Villains Become Heroes: Separating Likeable and Loathsome Villains


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In films, we traditionally have characters that progress the narrative and help viewers analyse their features. Heroes are introduced as individuals who become part of a goal-orientated quest where they triumph over obstacles at turning points usually led by the villain. They are placed as the central characters of a story (defined as ‘protagonist’) that are represented as good, likeable individuals. However, this article suggests that although villains oppose the hero’s actions with motives of greed, jealousy or anger, the film industry makes some likeable. From a number of films released, it can be clearly shown that we have villains who are cultural favourites, which makes them likeable for viewers. On the other hand, there are other villains who distinguish themselves as completely detestable on part of both characters and audience. So, how does cinema distinguish between these appealing and loathsome villains? Let’s look at some examples.

The Joker (Heath Ledger) in The Dark Knight (2008) is a murderer and has serious mental issues, some of which could be symptoms of schizophrenia or post-trauma. He was responsible for Rachel’s death, scarring half of Harvey’s face, persuading him to murder for revenge and then forcing Batman, our hero, to become Gotham’s villain. The Joker is all about destruction, death and wants to watch the world burn. Yet, the Joker is loved everywhere by film enthusiasts and is considered a cultural favourite character. A lot of this could be due to Heath Ledger’s untimely death in 2008 but even before his interpretation hit the screens, the Joker was considered a favourable antagonist in both the comics and film adaptations.

Another example is Darth Vader in the Star Wars series. His story from a young Jedi Knight turned Sith Lord is the central premise of the entire saga, at least up until The Force Awakens. He is the most important character and in his trademark black suit and helmet, Vader remains a likeable villain and a global favourite. Why? Star Wars being possibly the most successful film series of all time may contribute to it, but characteristics of Vader are unique and enhances audience’s enjoyment of watching him. His deep voice and mechanical breathing are distinctive features that make him standout as a likeable villain, sometimes encouraging fans to do impressions of them as well as directly quote him from certain scenes. Considering this, he is even more likeable from that he is associated among “the Dark Side” and combats against protagonists in a unique style that, until that point, cinema hadn’t created before. Other villains are likeable for being funny, such as Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) in the Austin Powers trilogy.

Having used the Joker and Darth Vader as key examples of likable villains, what exactly is it about other villains that make them more detestable for viewers? It could depend on the character and plot but much of it is mainly because these characters are actually among the protagonist’s group or society. They pretend to be good when they are actually something deliberately that is represented as evil, particularly as we engage with the protagonists. It may also be a significant reminder to viewers that there are people in the world who these characters remind them of. These hateable villains may actually be less the primary antagonist compared to the likable villains. Hollywood usually depict heroes (good) and villains (evil), but due to this traditional representation of characters, viewers seem to enjoy some villains being evil (such as the Joker) as it is in their nature.

In The Green Mile (1999), for example, we have a supporting character who doesn’t entirely fall into the villain role but who certainly shows signs of being a detestable villain. This character is Percy Wetmore (played by Doug Hutchison), the young arrogant prison guard. From his first scene of chanting “we got a dead man walking here!” and breaking a prisoner’s fingers, he proves himself to be completely loathsome characters for both the other guards and the audience. Similar to a spoiled child with exceedingly rich parents, Percy uses his power and authority as the prison governor’s nephew to do as he pleases. He is ignorant to the rules and regulations of his job and he deliberately antagonises his employer Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) and fellow colleagues Brutal (David Morse), Dean (Barry Pepper) and Harry (Jeffrey DeMunn) for no real discernible reason.

Perhaps the obvious scene example is the execution of prisoner Eduard Delacroix (Michael Jeter), one whom Percy had a negative relationship with. In exchange for transferring to another job, Percy takes charge of Delacroix’s execution and intentionally sabotages it. Again, ignoring what the procedure involves and ignorant of the consequences, he quickly regretted the decision. This unveils a sense of moral weakness as well as cowardice in Percy. He already shows weakness outside of it when he urinates himself in an encounter with Wild Bill (Sam Rockwell) and stamping on an animal, but doesn’t accept responsibility for Del’s execution until he’s forced into punishment. Percy gets his comeuppance in the end from John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) as punishment for being “a bad man” alongside Wild Bill. Even he is perhaps considered less detestable than Percy despite being a murderer and revealed paedophile because it is in his nature to be evil and exactly the opposite to a hero.

Another character who may be considered a detestable villain is Mr. Henry Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life (1946). Listed sixth among AFI’s greatest villains, Mr. Potter is a despicable banker who takes pleasure from the suffering of others. Like Percy in The Green Mile, Mr. Potter is part of the main character’s social group and deliberately antagonises them. He sparks animosity among protagonist George Bailey’s (James Stewart) family, starting with his father. Potter is scheming and intentionally hides the invested money from George’s company. Potter uses his own greed against him when he rejects Bailey’s plea for a loan upon losing the money. Potter can clearly help George, but he deliberately chooses not to and suggests that “he is worth more dead than alive” – a comment that motivated George to attempt suicide. This only enhances his ability to be a detestable villain, who simply hates everybody despite being among society.

I would actually consider that there is a difference between ‘villain’ and ‘antagonist’ by using these examples. Mr. Potter and Percy are antagonists who knowingly provoke the protagonists for a small reason, if not one at all. Darth Vader, the Joker and Wild Bill are villains because they are true to their nature, and don’t pretend to be good. On a similar note, I would also note a separation between ‘hero’ and ‘protagonist’. For example, Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) in A Clockwork Orange (1971) is not introduced as a good person, but he is the story’s leading character. His passions are ultraviolence and rape for which he has no discernible reason to commit these offenses. Alex is not necessarily hated by viewers because he does not pretend to be good but following his arrest and imprisonment, we perhaps have sympathy for him. The scientific treatment he endures is perhaps the true antagonist as it has the concept to prevent any aspects of violence or sex in convicts. Yet, it only proves itself to be a harrowing idea that was met with controversial reactions from the film’s public. The point here is, therefore, that Alex is the central character despite not being a hero, but he is the protagonist as it is his story that we follow.

From examples in this article, it is certainly possible that audiences may react differently to how on-screen villains are represented. Some of the more likeable are clear global favourites with trademark appearances, utter quotable dialogue or unique characteristics. They are structured as part of the story to be evil, there’s no converting them and perhaps the audience feel ‘safe’ to appreciate their nature. Others considered hateable are more characters who appear part of the protagonist’s society, perhaps people who viewers are reminded of in their normal lives. Films interpret this in various ways depending on plot structure and mise-en-scéne, but this unique distinction between film villains can shape how they are represented according to social group.


Fairy Tale Narratives and Characterisations in Contemporary British Cinema.


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The 1990s and early 2000s saw the rise of genres that reached a peak in contemporary British cinema, one of which Robert Murphy identifies as the romantic-comedy. Influenced by Vladimir Propp’s theory of morphology in the folktale, Murphy writes in his article Citylife: Urban Fairy-Tales (2000: 292) that released romantic-comedies during this existing period, notably those written by Richard Curtis, underpin a fairy-tale structure. Although realism has been a predominant theme of British filmmaking, Murphy’s idea of a fairy-tale Britain suggests that romantic-comedies, such as Notting Hill (Michell, 1999), Bridget Jones’ Diary (Maguire, 2001) and Love Actually (Curtis, 2003), reflect romantic aspects of everyday life and represent the nation as glorious. Murphy further claims that narratives are stylised as “a magical quest” (2000: 293) for goal-orientated protagonists who fulfill a happy ending by defeating the villain which, according to Mather, “has been a part of the Hollywood formula since the 1920s” (2006: 120). This mythological representation of contemporary Britain reinforces the notions of British Hollywood and, “Britishness” (Leggott, 2008: 55), which refers to an exploitation of British culture within an American market. Therefore, Murphy’s ideas not only coincide with the fairy-tale structure, but also classic Hollywood romantic-comedies. Thus, this essay will analyse each romantic-comedy as briefly introduced with reference to Murphy’s theory of fairy-tale narrative style, mythological characterisations and British locations serving as an enchanting landscape and urban theme.

