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(1899–1980). British director and producer.

Directed, produced, and appeared in films (roles as producer and actor uncredited): Vertigo (1958); "Banquo's Chair" (1959), episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; North by Northwest (1959); Psycho (1960); The Birds (1963); Torn Curtain (1966).

Produced, hosted, and occasionally directed episodes: Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1962); The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962-1965).

Having finally confronted the challenge of epitomizing the career of Federico FELLINI, I might as well tackle the other intimidating assignment that has long lingered in my mental inbox, Alfred Hitchcock; and it occurs to me that, despite their obvious differences, these two great directors did have one thing in common: they did not see the world the way that other people do. However, while Fellini saw magic and hidden wonders in everyday life, Hitchcock could only detect a dark conspiracy of sinister forces aligned against the innocent.

It all began, one must suppose, when his father decided to punish the young Hitchcock for childish misdeeds by having him thrown in jail, little knowing that the experience would forever warp his world view. So it was that, after establishing himself as a talented director who could choose his own projects, Hitchcock told implausible story after implausible story of blameless citizens who are unjustly and extravagantly punished for their nonexistent crimes. His most characteristic scenario is the man mistaken for a criminal or person of interest who is relentlessly pursued and persecuted for no reason—best portrayed in the hallucinogenic North by Northwest, wherein the parties tormenting the hapless Roger Thornhill come to include both sides of the Cold War, his new girlfriend, a crop-dusting airplane, and finally George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.  But in Hitchcock's world, there are all sorts of traps for the unwary: you strike up a conversation with a man on a train, and end up embroiled in a bizarre murder plot (Strangers on a Train);  you greet your beloved visiting uncle but begin to realize that he is actually a serial killer in your midst (Shadow of a Doubt); you try to rest up after an injury but gradually figure out that your neighbor is a murderer (Rear Window); and as you flee with stolen money, your only worry is the police, but it turns out that you really should have been afraid of that nice young man in charge of your motel (Psycho). Hitchcock's most extreme paranoid vision occurs in his only overt venture into the fantastic, The Birds, where poor Melanie Daniels, harmlessly flirting with a handsome lawyer, discovers that she has aroused the vicious hostility not only of his family and neighbors, but the entire natural world, as represented by attacking birds. It is true that, schooled in the film conventions of his time, Hitchcock generally arranged to provide his put-upon protagonists with a happy ending, but these denouéments at times seem contrived, and there is a greater sense of conviction in those Hitchcock films that end ambiguously, like The Birds, or end tragically, like Vertigo.

Indeed, Vertigo is Hitchcock's masterpiece not because, as film critics might prefer to believe, it is an allegory about the dangers of growing too fond of watching the illusions that are films, as Scottie Ferguson is unable to love the real Judy Barton because he is obsessively enamored of the part she was playing, but because it uniquely illustrates the ultimate effect of being irrationally mistreated by a cruel world: the victim becomes the victimizer, perpetrating his own plots against undeserving targets. Thus, having been inadvertently manipulated into madness by an old friend's devious scheme to murder his wife, Ferguson manipulates Barton into a fatal fall from that tall tower. In a sense, this also was what Hitchcock was doing on the set, torturing both his fictional creations and the performers (especially the actresses) portraying them. And that is the real reason why Hitchcock always made a cameo appearance in all of his later films; he is letting everyone know that he, too, is involved in the conspiracy against his unsuspecting protagonist. And, as both those incongruous walk-ons and his droll comments as host of his television show indicated, he found all that sinister skullduggery rather amusing.

Of course, tales that validate extreme paranoia do not necessarily fall into the categories of science fiction or fantasy, and except for The Birds, Hitchcock's genre filmography must be constructed based upon flimsy pretexts: the suggestion in Vertigo that the man's purportedly suicidal wife is perhaps the reincarnation of a similarly suicidal ancestor;  the impossibility of having an enemy spy's mansion located on the top of Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest; the fleeting image of his mother's skull overlaying the face of Norman Bates in the final scene of Psycho, implying that  he had been possessed by her spirit; and some technological gobbledygook about advanced weaponry representing the information sought by the faux defector in Torn Curtain. His television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour similarly qualify for inclusion because its episodes, on rare occasions, would include a hint of fantasy—like one episode he directed, "Banquo's Chair," depicting an effort to extract a confession from a murderer by means of a man pretending to be a ghost. In truth, Hitchcock never wanted his films to seem too fantastic, since that might undermine his desire to convince audiences that his unlikely sagas of unmotivated persecution might actually occur—which also explains why he chose to make a very uninteresting film, The Wrong Man, in order to publicize a true case of a man who was arrested and tried for somebody else's crime.

Alfred Hitchcock has lived on after his death in the colorized episode introductions that were re-used for the 1985-1989 revival of his television series, in official sequels to Psycho and The Birds, in other unofficial remakes and homages, and in a reverential, shot-by-shot remake of Psycho—all of which suggests that he has remained an influential figure. But there are reasons to fear that he may not linger in the popular imagination as powerfully as Fellini; after all, "Felliniesque" long ago entered the dictionary, while "Hitchcockesque" never has. But for Hitchcock, this would only serve as evidence of a vast, convoluted alliance of inexplicable enemies working together to drive him into obscurity. Let us hope that, as in most of Hitchcock's films, those conspirators will never fully succeed.

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