Every week on My Favorite Slice, a Movie Trivia Schmoedown competitor shares their favorite category on the wheel! This week’s guest is Brendan Meyer, Singles competitor, breakout player of Free For All 3, and co-star of The Guest and The OA!
Before I start, I should mention that I did actually get the only Hitchcock question I faced in the recent Free 4 All wrong. (Much to the surprise of my friends and family in the crowd). Looking back, it’s one of the biggest moments in the match where my brain just stopped working. Probably because I expected to know it right away, I struggled to just calm down and see if I could find it in my head as I did with some correct answers in other categories I didn’t feel as strong in. Regardless, still a big fan of the slice and would be excited to get it in a match!
It did take me a minute to decide on my choice for my favourite slice. One of my favourites, Oscar Movies, had already been written about by Schmoedown legend Rachel Cushing (who did an excellent job). I thought about just “Directors” but that category felt a little too general to write about. So, I started to think about specific directors who have slices on the wheel whose filmographies are exciting to me and interesting to write about. Hitchcock wound up standing out the most, largely because of the personal connection that I have to him. Looking at all the directors I could choose, I realized that Hitchcock has been one of my favourites going right back to when I first became obsessed with movies. He’s been a part of my movie fandom consistently from the very start, right up until now in a way most other filmmakers haven’t.
While I’ve always loved movies, and have wanted to be an actor since literally before I can remember, I’d say I only started to make movie watching my major hobby and started putting time and energy into finding all the most iconic and respected films was when I was around 13. That, of course, includes reading about the big directors and seeing all of their films. Psycho was in the first wave of great films I watched. After all, the shower scene is one of the most iconic scenes in all of cinema, one that even if you’re not a movie lover, you know. And I believe it was Psycho that was my first experience with The Master Of Suspense. It may have been Rear Window but either way they were the first two and I’ll start with them.
So, of course, going into Psycho, I knew that Marion Crane would be stabbed to death in the shower. (What a wonderful thing it would be to watch the movie not knowing that at all but it may actually be impossible with how burned into our culture that moment is.) But, what did totally surprise me in my first ever watch was that she dies barely halfway into the film. The whole first part of Psycho is seen entirely from Marion’s perspective. She’s the star! She’s in every scene. We meet every other character through her and, as an audience, we totally identify with her. So, I guess I was lulled into the assumption that we would see the events at The Bates Motel through her eyes and that the film would probably end with her death or at the very least, it would come near the end. It really did surprise me when she died so soon.
It’s a bold and audacious twist even by today’s standards. Try to think of the last time a movie devoted that big a chunk of its start all to one character only to kill him or her with so much time left in the movie. There are a few but not many films have even attempted it in the almost 60 years since Psycho.
Which brings me to the main thing that excited me about Hitchcock when I started thinking about choosing it for this article. Most of his classic films are major and unique swings from a filmmaking and storytelling perspective even in today’s cinema. Just look at Rear Window. The entirety of the film is confined to the inside of one apartment or looking out of the window into other windows. It never breaks that formula once. Most of the key subplots and major story sequences play out nearly silently just observing through the window.
When you go back and watch it, you realize just how much it goes against the conventions and rules that we think a traditional thriller film needs to follow to stay “exciting.” The same can be said of The Birds. Imagine going into a major studio now and pitching that the next great thriller film will be about large packs of scary birds. And that one of the most terrifying shots will just be a bunch of birds sitting on a jungle gym. Yeah, I can’t imagine you’ll be walking out of that meeting with a bunch of studio money. But, Hitchcock makes it work to brilliant effect.
He also experimented with filmmaking itself. Rope is a fun one to go back and watch. He attempts to make as much of it as was possible at that time appear like one long take. The only obvious cuts come in the moments when the projectionist had to change the reels. He hid other cuts by moving the camera into people’s backs and back out again or moving behind a piece of furniture. While Birdman famously pulled this effect off a few years ago, Hitchcock was trying it back in 1948 and it’s thrilling to watch how he stages sequences in a way that would still be fresh today.
He also shot Dial M for Murder in 3D. Although it largely played in 2D when it was released, as audiences at that time complained about the 3D format and it was hurting the box office. If he could have only seen the 3D resurgence that took place after Avatar! He was pushing and experimenting with the form in a way that few filmmakers were at that time. It’s exciting to think about the things he would have done with all of today’s tools at his disposal.
One of the most recent films I saw of Hitchock’s that I loved was Rebecca, his only film to win the Best Picture Oscar. I saw it for the first time in 2017 at The New Beverly Cinema in LA. However, one of their projectors was having issues that day and so the film would completely stop for a little bit every 20 minutes while they changed the reel over. It wasn’t the ideal way to watch but it actually led to a really fun moment.
Somewhere in the middle of the actual film, after the reel had stopped several times and all of us in the theatre were used to it, there was a scene where Laurence Olivier was showing Rebecca (played by Joan Fontaine) a small film projection in their home. And then, in the actual film, his film projector breaks and goes to black. Olivier exclaims something like “Damn thing never works” and at literally this exact moment the film went to black in our theatre signifying the end of the reel. The whole theatre burst into laughter and applause. You can’t help but wonder if this is some kind of decades old in-joke by Hitchcock or one of his editors that audiences were never supposed to know about.
So, in conclusion, I’ll always appreciate how Hitchcock has managed to create films and moments that have meant a lot to me all the way from my early teens to now. And I even still have a few more of his films to go! (Better start watching them so as not to look like more of a fool if I get Hitchcock in a match one day!)
Here are my top ten favourites, loosely ranked:
1. Rear Window (1954)
2. Psycho (1960)
3. Strangers On A Train (1951)
4. North By Northwest (1959)
5. Vertigo (1958)
6. Rebecca (1940)
7. The Birds (1963)
8. Rope (1948)
9. Dial M For Murder (1954)
10. Shadow Of A Doubt (1943)