Question Bailey Art, Media & Literature

How did Alfred Hitchcock influence the Golden Age of Hollywood?

How did Alfred Hitchcock influence the Golden Age of Hollywood?

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The ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’ is a period usually agreed to fall between the 1920s and the 1960s. The main frame of reference for this era is the rise and fall of the ‘studio system’, whereby actors were contracted to individual studios and were only able to work on projects with the studio’s agreement. Hitchcock started making movies in the early 1920s, but did not begin to achieve mainstream success until over a decade later. Movies had previously been considered to be principally based upon the stars who featured in them. The studio system operated in a manner which meant starts often became ‘typecast’ and continually played versions of the same archetype – if they were successful in one incarnation of this role, the studios would continue to cast them in such roles. This system meant that the power over films resided with studio owners and producers, who were in almost complete control over the films produced. Hitchcock, on the other hand, disliked the studio system and famously branded actors as ‘cattle’. What the studios saw as a logical money-making decision, Hitchcock saw as being ‘complacent’, and he disapproved heartily of the seeing ‘the same recycled characters’ (Coffin, p. xi). For Hitchcock, actors were necessarily ‘secondary to the whole’ (Hitchcock cited in Coffin, 2014, p. ix), and accordingly, his films focused closely on stylistic elements such as mise-en-scene, innovative camera work and tightly-focused storytelling. He planned his movies meticulously and very rarely deviated from his original vision when shooting, which initially alienated producers as they did not have leeway to cut the finished film as they would have preferred (McGilligan, 2003). Ultimately, Hitchcock’s keen interest in revitalising the way actors performed and his focus on technical detail both led to significant and lasting changes in Hollywood.

References

Coffin, L. L. (2014). Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System. Plymouth: Rowman and Littlefield.

McGilligan, P. (2003). Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. New York: ReganBooks.