Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Bill Krohn: Hitchcock at Work (a book)

Bill Krohn: Hitchcock at Work. London / New York: Phaidon Press Limited, 2000. 288 p.
    Originally published in French: Hitchcock au travail. Paris: Les Cahiers du Cinéma, 1999.

So much has been written about Alfred Hitchcock since the 1950s, and so much of it is good, that it is amazing to discover in Bill Krohn's Hitchcock at Work a study that fundamentally reverses central established notions – notions cherished by Hitchcock himself above all.

For François Truffaut the two paradigms of the cinema were the spontaneity of Renoir and the pre-planning of Hitchcock. Hitchcock's films were reportedly so well planned that the act of filming itself was a necessary bore.

Krohn analyzes this notion:
– Hitchcock made the film on paper before the actual production.
– It's all in the script, even the camera angles.
– Everything was storyboarded.
– The picture was already edited in the camera.
– There was no room for improvisation.
– Every Hitchcock film is spun out of a single form which often appears in the title sequence.
– Hitchcock filmed everything on a sound stage for complete control.

In the book Krohn studies Hitchcock work process during his entire career, based on documents, with authorized access provided by the Hitchcock family and key archives.

Special focus is given to Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 version), Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds. There are shorter discussions of many other films.

When all is said, nothing remains of the famous Hitchcockian pre-planning argument. Certainly the films were very well planned, but not completely, and even when they were, Hitchcock was open to new ideas and could make major changes during the production. He loved location shooting, and shooting on location can never be completely pre-planned.

While demolishing step by step the central argument of the Hitchcock/Truffaut book Krohn builds on it and creates a powerful companion piece. There is the familiar joy of cinema here, but the solo auteurist bias of the Truffaut classic is revised. To profess that film-making is a collaborative effort takes nothing away from a director's glory. On the contrary, it is the hallmark of a master that he can create deeply personal work in a collaborative effort. In this book we can sense the passion and esprit de corps in the casts and crews of Hitchcock's films.

Finding "the God in the detail", documented in facts, Krohn paradoxically also comes closer to the magic and the mystery of Hitchcock's films. The enigma remains.

The book is extensively documented and beautifully illustrated. Next to Truffaut's opus it is the visually most gorgeous book on Hitchcock. Krohn takes a closer look at the famous storyboards, notices the differences and discovers that some were created after the filming for marketing purposes.

Krohn is sensitive to the deep inner current in Hitchcock's films, the current that grew stronger in the late films that Hitchcock himself produced. He succeeded in achieving a position of creative independence during the final years of the classical Hollywood studio system. After Marnie it became difficult even for him to continue on that unique level.

Krohn devotes his final chapter to the Mary Rose project cherished by Hitchcock ever since he saw the stage play in London in 1920, starring Robert Donat and Fay Compton. "Mary Rose would have concluded a trilogy begun by The Birds and Marnie". "It would have made a magnificent film", states Krohn. Having read his marvellous book I believe so, too.

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