Very few filmmakers have had the lasting popularity and influence of Alfred Hitchcock. If you go see a summer thriller at your local megaplex, chances are you’ll see a cinematic device that Hitchcock either created or perfected during his storied career.
Louisville-area audiences have a chance this month to get a primer in the master’s craft, as Village 8 Theatres screens four of his most revered films during its Summer Hitchcock Festival. Hitchcock classics will screen twice each Sunday of the month, beginning July 8.
Village 8 General Manager Matthew Kohorst selected the films to be shown, he said, to give audiences a representation of Hitchcock’s work and, of course, to be popular with paying audiences. Kohorst is personally a big fan of “Rear Window” (1954), which opens the festival this Sunday.
He also gives his highest endorsement to “Vertigo” (1958) and “North by Northwest” (1959) — he’s not quite as enthusiastic about “Psycho” (1960), but how are you going to have a Hitchcock festival without “Psycho”?
All four films will be found near the top of any 10-greatest lists for Hitchcock, and most hail from his most prolific decade in Hollywood, when he churned out Technicolor classics virtually every year. In addition to the standards showing at Village 8 this month, Hitchcock helmed the lavish “Dial M for Murder,” “To Catch a Thief,” “The Trouble With Harry” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” in the 1950s.
His turn to low-budget, black-and-white techniques for “Psycho” in 1960 confirmed the increasing fixation on abnormal psychology that dominated much of Hitchcock’s later work, including the criminally underappreciated “Frenzy” (1972).
Kohorst said this month’s festival is an effort to add classic films to Village 8’s programming, which currently includes limited-release and independent films as well as second runs of big studio movies.
“We’re looking at ways to bring more and different kinds of movies to our audience,” he said.
Here’s a quick look at each of the four films screening this month in restored digital format. If you have not seen any them, take this chance to correct that oversight — all of them are exceptional and required viewing for any film lover.
Screening Sunday, July 8
Hitchcock so perfectly captured the sense of helpless, claustrophobic panic in “Rear Window” that the film has been knocked off countless times. But nothing comes close to the original.
A lot of the credit must go to writer Cornell Woolrich, who created the story’s flawless mechanics — a voyeur passes the time by leering at his neighbors, until he stumbles upon a murder.
Jimmy Stewart stars as the wheelchair-bound photographer who’s morally compromised from the start — he wasn’t looking to fight crime when he first pointed that telephoto at other people’s windows. And then he draws Grace Kelly, the perfect porcelain idolum of ’50s femininity, into the whole tawdry mess.
Stewart can see the danger, but he can’t act directly to stop it. And he can’t look away.
“Rear Window” is perhaps the most subversive of all Hitchcock’s films — “Shadow of a Doubt” (1943) openly takes a shot at the fallacy of American wholesomeness through its villain, but in “Rear Window,” the good guys like it a little dirty, too.
It’s overtly voyeuristic, a theme that kept surfacing in Hitchcock’s work (yes, Hitch was a perv in real life) and in later films such as David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” (1986). The theatrical set design of the neighboring apartment building where all action happens creates a sense of staged unreality — in many ways, “Rear Window” is Hitchcock’s commentary on the new media of television.
And Raymond Burr is super creepy as the heavy.
Screening Sunday, July 15
“Vertigo” received mixed reviews when it came out. It’s now listed as the best film ever made by the British Film Institute; it fared less well in the AFI’s 2007 list of top 100 American films, logging in at a measly No. 9.
Still, “Vertigo” remains one of Hitchcock’s most challenging films, and one that many fans are not as crazy about as the critics. It’s an extremely dark examination of identity, obsession and deceit. Jimmy Stewart coerces Kim Novak to transform herself into the spitting image of a dead woman he had a thing for. And he’s the “hero.” That level dark.
Stewart is perfect, as always, and Novak does not get the credit she deserves for her amazing performance, the best from any of the Hitchcock blondes. The legendary Edith Head broke new ground in how costume design can define characters.
If you’ve never seen “Vertigo,” be sure to check it out, but be prepared to leave the theater with your hopes for humanity dimmed a bit.
‘North by Northwest’
Screening Sunday, July 22
The genius of this, the greatest of “everyman” thrillers, is that lead Cary Grant is about as far as you can get from being an everyman. He’s friggin’ Cary Grant — he maintains his effortless charm even as he is drawn into a world of peril, espionage and forced binge drinking. Every plot twist makes perfect sense, and Hitchcock builds more tension with a single crop duster than modern directors can wring from a fleet of CGI stealth bombers.
And that’s the point. Less is more, particularly when the less is Cary Grant and James Mason having a suave-off. All the performances are immaculate. Hitchcock somehow makes you believe Martin Landau is physically intimidating. Eva Marie Saint is perfect as the girl in peril who’s not a helpless as she looks.
More so than any of Hitchcock’s other spy thrillers, “North by Northwest” appeals to modern audiences, primarily due to its constant humor. But unlike Marvel superhero blockbusters, the quips heighten the tension, instead of diffusing it. If you know a big fan of the “Mission Impossible” franchise, take them to this movie. They will thank you for it.
Screening Sunday, July 29
It’s hard for contemporary audiences to truly appreciate how far Hitchcock pushed conventional film boundaries with “Psycho.”
Today, we marvel at how he built tension with deft edits and very little actual violence. (Filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe devoted an entire documentary to the artistry of the infamous shower scene.)
In 1960, just showing Janet Leigh in her bra was way out there, not to mention raising gender identity issues with poor Norman Bates and (gasp) filming a flushing toilet.
The similarly edgy, voyeuristic “Peeping Tom,” also released in 1960, destroyed the career of respected UK director Michael Powell; perhaps only a filmmaker of Hitchcock’s mammoth stature could have gotten away with “Psycho.”
In many ways, it’s become Hitchcock’s most underappreciated film. “Psycho” introduced core tropes that were adopted by the Italian Giallos and then later American slashers (all due credit: so did “Peeping Tom,” which opened first).
But it’s so much more than its progeny would lead you to believe. Marion Crane is one of the most richly defined characters ever to appear in a thriller, and Hitchcock accomplished her entire arc in about 30 minutes. Masterful.
Screenings of each film in the festival are at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $3-$5. Village 8 is located at 4014 Dutchmans Lane in the Dupont Village.
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Also … Louisville Palace kicks off its Summer Film Series on Friday
Because we’re talking classic films, another classic film venue is hosting a Film Series this summer, this time focusing on the Warner Bros. cannon. The Louisville Palace’s Summer Film Series starts Friday, July 6, with “Casablanca” and promises big hitters like “Citizen Kane” and “Rebel Without a Cause.”
Showtime is 8 p.m. on each film, and tickets are $8.
The full schedule is below.
- “Casablanca” (1942) — Friday, July 6
- “The Maltese Falcon” (1941) — Saturday, July 7
- “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942) — Friday, July 13
- ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938) — Saturday, July 14
- “Citizen Kane” (1941) — Friday, July 20
- “White Heat” (1949) — Saturday, July 21
- “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955) — Friday, July 27
- “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951) — Saturday, July 28
- “Splendor in the Grass” (1961) — Friday, Aug. 3
- “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966) — Saturday, Aug. 4