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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