Even though I think that Herrmann’s statement might be an exaggeration, to some extent there is a lot of truth in it. Let’s imagine the famous scene from Psycho – the murder of Janet Leigh and the unforgettable violent sound of violins. How would the scene have felt without violins, as Hitchcock wanted initially? It would have lost its momentum, and the entire film would have left a completely different impression on the audience.
I think Hitchcock is very clever, and so are many of his films. They are well made with some amazing tracking and crane shots. The sound is beautifully fit to extract the desired emotion from the audience. It offers various surprises during each film, and there is also the inevitable twist at the end. But…that is all they contain, all they are. Just clever… to me, anyway.
In Vertigo, according to many the best film he ever made, there is beautiful cinematography with the exception of the scenes shot in front of the projector – James Stuart driving, or the love scene with Kim Novak at the bench, after the visit to the Sequoia Park. He operated with a lot of money, he could have shot them on a location and instead, he shot them in a studio. One would think that mediocre work would not satisfy him.
So why is Hitchcock labeled one of the great ones? His case is a typical example that in a world of mainstream cinema the credit for a good picture can be given to many people. Sometimes, it may seem that the director’s achievement consists of choosing the outstanding talent to give life to a project, and he is merely the supervisor. Of course, that is not to say that the director has no contribution to the creative aspect of the film, but we all know, one man cannot make a film in Hollywood.
Let’s take another film that is the exact opposite of Hitchcock’s films, in my opinion – A Man Escaped by Robert Bresson, which is not a suspense film. The title itself reveals the end of the film, and we don’t wonder what is going to happen, instead we focus on how it happened.
The use of music in Bresson’s film is minimal – only a Mozart’s mass in several places throughout the film, and these places are when the main character Fontaine meets with other prisoners – Harold and Orsini. Since we know the outcome and there is no music, the audience is forced to listen. But that doesn’t lead to boredom where we just want the film to end. On the contrary, the image and the sound completely engage us and we pay attention to the smallest details, objects and gestures. Certain sounds are exaggerated – the German guards’ voices, the sound of doors being opened and closed, and handcuffs locking. All of that complements the story. Since the narration is in the past tense we know that the whole plot is happening in Fontaine’s head, and those sounds emphasize the pressure he feels at the moment.
In the second half of the film the sound of a train is introduced, a sound that at the end has greater meaning. The whistle of the train and the noise of it passing by, builds up the suspense in the last scene, but also overlaps with the noises Fontaine and Jost make during their escape.
This film is on my list of 100 best and favorite films of all times. It conveys feelings and meaning through very elegant cinematography and sound.
A Man Escaped
Director: Robert Bresson
Staring: Francois Leterrier, Charles Le Clainche, Maurice Beerblock
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Staring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore