Every man's ready to get married when the right girl comes along

Every man’s ready to get married when the right girl comes along

 

This week, I finally picked up a book that I bought myself more than a year ago: “Hitchcock” by Francois Truffaut. To say it’s a fascinating read is understating things (I’ve read over two hundred pages in two days).

Hitchcock’s films are a study in intricacy – nothing is left to chance – but yet there’s one quote on the page I just left off that cuts to the core of Hitch’s work:

“Nothing amuses me so much as understatement”

Take REAR WINDOW.

Were this film made by anyone else, a lot of what is there in the text would likely be played a lot nastier. We wouldn’t get caught up in the mystery, or be hoping that no harm comes to the nosey parkers in the middle of it. Instead, we would get creeped out, feel violated, and want to pull our shades a little lower. However, Hitchcock finds a way to tap into the curious cat in all of us. He makes us sympathize with James Stewart’s cooped up L.B. Jefferies, and makes us fret when Grace Kelly is in peril. And so with a deft hand and an attention to detail, we ignore the Peeping Tom stripes running through REAR WINDOW, and allow ourselves to get caught up in the mystery.

So when it comes to giving the game away, should we be surprised that Hitchcock likewise reaches for that sense of understatement?

It’s the simplest gesture, one designed to be a signal between two nosy neighbours across many yards, and one that hinges upon a tiny-yet-key piece of evidence. Lisa’s gesture behind her back is subtle enough that she can get away with it in a room full of strangers…but clear enough that Jeff can see it across the courtyard. Unravelling the plot could have taken pages of dialogue…dozens of shots…and two or three sets. However, with an eye for understatement, Hitchcock manages to tip the scales with one simple gesture.

Whats more, he finds a gesture elegant enough to pull off in front of a lot of people, but distinct enough to give the game away to the suspected killer. What’s more, the gesture also references something that Jeff and Lisa had mentioned more than once. So what we see as a signal and a catalyst is also a callback and a wink. It’s what propels the conclusion of this film and embodies what makes it work.

One shot. One gesture. Understatement.

Sometimes I wonder if most of us are capable of such understatement. If we can’t express our ideas wordlessly to the people who know us well without the aid of a text message. Maybe that’s why movies are getting longer and we’re asking for more and more details to be spelled out. We have a need to overstate things.

Pity more films can’t be more succinct…but then, that’s probably what made Hitch such a master.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another hundred and sixty pages to read.

 

 

Here’s three more from REAR WINDOW for the road…

 

rear window newlyweds

rear window note

rear window raymond burr

This series of posts is inspired by the “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series at The Film Experience. Do check out all of the awesome entires in their series so far