6 Cinematic Techniques Alfred Hitchcock Used to Create Suspense on TV
We know his movies. We've watched them, studied them, extracted all of the cinematic wisdom we can from them. But Alfred Hitchcock's TV show Alfred Hitchcock Presents is an oft unopened door inside the genius of the Master of Suspense.
And who better to open that door and show us around than author and leading Hitchcock scholar Jeffrey Michael Bays. In the first of several episodes of his web series Hitch20, Bays examines the cinematic techniques the director used in Presents, including using happy settings to heighten drama, roaming camera movements, "following the eyes," his special attention toward hands, feet, and objects, Hitch's famous "silent murders," and finally, knowing when not to cut.
Here's the first episode:
We certainly love to talk about Alfred Hitchcock here at NFS -- I'm not sure if I've met anyone who doesn't -- and a huge reason for that is because he managed to perfect the way he built tension and suspense in not only his TV show, but in his films. (Of course!) He did this in a number of ways, including the techniques mentioned in list you just saw in Bays' video, but there are many other things Hitchcock did, too -- his focus on his characters' eyes, editing techniques, like the ones he used in Rope, even that crop duster scene in North By Northwest used a setting you wouldn't expect to be used in a distressing scene like that -- all of these are classic Hitchcockian tropes.
Now, you could learn all about the Master of Suspense and try to recreate his magic in your own way, but remember this: Hitchcock became the Master because he understood how cinema affects an audience on an emotional level. That's the crux. You can shoot a murder mystery in Pasadena and make your camera follow barefooted blondes all day until they get bludgeoned by a silhouetted guy in a trench coat behind a malt shop, but that won't make it truly Hitchcockian -- that won't give it that hallmark tension or suspense.
Paying close attention to how every aspect of your film affects your audience is the essence of Hitchcock -- shot size, camera angle, camera movement, lens, blocking, lighting, costuming, music, sound, editing -- literally everything represents a cinematic word or phrase that you're speaking to your audience through the language of aesthetics. Hitchcock was so knowledgeable of this, that he was once described as having his own "dialect" in terms of visual language. (I suppose you could say all auteurs do.)