A standard fairy-tale storyline is in a linear form which, according to Murphy, “begin either with a lack which must be remedied, […] a curse which has to be removed, […] or a harmonious situation which is disrupted and has to be restored” (2000: 293). Although these fairy-tale plots have previously been most prominent in the fantasy genre, British romantic comedies metaphorically cast a fairy-tale story through real-life disputes. As Bacchilega states, “narratives set the socially acceptable boundaries for such scenarios and option, thus serving more than others, the civilising aspirations of adults” (1997: 5). Love Actually, for instance, reflects a fairy-tale storyline in an episodic structure, a dominant narrative formula in British cinema. Despite this, it is structured chronologically similar to traditional Hollywood storylines and it explores the romantic lives of multiple middle-class people who illustrate different trends of relationships with love serving as the central premise.

Love-Actually-Collage-550x421The fact that the film’s time setting is Christmas also enhances a fairy-tale structure as it serves as both a plot element and a romantic theme. As Steiner comments, “Christmas should shine as a light of peace, a light that brings outward peace only because it sheds inner peace into human hearts” (2007: 17). The climax is the school play on Christmas Eve, which coincidentally unites main protagonists, some of whom are associated despite the episodic narrative. We see relationships that both form, such as David (Hugh Grant) and Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), and break, including Harry (Alan Rickman) and Karen (Emma Thompson), that demonstrate expressing love at Christmas and the consequences of violating it. Love Actually does not strictly centralise Christmas customs, but the joy it bestows among individuals within the film excuses them to express love. Therefore, the tradition becomes a fantasy-like concept to representing a happier and more positive outlook of Britain as opposed to confronting the oppressive reality of the country’s suffering. On the other hand, Notting Hill is structured in a more straight-forward narrative that presents its protagonist William Thacker (Hugh Grant), a middle-class bookstore owner who, by chance, encounters film star Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) and progressively begin a relationship. However, their happily ever after is halted by both characters having personal obstacles in their lives – William’s status being recently divorced, which can often be relatable to the audience, and Anna facing stardom pressures. Their romance is an escapist solution from reality, and their opposing issues are what unite them. According to Mathers, this is to “celebrate the idea of a union between two mutually attracted and well-suited lovers, even as its narratives simultaneously formulated a series of conflicting viewpoints, events and circumstances capable of keeping the couples-in-question apart until the very end” (2006: 122). The couple’s first meeting is significant to the fairy-tale as it takes place in William’s bookstore, that specifically features travel books. This symbolically embodies escape, particularly on Anna’s behalf from Hollywood, and a possible happily ever after ending for them.


David Rose describes these props and their significance as magical objects which “must strike a balance between practicality and pleasure, form and function” (2014: 65). Although Murphy’s article was strictly limited regarding this enchanting object in British fairy-tale stories, their influences are crucial to the central hero or heroine within this magical quest concept. This is because specific items help utilise protagonists confront and overcome complications to reach their goal. In Bridget Jones’ Diary, its titular character (Renée Zellweger) possesses a written journal to “tell the whole truth” and its contents are used as voice-over narration. Bacchilega states that the narrator “allows us to assign narrative and ideological responsibility to the so-called “third person” narrator who, thanks to the naturalizing “once upon a time” fairy-tale theme, is usually considered to be objective” (1997: 17). This method becomes central to telling spectators about Bridget’s love life and her connotations as the female protagonist in a love triangle. On a visual level, the diary’s significance is established in one particular over-the-shoulder shot of Bridget writing whilst simultaneously narrating its contents, and close-ups are symbolic, also, as the diary becomes a character. The use of on-screen text effects, which feature Bridget’s standard intake of alcohol, cigarettes and her weight, at this particular moment is crucial to perhaps designating the audience with an insight to Bridget’s status as, what Murphy describes, “a beggar-maid” (2000: 294).

Murphy defines this as a young woman who possesses characteristics that lack feminine, princess-like purity, whether due to physical appearance or emotional behaviour (2000: 294). Bridget’ issues of her job, age and especially weight, are vital to her status as an ugly duckling-like woman. Collier and Saenger state that “one of the themes of the film is Bridget’s ineptitude, which is often used comically to illustrate her negative self-image” (2002: 78). This is highlighted in the opening credits sequence featuring Bridget in her pyjamas whilst singing to All By Myself by Celine Dion. The song lyrics correspond to her situation and director Sharon Maguire illustrates this by use of medium shot with Bridget in centre frame as she is miming the words. This could suggest that the song, like voice-over narration from her diary, could be inside her mind. Similarly from the same scene, we see a wide shot of Bridget smoking and drinking wine. As previously stated, both alcohol and cigarettes are issues in her life to relinquish, and we see in this particular shot that it has become a problem for her. Dissolved editing within the same shot implies the passing of time relating to Bridget’s loneliness, her lack of motivation and her “32 years of being single”. It is unclear whether All By Myself is played on Bridget’s cassette or if it is merely non-diegetic sound to create a sympathetic illusion, but it is substantial to introducing her beggar-maid lifestyle at the film’s early stage. Bettleheim also notes that “a struggle against severe difficulties in life is avoidable […] but steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious” (1991: 9). Upon learning that Mark (Colin Firth) loves her “just the way she is”, Bridget neither loses weight nor progresses in circulating her cigarette or alcohol consumption. As a result, she becomes a Cinderella heroine as she finds her Prince Charming in Mark with a ‘happily ever after’ resolution.

nottinghill1Murphy further states that female protagonists in British romantic-comedies are immediately presented to us as princesses purely because of their natural beauty or status within society. Referring to women in fairy-tales, Bacchilega comments that “motherhood and feminine beauty appear as “natural” because the mother’s wish, the child’s conception, and the child herself are represented as imitating nature” (1997: 32). Murphy’s claim of princesses facing individual issues is crucial to becoming the male protagonist’s reward, which further clarifies Bacchilega’s argument that women in fairy-tale stories are represented as constructions, not just a gender (1997: 9). Anna in Notting Hill is a prominent example as she is immediately portrayed in the opening sequence as a goddess-like princess, primarily through her Hollywood stardom. There are a number of filmic techniques that establish Anna as a princess. The use of voice-over narration in the film’s opening seconds promotes her fame as “Hollywood’s biggest star by far” and the non-diegetic sound of the song She by Elvis Costello, specifically its lyrics, represent her natural beauty. This occurs whilst seeing montage-like footage of Anna at events, such as premieres and conferences, with key lighting and the camera at a close-up or extreme close-up angles following her; therefore ensuring the spectator’s attention on her. Similar to the credits sequence in Bridget Jones’ Diary, we see a recurring use of dissolved editing to transcend narrative time, which in Anna’s case is her lengthy stardom in Hollywood.

However, it is those circumstances that prevent her from a happily ever after ending. Referring to everyday Britain, Murphy notes “Anna is lured from the vacuous superficiality of a Hollywood lifestyle by the promise of life in a city of tranquil parks […], street markets she can peruse with only minimal intrusions into her privacy and friends who, even when in awe of her, act in a natural, unsycophantic way” (2000: 298-299). She primarily seeks an escape from Hollywood by developing an interest in the everyday lifestyle; thereby portraying the travel books’ significance and her relationship with an everyday citizen. Her romance with William opposes social classes, as established in the film’s tagline “can the most famous film star in the world fall for the man in the street?”, and becomes a struggle for a resolution.

