Why (HITCHCOCK) Matters by Christine Makepeace of Paracinema Magazine
Hitchcock is one of those names. It gets tossed around in film discussion and carries with it the same kind of reverence as a Kubrick or a Fuller or a Kurosawa. He is widely recognized as one of the most influential auteurs ever placed behind a camera. His name is spoken as fact. And, even if your firsthand knowledge of his catalogue does not extend past that part of The Birds you saw while flipping channels on a drizzly afternoon, you know the man’s style. It’s pervasive. It’s iconic. And, it’s my assertion, that mark and influence is just as important as the works themselves. The reason why Hitchcock is important? Well, he’s important because he’s entered our collective culture. He has permeated our media. He has influenced our filmic language.
Hitch’s recurring themes have taken on a life of their own. His unashamed embrace of things like voyeurism and the perfect murder have become genres unto themselves. Rear Window and Psycho are two of the more famous and famously aped films dealing with these themes. Both come with a laundry list of homages tacked to them. Both films’s imagery and plot has been sampled in various forms. An obvious example would be Brian De Palma’s repeated return to Rear Window. Body Double deals with duality, misdirection, and the lurid thrill of The Peep, and it’s a blatant modern take on RW. Our male protagonist watches a woman get murdered through a telescope. On paper, it is RW. There are, of course, some seedy modern elements that make it De Palma’s own… but it wasn't the first time the Hitchcock aficionado looked to The Master’s cautionary tale. Sisters also borrows heavily from RW. There is couch imagery that practically shouts “I'm just like that trunk in that other movie!”
De Palma does it. De Palma does it a lot. It’s not just the themes he chooses to explore, but it’s also the way in which he films a scene. For me, he is the modern incarnation of Hitchcock. He is also a hugely influential filmmaker. Just look at the effect Scarface has had on popular culture, more specifically, the effect it has had on (I shudder at this usage) Hip Hop culture.
It’s not just De Palma. Pedro Almodóvar and Dario Argento seem to speak Hitchcock as well. Their cinematic voices drip with the influence of the Master of Suspense. These are established, well respected (Yes, Dario is well respected. I'm not going to argue the quality of his later works. He is an indispensable figure in genre film.) filmmakers that have now gone on to influence a new generation. They are keeping Hitch alive.
Aside from the creators whose output reads like Hitchcock’s modern works, there are constant nods to be found in popular culture. Whether they knew it or not, moviegoers falling all over themselves for the mediocre Disturbia were watching a retelling of Rear Window. Tweens (and myself) that settled in to witness the reveal of “A” on the season 2 finale of Pretty Little Liars were treated to a painstakingly recreated play on Psycho. From the motel to the wacko wrapped in a blanket, it was a glorious nod that was so clever it almost seemed out of place. Clearly that show has some film-fan writers.
But this has become commonplace. 2012’s Jennifer Lawrence helmed disappointment House at the End of the Street takes a strange 11th hour turn as the villain gets Psycho-ed. Complete with over-explained psychobabble voiceover and thousand yard stare, the now overused scenario was wrenched in to give the floundering film some sort of weight. Unearned and ham-handed, it’s proof that Hitch can't save every movie.
Imitation shows up in bizarre places. Like the painfully earnest Birdemic: Shock and Terror. Bad effects, stilted line delivery, and laughable plot turns abound, but so do the not-so-subtle connections to The Birds. Sure, it’s “so bad it’s good,” which is getting a bit old in our super ironic climate, but the genuine love filmmaker James Nguyen has for his avian inspiration is obvious. We can thank Hitch for dive-bombing eagles.
Psycho references on Friends. Bart Simpson’s descent into paranoid voyeurism while snooping on Ned Flanders. Pushing Daisies' repeated visual and thematic nods. Writer Wentworth Miller’s acknowledgment that the lush and haunting Stoker used Shadow of a Doubt as a “jumping-off point.” Hitchcock’s influence informs our culture and our media. He is an important filmmaker whose experimental style revolutionized film and directly affected countless creators. But, for me, it’s how ingrained in our vocabulary his works truly are that speak to his importance. You don't have to be familiar with the man’s catalogue of work to be touched by it.
Find more from Christine at Paracinema, and I want to bring special attention to a pair of her articles for further reading, The Birds vs. Birdemic and Pushing Daisies or Hey That's Not a Movie. (Also stay tuned this Wednesday for an edition of Hitch on the Hump from your very own blue eyed Bugg)