Hitchcock’s Reveal: More Interested by the Technique of Storytelling than the Content
Yes, you read the title correctly.
And disturbing it is.
In 1964, at a time when filmmaking was still an art limited to few lucky men and when shooting a movie could only mean using good old film and the Studio System, Alfred Hitchcock, already the master and reference he still is today, explained why he said he was more interested in the technique of storytelling by means of films than in the content of the film itself.
Of course one can only wonder if Hitchcock would have chosen the same words to express his thoughts today as the digital revolution takes us to new problematic and as the focus on content is lost to a festival of technicalities supposed to impressed an audience judged too consumerist to want more.
But what I really want to understand, from what Hitchcock said, lays in his sentence:
It’s not the story, it’s what you do with it.
In the same fashion that technique can be used nowadays to hide bad or lack of content, it can be used to hide a lack of work or talent from directors (you only need to compare romantic comedies directed in the sixties and today to realize that).
What Hitchcock deplores, is that the audience doesn’t appreciate the art and work hidden behind the final result that a film is. Although we know much more -if not everything but the magic touch- about the laborious process of making a film, it is still rare today to read a critique analyzing a film taking into account the impact that editing choices can have on the narrative and thus the emotion triggered in the audience, or the cinematography (if it’s not about special effects) or even directing at its core.
These topics are left for niche audience and professionals as if they didn’t matter.
Having a good script might be a prerequisite to have a good film, but it’s far from being enough. In the last years, I couldn’t help noticing a wave of laziness from directors using easy choices to interpret the script they were given.
This particularly hit me when I started reading scripts before watching the produced movies.
Last year, two films made me realize how powerful a director vision can be, taking an ok or a bad script to the next level. If you have the opportunity to read them, I recommend Black Swan (for the ok script) and 127 hours (for the terrible script).
Aronofsky and Boyle, known for their strong vision and varied universe, proved once again that a director is someone with a vision and not just an illustrator using techniques available to show on moving images what was written on the page. That’s what makes films beautiful and fascinating object when they are successful: one layer after another, they become an addition of skills, knowledge and sensitivities that wouldn’t stand as strongly on their own.
Acknowledging Franco’s performance and acknowledging that the shooting and editing technique used by Boyle to enhance his performance and convey emotion are two different type of acknowledgement and both matter.