Alfred Hitchcock was a great visual artist; a supreme architect of anticipation. What’s more, he never believed in the ordinary. He held a magnetic, or hypnotic, charm. For him, evil on celluloid was an ‘easy-come and easy-go’ mix. A master of suspense, he celebrated intrigue. His hallmarks were uncomplicated, even thoughtful. To cull one ‘famed’ cinematic example — the sudden ‘shock-effect,’ or the ‘sneaking element’ of ominous peril beneath the surface of accustomed calm.
Hitchcock [1889-1980], a son of a poultry dealer and fruit importer in England, became fascinated with photography and started working in films as a card designer for Paramount Pictures. In 1920, he received a full-time position at Islington Studios, designing the titles for silent movies. Soon enough, he was promoted as the head of the title department. It was at this point that he began to work closely with scriptwriters and editors. Needless to say, his electrical enthusiasm was obvious in just about everything he did.
It did not take long for Hitchcock, who had done his bit as art director and screenwriter, to be promoted as director. His first assignment was an Anglo-German production, The Pleasure Garden  — an impressive debut endeavour. In 1929, Hitchcock produced Blackmail. The film had a handful of new innovations in the use of sound, including a plethora of dazzling special effects, emphasised by the usage of the Schufftan Process for the climactic chase sequence through the halls and over the roofs of the British Museum — a typical Hitchcockian insignia.
Hitchcock achieved international acclaim with The Man Who Knew Too Much , a taut suspense story about a British couple, trapped in an unexpected tangle, in Switzerland. His next production, The 39 Steps , took off from where his previous film had left. The latter was a stunning box-office success — an enchanting combination of hair-raising trepidation and amusing romantic or waggish relief that serves to elevate rather than reduce the tightness of the script.
With his career graph now on the ascendant, Hitchcock began to eye his prospects in Hollywood — thanks mainly to the technical superiority of American films over his homespun British movies. It was a gamble that worked. His first Hollywood film, Rebecca , a suspenseful psychological drama, bagged the Academy Award. Hitchcock was also nominated for an Oscar for the film as best director. As luck, or travesty of reality, would have it, Hitchcock was never destined to win cinema’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize in his success-studded, glorious career. It was Oscar’s loss; not Hitchcock’s.
Hitchcock was a meticulous cinematic sculptor, no less, who shaped the art of making movies in the anticipatory genre without social parameters — but, with his own personal motif, like no other. His genius was itself a rendition of being ‘one with suspense’ — of suspense being deliciously creepy. His evolution was actual conception, in thought and action — of perspectives taken into account from different variables. This was also his magic. His mesmeric movies have been as much an integral part of his genius as also the vast canvas of cinema itself. What made Hitchcock a legend was his innate ability to ‘engineer’ a chock-full of remarkable suspenseful movies one followed by the other — with computerised precision. Think of Psycho , or what you may, and you have them all — inimitable and ageless.
Hitchcock was Hitchcock. He was, quite simply, a director and film-maker nonpareil. His thematic range for suspenseful melodrama was insuperable, although some film historians argue that he might have not ‘purposefully’ impressed a host of high-minded critics, thanks to his lack of seriousness or basic interest in important collective issues. This is beside the point. Hitchcock was not aiming to play the role of a model public reformer. Nor was he so focused to make films with the ‘do-gooder,’ or ‘holy-be-my-good,’ format. It goes without saying that the world of movies, today, desperately needs more of his ‘gripping’ tribe — to elevate and bring more and more people into the ‘true-suspense’ art form.
Hitchcock was also, without an iota of doubt, one of the most gifted directors that ever worked in the film medium. He was a supreme technician, a wondrous stylist with an unmistakable personal imprint. More importantly, he was a great visual alchemist — a master of foreboding. He was a film-maker who was just ‘impossible.’ He was a painstaking director too, who had a great sense of timing. He was choosy in the language of absolutes. He planned and shot his films with grand design and comprehensive care. More importantly, he seldom deviated from his script and storyboard sketches once the cameras began to roll. In his own words, “Once the screenplay is finished, I'd just as soon not make the film at all... I have a strongly visual mind. I visualise a picture right down to the final cuts. I write all this out in the greatest detail in the script, and then I don't look at the script while I'm shooting. I know it off by heart, just as an orchestra conductor need not look at the score... When you finish the script, the film is perfect. But, in shooting it, you lose, perhaps, 40 per cent of your original conception.”
Hitchcock related acting as just another element of being. He’s not in awe with actors — small, big or famous. He often alienated them with a Hitchcockian sense of detachment. Sometimes, he even treated them as mechanical objects. But, he got away with it, thanks to his remarkable ability to manoeuvre the mind and emotion of his audience — from Miami to Mumbai. He held a magnetic, or spellbinding, charm on his fans, who continue to ‘throng’ his every film, even during TV re-runs, expecting and getting enlivening ‘zip’ and not just a frenzied potion of goose bumps. They anticipate only the best from Hitchcock, the Hitchcock they always knew — the rotund-faced and pot-bellied genius with his unparalleled capacity for wizardry, who was also endowed with a terrific sense of humour. To illustrate just one gem, "The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder."
Hitchcock’s grand achievement roll-call of outstanding films is endless. Let’s ‘freeze-frame’ a select sample — Rebecca  Saboteur , Shadow of a Doubt , Lifeboat , Spellbound , Notorious , North by Northwest  and Frenzy . Now, ‘fast-forward’ and go figure — the Hitchcockian way — for the suspense, beyond the borders of space and time, to expand and percolate to an entirely new generation of movie-goers. Forget the fact that they have been brought up on ‘techno-centric,’ glitzy cinematic ersatz. When they watch a Hitchcock classic, they will sure exclaim, “They don’t make films anymore.”
It sums up Hitchcock, the master craftsman, never before or after incarnate.