The Complete Alfred Hitchcock
Where the critic Robin Wood once felt it necessary to pose the rhetorical question, “Why should we take Hitchcock seriously?,” the complete retrospective before us, including its new restorations of nine of Hitchcock’s extant silent features, begs a different question: When did Hitchcock become Hitchcock? It would take time for the director’s formal and moral fixations to cohere as the compound effect known all too simply as “suspense,” but there is no mistaking the master’s touch in the persistent ambiguities of The Lodger, theobsessive reiterations of the circle motif in The Ring, the menacing voyeur crowding the edges of Champagne, or the spiraling delineation of guilt in the silent Blackmail. Even within the seemingly inhospitable confines of a comedy of manners (Easy Virtue) or melodramatic fall (Downhill), the young Hitchcock experimented with different styles of point-of-view and disclosure, ever attentive to the audience in relation to the characters. The director learned Expressionism during an early apprenticeship at Berlin’s UFA Studio and Soviet-style montage from London Film Society screenings, quickly absorbing both styles into his own deeply intuitive grasp of entertainment as moral reckoning. Already in the silent films we see the interpolations of subjective and objective viewpoints, the rupture of fantasy in authentic settings, the condensation of whole characterizations into discrete details, and the genius for soliciting the audience’s complicity. From the very first, a Hitchcock film lays special claims to our role as viewer.