The Pure Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock

A look at the Master’s most masterful skill.

When filmmakers and other folks in the know make mention of “pure cinema,” they are referring to films that rely heavily on their imagery for storytelling. Cinema is, after all, a visual medium, not just a place for dialogue to come alive, and as such to distinguish itself from other storytelling media cinema must take advantage of its particular facets. This might seem obvious, but scan the list of films released, say, last year, and you’ll come across far more that feel like they’re just trying to bring the script page to life than you will films that seek to create their own language with their unspoken aesthetic.

Alfred Hitchcock was perhaps the most significant purveyor of pure cinema in his time, he was a filmmaker that infiltrated your senses and emotions more often on a visual level than a written one. Take, for example, Psycho: try to quote three lines from the film. Go on, try. I bet you came up with “A boy’s best friend is his mother,” “We all go a little mad sometimes,” and then you were stymied. Now try to name three striking visual images or sequences in the film. There’s the close-up of Norman’s eye peering through the peephole, the house in silhouette on the hill, the mummified corpse of Mrs. Bates in the basement, and all that’s before even getting to the most famous, purely cinematic sequence of the entire film – the shower scene.

We consider Hitchcock a master of many things – suspense, terror, directing, storytelling – but they all sit under the same umbrella of his mastery of pure cinema, something explored in erudite depth by Luiza Liz in her latest video essay for her own Art Regard YouTube channel. Liz looks across Hitch’s entire filmography in this incredibly insightful and far-reaching work that is unquestionably the essayist’s best to date.

There’s never really been anyone in film who has blended art with commercial success the way Hitchcock did, and this video should become your go-to for understanding just how he walked this tightrope film after film. Highest recommendation.

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