Hitchcock by Hitchcock

An Initial Foray into "Television"

Drawn from Robert Bloch's semi-fictionalized account of heartland serial killer Ed Gein, Psycho was not only a repudiation of the "Technicolor baubles"  Hitchcock had made earlier in the decade, but a culmination of his work in television: small-scale, monochromatic, and episodic in plotting.  While his formal entry to television would not arrive until 1955, Hitchcock had always been intrigued with the small—screen-particularly its emphasis on close-ups.  Indeed, a film he made in 1948, Rope, was largely an experiment in melding the vocabulary of television with the language of cinema.  

Loosely based on the notorious Leopold-Loeb case, Rope concerns two young men who strangle to death a friend of theirs for the sheer thrill of it. James Stewart, in the first of his four pictures with Hitchcock, plays a professor whose intellectual musings induce a confession from the murderers. Forever on the quest for the next technical challenge, Hitchcock deliberately confined the story to a single setting (the killers' shared flat) so that he could film the action continuously-a process meant to emulate the live dramas then appearing on the burgeoning medium of television. Although Hitchcock would find greater creative success exploiting a confined setting with Rear Window (1954), the experience of making Rope intrigued him to the potential of television.  

Hitchcock is interviewed for Ship's Reporter (1950)

In 1950, arriving in New York via the Queen Mary, Hitchcock was asked by an entertainment journalist what he thought about the upstart medium of television:

Reporter: I just read in the columns recently, an article about you in which they said: ‘Gee, we hope that Alfred Hitchcock comes to television. Because he can bring so much suspense and so much new, shall we say, trick production methods.'

AH: Well, I have actually tried a bit of television in a movie, you know.
Reporter: Not on television itself?

AH: No, No. I made a movie called Rope, which was shot with one camera all the way through without any cutting. And that in a sense was a kind of preview of television technique. The main thing was that the actors were moved around to create their own close-ups. In other words, it's not just moving the camera, but moving the people backwards and forwards towards the lens so that automatically they make their own close-ups or their own waist-shots and what have you.

Reporter: I should think that would require a bit of preparation in advance.

AH: Oh, definitely, yes.

Reporter: More so than in a usual picture?

AH: Well much, because a usual picture, you see, is shot in little pieces and edited and put together afterwards. But here you have to anticipate all the requirements you may need dramatically, you see, in the movement of the camera and the size of the image on the screen.

The reporter, who apparently had not seen Rope, goes on to ask whether Hitchcock shot the film continuously, as if it were a theatrical production.

AH: As a stage play, yes, but with the idea behind it that the audience is looking at a screen in other words, you see? In a stage play, which is a fixed thing, the eye wanders all over the stage, but in the movies of course we have to provide the eye with everything. Therefore in television they look at the screen and, as you know, the best results on television are the close image. And that's what I tried to do in this Rope picture, to give some preview of what would happen on television in the future.

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