To an extent, this conspiracy suggests Anna’s fame is synonymous with Julia Roberts’ at the time who, as Geraghty notes, exemplifies “the way in which stardom can be built on and around celebrity” (2007: 106). We get minor hints of this connection, such as Anna’s past salary of $15 million being the same as Roberts’ for Notting Hill (Mather, 2006: 160). Ashby and Higson further propose that “the impact that she [Anna] has on the ordinary British people she meets in the film can be seen as a metaphor for British cinema’s relation to Hollywood” (2000: 16). Notting Hill’s linear narrative structure, as used frequently in 1930s Hollywood romantic-comedies, like It Happened One Night (Capra, 1934), is crucial to reflecting the style within contemporary Britain. Notting Hill was distributed by America’s Universal Pictures, despite its mainly British characters, cast and crew, though Street states that this “represents a conservative bolstering of exclusive notions of ‘Britishness’” (2007: 185). Therefore, Notting Hill is ultimately a Hollywood production and implementing this bookmark, along with Roberts in the leading role, enhances a worldwide appeal and a touch of Hollywood within Britain.

Similar Hugh Grant in Notting Hillto how women are represented, male protagonists are what Murphy describes as “sleeping princes and frogs waiting to be kissed” (2000: 295). They appear handsome and sophisticated, which they are seemingly unaware of, and possess no machismo features of masculinity. Hugh Grant is perhaps the most noticeable star within these features, not only because he appears in all three films analysed in this paper, but also his general star status that enhances a prince-like context. Street states that “his [Grant] persona is that of the well-bred Englishman whose off-screen behaviour merely confirms stereotypes about upper-class hypocrisy over sexual matters” (1997: 146). In this sense, Grant is a typecast actor whose characters are usually the handsome and cultured individual who represents the charming males in Britain. In relation to Murphy’s idea of a sleeping prince, Notting Hill further explores William’s personal complications before claiming his reward – Anna, specifically his unique lifestyle with flatmate Spike (Rhys Ifans), his social life among inefficient friends and most importantly – recuperating from his recent divorce and new ambition for love.

Considering Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’ Diary both belong in a straightforward linear plot that have individual heroes and heroines, Love Actually’s episodic structure features a variety of characters who underpin a prince and princess relationship. For instance, David, the Prime Minister, underpins a prince-like protagonist who, like many in the film, seeks love at Christmas. As Mather comments “Love Actually is fascinating for the manner in which Hugh Grant’s character is elevated to the position of a British Prime Minister, who is revealed to be more concerned with the state of his love life than the ‘state of the nation’” (2006: 2). His responsibilities appear a great deal to him which suggests that he himself is another everyday citizen like others in the film. Like William and Anna in Notting Hill, David’s relationship with Natalie shapes romantic boundaries among opposing social classes within a fantastical context. To an extent, Natalie resembles a Bridget Jones-like princess, especially regarding weight when an ex-boyfriend supposedly said “nobody would fancy a girl with thighs the size of tree trunks” and even her father called her “plumpy”. However, this is not an issue directly addressed in the plot nor does the prince, David, recognise it. Considering this, Natalie’s red dress symbolises romance which establishes a princess formula in the climatic Christmas play sequence and David becomes her prince. On the other hand, other female protagonists in Love Actually, such as Juliet (Keira Knightley) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), are portrayed as more direct princesses like Anna in Notting Hill. The wedding video sequence demonstrates the concept of feminine beauty resembling a princess formula. Progressively revealing to be footage entirely of Juliet, a slow zoom between shots captures the character reactions and the footage, which mainly consisted of close-ups, adds a magnifying effect of Juliet’s image as a princess. The use of non-diegetic sound also adds a sense of emotional drama on part of Juliet learning about Mark’s (Andrew Lincoln) attraction towards her.

love-actuallySimilarly, Aurelia is another princess who falls in love with Jamie (Colin Firth) despite opposing cultural backgrounds and fluent languages, though Murphy claims “unlikely romances can blossom” (2000: 296). The most significant prince-princess scene is Jamie’s climatic proposal in the restaurant. The framing resembles a princess in the tower situation with the prince arriving to rescue her. This is established in Aurelia’s positioning of a low-angled shot with Christmas tinsel and lights in the background to glisten the romance, whereas a high-angled shot of Jamie reflects a gaze from her viewpoint. We also see further close-up shots that tighten the romantic situation and enhance audience involvement. Aurelia, consequently, accepts Jamie’s proposal and they have their happy ending.

Moreover, despite the protagonists encountering personal issues that delay a happily ever after resolution, Murphy suggests that supporting characters are categorised into “wizards, witches, friends and foes” (2000: 295). Murphy’s emphases of this are strictly limited, though he does state that particularly villains violate romance and are “much less formidable than in traditional fairy-tales” (2000: 295). Propp also noted that the villain is “transformed into a relative of the hero in spite of the fact that his attributes might plainly coincide with those of a dragon, a witch etc” (1928: 86). Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) in Bridget Jones’ Diary, for instance, appears a prince, but is later revealed as the wizard who has bewitched the beggar maid. This idea is perhaps made clearer from Grant’s character-actor persona who, according to Gibson, “plays against type – he is not the hapless hero but the classic cad” (2003: 368). Similarly, Anna Scott’s boyfriend Jeff King (Alec Baldwin) is another villain whose appearance is more of a cameo to briefly intervene in the fairy-tale story. As Mather comments, “his [Jeff] arrival reduces William to the level of a supporting player, rather than a true match for the star” (2006: 164). However, despite Murphy states that women are mainly portrayed as princesses, we see a witch-like figure in Mia (Heike Makatsch) from Love Actually whose witchcraft is attractiveness, noticeably in her devil costume and lingerie segments. Like Daniel bewitches Bridget, Mia metaphorically casts a spell upon Harry who becomes intrigued by her. Mia is not strictly categorised as a villain, but that she stands between a married couple in a fairy tale context implies it.

loveactually5-2Considering Murphy argues that individuals within the everyday citizen foreground are structured into fairy-tale characterisations, he also claims that their surroundings, specifically the city of London and the mise-en-scéne, are significant to illustrating modern British society within a fairy-tale structure. As Napper comments, London is “often presented as utopian fantasy of the actual city” (2012: 391), and it provides a place where couples have the leisure to be together. In the opening credits of Love Actually, extreme wide-shots of central London, perhaps in a slideshow structure, form a geometric alignment with Christmas props in the centre, which presents the landscape with an artistic and peaceful value. Similarly during the Jamie-Aurelia storyline, we see further extreme wide shots and often close-ups of garden landscapes, including trees and flowers, and the countryside house which enhances a peaceful significance. The countryside further adds perhaps the most fantastical concept out of all the storylines as it becomes a metaphoric escape from the city.

