caught by the killer himself?”. Instead, you’re meant to be an outside viewer and the suspense comes more from a “Which side is going to win? How will this unfold?” type of level.

Watching a Hitchcock movie shouldn’t be approached as if watching your favorite football team play a game, where you’re emotionally invested in one team and are rooting for them to win. Rather, a Hitchcock film should be approached and appreciated as a really good chess match between two strangers (or even a football game where you don’t care who wins because neither is your team). It’s meant to be taken at an objective level like that and to allow the action/story to be what captivates you rather than your alignment with one side or the other. This objective examination allows you to enjoy both sides of the cat-and-mouse game further adding to the suspense. That’s why you’re kept an arm’s length away and forced into a position of voyeurism instead."

filmmattic4719d ago

Great defense JL! I'm going to piggyback, if you don't mind.

The idea that Hitchcock is "overrated" is patently ludicrous. Here's a simple analogy to convey the shortsightedness of said belief. One can despise the Yankees and curse the ground they walk on, but you cannot disavow of their success and influence. They won 27 World Championships. That is an irrefutable fact. Same goes for Hitchcock. While his style may confound or frustrate you (in this case, Max argues that his character's shortcomings and general misanthropy are too hard to "root" for), you cannot diminish the scale and sheer impact of his brilliance. Yes, pure and unadulterated brilliance.

You can elicit a casual claim like, "I'm not denying his influence." But, by arguing that he is "overrated," you are contradicting yourself. Why? Because his valuation and impact go hand-in-hand. In fact, JL discredited Max's entire argument (as did others in the comments section of his article). Hitchcock purposefully designed characters that, by their very nature, were deplorable, often irredeemable human beings. Thus, by claiming he is "overrated" because of the lack of characters-to-root for, while still acknowledging the intentional nature of this relationship, you're defeating your own theory. His technical skill and psychoanalytical inspection work in concert. By denying the latter, you're neglecting the former, and thus, rendering your argument blasphemous.

To Max: You may not enjoy his films, which is perfectly fine. But please, do not claim he is overrated. One's personal tastes need not diminish an ingenious auteur's reverence.

Alias19914719d ago

Alright, let's continue the argument.

As I've said before, the fact that a director intended something doesn't mean I can't disapprove of it. That's just about the whole basis of film criticism.

And as to the story: I find it hard to enjoy the thrill of what's happening without feeling with it. I prefer it for a movie to sweep me up and involve me in what's happening, in the way good music does. Stanley Kubrick once said that a good film should be more like a symphony then a novel; not just a collection of anecdotes, but a succession of emotions. And it's not like this was unheard of at the time: Citizen Kane is very emotional, as is Sunset Boulevard. And both of those have great stories as well, AND interesting protagonists. Both of them not terribly likeable, but this is handled well. In the case of Kane by staging him as a complicated, nuanced person, with strong and weak points, whom we never really grasp, but never meet in person either. And in the case of Sunset Boulevard by contrasting Willaim Holden against such bizarre circumstances that his reactions seem natural to us.

JL4719d ago

Well I'm definitely not saying that movies shouldn't have an emotional side ever. Or that all movies should keep you at arm's length away in that voyeur position like Hitchcock so often did. I merely mean that I think that approach/style worked well for his work (especially given the genre). Furthermore, I think that voyeur technique even complimented his films in ways.

I can totally understand someone not liking this or even not caring for his work, but for me that technique was just another brilliant element that added to his work, due to the reasons I listed above. I can absolutely see where his work isn't for everyone, though. His way of doing things was almost an acquired taste of sorts (for lack of better term).

Personally, I don't need emotional involvement to enjoy all movies. Especially movies like his where it didn't revolve around the character but rather the events and the mystery. And in such a case, taking advantage of not needing that emotional element (like say a drama would) actually compliments the work, in my opinion, and allows for that extra layer to be added to it.

But again, that's not for everyone I guess. To each their own. Just personally, I don't need emotional involvement in this genre. And the way he presented the movies, even took away necessity for that emotional side for me making it even easier to enjoy the story while remaining detached. I can just appreciate a great mystery/suspense/thriller story and great storytelling for what it is without needing to have characters that I become attached to in any way. I'm perfectly fine being that uninvolved voyeur when such a good story is presented with such compelling storytelling abilities.

Like I said, though, to each their own. For instance, I think Citizen Kane is one of the most overrated movies of all-time.

alycakes4719d ago

I couldn't have said it better really JL...I couldn't have. I do totally agree with you. I get so involved with the characters that I'm on the edge of my seat when Grace Kelly is across the way in the apartment snooping and the suspect is coming back and James Stewart has no way of warning her......why didn't they have cell phones then?

A lot of his movies were meant to keep you wondering. The first time I saw Psycho I had no clue what was going on with Norman Bates and it still creeps me out.

JL4719d ago

Yea, that scene was a good example of his ability to do suspense. As a big fan of Hitchcock I just had to defend his work. I think the guy was something of a genius. He definitely had a way of captivating you with what's going on on-screen.

newn4gguy4719d ago (Edited 4719d ago )

Thank you, JL! Hitchcock is my largest inspiration for directing! He changed everything and I think, to this day, his work stands head-and-shoulders over most. The only cinematographers I think that have touched him since are Tak Fujimoto or Kirasawa.

I'd write more, but I'm at work. Lol. Thanks, JL! I knew this article would get backlash. I wish we had a respectful community and well-written responses like this on N4G.

JL4719d ago

Thanks, glad you liked my response lol. I'm also glad to see we have several Hitchcock fans here. As I mentioned, he's definitely one of my all-time favorites.

