Alfred Hitchcock - The Lady Vanishes

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The master of suspense is an interesting study for any aspiring filmmaker, not because of his famed cinematography or his technical achievements but because of his ability to tell a story using visuals.

The art of visual storytelling is something we seem to lose more and more in today's entertainment industry. From the first films, it was the visual element that brought the audience together. A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words, and yet today's films have a tendency to cram as many words in as possible.

Hitchcock was a expert at communicating in images. In The Lady Vanishes, Miss Froy's name on the window and the spinning train wheels are excellent examples. The popping flash bulb in Rear Window and the shot of Arbogast falling down the stairs after being attacked by mother in 1960s Psycho are all equally terrifying images.

Hitch (as he was affectionately known by most everyone) embarked upon his career in Europe first, and later moved to America with his wife Alma, who he met when she played the role of continuity supervisor on his early films. Of the films he created during his European phase, which include The 39 Steps and Jamaica Inn, the most honed example of the coming renaissance he would create was a picture based on Ethel Whites novel, The Wheel Spins.

This film was essentially an invention, though the plot was loosely based on the novel, and showcases some of his most complex emotional work. The movie cuts fast: faster, in fact, than many European films of the day. There is a lot of information present for the first time viewer to take in here, most notably the great secret on which the wheels of the film spin.

To Hitchcock, a Maguffin was that unattainable and unimportant detail that allows the audience to move through the story. It is something that's important to the characters, but makes no difference at all to the viewer, except for the fact that it exists. The story of its invention as a literary device goes like this: Two men meet on a train traveling through Europe. The first sees that the second is carrying a strange device. When he asks after its use, he is told it is a Maguffin. Curious, he inquires further, and the man responds that it is a device for trapping lions in the Scottish highlands. This puzzles the second man, who makes his disbelief known: I do not believe there are any lions in the Scottish highlands. The first man only smiles and says "Then there is no Macguffin."

This and many other minor tricks would Hitchcock use to create his theories. Hitch was a master at using these ideas to make the audience believe in the raw emotion of what they were seeing.

If you're looking for a study in the power of cinema, Hitchcock's films are a great place to start. If a picture is truly worth a thousand words, Hitchcock passed on a trillionaire.

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