Musings on Culture

Alejandra de Leiva's Blog

Category : Film History

Hitchcock analysing the famous crop dusting scene in “North by Northwest” and other cinephile’s delights

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that one of my favourite film directors is Alfred Hitchcock. Today I’m bringing to you several gems to get an insight into Hitchcock’s filmmaking decisions.

One of the most brilliant sequences in film history is the one from North by Northwest where Cary Grant is being chased through a cornfield by a crop dusting plane. In THIS 6 min VIDEO, Hitch analyses how he built up suspense in the sequence. Furthermore, following THIS LINK you will find a reconstructed storyboard of the sequence from LaValley’s book Focus on Hitchcock.

North By Northwest Crop Dusting Scene

North by Northwest

Editing has an important role in creation of suspense. In some of his films, Hitch uses a heavy edited style (the famous shower scene in Psycho, for instance, runs 3 minutes and includes 50 cuts), whereas in other movies he tries to hide the cuts. Rope, a movie that is often described as a “one-shot film” seems at first sight a film with no editing, but it actually contains ten “hidden” cuts. In THIS VIDEO editor Vashi Nedomansky has isolated all ten cuts.

Psycho shower scene


Rope shot sequences

A representation in LOOK magazine of the shot sequences in “Rope”

is an excerpt from an interview with Hitchcok in which the director explains his conceptualization of editing and breaks down the structure of Psycho‘s shower scene. An absolute watch.

Previous posts on Hitchcock:

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What is Neorealism? Considerations after the two cuts of the same film

Terminal Station PosterIndiscretion of an American Wife

Anonymous video essayist Kogonada has created a compelling video for Sight & Sound magazine that compares the two cuts of the same film, Terminal Station (1953), an international co-production between Italian director Vittorio De Sica, seminal figure of the Neorealist movement, and David O.Selznick, producer of Hollywood Golden Age classics like Gone with the Wind (1939) and Rebecca (1940).

Terminal Station tells the story of the love affair between Mary, a married American woman (played by Jennifer Jones), and Giovanni, an Italian man (interpreted by Montgomery Clift). The film examines the woman’s guilty feelings for having cheated on her husband and her temptation to leave her old life behind and start anew with her lover. Almost all the film takes place in Rome’s Terminal Station, where the woman has to board a train for Paris and from there fly back to the U.S. But before deciding whether she will catch the train, Mary meets Giovanni at the station. Will she catch the train? (I don’t want to spoil the end here!).

De Sica depicted the lovers’ story against the backdrop of the characters populating the train station, trying to blend Italian Neorealism with Hollywood melodrama to create a greater sense of realism and a believable character study of the protagonists. Neorealist films were distinguished by being shot on location using non-professional actors and unadorned camera techniques. Neorealism had emerged in post-war Italy to reflect, and reflect on, reality, portraying the life of average citizens.

Selznick didn’t like De Sica’s naturalistic approach and he therefore decided to cut 30 minutes of original footage, tooking out subplots to focus on the love story, adding close-up “glamour shots” and a musical prologue. The original release of the film, Terminal Station, ran 89 minutes.  Selznick’s cut was released with the title Indiscretion of an American Wife and ran 63 minutes. De Sica asked that his name be removed from the credits.

In 2003, both films were compiled in a DVD (Indiscretion of an American Wife / Terminal Station (The Criterion Collection)).

In his video-essay, Kogonada compares De Sica’s and Selznick’s versions to explore how the same footage can be manipulated to very different effects, revealing different approachs to moviemaking. You can watch the video HERE.

 Every cut is a form of judgment, whether it takes place on the set or in the editing room. To examine the cuts of a filmmaker is to uncover an approach to cinema.

Complement the video with Dave Kehr’s comparative analysis of Indiscretion of an American Wife & Terminal Station and this critical essay on Italian Neorealism.

For more work by Kogonada, visit his Vimeo channel and follow him on Twitter @kogonada.


A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Casting of The Godfather

If you, like me, adore Coppola’s The Godfather, you ought to see this behind-the-scenes look at the casting of the film.

Found via @openculture.



More on Hitch

At this year’s Berlinale, the British Film Festival (BFI) has revealed further details about the restoration of Hitchcock’s silent fims. Further information on ScreenDaily’s article HERE (February 13).

I would also like to recommend you THIS INTERVIEW, where Hitch talks at length about exploiting the audience’ fears.


Hitchcock’s early films

A while ago I wrote about the Hitchcock and Truffaut Tapes. Today I recommend you this website I discovered the other day with links to early Hitchcock’s films: worth taking a look!


“How film is made”

Nowadays that almost everything is digital, let’s watch this 1958 documentary to understand the origins of photographic and cinematic film…

“How film is made”


Documentary about Eadweard Muybridge (2)

Yesterday I watched the BBC documentary about Muybridge I told you about on my previous post. It was very interesting, a good complement to the Tate exhibition. You can now watch it on BBC iPlayer HERE.

Available until 11:34pm Tue, 28 Dec 2010

Duration: 60 minutes

Man walking

UPDATE (May 2013): The documentary is no longer available on BBC iPlayer, but you can now watch it on Youtube here.

Through Ciné-ressources, the catalogue of film archives and film libraries in France, I have found several digitised books written by Muybridge that are worth taken a look at:


Documentary about Eadweard Muybridge

Did anyone of you had the opportunity to visit the magnificent Muybridge exhibition at Tate Britain?

Muybridge’s innovative work in capturing motion through a series of photographs was a milestone on the road to motion pictures. In fact, he is often called the Father of the Motion Picture.

Tonight there’s a documentary on the BBC about his life and achievements.

10.35pm Tuesday 30 November on BBC ONE: Imagine – The Weird World Of Eadweard Muybridge


First Spanish sound film dating from 1923!

The popular perception is that the history of sound cinema begins with Warner Brother’s The Jazz Singer (1927). Nevertheless, efforts to synchronize recorded sound and film began much earlier (see, for instance, the Dickson Experimental Sound Film). What The Jazz Singer actually represents is the beginning of commercial acceptance of transition to sound films.

The Spanish newspaper El País informed yesterday that the first Spanish sound film (dating from 1923!) has been discovered at the Library of Congress. It is a 11min musical film in Spanish and Portuguese titled “From Far Seville”, directed by Lee de Forest in his Phonofilm sound-on-film process, and protagonized by Spanish dancer and singer Concha Piquer. It was shown at the Rivoli Theater in New York City on April 15, 1923, with 17 other short films.

HERE is a fragment of the documentary made about the discovery.

Read the article from El País HERE (in Spanish).

2004 interview with editor Walter Murch in which he discusses what is provisionally known by archivists as the Dickson Experimental Sound Film