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An In Depth Look at How Alfred Hitchcock Blocked a Scene

Back in 2012, the Sight & Sound poll, which gathers a list by critic for what the best 250 films of all time are, met with some surprise from the film community by announcing that Alfred Hitchcock‘s Vertigo had bested Orson WellesCitizen Kane as the best movie ever. The poll, which happens every ten years on years ending with a 2, had called Kane the best movie every decade from 1962 to 2002, but Hitchcock’s upstart became the victor the last time out. Is this right? Should a relatively weird narrative defeat the film everybody watches in film school? If you believe The Nerdwriter, then absolutely yes.

In his weekly series, the Nerdwriter delves into film and gets way specific, like a ten minute film school every Wednesday. This last week, he decided to dissect a scene from Vertigo that almost never gets singled out – a scene in which our soon-to-be-failed private eye hero (played gloriously by Jimmy Stewart) gets an assignment from his old friend, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), about following his wife. The scene, a five-minute conversation in a single location, has been blocked to perfectly showcase who is seemingly in the “driver’s seat” of the action and who’s just along for the ride, and Hitchcock does it so subtly, you probably never noticed it.

I love these in-depth looks at the anatomy of film because it’s things like this which prove how many levels a genius like Hitch has working on in something that ostensibly is just setting up the plot. If you pay attention to it the second time through, though, after knowing what’s actually being said, then it becomes all the more important why each character stands or sits where he does.

That Alfred Hitchcock…he was pretty good.

What’s your favorite Hitchcock movie? How about your favorite scene that’s really important in a movie but doesn’t seem like it is? Let us know in the comments below!

Image: Universal

Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Follow him on Twitter!

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