It’s pretty difficult to put into perspective the amazing impact that Alfred Hitchcock had on the art of filmmaking. His contributions to nearly every aspect of the cinema are legendary. For this unit, however, we will focus mainly on his approach to a few technical aspects of film, and several literary techniques for which he was quite famous.
Here are the six literary terms we will closely examine in the context of these two films and their definitions (courtesy of the Gale Cengage Web site):
• Symbols: Something that suggests or stands for something else without losing its original identity. Symbols combine their literal meaning with the suggestion of an abstract concept.
• Motif: A theme, character type, image, metaphor or other element that recurs throughout a work of literature, or occurs in a number of different works over time.
• Tone: The author’s attitude toward the subject matter and audience.
• Mood: The prevailing emotions of a work or of the author in the creation of the work.
• Foreshadowing: A technique used to create expectation or to set up an explanation of later developments in a story.
• MacGuffin: A central plot element that catches the viewer’s attention or may actually drive the plot, and it’s generally something that every character is concerned with. You could think of it as the topic. However, while it’s often something that the story appears to be built around, it actually has no relevance to the essence or true theme of the film. Hitchcock is largely credited with perfecting this technique, although there is evidence of it in literature and film that predates his efforts. An excellent example of a modern MacGuffin would be the diamond in James Cameron’s “Titanic” – in fact, you may have forgotten that the search for the “Heart of the Ocean” diamond was what propelled us into the story in the first place.
Here are the two assignment sheets. The “North by Northwest” assignment may be done in a two-person partnership or on your own.
• North By Northwest Assignment.pdf
• Rear Window Assignment.pdf
“North by Northwest” Web resources:
• IMDB: North by Northwest
• Variety’s review
• The genesis of George Kaplan/Roger Thornhill
• Analysis of “North by Northwest”
“Rear Window” Web resources:
• IMDB: Rear Window
• Roger Ebert’s review
• The story behind the story of “Rear Window”
• List of some of the music in the film
And for real film aficionados…
• Some notes on “Rear Window”
• “Rear Window” script
• Want to see a modern update of the film? Watch “Disturbia”
• This film is referenced and alluded to in dozens of other films. Check it out…