The Eyes of Hitchcock: A Mesmerizing Video Essay on the Expressive Power of Eyes in Hitchcock’s Films

Kogonada has made a career of producing elegantly conceived video essays that dissect the stylistic eccentricities of cinema’s greatest formalists. In one video, he neatly illustrated Wes Anderson’s love of symmetrical compositions. In another, he observed how frequently Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu, a director with more stylistic quirks than just about anyone else, populated his movies with shots of corridors and doorways. And, in perhaps his best, Kogonada shows just how often Stanley Kubrick relies on one-point perspective. Kogonada’s latest video, called The Eyes of Hitchcock, explores how the director used facial expressions to convey suspense and fear. You can watch it above.

Alfred Hitchcock once said, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” This is a guy who directed the greatest slasher scene in movie history – the shower scene in Psycho — but famously never showed Norman Bates’s knife actually stabbing his victim, Marion Crane. The horror of the scene was conveyed through actress Janet Leigh’s shocked expression. Though directors have always understood the power of the face, Hitchcock consistently used facial expressions to carry a movie’s suspense. A person’s face relates primal emotions much more efficiently than shots just of knives, guns or explosions. (Michael Bay, take note.)

For this video, Kogonada strings together expressions from Hitchcock’s vast oeuvre, from Jimmy Stewart’s wild-eyed baby blues waking up from a nightmare in Vertigo, to Ingrid Bergman’s tearful, anxious look in Notorious, to Norman Bates’s bat shit crazy death stare in Psycho. Hitch tended to frame these moments in extreme close up with the eyes right in the middle of the frame. Kogonada rolls back and forth on a couple frames of these moments, giving the video an otherworldly shimmer, timed perfectly with the music. It’s completely mesmerizing.

If you have a hankering to watch complete movies by the master, check out Open Culture’s list of 23 Hitchcock Films. You can watch them right now, online, for free.

Related Content:

Alfred Hitchcock’s Seven-Minute Editing Master Class

Listen to François Truffaut’s Big, 12-Hour Interview with Alfred Hitchcock (1962)

The Perfect Symmetry of Wes Anderson’s Movies

Signature Shots from the Films of Stanley Kubrick: One-Point Perspective

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring one new drawing of a vice president with an octopus on his head daily.  The Veeptopus store is here.

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  • Michael says:

    I think the key element is not so much that the eyes are in the middle of the frame (although you’re right that they are), but that they are all looking either directly at the camera, or at something just beside or beyond it. So, in line with what Hitch said about terror, the audience is torn between the burning curiosity to see what is not shown, and the fear that it would be a terrible thing to see. (Or in the case of the eyes directed at the camera: we are morbidly curious to know WHY this nutcase is looking straight at us). A bit like Kierkegaardian angst: it is not so much that we fear falling off the cliff, but we are torn by the choice between jumping towards oblivion, and the darkness of never knowing what it would be like to jump, the darkness of living with a permanently unsatisfied curiosity. Pain can, with enough determination, be shut out from the conscious mind; difficult choices cannot, and will leave us in a heightened state of anxiety until we make a decision. To me, the stress of choice is a far greater source of fear than the thought of physical pain.

  • kiptw says:

    The yo-yoing takes me right out of the mood.

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