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Hitchcock's Style by Mark Duguid
Introduction Visual Storytelling Example: The Lodger Example: Blackmail 1 Example: Blackmail 2 The MacGuffin
The Look Women Suspense      
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Alfred Hitchcock: Visual Storyteller
Still from The 39 Steps (1935)

The 39 Steps (1935)

"The silent pictures were the purest form of cinema" - Alfred Hitchcock

It is important to remember that Hitchcock began his career in the era of silent movies. His first nine films as director - between 1925 and 1929 - were all silent, and even his first sound film, Blackmail (1929), was begun as a silent, and was released in silent and sound versions.

The limitations of the silent form led filmmakers to develop a visual language to enable them to say with images what they could not using dialogue or sound. By the time of the arrival of sound in 1927 (later in Europe) this filmmaking language had become so sophisticated that sound was felt by some to be almost unnecessary. Others - including Hitchcock - felt that the arrival of sound meant that something was lost to cinema. Directors were no longer forced to tell a story using images alone, and cinema's distinctively visual storytelling suffered as a result.

Throughout his career, Hitchcock continued to believe in cinema as a visual medium. For him, dialogue and sound should remain secondary to the image in telling the story. This is not to say that he was completely uninterested in dialogue - he worked with many fine writers, and many of his films have excellent dialogue sequences. But it's true that when we think of Hitchcock we tend to remember images - the shower scene in Psycho (1960) or the handcuffed Robert Donat and Madelaine Carroll in The 39 Steps (1935) - rather than lines of dialogue.

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