A brief portrait of cinema’s most iconic silhouette, Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980).
The director’s work has the rare privilege of being equally acclaimed by critics and popular audiences. As such, Hitchcock’s films have become part of the collective imagination, and “Hitchcockian” is a common idiom used to describe films that parrot his signature style. With such vast influence, Wood (Emeritus, Comparative Literature/Princeton Univ.; Film: A Very Short Introduction, 2012, etc.) offers an entry-level study of the famed auteur, unpacking the ways in which Hitchcock “can change the way we see.” Besides showing off his talent for close reading as he dissects scenes from Hitchcock’s classic films and personal life, Wood also provides vital contextualization to the films he analyzes, such as his “British” films and those with political overtones made during wartime. What is most remarkable about Hitchcock’s films is his insistence on chance meetings, serendipity and mistaken identity. For Hitchcock, who was famously distrustful of authority, the ordered world, and its reliance on reason, was misleading. He found more truth in happenstance, in which the impossible was made ordinary, and he crafted a world in which the improbable was not only accepted by viewers, but expected. Wood gives special attention to Hitchcock’s most famous films, like Vertigo and North by Northwest, but the author also analyzes many of the early, less-recognized films. For all his celebrated artistic sensibility, Wood is clever to point out that Hitchcock was always dependent on the help of others, most importantly his wife, Alma, whom he outwardly relied on for artistic council—and without whom he may not have been so prolific or revered.
The breadth of Hitchcock’s career and personal life defies easy summation, but Wood’s quickly paced, informative biography is a welcome primer for anyone interested in learning more about one of film’s most important figures.