A Year with Hitchcock, by Reed Lackey

5 Jan

The phrase is this “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” What I think we mean when we use it (or its reverse that the whole is “lesser”) is a certain intangible quality that can’t quite be dissected or calculated. It reflects a sensibility that language is still struggling to define about why something “works” or doesn’t.

We consider this issue when discussing film constantly. Franchise installments are constantly being ranked in comparison with their sibling entries, which deepens and furthers the conversation on that particular franchise as a whole.

A question that has fascinated me for some time now is what value it might bring to begin assessing a director’s body of work from a similar perspective. Countless cinematic studies have undertaken this endeavor on an academic level through the last half century, but I find relatively few studies being done on the layman critical level. We know what is considered to be the great works of particular directors, but might it be possible – by looking at their films one at a time in chronological order – to ascertain some trend of what brought them to that place?

In other words, before we determine whether or not the whole is “greater” or “lesser”, we must first ask, “What IS the sum of their parts?”.

Last year, throughout 2017, I attempted this with the films of legendary director Alfred Hitchcock. I watched each of his films, from his early silents to his British thrillers and all the way through his long stint for Universal Studios in Hollywood. The result fascinated me. Films which seemed to previously define Hitchcock’s work now seemed like glaring outliers and other films which had previously been easily discarded or dismissed suddenly felt eerily prophetic and seminal.

It will be my effort in 2018 to share that journey with any readers who might be interested. Having now completed the viewing challenge, I will revisit each film and attempt to chart the trends and course of Hitchcock’s cinematic contribution.

53 films (with 2 brief shorts during WWII worth mentioning) examined in chronological order.

I’ll be looking for common themes, both when they first emerge and whether or not they inform the larger body of work substantially. I’ll be assessing which films lay the groundwork for later masterpieces (or which films deserve to be more considered masterpieces themselves). And I’ll also be attempting to scratch at that ultimately intangible quality I mentioned earlier: that sense of the “whole”, both of the man and of his work.

I hope you will find it enjoyable and informative, or – at the very least – interesting. But I also hope at the conclusion to have produced a modest, comprehensive examination of the work of a legendary artist in the realm of cinema, a nearly unparalleled pioneer of the craft.

I’ll begin as I’d like to think the master himself would, with a hearty and wry, “Good evening.” So, without further ado…

“Good evening. These are the films of one Mr. Alfred Hitchcock. I hope you will find them entertaining and thrilling, perhaps even a little bit upsetting. But most of all, I hope you will find them worth your time. I know I certainly did.”

One Response to “A Year with Hitchcock, by Reed Lackey”

  1. Matthew January 5, 2018 at 3:23 am #

    This should be fun.
    A few years ago there was a podcast on the BP Fleet called the Auteurcast that would work through a director’s entire body of work in order, and it was a fascinating perspective to see how these filmmakers developed over time. Unfortunately they divided filmmakers with large bodies of work into sections, and while they did the early UK films the podcast ended before they did the US films. This series will hopefully fulfill much the same role, particularly in prompting me to finally see those few Hitchcock films I haven’t seen, or revisit those films I haven’t seen in decades.

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