All around he was just great at what he did. He was a master at creating suspense. Even on the technical side of things he was brilliant. As you mentioned his cinematography work was just brilliant most of the time. The iconic shower scene in Psycho being a prime example. The techniques he used and plot devices, it was all stuff that contributed to an overall work of brilliance in his films.

And it wasn't just technical aspects either. Granted he didn't write most of his movies (so some credit is owed to the writers behind those stories as they were just great stories in the first place), but he had a way of telling stories that just made them even more brilliant.

I liken it to people telling jokes. You can have some people that will tell a joke that someone else came up with and they'll just butcher it and it becomes not funny at all. Then you have others that can tell that joke magically and will have you cracking up. Or maybe some story-tellers can bore the hell out of you re-telling some old folk lore story. While others could seemingly read the phone book and make it captivating to listen to. Hitchcock was of the latter group there and just had a way of taking good stories and making them great through his storytelling abilities.

I agree whole-heartedly that his work stands head-and-shoulders over most. Maybe it can be argued that he's not the absolute best (I might argue against that), but it can not be denied that he is most certainly one of the best.

Also, I assume you meant Kurosawa? In which case, it's kinda funny that you bring him up as I'm watching Rashomon right now.

Alias19914719d ago (Edited 4719d ago )

Not to be a bore, but a director is quite something else then a cinematographer. Unless you meant a cineast.

JL4719d ago

I think he was just making a different note about one of the aspects of Hitchcock's filmmaking, merely commenting on the cinematography techniques he used in his films. Or at least that's how I took it. Not to imply that cinematographer and director are the the same thing or even that Hitchcock was a cinematographer, though he most definitely was obviously behind much of the artistic elements of filming such as the cinematography and what angles or shots to use, etc.

On a side note, nice to see you jumped over here. Nothing wrong with something just not being someone's cup of tea. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion, and I personally always welcome different opinions that spur on conversations/debates such as these, so long as done intelligently.

Alias19914719d ago

@ Filmmatic:

two things.

First, I never claimed Hitchcock was a bad director. That would, indeed, be silly. But we're talking about art here, not sport, and there are no absolutes in art. I watch movies from my particular point of view, just like everybody does, and from that point of view I don't find him as good as many other people. For reasons mentioned.

And as to contradicting myself: see above. Truffaut loved him, Nolan loves him, you apparently love him: fine. I will never tell you not to love a film, I'm not that snotty. But, as a critic, I reserve the power to have opinions on films and filmmakers if I can give arguments for it.

On a different but related note: just because a filmmaker intended to do something doesn't immediately make it good.

filmmattic4719d ago

Thanks for responding.

For starters, I never accused you of calling him a "bad director." We can agree such sentiment would be grounds for journalistic dismissal.

While art is not "absolute," but subjective in interpretation, there MUST be definable standards for evaluation. One can argue that Citizen Kane doesn't hold up to today's standards (I'm not in this group), but still argue that it is groundbreaking. That would represent an example of subjective analysis—of course, one would have to enumerate legitimate reasons. My point is simply that: yes, you are entitled to your opinions, but to blatantly criticize the impact of a legendary filmmaker, in an impolitic fashion, is unfair.

If your argument was: Hitchcock's films are misunderstood or misguided or unappealing, I would respect your opinion (assuming you gave ample justification). But to claim he is "overrated" is to denounce his legacy; a legacy that almost every respected film critic (scholarly, published, etc.) would claim is pristine. If you are going to engender an opinion that conflicts with the vast majority of "respected" film critics, you'd better have a damn good analysis in front of you.

I agree with your last point. And I'm not arguing that a filmmaker's intention aligns with their competency. We need not look any further than the career of M. Night Shyamalan to prove that point. He uses twists to trick the audience (his intention), but his execution is woefully inept. My point was merely to state (I thought it was assumed) that Hitchcock's deft execution matches his ambitious intention.

I enjoy a good debate. While I disagree with you, I still respect your right to advocate an opinion. And I respect your vehemence in defense of your stance.

Alias19914719d ago

Well, I feel that his legacy is a little undue, hence the title :P

And yes, there are some standards in art, but the more movies I watch the more I think concrete "rules" only work to separate the crap from the interesting stuff. Within the latter category it's really quite hard to say that something never works or always works. And, as said, I don't think Hitchcock was bad as a filmmaker from a technical standpoint (although I do often find his editing a little stiff, but that's another discussion).

And I know that I disagree with people who probably know "better" then me. But to be frank, I don't give a flying toss. If I were to always agree with the established order, I wouldn't have written this article in the first place. I know what I like, and as long as I give arguments for it I'm not going to change my opinion. Besides, due to the torrent of comments on the pieces I've had to rethink my position quite a lot, but I think I'm pretty sure of what my opinion is now.

If you are interested in a more in-depth analysis, here is a review I wrote about Notorious some time back (which was one of the reasons for this article): http://thoughtsfromunderaha...


Amazon Opens Pre-Orders for The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection 4K UHD Set

Amazon has opened pre-orders for The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection 4K UHD Set.

Read Full Story >>

Alfred Hitchcock: Behind the Silhouette

To those of us of a certain age — the director’s familiar rotund silhouette inevitably becomes less familiar with each new generation as, no doubt, does his work.

Read Full Story >>

The Best Directors Who Never Won An Oscar, But Should've

The Oscar fever just got over, so here's looking at a few people who were critically acclaimed for their films, but never received an Oscar for them.

Read Full Story >>