English film industry can be proud of its greatest filmmaker and producer, Alfred Hitchcock. This man created the best thrillers that admire film watchers until nowadays.
Hitchcock made a great contribution to the development of this industry providing the innovations in the techniques of a psychological thriller and film suspense. Bellour and Penley (2000) called Alfred Hitchcock “one of the greatest formal innovators in the history of cinema” (p. 9). This film director worked out his own style that made his films distinguishing and original.
Hitchcock used technical and formal elements of filmmaking in order to produce a particular effect on the audience (manipulate its feelings, evoke fear and anxiety). Among such techniques are camerawork (the movement of camera imitates a person’s sight), the shots are combined so that they grabbed the watcher’s attention to small and inconspicuous details that had a great importance. The same thing is about music in Hitchcock’s films.
It has a great importance in depicting the psychological characteristics of the characters. One should not forget about the lightning. As a great director, Alfred Hitchcock used the whole specter of means to create an artistic impression on the audience. One of such means is the lightning, Ebert (2005) states that:
“Hitchcock was a classical technician in terms of controlling his visuals, and his use of screen space underlined the tension in ways the audience isn’t always aware of. He always used the convention that the left side of the screen is for evil and/or weaker characters, while the right is for characters who are either good or temporarily dominant” (p. 430).
All these techniques can be found in the film by Alfred Hitchcock “Strangers on a Train”. It is one of the best works of Hitchcock and it demonstrates his talent to play with formal and technical aspects to produce an effect on the audience. Even the very first seconds of the film depict the whole range of these means. Thus, the introductory sequence of the “Strangers on a Train” is the best example to show all significant things and achievements of the director in the field of filmmaking.
“Strangers on a Train” is one of the masterpieces of Alfred Hitchcock that had a great success. It is a typical film of Hitchcock. It is full of stylistic techniques to achieve a desirable effect of suspense. It is based on the book by Patricia Highsmith who is very famous for her “The Talented Mr. Ripley”. Hitchcock was attracted by the theme of the exchange crime”.
Moreover, his heroes are not just “positive” and “negative” ones, they are complicated characters who present a mixture of felling, emotions and good and bad treats. So, the film is about two men who meet in a train. One of them is Guy Haines, a tennis player, who wants to marry the senator’s daughter, the other one is Bruno Anthony is a stranger. The very first episode of a film (opening sequence) introduces the theme of it “crisscrossed crime” or “double crossing”.
Chandler (2005) said that this Novel was for Hitchcock a “delicious” example of the kinds of characters he liked: the charming villain and a mixture of shades of gray in the hero, not just black and white, and the exchange- of- murders concept delighted him. The finished film was one of his favorites” (p. 193).
The opening sequence is very important in terms of introduction of the film main characters, subject and theme. The very first shot introduces two pairs of shoes. The “owners” of these shoes arrive at the station and the audience understands that the owners of the shoes will be the main characters of the film.
Why did the director chose this element of clothes? Chandler (2005) remembers in his book “once, Alfred Hitchcock said to his friend in the cafe, “See that man? He is wearing very expensive shoes. You can tell a great deal about a man by his shoes” (p. 10).
As a matter of fact, after this film, many filmmakers began use such technique. Shoes are really the most “speakable” detail in one’s appearance. Looking at the costumes and shoes of two men, we can describe their characters. Deutelbaum and Poague (2009) wrote in their book that:
“The first on in brown-and- white ones is vulgar and “spectacular” (one can even consider his suspicious), the second man is more pleasant in plain black shoes. Thus, the director establishes the parallel or, precisely, the contrast that will develop in the film. One can notice that every shot with the firs men’s feet is balanced with the shot with second’s men feet. (p. 172).
The theme of duplicity and “contrasting doublets” appears in all details of the sequence: two cars, two pairs of feet approaching to the train, the interconnected train tracks, Ebert and Corliss (2005) mention such detail as Guy’s tennis rockets which are also crossed (p. 429). Hitchcock was a great master of visual set pieces and this is reflected in many sequences during the film.
