Dec 09

Hitchcock is known in the film industry as an innovator, someone who puts a new twist on ideas and film making techniques. One technique he uses is the idea of materiality, which he uses to bring the audience out of the flow of the movie to realize there is more to the film.

An example of his use of this technique is from the movie Psycho, in the scene where Detective Arbogast is walking up the stairs to find Mrs. Bates In context it’s not particularly scary, he is just trying to question Mrs. Bates. But as in most films we know more than him, that there is a killer in the house who’ll do anything to keep a secret.

Hitchcock uses many things to get us absorbed in the scene. Arbogast begins at the bottomof the stairs, in a long shot. He starts up them, looking around, taking his
time. Then comes the music: he’s a little nervous, but we’re absolutely screaming
for him to turn around.  Hitchcock also uses an odd technique here, by making it seem like the shot it slow motion, but Arbogast seems to be going at normal pace. It adds a surreal feeling to the shot that makes you dread him getting to the top. Agonizing step after agonizing step, our panic rises and the suspense makes our hearts race: what is he going to find at the top of the stairs? I’d this just a ploy to make us nervous or will he meet his killer up there?

Then BANG, the door opens and out comesthe knife whizzing through the air. At this point the audience is horrified; it was the killer after all. Arbogast falls backwards down the stairs. And while that sounds like the next natural scene, the way in which he falls is so unrealistic we can’t help but be broken from our trance. Falling has been filmed hundredsof times, and always so naturally we can’t tell the actors aren’t really in any danger. But here it is so visibly fake: arms wind-milling, body completely in
frame, mouth gaping like a fish. For that brief scene you’re not in the movie
anymore, you’re watching a stunt. Then in the next instant you’re back in the
movie, with Arbogast flopping at the bottom of the stairs in a fashion that
would make realistic stunt makers proud.

So why this break in momentum? Hitchcock may have been odd, but he was an expert. He wasn’t trying to fool the audience into believing this scene. Therefore I think the reason behind his choice was more about the overall effect of the movie. It was more than just a killer, it was about people and how they act. That sometimes appearances can be deceiving, and people can have much more to them then you originally think.

For instance, throughout the whole movie I thought maybe even though Bates was a creepy character, maybe it was someone else who had killed her. After all he almost throws up when he finds her body. But then it’s discovered in the end I was only right by half. It was his body that killed her but not his mind. When I saw the mother come and kill the detective my thought was that it was her all along
and she was evil and deranged. And again I was only half right: her “mind”
killed him but not her body.

Hitchcock uses his materiality to show these
points; that sometimes even when it’s a cliché it’s really not. He wants us to
use our minds in a different way and to delve into problems more deeply,
because there’s often more under the surface. I think he also wanted to show a
lot of our psychology, about the thoughts we can have based on our childhood
and experiences with the opposite sex, and also how some people can be
completely deranged but not appear so.

Hitchcock was only one person who used materiality in his films. It’s been done many times to make us think of something more, of the big picture: What is film but film? Slides of pictures that can be sped up, and altered, and manipulated in many ways. Many times we get lost in the stories movies are telling and forget altogether that they’re not real, they are just moving pictures of things, and what we should be
concentrating on is the reasons why these movies are made. Hitchcock was just
one of the many directors trying to get us to expand our minds, and use an
amazing film to do so.

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