Director Alfred Hitchcock was well titled as the ‘Master of Suspense’. He instinctively knew which hooks to use to grab you to care for the characters and then swing it around and put them in serious danger so you cared for their fates. Although Jeffrey Michael Bays’ book ‘Suspense With A Camera: A Filmmaker’s Guide To Hitchcock’s Techniques’ is targeted at film directors, there is much to learn here that can be applied across the creative arena. I like his attitude that viewers like to be deceived and Hitchcock was a master of that.
Bays look at how Hitchcock played up on the eyes, hands and feet to covey emotion is more telling by the fact that he doesn’t do it very much but enough to inform the viewer. Hitch also had a tendency to instil things that you think you saw but didn’t with ‘Psycho’ being the prime example of that in the shower murder scene where it’s what you imagined than what you saw. I should point out that Bays depends more on examples from the TV series ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ than the films. He later points out that Hitch only directed 20 of them and supplies the list. It might have been interesting commenting on the other episodes and how many of the directors applied the Hitchcock technique.
The also applies to how Hitchcock used not only music but its absence to ensure pending doom to the viewer and probably as a breather to ensure they thought about what was going on from what he was showing in a scene.
Chapter 13 should be of particular interest for certain Hitchcock quotes. My favourite is ‘What is drama, after all, but life with the dull bits cut out’, a lesson that we should all remember. Likewise, ‘You can’t have blurred thinking in suspense’ also makes sense. It’s interesting that Bays doesn’t point out that Hitchcock filmed exactly what he needed with little coverage, something few directors do these days simply because the sets are struck so early.
Oddly, with the four interviews he gives at the end of the book, only two of them cite Hitchcock as someone they learnt from, although one of them only saw three of the films. I did come away from this wondering at his choices here and thought he might have gone for directors more in line with Hitchcock. It might have been more of a case of availability and who he could get interviews with. This, if anything, is the only weakness in this book.
I do think you will learn a lot from this book about Hitchcock’s technique for suspense in whatever creative endeavour you do. Understanding and applying when needed adds another arrow to your arsenal. Excuse me now, there’s this big chap looking down at my dolefully wanting to type on my keyboard.
(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 233 page illustrated enlarged paperback. Price: $29.95 (US), £19.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61593-273-3)
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