In Notting Hill, the sequence of William strolling through London markets in four different seasons “looks back to the middlebrow British cinema of the 1930s and 1940s, with its collection of ordinary people from different backgrounds and walks of life, clearly situated within a thriving local community” (Ashby and Higson, 2000: 15-16). We see that in a tracking shot William’s framed position remaining the same but narrative time and location is altered through cuts with mise-en-scéne, such as vehicles, filling the screen whilst the camera is moving. Furthermore, Stella Hockenhull’s suggestion of the landscape invoking an emotional response (2014: 9), specifically the characters and their circumstances, underpins Kristi McKim’s argument of cinematic weather possessing a narrative and stylistic significance, particularly snow which “constitutes atmosphere […] and often serves as a moving white screen upon and through which melancholic loss or ecstatic joy comes to be writ” (2013: 134). Snow appears in all three films but in the final scene of Bridget Jones’ Diary, it comprises to a fairy-tale happy ending. The extreme-wide and tracking shots of wintry London with the climate serves as both a foreground and background aesthetic in medium and close-up shots of Bridget, the newly reformed Cinderella, having found her prince charming Mark. In this scene, the snow’s spiritual significance is prominent in its happy ending and the ‘loves first kiss’ idea in fairy-tale stories. Director Maguire utilises this through close-ups with kisses in centre frame all from different angles, suggesting nearby witness perspectives, and dissolved editing between shots stretches time to witness the kissing and happy ending. The film concludes in a spiritual notion with a crane shot that provides an overhead view of the couple’s romance with snow dropping from the sky before fading to black.

Thus, each film concludes with happy endings or resolutions like traditional fairy-tale stories. This linear structure can, in some ways, be predictable but the important aspects of Bridget Jones’ Diary, Love Actually and Notting Hill are that they centre on contemporary issues with Murphy’s underpinning concept of fairy tale Britain progressively contributing a feel-good factor. Finally, these films demonstrate an essence of Hollywood within them whilst maintaining a sense of British independent filmmaking and have since been popular hits. As Street concludes, “the success of many British films which did not look as if they were American, or cost as much, indicates that Hollywood did not entirely call the shots” (1997: 198).

Biggest Oscar Snubs of 2015


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On Thursday 15th January 2015, the nominations for the 87th Academy Awards were announced. Many of the nominees were expected in various categories, some were pleasant surprises and some were shocks. That is the purpose of this article as there were a few contenders in categories that were overlooked for a nomination. So, here is a shortlist of the 5 biggest snubs:

  1. Best Animated Picture: The Lego Movie

Not in a long time have I been more shocked that a film has been snubbed in a category. The Lego Movie was a hit upon its release in February 2014 and its critical response indicated that it could be potentially the frontrunner for the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture. The film has also won other awards in the category, except the Golden Globe, in which How To Train Your Dragon 2 was triumphant. In this sense, that film has perhaps replaced The Lego Movie as the Best Animated Picture frontrunner. The film being awarded in this category would have initiated a sense of flexibility and originality in the Academy’s decision-making but instead, they maintain rather narrow-minded in the category and provide films with the award that possess same recycled standards within plot, characters and fandom. Brave winning Best Animated Picture ahead of Wreck-It Ralph is a prime example. A film that has recycled and no originality at all (Brave) being the “best” above the highly original and more creative Wreck-It Ralph? No. Nevertheless, without disputing How To Train Your Dragon 2 which, by the way, is a fantastic sequel to its predecessor, it seemed such a surprise that The Lego Movie was snubbed and Best Animated Picture at the Academy Awards is slowly heading downhill.

  1. Best Cinematography: Interstellar

On a visual level, the Academy snubbing Interstellar for Best Cinematography was a big surprise. Being arguably the most beautifully shot film of 2014, Interstellar utilises beautiful space shots through its arrays of colour and lighting to project a breath-taking scope of the universe beyond our world. In fact, I would compare the cinematography to Avatar, Life Of Pi and Gravity as many of the visuals and its use of colour symbolically represent a sense of spectacle and art. Similarly, the impressive shots of Earth farmlands were significant in portraying the planet as a broken atmosphere that needs reforming. So, although Interstellar will likely win Best Visual Effects (though I think it should be Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), it seemed a surprise that it missed out on a Best Cinematography nomination.

  1. Best Actor: Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler was met with unanimous critical acclaim upon its release. It perhaps follows in the footsteps of Drive back in 2011, another dark thriller that enhances artistic values, originality and dark performances. Jake Gyllenhaal, who still remains an underrated actor despite starring in successful films, has arguably delivered the role of his career thus far in Nightcrawler. However, the status for him to receive a Best Leading Actor nomination was difficult as the category is perhaps the most competitive this year. We had the locked nominees (Keaton, Redmayne and Cumberbatch) and others that were contenders but were mainly ones chosen to fill in the slots. Gyllenhaal was one of them along with Steve Carell, Bradley Cooper (who were both nominated in the end), David Oyelowo and Ralph Fiennes. Gyllenhaal has been snubbed for Best Leading Actor like Ryan Gosling was for Drive and Gyllenhaal’s roles in films should hopefully pay off, according to the Academy, and he’ll become an Oscar winning actor.

  1. Best Make-Up: The Theory Of Everything

This is another which surprised me. The make-up in The Theory Of Everything was impressive in not only Eddie Redmayne’s general transformation into Stephen Hawking as a young man but how the disease progressively gets worse with age. Redmayne perfectly blended into the role of Hawking, both physically and emotionally, and how the Academy overlooked The Theory Of Everything for Best Make-Up, I don’t fully understand. In fact, I can’t work out why the category has just three contenders when every other has at least five. There should be more contenders as make-up quality is more visual and noticeable than, say, editing which is more an invisible art. Still, the make-up in each of the three nominated films were all impressive but The Theory Of Everything was unfortunate to miss out on it, especially as the make-up and hairstyles were crucial in transforming actor into character.

  1. Best Film Editing: Birdman

Alejandro González Inárritu’s Birdman has perhaps the most impressive camerawork in any film of 2014. The film’s extensive takes and confined camerawork is crucial to its quality of directing, acting and writing. In some ways, the entire film appeared to have been shot in one long take, but it wasn’t. It is that art of editing between scenes that enhanced that art. It’s also vital to adding further audience involvement and justifies the idea of film editing as an invisible art. No, the film doesn’t entirely consist of constant cuts between shots but as I said, the use of edging between scenes through editing that is still unnoticable is something extraordinary and something that the Academy should have acknowledged.

10 Essential Christmas Films To See Before 25th December.


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tumblr_static_tumblr_static__1280With Christmas Day coming in less than 7 days, here is a list of the 10 films that I believe are essential to watch to build up your excitement for the magical occasion. Also, I’d like to point out that this list isn’t ranked by film quality, but by what I believe are the most enchanting for me in terms of Christmas. So, from 10 down to 1, here it is:

  1. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

10This is an interesting film because it has been stapled as a remake of a classic adaptation, a parody of it and as a somewhat serious version about a collection of characters, who even got casting credits despite being performed by someone else. On that note, Brian Henson, directed and co-produced this film as tribute to his father (Muppets creator Jim Henson) and in doing so achieves the same towards Charles Dickens’ novella. Because we’ve seen so many adaptations of the book, nobody seemed to really care that we’ve got a Muppets version, whether you’re a fan of them or not. It seems unrealistic as its central characters, except Scrooge, are puppets but the novella is to expand imagination and is targeted towards children, which is something that they would appeal to. Also with Michael Caine himself in the leading role of Scrooge, we see a sense of Hollywood sophistication, too, and it is in that performance which adds another charming attribute to The Muppet Christmas Carol as a festive film.

