The catholic “control freak”

The catholic 'control freak'

British-American director Alfred Hitchcock died 40 years ago, 100 years ago he entered the film business. Thrillers like "The Birds," "Psycho" or "Marnie" have cult status. An interview with film scholar Felicitas Kleiner.

CBA: Ms. Kleiner, Alfred Hitchcock grew up as a Catholic in London – did that influence his career in any way?

Felicitas Kleiner (Editor at filmdienst.de, one of the most important portals for cinema and film criticism): In his famous interview with the filmmaker, Francois Truffaut wanted to know just that about Alfred Hitchcock: whether he could be called a "Catholic artist".
CBA: What did he answer?
Smaller: He skirted around an unequivocal answer; he found the question difficult. He probably didn't see himself as a Catholic filmmaker, but admitted that Catholicism and his religious upbringing had shaped him. When you watch Hitchcock's films, you get the impression that repressive religious moral concepts have left their mark and provide an important source of friction: It's all about guilty entanglements, about the repressed and suppressed, also about repressed sexuality.
CBA: In "I confess" a priest, embodied by Montgomery Clift, is the main character…
Kleiner: The poor man gets into a difficult situation through no fault of his own – he keeps the confessional secret of a murderer who has confessed his crime to him, even when he himself falls under suspicion of murder. So an amazingly characterful figure.

CBA: In 1939, Hitchcock moved from England to the USA – to what extent did this affect his way of filmmaking??

Kleiner: I can't see a clear break in terms of content or style. He went to Hollywood because the film industry there offered him greater resources and he saw more opportunities to realize his ideas.

CBA: What happened next?

Kleiner: At first, Hitchcock had difficulties. Mainly because of tensions with "Gone with the Wind" producer David O. Selznick, who had brought him to the U.S. Hitchcock himself was an absolute control freak when it came to his films. Throughout his life, this has repeatedly brought him into conflict with producers. Thanks to his successes, however, there were also projects in which he had a fairly free hand – especially from 1953, when he signed with the Paramount studio and was guaranteed artistic freedom. During this time, he made classics such as "The Window to the Courtyard" and "Over the Roofs of Nice".

CBA: What legacy did director Hitchcock leave behind??

Kleiner: Over 50 feature films, most of which have aged quite well, are just as fascinating today as they were when they were made. Moreover, one can learn from Hitchcock to embrace developments in the medium of film; he was always embracing new technical possibilities of cinematic storytelling. While still in England, he made the leap from silent to talkies. In the U.S., he then wasn't shy about switching from black-and-white to color film, experimented, albeit reluctantly, with the then-new 3-D film in "When Murder Calls," and made television history with his own series in addition to movies.
CBA: Hitchcock is gladly called "master of suspense".
Kleiner: He knew very well how to develop scenes that literally keep you in your seat with tension, and he played the keyboard that the medium of film offers with unbelievable mastery: clever dramaturgies, unusual camera perspectives and montage sequences, plus a feeling for music, have created milestones in film history. In addition, he has always added new facets to the suspense genre, from psychological thrillers to crime comedies and spy films to animal horror.

CBA: Which three films by Hitchcock should cinema lovers definitely have seen?

Smaller: I have a hard time with a selection. I'll start with "The Window to the Court".
CBA: Starring James Stewart as a photojournalist who can't get out of his apartment because of a broken leg and becomes an eyewitness to a crime in an apartment across the street…

Kleiner: The viewer can easily empathize with the situation of the trapped reporter, especially in quarantine times. As a film critic, I am of course fascinated by the way Hitchcock stages curiosity and voyeurism – in a compact space and with great finesse.

CBA: Recommendation #2?

Smaller: Would be "The 39 Steps," an early work from 1935. Here Hitchcock combines a spy thriller with elements of romantic comedy. Very elegant! As a third film, I would suggest "The Invisible Third" with the dream team of Hitchcock and Cary Grant in action and iconic chase scenes. Especially when Cary Grant flees on foot from a plane spraying poison. This is great cinema!

The interview was conducted by Joachim Heinz.

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