I’m writing a paper on how Hitchcock, in spite of the Hays code restriction of showing explicit violence, used editing techniques to depict violent acts on film. Specifically, I will parallel murder scenes in several of his films, and argue that his use of editing, while avoiding showing explicit violence, translates a perceivable image of violence, and that this perceived image more effectively builds suspense and excitement than overt violence; this is because overt violence is literally limited by what is shown on screen, while Hitchcock’s editing leaves enough out that the perceived image of violence is only limited by the viewers imagination. I will use the fundamental theme of Rear Window – that once an idea gets in your head it will take you in every possible direction – as a bearing for my analysis of certain murder scenes in Hitchcock films. I will also make a point that he maintained the same kind of editing techniques post-Hays code.
I’m trying to decide on those certain murder scenes which I will analyze. They must incorporate editing techniques which adequately render the temper of violence, while not actually, overtly displaying it. I will, of course, use the infamous shower scene in Psycho. I’m also most likely going to use the murder scene in Rope and both the murder and the almost murder scenes in Strangers On A Train. There are some Hitchcock’s I have yet to see, and many of which I don’t quite remember well enough, so please enlighten me. The films must be from his US period, and later is better since the class is on ‘Violence In Post 1960s American Cinema’ (I cleared it with the Professor that I will be using some pre-1960 films, but, they must still be American)
So, what murder scenes would you recommend?
The most shocking murder scene for me is in Frenzy. It’s a brutal rape/murder that’s no less shocking than the violence in more recent films like Blue Velvet. I am amazed that this scene got passed the censors given the date it was released. makes you wonder how far Hitchcock would have gone had he lived longer. It’s a great film, but I just cant’ take that scene. I guess this one may not count however as it is not American.
TORN CURTAIN’s oven death is pretty grueling.
Thanks for your input, both of you. I’m actually watching Frenzy right now, maybe I’ll watch Torn Curtain after.
STAGE FRIGHT’s unseen murder provides a lot to talk about.
So does the unseen murder in FRENZY.
The most shocking murder scene for me is in Frenzy. It’s a brutal rape/murder that’s no less shocking than the violence in more recent films like Blue Velvet.
totally agree Strawdawg it was a shocker, nasty, made me feel a real skin crawl about AH himself, I’ve never felt like that about Lynch – it is surprising it got “out and about” at that time
There is quite a bit of psychological issues that turn to violence used in Vertigo- particularly the way Scottie forces Judy to dress and act as the dead Madeleine before he attempts to strangle her. Hitchcock also used this editing technique as a way of prolonging sexual encoucters- the scene in Notorious of Devlin talking on the phone as Alicia kisses him was way too long under Hays code regulations but due to the editing used it was allowed to pass.
Interesting theme. I believe your key examples would be “Psycho” and “Frenzy”, since editing is an important conception in both murder scenes. However, its arguable whether these scenes “overtly” display violence or not. I think you overestimate their subtlety.
Something else that is very interesting to me is Hitch’s use of the freeze frame, particularly in murder scenes (look closely for it in these two films). I’d say that through editing, Hitch doesn’t suggest violence so much as he makes the audience feel it in a more dynamic way. He literalizes it and concretizes it through a materialist handling of film strips. In other words, content is form with him.
He doesn’t avoid showing explicit violence. He just makes the viewer experience it in a highly-aestheticized manner. So the question is why. Why do we see it reflected in glasses in “Strangers”? The answer to that question might reveal the key to Hitch’s method.
Frenzy comes quite a bit after the end of the Hays Code though, and is also a British film, with British financers. This is an important distinction – as to what a difference time and place can make.
And Tippi Hedren shoots a horse in Marnie.
And Hitch keeps the body unseen throughout all of Rope.
Bobby Wise: To be honest, I have been a little apprehensive about my thesis for the exact reason you pointed out: I may be overestimating the subtlety. It’s also why I’m having some trouble deciding on murder scenes, since some are merely too explicit for this particular venture. Thing is, at first I was going to make it about psychological suggestions of violence inherent in the the films themselves… plot, theme, w/e (Rope, knowing the body is there; Shadow of a Doubt. not knowing if he’s the strangler; Rear Window, for obvious reasons). Then, I decided to focus specifically on editing and murder scenes, but this is clearly not as subtle. “content is form with him” – nice idea, and I understand what you mean, but wouldn’t ‘form is content for him’ (suggesting that the aesthetics are part of the content, rather than the content being part of the aesthetics) be a more accurate description? or I suppose ‘content is formalized’. Hmm, having a little trouble getting my head around the wording lol. Anyways, thanks for your ideas, I’ll have to rethink how to approach this.
Kristian: Frenzy would be alright since it’s really considered an American film. And I’d actually like to use a film or two after the Hays code is out of effect and the rating system comes in play, so I can compare Hitch’s editing before and after the restrictions.
First you have to find out what it is that interests you about the murder scenes before you decide which ones to focus on. There are a ton of them and they are all interesting. Maybe you can consider Truffaut’s statement that Hitch “filmed love scenes like murders and murder scenes like love.” There could be something there as a starting point.
Yes, form is content for him. I think its the same notion either way around. Each knife cut in the “Psycho” murder scene has its equivalent in a film cut. The same principle is at work in “Frenzy”. Hitch is almost attacking his characters with the physical form of the film, just as he is attacking the audience the same way.
Dial M For Murder
Kamran- I prefer your first idea for your thesis. I think you’re way off base with your present idea. The Psycho murder scene was made more explicit by the editing, not less. Same with Frenzy and Dial M and Strangers and the shocking cut-in intro to the Rope murder (my personal favorite).
Bobby- I have no doubt Spielberg had the same Truffaut quote in mind when he filmed the dumbest scene of all time in Munich. :)
Thanks for your input guys, but the paper is done – handed it in on Friday. I dropped the whole non-overt violence part, and just made it specifically about how Hitchcock used editing and form to pass the censors (which specified that violence should not be shown in detail) and depict violent acts on film. I used Rope (only one noticeable cut and it occurs in the first few minutes during the murder scene, rest of the film (while David is dead) appears as one long take), Strangers On A Train (one cut, occurs when glasses fall, rest of murder shown through reflection – Hitchcock able to depict the murder in more detail), Psycho (lots of reasons), and Frenzy (lots of reasons).