  1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

national_lampoons_christmas_vacation_image.jpgI’d like to point out that I’ve seen some of the National Lampoon films and from the ones I’ve seen, Christmas Vacation is one of the very few above decent instalments. This isn’t only a biased opinion because it’s a Christmas film, but mainly because it’s fun, entertaining and has a moral. The central premise of the film is disaster at Christmas and it is something that we can all relate to. Clark Griswolf Jr (Chevy Chase) is preparation for Christmas – setting up the tree, placing the decorations and reunions with loved ones. All of it goes ship-shaped and it is portrayed as something comical, such as trying to place the lights on the roof by stapling them to remain intact, which the audience can identify themselves to when they are setting up Christmas traditions. It is linked with viewers, emotionally and within the plot, so it has the potential to make you laugh and make you feel emotional. Therefore, Christmas Vacation has, since its release in 1989, become a Christmas classic.

  1. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

5Released just a year after It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle On 34th Street is another Christmas delight that triggers a sense of hope following the end of World War II. It centers more directly towards the Christmas tradition, specifically the Kris Kringle character, played by Edmund Gwenn in an Oscar-winning performance, who claims to be the real Santa Claus. Over the course of the film, we see Christmas on a more emotional level and relies mainly on faith, like religion. It is an exceedingly charming and inspirational film that should make you think about the true meaning of Christmas and to explore the goodness in humanity. However, it (SPOILER ALERT) can destroy the imagination of children who believe in Santa Clause yet there will be adults watching who know (SPOILER ALERT FOR KIDS) that Santa doesn’t exist, that it’s still enchanting to believe in him within your heart.

  1. A Christmas Carol (2009)

8Out of the countless number of adaptations based on Dickens’ wonderful classic story, the 2009 animated version by Robert Zemeckis and starring Jim Carrey is undoubtedly the best one to date. Through the use of motion-capture, 3D and other stunning spectacle effects, A Christmas Carol plunges the tradition and fantastical conventions into new depth, perhaps more so than any of the other adaptations. It is perhaps one of the scariest animated films in contemporary cinema, but this works well for the script and its use of visual effects and motion-capture. Robert Zemeckis improves massively with this after the extremely bland Polar Express and Jim Carrey plays another Christmas character turned from villain to hero after the Grinch. He produces an identical performance in terms of facial expressions, but character development is different. If you’re a fan of the book, a fan of Jim Carrey and love animation, then I’m sure this will be one that you won’t regret seeing at Christmas.

  1. Bad Santa (2003)

6This is a different addition to this list as it is a Christmas film more suitable for adults and its contents practically disputes its traditional norms yet at the same time, acknowledges them. Instead of a friendly, hard-working, fat and old Santa, we’ve got a middle-aged drunken, sex-addicted thief pretending to be Santa. Starring Billy Bob Thornton in a Golden Globe-nominated performance, Willie is a similar character to Scrooge who doesn’t so much hate Christmas, but just doesn’t care about it. This is reflected as somewhat comical through its black comedy humour with language and sexual references but despite this, Bad Santa progressively develops into a more emotional film in which Willie slowly succumbs to the charming traditions of Christmas and, especially by that kid who looks up to him as a friend. If you’re looking for a film that both parodies and praises Christmas, then Bad Santa is one to check out.

  1. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

3Whether this film centers more on Christmas or Halloween is debatable, but I would still state that it is an essential film to watch on both occasions. Its title goes against the song ‘The Night Before Christmas’ and the plot derives itself, more or less, against the entire Christmas tradition. We see that Tim Burton has produced his own interpretation of Christmas within a gothic structure, like naming “Sandy Claws” for Santa, a ‘dead’ Dr. Frankenstein and other unorthodox characters. Despite this, Disney have produced a family film that’s enjoyably scary for kids and adults, especially the enchanting songs. Particularly ones like “What’s This?”, “Jack’s Lament” and “Making Christmas” enhance our ability to understand Jack’s character further and how he plans to structure Christmas like it is an object. It may influence from other films, whether Christmas or not, but The Nightmare Before Christmas’ unique mixture of fun and fright creates a unique portrayal of Christmas for kids and consequently generates a magical experience.

4. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

7Though this film was heavily criticised, it has still become a Christmas classic within only 14 years of its release. As the live-action version of Dr Seuss’ novel and the original 1966 short film, this DreamWorks film directed by Ron Howard stars Jim Carrey in the title role. His performance is unique as he exhibits his own characteristics as an actor, and exemplifies the sinister yet emotional personality of the Grinch. In terms of Christmas magic, it ticks the boxes that you’d expect to see. It’s charming, has heart with a meaningful message and it is set within an imaginative world that casts a magical reflection. It’s actually one of those escapist films that allows you to transport into a world which enhances emotional experience and makes you reflect on goodness among individuals. It may not be everyone’s favourite film, but I’d recommend that people who love Christmas watch this at least once every year.

3. Home Alone (1990) & Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (1992)

2I’m including both films in this list as they are pretty much two of the same thing with the exception of location. Similar to It’s A Wonderful Life, Home Alone is a film that focuses on family as an inspiration at Christmas time that doesn’t always center strongly on Christmas traditions. Yet, its comical attributes are substantial to the fun of watching a kid act like an adult and see him outsmart two burglars. The second film is more or less the same, but a little more clichéd in terms of narrative. It is important, though, that the sequel focuses on Christmas in the outside world in the city of Manhattan, not only for Kevin and his family. Neither are serious films and don’t at any point try to be as they are practically like cartoons shot in live-action, but both are highly enjoyable for both children and adults to watch at Christmas.

  1. Love Actually (2003)

4Following in the footsteps of Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994 and Notting Hill in 1999, Love Actually marks Richard Curtis’ unofficial romantic comedy trilogy at the very highest standards. In addition to it serving as a wonderful, inspirational film about love, family and friends, the festive season of Christmas is utilised in the plot to represent this feel-good factor. Exploring the ordinary lives of British citizens with a fantastical context, Love Actually reflects a glorious Britain and provides us with an important message to the Christmas occasion – love is everywhere and that it most important to acknowledge it at Christmas. Though the film features an almost entire British ensemble cast and crew members, it is still a beautiful film that all audiences should enjoy and watch every Christmas.

  1. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

1This is not only one of my favourite films but is, for me, the ultimate one to watch at Christmas. It constitutes everything that Christmas has and how the occasion makes us realise what we have in our lives. No, It’s A Wonderful Life isn’t entirely Christmas-themed with elves, Santa, presents etc involved, but the time setting is Christmas and the magic of family, friends and life in general is acknowledged on Christmas Eve. Released in the immediate aftermath of World War II, it became a symbol of hope that life can be full with love and friendships. Directed by the late Frank Capra and starring legendary actor James Stewart in his greatest role, the film reveals the true meaning of Christmas as it expresses its genuinely tender but extremely important message: that Christmas is really about being with our loved ones. If anyone misses watching this, whether it is a re-watch or first-time, Christmas will not feel complete.

Top 10 Most Anticipating Films of 2015


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Hollywood have an abundance of exciting films due for release in 2015, perhaps the biggest of the 2010s so far in terms of blockbusters and independent hits. It was hard to narrow the list down to just ten, but here are my most anticipating films of 2015:


  1. Shaun The Sheep

UK Release Date: February 6, 2015.

This is a unique and rather unexpected addition to my most anticipated films of 2015, perhaps because it won’t be your typical Hollywood blockbuster. This is from personal excitement and passion for Aardman Animations. They are the British Disney and though their work has been hit (Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run, Arthur Christmas) and miss (Band Of Misfits, Flushed Away), there’s no doubt that they provide some of the most impressive and creative stop-motion animation in film. As a fan of the Shaun The Sheep television series and titular character’s appearance in Wallace & Gromit short film A Close Shave, it should be interesting to see how Aardman handle this one. It may even be a chance for them to go back to their original roots and catch the audience’s attention once more. It’s never going to be an animation to take too literally and won’t be fan-mad like Frozen, but from a British viewpoint and for stop-motion animation, I’m looking forward to seeing whether this will succeed or fail.


