Montage theory: Eisenstein, Vertov, & Hitchcock
3: Hitchcock & montage
1. Eisenstein & montage
2: Vertov & montage
the Kuleshov effect


Although Hitchcock famously tried two films with virtually no editing at all--Rope and Under Capricorn--he came to believe, as he told Francois Truffaut, that "films must be cut" to be effective. Hitchcock credited D.W. Griffith with the invention of film editing as an art.

Among the best-known of Hitchcock's montage sequences are:

- the shower scene in Psycho,
- the parallel openings in Shadow of a Doubt
-
the staircase escape in Notorious
-
the opening sequence in Strangers on a Train
-
the runaway carousel in Strangers on a Train
- the United Nations murder in North by Northwest
-
the murder in Frenzy,

Toward the end of his career, Hitchcock made a number of comments about the technique and power of montage:


"You can do anything you want with montage. Cinema is simply pieces of film put together in a manner that creates ideas and emotions."
[Interview with Charles Thomas Samuels, 1972]


"For me, cinema is essentially emotion. It is pieces of film joined together that create an idea, which in turn creates an emotion in the mind of the audience. Not through spoken words, but through the visuals. It's a visual medium. And montage is the main thing. All moviemaking is pure montage."
[Interview with Arthur Knight, 1973]

"
"What I'm concerned with is the manner of telling the story and how you put your scenes together, and in consequence creat an emotion in an audience.
"That's what I mean by pure film. The way you put it together to create an emotion. Let me give you an example. . . . We take a closeup of [a] man and cut to what he sees. And what do we show? A woman nursing a baby. You cut back to your face reaction and he smiles. Now what is he? He's a benevolent, nice gentleman.
"Take away the middle piece of film (the mother and the baby) and substitute a girl in a bikini. Now he's a dirty old man. That's what I mean by the purity of montage and the control of film."
[Interview with Emerson Batdorf, 1970]


[On using pieces of film to create violence as opposed to actually depicting violence:] "There's no question that for any kind of violence that you want to portray on the screen, that's the way it can be done best. Let me see if I can give you a comparison. If you stand in a field and you see a train going by half a mile away, you look at it and it speeds by. Now go within six feet of the train going by; think of the difference in its effect. So what you are doing is you are taking the audience right close up into the scene, and the montage of the various effects gets the audience involved. That's its purpose. It becomes much more powerful than if you sit back and look. Say you are at a boxing match and you are eight or ten rows back: well, you get a very dfferent effect if you are in the first row, looking up under those ropes. . . .
"At the moment of contact, then you are into your pieces of film. You involve the audience right in the sense of the violence. . . . The distance of the figures, you see. That's why I think barroom brawls in Westerns are always a bore for me. . . . If they would only do a few big close-ups here and there, it would be much more exciting, instead of looking at it from a distance. . . . They think it creates a greater air of reality by seeing it at a distance and in fact they are doing the wrong thing."
[Dialogue on Film: American Film Institute, 1972]


[On the violent scene in Frenzy:] "Oh, that's all done with little pieces of film. . . . It's composed of a tremendous number of different pieces of film. It's like the bathroom scene in Psycho. There, it's pursely illusionary--the knife never touches the body at any time. . . . [In the Frenzy scene] I would say there would probably be about 50 or 60 [shots]. But they're so fast, and that's the whole point--you indicate, you suggest violence by the rapidity of the cuts. You must be very intimate with it."
[Interview with Janet Maslin, 1972]


"The actor must be an element [of composition] because film is montage. But I do explain the cutting to him so he knows why I've asked him to cooperate."
[Interview with Charles Thomas Samuels, 1972]

source: Alfred Hitchcock Interviews, ed. Sidney Gottlieb. University Press of Mississippi, 2003.

notes page
main course page