Watch a video essay examining how Alfred Hitchcock set up a motif.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a critic who does not count Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious among the director’s best works. Francois Truffaut called it his favorite black-and-white Hitchcock film, saying that it is “the very quintessence of Hitchcock.”

Notorious begins in a courtroom, where a judge finds the father of Ingrid Bergman’s character, Alicia, guilty of treason for being Nazi spy. His conviction is the reason Alicia decides to marry a Nazi sympathizer and share his secrets with the US government.

In a video essay originally published in Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, John Gibbs and Douglas Pye dissect this opening scene and its relationship to the rest of the film. They begin with a mostly unknown fact: Hitchcock substantially altered the sequence in reshoots during the first week of post-production.

Their essay asks a simple question: why?

Gibbs and Pye say the change is Hitchcock’s way of  better introducing many of the films motifs, character arcs, and “ways of seeing.” The opening sequence concerns various parties — the judge, journalists, American spies, and we the viewer — and the way in which all see Alicia. The judge sees her as the daughter of a guilty man. The journalists she her as the day’s news. The spies see her as a potential asset. And through a close-up Hitchcock uses to introduce her to us, the audience sees a woman in distress. We immediately sympathize and identify with her.

I won’t go into any more detail. This essay, using the moving images Hitchcock so meticulously crafted, delivers an argument about a masterpiece that words will never be able to truly capture. Watch it for yourself below.

 

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