  1. Jurassic World

UK Release Date: June 12, 2015

Up until its official announcement, this entire project has been on the shelf for over a decade – since the release of the exceedingly disappointing Jurassic Park III in 2001. As the fourth installment of a beloved franchise, Jurassic World has heavy weight on its shoulders, especially director Colin Trevorrow (who?) and co-producers Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley. This could be because Jurassic Park has been notably recognised as Spielberg’s franchise. Still, due to the fandom surrounding the 1993 and 1997 installments, particularly the first, expectations are high for Jurassic World. The huge gap between III and World is a vital factor in terms of whether this film will turn out a success or failure, not just by one’s opinion. The technological features and spectacle featured in the first two films will be crucial to fans’ expectations, not to mention more press attention from the media. Yet times have changed, technologically, and we are going to see something visually different but hopefully won’t ruin the film too much. The trailer looked interesting enough to look forward to until June 2015.



  1. Ant Man

UK Release Date: July 17, 2015.

Despite being a huge Marvel fan, this film first really caught my attention due to it being a long-time desired project of British director Edgar Wright, director and co-writer of Hot Fuzz, Shaun Of The Dead and The World’s End. Wright’s unique style could have become a visual breakthrough for Marvel seeing as the Ant-Man character and his surroundings are the type that he would go for. However, because Wright dropped out due to disagreements with Marvel, expectations for the film perhaps dropped slightly. In place of Wright is Peyton Reed, director of comedies Yes Man and The Break-Up. We can’t entirely judge a directing choice based on past films, but Marvel are at their prime as of late and selecting Reed as director could be convincing. The ensemble cast is interesting, too, with Paul Rudd in the titular role and veteran star Michael Douglas is supporting role of Dr. Hank Pym. Nevertheless, there seems to be something different about Ant-Man, in terms of hype and audience reception thus far, so it’ll be interesting to see how this long-awaited project transpires.



  1. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part II

UK Release Date: November 20, 2015.

Apparently known as the “latest Twilight and Harry Potter” franchise because it being another series centred on youths and the final book being adapted into two films, The Hunger Games reaches its finale in November 2015. Having reached success, financially and critically thus far, the hype for the finale is high, though it may have slipped slightly due to Mockingjay: Part I being a slight disappointment. It’s only been a short series consisting of four large-scale films in the space of four straight years, and it’s ending pretty quickly. Still, despite Part I was decent enough, it didn’t add very much at the end to how it began and now we’re relying on Part II to fill in the gaps and give this series that had true potential with its first two films the finale it deserves.


  1. The Hateful Eight

UK Release Date: TBA

Any film by Quentin Tarantino will receive press attention. Though first acknowledged for his original gangster and action films with recycled elements, he has become a more serious and more controversial director following Inglourious Basterds and particularly Django Unchained. In only his 9th film as both director and writer, Tarantino tackles another western in The Hateful Eight, which could be due to Django being his most financially successful film to date. Tarantino returns with stars including Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth and Kurt Russell – each of whom has left trademark roles in his films. Tarantino also introduces Jennifer Jason Leigh, Zoe Bell and Channing Tatum – the latter becoming quite a shock yet an interesting casting choice. At this point, we do not know much about the film as it is currently in pre-production and there has been minor detail about the plot, but judging from what we have seen so far, it could be another Tarantino hit.


  1. Minions

UK Release Date: June 26, 2015.

The two Despicable Me films became instant favourites among children like a Disney hit. Both installments are exceedingly enjoyable and funny to watch for adults, too, but the most in particular were the Minions. Their unorthodox, wacky and slapstick ways were almost central to the humour in both films, and the idea of their own spin-off feature is both exciting and deserved. Though it may be an unusual project seeing as the characters don’t strictly speak clearly, it may add further development to the Minions that we didn’t see in Despicable Me, especially as it is, in fact, a prequel to the two previous installments. We’ve seen a number of successful spin-off animations on beloved children’s franchises including Puss In Boots and the recently released Penguins of Madagascar. So, let us hope that Minions will be a hilarious film as anticipated and make us more excited to seeing them again for Despicable Me 3 in 2017.


  1. Inside Out

UK Release Date: July 24, 2015.

The once-great Pixar Animation Studios have slipped a few times recently with Brave and especially Cars 2, though Monsters University was a decent sign of hope that they could return to their original roots. The key word ‘original’ has always been vital in Pixar’s imaginative, wonderful storytelling and their next feature could be their most creative yet most unique one to date. It’s inside the mind of a young girl in which emotions become characters. This has not been done before and its interesting as actual feelings and moods we encounter in life become characters – Fear, Anger, Sadness, Joy and Disgust. There’s a comical touch to it, and that’s where Pixar have been so successful. Inside Out could be their wake-up call and hopefully their best film since Toy Story 3.


  1. Avengers: Age of Ultron

UK Release Date: April 24, 2015.

The Avengers was released when Marvel was at the start of its prime and now after almost three years, it is even more so. Having had a very successful predecessor, financially and critically, this sequel was clearly bound to follow in the same footsteps, at least regarding expectations. We see many of the same Avengers return – Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Thor, Black Widow and HawkEye, as well as other familiar characters Nick Fury, James Rhodes and Erik Selvig. We see new ones including Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and new primary antagonist Ultron. We can only hope that this sequel will deliver just what the first one did with reasonable amount of screen time of so many characters both returning and new, a solid story, use of humour (though it’ll be tough to surpass the Hulk-Loki scene in the first film) and most importantly – entertainment. Marvel are running strong at the moment so although it’ll more than likely be a financial hit, let’s hope it’ll remain a critically successful series.



UK Release Date: October 23, 2015.

The James Bond franchise has now certainly been revived following the success of Casino Royale and especially its latest installment – Skyfall. The latter saw the return of iconic characters from the past, including Q, (SPOILER ALERT) a male M and Miss Moneypenny, and not only paid homage as part of the 50th anniversary, but also reflected the series as more ‘serious’, rather than as standard action films. We are expecting to see Oscar-winning director and Skyfall director Sam Mendes return to directing along with Daniel Craig, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw reprising their roles. Rumoured additions to the cast are wrestler turned actor Dave Bautista, Sherlock star Andrew Scott and two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, which will surely catch audience’s attention. There is little revealed information about the plot at this point, like there usually is with Bond installments in pre-production. Still, considering all these things, SPECTRE has the potential to be another hit, though it may be more difficult to surpass Skyfall and Casino Royale.


  1. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

UK Release Date: December 18, 2015.

This is perhaps the most obvious film selected as the most anticipated film of 2015. In fact, it could actually be the most talked-about film of the 2010s, and maybe even the first ever film to gross $3billion worldwide at the box office. As a huge fan of the franchise, especially the originals, Episode VII sounded the craziest idea as Disney & Lucasfilm were added things that had already ended. Still, with all the discussion during production as to how it was going to be filmed, the stars and what the plot may likely involve, it began as an exciting film. Whether it’ll turn out to be a relevant film, we aren’t sure at this point. The originals were such big films in the 1970s and 1980s, and Episode VII has a lot of weight on its shoulders to give the original stars a sublime return as well as reintroducing new characters. It is perhaps the most talked-about blockbuster of 2015 and I’m sure that it will be the most financially successful. Whether it will be a critical success and meets our exceedingly high expectations, we shall see and fingers crossed.


First Screening by Film Ambassadors at Wolverhampton’s Light House Media Centre


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Our Film Ambassador’s logo.

