What you are about to read is an article of extraordinary circumstances (note: imagine old round man talking into camera). This is an article about two directors separated by decades whom seemingly have nothing in common. Today, you will be convinced that director Alfred Hitchcock and director Quentin Tarantino’s movies are of like minds.
Excuse me, enough of the cheesy introduction to this ordinary article. Over the past week I read and/or watched multiple Alfred Hitchcock movies including: Psycho (1960), Rear Window (1954), The Birds (1963), and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). I was also able to begin the week before classes resumed with Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (2009).
At first glance these two directors have nothing in common. For example(s), Tarantino writes and directs his films; Hitchcock does not write. In fact, Hitchcock puts little to no emphasis on dialogue. He once said, “Dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms.”
Tarantino feels differently about dialogue – he was quoted saying, “I was kinda excited about going to jail the first time and I learnt some great dialogue.”
Another difference between the directors is their treatment of crew and actors. In a recent article by American Cinematographer, the author writes about a Tarantino tradition of popping champagne for every crew member after 100 cans of exposed film.
Hitchcock, on the other hand called actors cattle, and you don’t give champagne to cattle. Before I over-expose all the differences between them, I should probably tell you everything that makes these two directors very similar.
How Tarantino and Hitchcock Were Very Similar Indeed
First, let’s start with the basics. Both directors love making cameos in their movies. While Hitchcock cameos are more like a “Where’s Waldo” children’s book, at least we can agree they have this in common. (For a list of 37 Hitchcock Cameos).
2. Getting the perfect shot
Second is how both directors put a large emphasis on shot selection. Both directors used the camera to tell the audience how they should feel about a particular situation. With Hitchcock it usually meant you see what the actor sees, which in return makes you feel as the character feels.
An example would be in Rear Window (1954) — the whole movie is shot from the perspective of one man looking out a window. If you haven’t seen or heard about the movie, you are just as curious, confused, and frustrated as the main character, photographer L.B. Jefferies (Jimmy Stewart), when he ‘witnesses’ a murder.
Tarantino’s shots often times remind us that we are watching a movie as an audience member. He doesn’t jump cut, but rather keeps the camera rolling. In Reservoir Dogs (1992), characters Mr. White and Mr. Pink are discussing what they should do after a failed robbery. They are located down and around the corner in a warehouse bathroom. Here is the description from Tarantino’s script of the movement of the camera.
“The camera creeps along a wall, coming to a corner. We move past it, and see down a hall.
INT. BATHROOM HALLWAY –DAY
At the end of the hall is a bathroom. The bathroom door is partially closed, restricting our view. Mr. Pink is obscured, but Mr. White is in view.”
All this gives us the feeling that we are peeking around a corner, observing what we can from our seats with a tub of popcorn in hand.
Another reason Hitchcock and Tarantino are similar is their use of music. Tarantino never has a normal song in his movies. By normal I mean something you might hear on the radio or at a trendy bar. Whether or not the directors hand-select their music I don’t know, but I do know that eerie, high-pitched ringing sound from Norman Bates’ thrashing knife in Psycho, is very similar to the music in Kill Bill, when Black Mamba (Uma Thurman) sees a new villain from her hit list.
4. Shock and awe
Finally, the reason I believe Hitchcock and Tarantino are similar directors is their ability to shock audiences during their time. Are you ever on edge when you see a Tarantino movie, simply because you’re not sure when a very realistic version of someone’s head being cut off, scalped, maimed etc. is just around the corner? Many audience members around me, including myself, were uncomfortable in our seats watching Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) carve his “best work yet” on the forehead of a Nazi officer during Inglorious Basterds. What Tarantino does visually to an audience to make them squirm, Hitchcock does psychologically.
My professor once said Hitchcock puts ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. I think his movies shocked audiences because they could relate to the characters. I can’t tell you how many times I read in a script Hitchcock directed, which said something like, “Oh what would our neighbors think,” or “We must be crazy for talking about murder, of all things.” Hitchcock’s movies dealt with taboo things for their time period. The subject matter had the ability to shock the audience without cutting anyone’s head off, other than Psycho that is.
Here is Hitchcock talking movies: