This is a nightmare. I know that sounds hyperbolic and is reason enough to wish harm upon my bloodline, but really, this is one of those moments where you feel like you’re doing a huge disservice right off the bat. If I’m being honest, I would tell you to just start with Psycho and then go on from there until you’ve seen everything, short of some of his shorts and those propaganda movies, that Alfred Hitchcock has directed. Even those silent movies, like The Lodger or The Farmer’s Wife, should be seen at least once for context to the majestic flourishes he would deploy in Marnie, Strangers on a Train, Frenzy, and The Birds, to name just a few.
These are the words of an obsessive, mind you. For most people, the name Hitchcock is synonymous with tight thrills, but that’s not what I think about when I think about Hitchcock. It’s the strange habits, ticks, and ways of being that his characters seem doused in; his is a cinema for, and about, obsessive people. As brilliant a thriller as Psycho is, its most exhilarating moments are those where we can see the psychological creature lurking behind Norman Bates clawing desperately against the wall even as he tries to act sociable. That check-in scene, when he rents a room to, feels as iconic as the shower sequence or the climactic reveal of Miss Bates in her chair. And its this anxious, complicated attitude toward character, and the grand psychological symbolism that color his tales of murder and malevolence, that make his films so undeniably intoxicating, provocative, and wildly unpredictable.
That they were also high-grade entertainments is just as impressive, each one brightly paced and uniquely told, both visually and on paper. Even something as convoluted as Family Plot comes with its own distinct visual flavors in color, composition, and movement – Bruce Dern’s sky-blue jacket and pipe combination is particularly memorable. It’s also, like so many Hitchcock movies, a film that has death on its mind. Perhaps the most wildly fascinating elements of Hitchcock’s best work is the respect he shows for death, even when the demise comes with a certain comical twist. He made death feel calculated yet strange and unpredictable, viscerally physical and explosive in its impact on one’s philosophical and psychological make-up.
His films similarly felt technically assured and yet demonically impulsive; a madhouse run by the inmates, but designed and built under the eye of Frank Lloyd Wright. As methodical as his plots could be, they never felt like a plodding ordeal of necessary plot turns and exposition. On the contrary, they continue to feel galvanic in their pacing, and when he did want to put the screws to you, he was, indeed, a master of drawing out tension for just the right amount of time before it felt over-directed. And this is as true of early masterworks like Young & Innocent or Foreign Correspondent as it is of later, towering works like The Birds or Marnie. So though there’s no excusing the obnoxiousness of saying something like it’s a nightmare to pick a favorite Hitchcock, it remains a reality for a very silly person like myself.
But I sucked it up and did it anyway. Please know already that a part of me agrees with every single comment that says “No [unlisted Hitchcock movie]? Fuck this!”