In 2014, the Light House Media Centre in the city of Wolverhampton launched a new programme run by young people, specifically those between 16-25 years of age, who are interested in British cinema. I am part of it, along with approximately seven others, and each of us specialise in the world of cinema, some of us being graduates, current students and visiting lecturers. This collaboration of young film buffs are now referred as Film Ambassadors and our role is to organise event screenings of British films on a monthly basis, and to draw in a wider audience for our country’s film industry. Although we work with Light House on these events, we are also associated with Arts Connect West Midlands and the British Film Institute. We may be screening different kinds of British films but our objectives for each event are to not only promote British cinema and heighten new experiences but also the Film Ambassadors and work of Light House Media Centre.


Light House Media Centre, Wolverhampton. The address is: The Chubb Buildings, Fryer St, Wolverhampton, West Midlands WV1 1HT, 01902716055

The reason we have decided to screen British cinema instead of mainstream Hollywood is because the Light House usually screen independent films and the UK film industry are known for that style. In addition, Light House are an independent cinema anyway and are somewhat different to Cineworld, Showcase and Odeon; however, due to its smaller venue capacity and other events, they have a somewhat mature spectators. We wanted to widen our audience by attracting other young people, like ourselves, to the Light House and watching British films.


The advertising poster of our V For Vendetta screening.

Our first screening took place on the evening of November 5, 2014 with a special Bonfire Night screening of V For Vendetta. The film is an adaptation from a comic book by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. It loosely retells the infamous Gunpowder Plot of 1605 involving Guy Fawkes’ attempt to blow the Houses of Parliament. V (Hugo Weaving) is a masked vigilante with Fawkes-like ambitions to destroy the corrupt government and more importantly, to get revenge on them for their wrongdoings against him. It is basically a more comical and dystopian version of Fawkes’ tale. Still, because we, Film Ambassadors, knew Bonfire Night was coming and the film loosely orientates the incident, we decided to screen that.

We wanted to promote our first screening with reference to V For Vendetta. In fact, I came up with the idea to bring Guy Fawkes’ masks identical to those seen in the film and if you do, there will be a ticket discount included. We seeked a positive first-impression and our creativity in this respect became successful. Furthermore, we were serving black cocktails in the Lock Works Café, resembling V’s costume and one of the film’s thematic colours.

Three of the Light House Film Ambassador's with two attendees.

Three of the Light House Film Ambassador’s with two attendees.

Our pre-booking tickets went on sale from October 29th and we sold a total of twenty-six on the actual evening. For our first Ambassadors’ screening, that is not a bad target at all but for us to increase that and to promote British cinema even more, we will need the help and support of our audience.
So, in order for this to happen, please keep an eye out for updates at the Light House. Our next screening could be a British Christmas film scheduled to take place in December. We will decide the film in the upcoming weeks.

If you’d like to get into contact with the Light House online, check out their social media pages:



If you’d like to know more about us and would like to discuss anything else, please find our link on Facebook:

If you’d like to get in contact with me directly, here is my Twitter:

8 Things That First-Year Film Studies Students Should Know


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I am currently a third-year Film Studies undergraduate at the University of Wolverhampton and I would like to present in this article, primarily to those either considering or about to study cinema at university level, what they should at least be aware of before starting their course. Of course, undergraduate Film Studies courses can be different due to module content, timetable schedules etc but the following tips and guidelines explained in this article are more than likely features to be included. Being a Film Studies student at the University of Wolverhampton, I feel that this may help most to them who’ll be following after me, but still this article is targeted at others seeking to specialise in Film Studies. So, here are the key points to consider:

  1. Film essays are NOT film reviews.

When one associated films with writing, it is usually assumed that it is about reviews. When a film is released, reviews from magazines, websites or newspapers are to illustrate one’s overall opinion based on mise-en-scéne, acting, directing, writing etc. The writer’s main target audience is the general public and, depending on the response, the aim is to either attract or shun their interest in a film. Writing film essays are a little different as it is more of a theoretical, academic approach to cinema. We still discuss films in the essays but we do not write in a style based on opinions – more on ideas to create and analyse an argument relating to how a film is made. On that note, exterior sources written by others are central to Film Studies students illustrating independent thinking and forming their own ideas. Students elaborate on theories, such as Auteur (the conspiracy that a director uses a camera like an author uses a pen), which relate them to a filmmaker associated with it and illustrates how through certain sequences. Using textual analysis is vital, too, as Film Studies is not always about a film’s contents but production. Tip: analyse how and why a shot or sequence is done and what the significance is, not just by explaining the plot and what is going on.

  1. Lectures do not just consist of screenings.

cineworld-background4I have often discussed what I’m studying with peers who’ve made comments like “So you get a degree to just watch films?” It is important to note that although most lectures consist of screenings, it is not the only aspect of studying it. Yes, the overall intention of a film is to embark its audience into a unique world featuring various characters, settings, stories etc, but studying it elaborates a little further on just viewers’ experience. It explores on certain key areas before, during and after a film is being made and can vary from the screenwriting process of pre-production, to the shooting schedules of working on set and the additional elements of post-production, such as editing and score recording (or a combination of all three by analysing significance. Film is a source of entertainment, perhaps the most wonderful and escapist one that we have today, but there are more artistic and creative values to it than that. When you watch a film, you may not look at a film in the same way again but you will learn interesting aspects of significant shots, characters and dialogue.

  1. Every visual element has a significant meaning.

How-to-maintain-healthy-eyes1Due to the enthralling and escapist experience of cinema, it can rarely be the case before studying it at academic level of how and why is fully understood. Film Studies students will learn that all shots included are done for a reason and has an elegant purpose in reflecting significance and arguments. We see in films an abundance of camera angles, whether still or moving, but it is why that is an important factor especially in regards to the audience’s emotional response. I will compare and contrast angles considered the opposite to clarify what I mean. So, wide shots usually feature a combination of both characters and background but the idea of it are to show their surroundings which spectators can witness, which can suggest an attraction to the landscapes. However, close-ups and extreme close-ups are used to tighten the frame around a character’s face, or a certain part of it, which becomes effective in presenting emotion. Regarding camera movement, tracking shots show that the camera pursues the subject and hand-held provides a more realistic, documentary-like feeling. Thus, camera angles are to heighten audience involvement with what’s occurring on-screen.
Furthermore, editing techniques are significant, particularly in terms of character development and narrative structure. The most basic aspect of editing is continuity editing which is usually featured in scenes of dialogue. Its purpose is to move the narrative along seamlessly by drawing closer with the characters but without paying attention to editing technique. So, students who are first exploring cinema in a technical and creative way should take note that shots are combined together for a reason to create symbolism or narrative flow.
Lighting is essential, too, as it sets the mood and builds up character. For example, high-key lighting (extremely bright) creates a cheerful or dream-like atmosphere and low-key lighting (rather dark) constructs a surreal and perhaps sinister image. It’s the significance of those images which contradicts in understanding a character and their surroundings. Sound is important, too, in either heightening the audience’s current mindset during a film – usually being music. In sequences we often see that it works alongside the shot to create a symbolic reflection or to expose an emotional feeling. Students should be aware of this as, like songs written by musicians, film music aims to create emotion whether on or off screen.

  1. Cinema has its own terminological language.

Film_ProductionIn many ways and like many creative industries, cinema has its own abundance of terminological language in film production, whether it is camera techniques, sound, lighting, sets, cinematography etc. Films are made in a variety of ways throughout production and all the different strategies to cast emotion, spectacle, excitement etc have different terms. For instance, “close-up” is a written term used to explain a close shot of a character. Still, it’s important to state that term than describe it like this – “an angle that zooms close on a character.” There are different labels for all kinds of film production so it is vital that students gain an understanding beforehand. In fact, I have seen a number of film glossaries within books I’ve read that alphabetise filmic terms and explain their definitions. Still, judging from my experience of not only writing about films, but discussing them with lecturers and other people within the industry, gaining an understanding of film terminology will be crucial to gaining good marks.

