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Thread: Hitch, Spoto, and aggrandizement

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    North Carolina

    Hitch, Spoto, and aggrandizement

    With my son home from college, the verbal exchanges between us often revolve around music (both of us started college as music majors). He has the unique perspective from the pit as a consummate violinist. My viewpoint changed when I entered film school and studied theory. From that moment onward, I could not look at film without putting it together thus - shot by shot, sets, costumes, dialogue, make-up, lighting, film stock, lenses, actors, direction and music. For three years, I slugged it out with a hundred other students, trying to find my niche, my unique signature, the quality that would make me stand out or above the din. I had religiously watched movies on television and many in theaters. However, most films before the 1950's were seldom shown and the films made after 1952 were never shown in their original aspect ratio, original film stock (many 16mm prints replaced 35mm prints) or the films were so severely cut they did not resemble their originals.

    As I entered my last year of film school, a book came out by a young author named Donald Spoto - "The Art of Alfred Hitchcock." Spoto went to Hitch and interviewed the auteur with the intention of writing a thesis. Spoto kept at his work until he created what became the Hitchcock "Bible" - a guide to his films with the most detailed analysis to date. Some of those who had worked on his films and the family came out against Spoto at the time. However, as the years have progressed, Spoto's conclusions about the repertoire were correct - especially the points he made about "Vertigo," such as Hitch's use of color, lack of dialogue, use of music, use of POV, editing pace, psychology of character, innovative styles, costume design, etc. Hitch employed Burks, Head, Herrmann, Stewart and others at the peak of their prowess.

    All through film school, I had the tutelage of people who had worked in Hollywood - assistant directors, technicians, editors - they had all met the famous and worked with them, passing on their knowledge to our eager open minds. But in all of the classes I had, no one ever mentioned "Vertigo" in the same way that Spoto did. I used to carry the book around with me, more precious than my textbooks. Later, I went to hear Spoto lecture in LA. He spoke in greater detail about "Vertigo" and also of Bernard Herrmann. By this time, I began to collect Herrmann's recordings. Unfortunately, Herrmann died that year and I never had the great privilege of seeing him conduct (nor Alfred Newman, whom I also admired). However, I purchased the soundtrack to "Vertigo" that Herrmann recorded later with the same cues he used in the film. I used to lie on the floor of my apartment with headphones on and listen to the score, visualizing the movie - shot by shot - with Herrmann's music giving us what no dialogue could - music mental imagery.

    How strange when my son - 19 and at that I-know-plenty stage (been there/done that) - should surprise me by requesting to watch "Vertigo" with me. My wife happened to be home and decided to join us. I thought he would be bored. Instead, he sat riveted, occasionally asking about this or that without too much intrusion. We spoke long after the film about musical motifs used by Herrmann and individual instruments - the French horn, the cello or a solo violin - to describe musical emotion, loneliness, desperation, despair, passion, etc. In the end, he declared "Vertigo" to be the perfect Hitchcock film.

    "Donald Spoto and I agree," I chimed in.
    Last edited by cinemabon; 08-19-2014 at 11:59 AM.
    Colige suspectos semper habitos

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Thanks.
    At the time Spoto's book was released, five Hitchcock films, including Vertigo and Rear Window, had been out of circulation. A lot of people had never seen them, especially young people who were not around to watch them when originally released. It wasn't until 1983 when Universal bought the rights that the films were shown again. I was in Grad School at the time, and was immediately won over by Vertigo, the best film ever according to the 2012 Sight & Sound poll.


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