Musings on Culture

Alejandra de Leiva's Blog

Category : Storytelling

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.


More on “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”

I posted a while ago about Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), where Campbell explores the theory that all stories are expressions of the same fundamental structure, which he named “the Hero’s Journey”, or the “monomyth”, and describes the stages along this journey.

I’ve found a beautiful TED animation that introduces Campbell’s work:


Also, here you can watch excerpts from The Power of Myth, a six one-hour conversations between Campbell and journalist Bill Moyers, broadcast on PBS in 1988.


Taller literario: el cuento

He impartido recientemente un taller literario en una escuela concertada de secundaria en Barcelona. He quedado muy satisfecha con la experiencia, sobre todo porque ha sido mi primera experiencia docente y los alumnos han respondido muy bien, mostrando mucho interés por la materia. Espero impaciente leer los cuentos escritos que me tienen que entregar mis alumnos después de Navidad, para comprobar hasta qué punto han interiorizado los conceptos trabajados.

Cuelgo el Power Point que elaboré para las clases por si le es útil a alguien interesado en la historia del cuento y la narratología.

Taller literario_El cuento




Interview: Christopher Vogler

I wrote on a past post about Joseph Campbell, ”The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, and Christopher Vogler. I have found today this interesting interview with Vogler. Click HERE to read the full interview.


A practical guide to “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell

I am currently reading”The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, by Joseph Campbell. I had already read at uni other studies in comparative mythology and folk tales that I strongly recommend, such as “The Golden Bough”, by Scottish anthropologist Sir James G.Frazer, “Morphology of the Folktale” by Russian professor Vladimir Propp, and “La semilla inmortal: los argumentos inmortales en el cine”, by Xavier Pérez and Jordi Balló (the latter is the director of the Master Program in Creative Documentary-Pompeu Fabra University I did in Barcelona), and found the subject fascinating, and very useful to anybody interested in cinema or any other form of storytelling.

Campbell explores the theory that all stories are expressions of the same fundamental structure, which he named “the Hero’s Journey”, or the “monomyth”, and describes the stages along this journey.

I haven’t finished the book yet, but was very pleased to read this morning on Raindance newsletter a post about “the Hero’s Journey”, written by Christopher Vogler. Vogler is a Hollywood development executive best know for his guide for screenwriters, “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers”, based on Campbell’s book. He is giving a Writer’s Journey Master Class in September (11/12 Sept.2010).

Read Vogler’s practical guide to “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” HERE.


Joseph Campbell Foundation

Chris Vogler’s Writer’s Journey Blog


What are the three most important things in a great animated movie

David Martinez highlights in his blog a series of articles by Kevin Koch about What are the three most important things in a great animated movie”. Most of the points the author makes are also valid for live action. You can read the articles here:

  1. Story, story and story?
  2. Storytelling, storytelling, storytelling?
  3. My Final Answer to the Question

Thanks for the heads up, Dave!

By the way, I saw “Toy Story 3″ yesterday: I honestly think it’s one of the most heartbreaking animated movies I’ve ever seen!

When I was a kid I didn’t want to go see “The Lion King”, “Beauty and the Beast” or other Disney movies, because I thought I was “too grown-up for that stuff”. Only recently I have discovered that animated movies can show us the same truth and move us emotionally in the same way than live action movies do. Good films are about telling good stories with great characters, and telling them right, no matter the means used.