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What Is an Auteur?

Essay by review  •  October 11, 2010  •  Essay  •  1,430 Words (6 Pages)  •  831 Views

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What is an auteur? Answer this question with detailed reference to one film director: Alfred Hitchcock

Studies of the Auteur Theory in film have often looked toward Alfred Hitchcock as an ideal auteur: an artist with a signature style who leaves his own mark on every work he creates. According to the theory, it does not matter whether or not the director writes his own films, because the film will reflect the vision and the mind of the director through the choices he makes in his film. In the case of Hitchcock's earliest films when he was still under the control of his producers, there is still a distinct stamp upon these images. Hitchcock has said that he was influenced by the German Expressionists, and admired their ability "to express ideas in purely visual terms". It is this expression of thought and psychology that Hitchcock achieves throughout his films, even early on. Even the psychology that is in the films can be particularly a signature of Hitchcock - critics have found throughout his films a fascination with wrongful accusation and imprisonment. They are present in even his earliest films. A particular sequence of Hitchcock's 1935 film The 39 Steps bears the mark of Hitchcock through the visual expression of the fear of wrongful accusation and confinement.

In the shot before the sequence, we see the crofter asking his wife what has happened to his coat, as it had his hymnbook in the pocket. She, offscreen, tells him that she gave the coat to Hannay. The crofter angrily walks offscreen toward her, and we hear her terrified scream - this scream suddenly becomes the sheriff's offscreen laughter, as the next shot is of the hymnbook with the bullet hole in it. From the beginning of the sequence, Hitchcock transmits the feeling that there is something not quite right about the sheriff. As the scene in the police station begins, Hannay has just finished telling the sheriff that he is the one that the papers have been describing as a murderer, but that he is innocent of the crime. The sheriff laughs along with Hannay and seems to believe him, but as soon as the sheriff's colleagues come in to the room, we learn that the sheriff has been just humoring him and thinks Hannay is a murderer. Hannay is forced to escape. The entire scene, through the lighting, angles, and framing, convey a feeling of sentiment for Hannay, the wrongfully accused, a feeling of distrust for the accusers, and a sense of confinement.

Throughout the scene, there is a differential lighting treatment for the different characters. Hannay always has a bright light shining upon him, while the sheriff and the other policemen have shadows across their faces. Even in the shots in which Hannay shares the frame with the sheriff, the lighting is focused only upon Hannay. Hannay even wears a light-colored suit, while the sheriff wears a dark suit. As the sheriff gets up to walk toward the window near the end of shot 2, the frame is split into two halves - the left side is dark, filled by the sheriff's back, and the right side is light, with Hanna's light suit and illuminated face. Even before we know that the sheriff is a "bad guy," there is already this contrast between light and dark, innocent and shady. Through the lighting and color on Hannay, Hitchcock expresses visually Hannay's innocence, as opposed to the shadowy corruption of the dark policemen.

Much less subtle and more powerful are the images in the sequence that result from the symbolic manipulations of light and shadows. When the sheriff refers to Hannay as a murderer, the camera spins around to show Hannay, who shouts, "Murderer?" The camera then backs away from Hannay, revealing behind his left shoulder at the top-right of the frame, the diagonal shadowing of the window, which blatantly resembles a kind of web. He is clearly entangled in the sheriff's deception, and the web on the wall behind him helps to show Hannay's emotional state. Later, when from outside we see Hannay jump out the window, the windows fly open and cast the distinct web-like shadow again, now on the outer walls of the police station. Hannay is breaking free of the trap of the web, jumping and breaking through it. In a later shot of the police station it reveals the web, but with the hole of light left in it by Hannay, in the form of the open window. Through this web, Hitchcock enhances the feeling of confinement by the power of the police. Hannay escapes from the police by breaking through this web.

Hitchcock also strategically uses camera angles in order to present the correct psychology. The sheriff, throughout the sequence, is associated with diagonal lines. Throughout films diagonal lines have been used to create the sense of instability and corruption. An example is a close-up of the sheriff, again in profile, looking out the window. Behind him is a blank wall, except for a shadow in the form of a diagonal line on the wall. The next shot is a point-of-view shot of the sheriff's view out the window. From the sheriff's point of view, the horizontal bars of the window actually appear to run diagonally. These lines

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