Born in August 1899 above the family’s high-street shop in the London suburb of Leytonstone, Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was the youngest of the three children of Emma and William Hitchcock.
Biographer: The father seems to have been in certain respects a fairly strict 1)disciplinarian, but his mother seems to have been the tougher of…of the two parents. He…he remained in 2)awe of her throughout her life.
Pat Hitchcock (Daughter): My grandmother, my father’s mother, Emma, was a wonderful character, I mean, absolutely! She was very forceful. You can imagine a…a young person would be scared of her, you know, her son, because she, you know, she made them 3)toe the line.
Alexander Walker (Film Critic): Once I said to him, “In your films, mothers have a very bad time, or mother figures have, haven’t they? Does this tie up with anything in your own childhood?” And do you know, the old man’s eyes – he was then in his sixties – began almost to water. Whether with 4)malevolence, or with grief, or sadness, I don’t know, but he didn’t welcome the question.
A Childhood Incident
But perhaps the biggest influence on the future filmmaker was an incident that became an essential part of the Hitchcock legend.
Hitchcock: At a very tender age, I was frightened by a policeman. I don’t remember now what it was I’d done, but my father sent me along to the police station with a note. He locked me in a cell for five minutes and finally said, “That’s what we do to naughty boys.”
Walker: I do believe that story. Hitchcock frequently told it – told it until we were sick of hearing it. But I do think that it is exactly the explanation of many of the fears in his films. The fear not necessarily of being physically locked up, but the fear suddenly of finding yourself in a situation you can’t control.
Reporter: What are you afraid of, Mr. Hitchcock?
Hitchcock: Oh, I’m afraid of policemen, the wrong side of the law, trouble, authority 5)descending upon me, putting its heavy hand on my shoulder and making my stomach turn over with fear.
Lessons of Different Cinemas
In 1925 he received the education of a lifetime, when he was sent to work on an 6)Anglo-
German co-production at the UFA Studios in Berlin.
UFA, the world’s largest studio, was the home of German expressionist cinema. Watching the likes of Murnau and Lang注 at work, Hitchcock learned much about the power of the director.
And there were other lessons, too.
Film Historian: He learned so much about the use of shadow, the use of camera angles that were 7)unconventional, off-centre framing, shots from above, shots from below… Those kind[s] of things were 8)part and parcel of the style of German expressionism, and I think Hitchcock adapted those very neatly into his cinematic grammar.
German expressionism may have 9)exerted a stylistic influence on Hitchcock, but the lessons of
Soviet cinema went deeper. Soviet filmmakers showed Hitchcock that meaning in a film could be 10)conveyed by the 11)dynamic 12)juxtaposition of images – a technique known as “montage.” In a montage sequence, acting becomes a matter of stylized gestures and expressions, which become significant only when placed alongside other images. It was a principle that Hitchcock would apply throughout his career to the 13)dismay of many of his actors.
Hitchcock: The 14)medium of pure cinema is what I believe in. The…the 15)assembly of pieces of film to create 16)fright is the essential part of my job.