A number of formal and technical elements used in the film create a whole impression about the movie. The theme, subject and motifs are disclosed not only from the dialogues and action, but with the help of these elements.
Adorno and Eisler (2005) say that “they are the extensive dialogues accompanied by the camera changes, sequence of shots, music accompaniment and sound (p. 68). Many sound theorists explored the influence of sound on the film and its developing. We have got used to the sound movies and we do not pay attention to its importance.
However, apart from the music, the sound that comes from different objects and people around have a strong influence on the audience. As Stam (2000) states, “there is a strong connection between the auditory phenomenon and visual phenomenon. (p. 215). The sounds of the station, hurrying people make an impression of a common, “light” movie and they also prepare the reader to the further watching and help to maintain a suspense.
The particularity of the first episode is the camerawork. As it has already been mentioned, Alfred Hitchcock was a great film innovator and he used camerawork in a particular and very distinguished way. In the opening sequence, the camera follows the main characters and it shows only their feet. A low position of the camera produces an effect as though the audience follows those two men to the train. In addition, the shot distance is changing constantly.
One moment we see extreme close up shots of the shoes and their owners, the other moment the sots change to the long distance. The particularity of Hitchcock’s shots is that they have the same duration that emphasizes that both characters are equally important. Moreover, both men go to the station, but the camera works as though they are approaching in the opposite direction. It is one more distinguished detail that give to the audience understand that the story will be around those two men.
According to Nichols (1985), “it is a particular means of articulation of shots and its effect on the audience. (p. 512). Finally, we see the two strangers meet each other in a train when they seat in one table and their shoes accidentally touch. Chandler (2005) mentions that “until this moment, the strangers were shown only from the knees and after such an original montage, the plot development begins (p. 192).
There is another important aspect of such montage. It not just introduces the main characters, theme and motifs of the film, but it is also a strong means of artistic expression. It catches the attention and evokes interest.
Who are these men, where are they going? And How do they look? According to Lehman and Luhr (2003), “such elements as color (color of the shoes), lightning, editing and sound, of course, create a “formal complexity” in the story that the movie tells” (p. 63). And Heath (1981) adds that “the aesthetics of the film form is achieved through the technical elements” (p. 232) and Hitchcock uses all the possibilities and aspects of these technical elements.
A very important element of the introductory sequence is the music accompaniment. The music for this film was written by Dimitri Tiomkin and it was their third work. The author wrote a melody that gave the beginning of the film its special seductiveness The arriving of two men is accompanied by a large orchestra.
The movements of the main characters are accompanied by certain musical instruments and intensively. Moreover, the music underscores the massive buildings of the Pennsylvania Station. Sullivan (2006) wrote that “the orchestra included alto, three clarinets, four horns, saxes, three pianos and a novachord (p. 156).
In addition, it should be mentioned the melody is used to introduce the main characters, it creates a general impression about them. Thought, it seems that the musical accompaniment is similar for both men, it is not like that. The general tone is the same, but there are almost unnoticeable tones of violin and baritone sax when different people appear in the screen. It is one more technique that Alfred Hitchcock used in his movies.
Helen G. Scott and Francois Truffaut (1985) say in their book that:
“Nowadays, the works of Alfred Hitchcock is admired all over the world. Young people who are just discovering his art through the current rereleases of his films may assume his prestige has always been recognized, but this is far from being the case.” (p. 11).
The secret of his popularity in all times is his great talent and wonderful imagination. In the article in Life Magazine (Anon., 1951) were written, “it seems that he knew what the audience wants and he give it to it. The films of Alfred Hitchcock are the ingenious exercises in a trick that made him the greatest muster of thriller and movie suspense” (p. 71).
The formal and technical elements helped to produce a great artistic impression on the audience. One can observe all these elements in a short introducing sequence from the film “Strangers on a train”. Such element as music, camerawork, shots, sound and costumes are used as modes of expression in order to introduce the themes and motifs of the story.
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