May 17, 2017

Watch: Hitchcock and Ebert Talk Stairs and Scares in this Newly Unearthed Clip

The Lodger Hitchcock Ebert no film school interview stairs
In this newly discovered clip, a young Roger Ebert asks Alfred Hitchcock about the significance of stairs in his movies. Hitch has a few things to say. 

YouTube channel Eyes on Cinema has surfaced an as-yet-unknown public interview between Roger Ebert and Alfred Hitchcock, probably sometime in the mid-to-late '70s. Funny enough, while Ebert announces himself and his credential from the Chicago Sun-Times in his inimitable voice, his face is never seen in this two-minute clip, but the question he asks (or, rather, relays) provokes a brilliantly Hitchcockian response. First, Ebert relates that he has recently received a call from a grad student who is doing a "paper on the use of staircase as a motif" in Hitch's movies. He then asks how the great director would respond to that query, and, for that matter, what his general opinion of academic film criticism is. 

Hitchcock's answer: "I think that staircases are made to go up and down. And therefore, they become very photogenic. That they rise, they take a figure up and down, instead of keeping a figure on the flat. I suppose the most famous staircase I ever used was in a film I made in...1926, and there it was a film about Jack the Ripper, and Jack the Ripper had to go out late at night, about 2 a.m., and the lady of the rooming house in which he lived sat up and listened, and I had a staircase built four flights high, and I had to photograph it from the studio roof. And looking down the well, you saw the continuous handrail and just a white hand sliding down the whole way. Of course today with sound, you'd do creaks with stairs but that was the most valuable use of stairs, under those most needful conditions."

The film he's discussing is his third feature, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, directed when he was just 27, and the shot in question is here: 

An adaptation of a novel about a Jack-the-Ripper-like murderer in London, The Lodger is considered, by some, to be the first "Hitchcock film," for its introduction of elements that would play a large part in his later works, namely, "death and fetishism, trick shots and music-hall humour, intense menace and elegant camerawork," as well as the theme of the innocent man on the run. I, for one, had thought that Hitchcock was going to discuss the famous stairs in Psycho, but was pleasantly surprised by this relatively obscure bit of information, as, I'm sure, was Ebert (as well as Ebert's grad student.) We hope you're pleasantly surprised, too.       

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