  1. You will likely be studying broader aspects of films outside of Hollywood.

hollywoodsignIt’s become quite obvious these days that people, particularly youngsters, tend to pay the most attention to blockbusters and high-concept films produced in Hollywood. However, you are more than likely to not receive an Honours degree in Film Studies if you do not explore wider areas of cinema across the globe or explore it in different ways. Many countries across the world have origin background as to forming their own film industries, though a number of them influence from Hollywood. This is where you’ll get a more historical idea of filmmaking, especially as many feature movements that develop new styles of filmmaking techniques. Movements such as German Expressionism, French New Wave, Poetic-Realism, Italian Neorealism and Dogma 95 each have a different impact on the film industry, many of which are referenced in films today (e.g. Tim Burton’s influence on German Expressionism). So, it is important to at least try and take an interest in these films because it’ll not only broaden your knowledge but also passion for cinema. After all that is why you’re studying it, isn’t it? On a similar note, you may watch the occasional silent film from the earliest years of cinema. So, be sure to understand what they consist of and what the director tries to get across (like rhythm of music with shots) and understand that, at least before sound was produced, cinema was an experimental art at the time and still plays a significant part in films we see today. You may also study some television shows and documentaries, primarily to demonstrate the differences between them and cinema.

  1. Lecturers are not meant to tell you everything.

secretIt’s important to clarify that university lecturers will not highlight every aspect of a certain subject. A lecturer’s knowledge is not something that students can simply use to pass exams, write essays or just generally get their degree. Yes, some may specialise in the subject that they are lecturing, but their job is to introduce them and demonstrate to students what they consists of. It is then up to you to develop your own ideas and create your own arguments based on your research. I have been told numerous times that there is no right or wrong answer to cinema, just like there is not regarding opinion, as it explores at an analytical depth; thus, exposing broader ideas. So, it is relevant to state that while students can utilise notes within lectures and guidance from lecturers, your degree is still mainly reliant on your independent thinking, research methods and academic writing style.

  1. Some lectures may loosely reference other subjects relating to the films.

ar134120799622775Although students have opportunities to do a joint-degree specialising in two different subjects, if you are specialising in only Film Studies, there may be some lectures that will underpin other frameworks, such as historical events, politics and religion. So, for some assignments (of course depending on what the module consists of), you may have to research or gain an understanding of other subjects to relate them to your film examples as well as support your ideas. For example, I’m currently writing my third-year project on cinema’s representation of disability with Frankenstein (1931), The Elephant Man (1980) and My Left Foot (1989) being my chosen films to analyse. Now, in order to enhance some theoretical background, I’ve been conducting research on disability’s place within society – Victorian freak shows, eugenics, the T4 programme by Nazi Germany and the Disability Rights Movement. That background information I am going to explore will be supporting my ideas relating to those films I’ve just mentioned. So, Film Studies students at my university, and perhaps at others too – prepare for a little historical and cultural information and research.

  1. Write films in italics.

film studiesWhen you are writing film titles in essays, be sure to note them in italics (as I have just demonstrated). This is common knowledge but when we use capital letters in our sentences, it is for a name of a person, place or object. However, because films are centered to the essay and are generally-speaking finished products with a name, we do that. Still, the reason for writing them in italics is because it is a formula to show one’s finished work. In fact, it is the same with articles, poems, short stories as well as production in film, music videos and theatre. I have learned that by not writing them in italics, you can lose a substantial amount of marks and it can be pretty costly. So, whenever you mention a film title – use italics!

Theories of Auteur, Star & Psychoanalysis in Alfred Hitchcock Films


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The auteur theory was originally introduced in France as Les politique des auteurs by film critics of the Cahiers Du Cinema magazine, particularly François Truffaut. In his paper, Truffaut proposed that the director is given the creative role on production of a film and that they are the artist whose personality is written in the film (cited in Caughie, 1981). While the theory had been critically evaluated by critics in France, it had not been revolutionized and developed further until American film critic Andrew Sarris re-introduced it, via his Notes on the Auteur Theory essay that was published in 1962. He stated that there is no precise definition o1f the term in the English language (cited in Caughie, 1981) but he did argue that a film’s visual and technical execution is primarily through the director’s personal vision. For example, director Alfred Hitchcock was among the list of Sarris’ original auteurs and according to André Bazin, Hitchcock was a true auteur (cited in Caughie, 1981, p23). This essay will examine Sarris’ three central aspects of the Auteur theory that he believes establish a director as an auteur. The main focus in this paper will be on Hitchcock’s auteurist work and how it undercuts Richard Dyer’s star theory, Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis and Laura Mulvey’s concept on the male gaze. The outcome of the essay will determine whether the auteurist approach is still valid in comparison to those other theories.

Auteur theory centres on the analysis of mise-en-scéne which is under the director’s control. In the Notes on the Auteur Theory (1962) essay by Andrew Sarris, he indicated three specific characteristics that identify a director’s personal expression. The first is technical competence (cited in Caughie, 1981) which refers to the director’s control on production and how the film’s visual and practical features are applied for a specific reason. Although there are other individuals who have roles on-set, it is the director who is in control of how the mise-en-scéne is handled in a film.

The second premise is the director’s personality (cited in Braudy and Cohen, 2004). According to Sarris, “a director must exhibit certain recurrent characteristics of style which serve as his signature” (cited in Braudy and Cohen, 2004, p562). It is often from either obsessions or real events that occur in the director’s life which, therefore, becomes their motivati2on to portray their on-screen image. In Hitchcock’s case, for example, he endured a child incident in which he was sent to a prison cell by his father for approximately ten minutes. His emotions during this occurrence could have been Hitchcock’s motive to reflect how he felt on the screen but through different narrative conventions and character types. The third and arguably most important characteristic of the auteur theory is ‘interior meaning’ which Sarris refers to as “the ultimate glory of the cinema as an art (cited in Caughie, 1981, p64). Sarris vaguely explains his definition of interior meaning but he does refer to it as the strain between the auteur and the material itself.

Sarris wrote a list of auteurist directors in which Hitchcock appeared as one of them. Caughie (1981) suggests that there is a separation between Hitchcock the director and the Hitchcock structure. For example, he has been branded as the Master of Suspense. ‘Suspense’ alone establishes Hitchcock as an auteur that is the structure whereas ‘master’ seals that and it becomes his own individual talent. In an interview with François Truffaut, Hitchcock provided his definition of suspense. He states that suspense is centred on uncomfortable circumstances which the audience are aware of, yet the characters are not (cited in Truffaut, 1986). He also illustrates how suspense builds up for some time and that the audience participate in the situation, as opposed to a sequence of surprise that occurs unexpectedly. Those two keywords summarize Hitchcock as an auteur because it immediately illustrates that suspense became Hitchcock’s specialty. According to Cook (2007, p398), Hitchcock was an auteur who dominated his audience. Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954) illustrates vintage Hitchcock suspe3nse, such as the sequence in which Jeffries hears Thorwald slowly pacing towards and entering his apartment. Tension heightens progressively as there is dark mise-en-scéne, no music and diagetic sound of footsteps. Hitchcock intensifies suspense by centring it on what the audience can at least predict yet the characters do not know about during a scene. The viewers and Jeffries’ have been led to believe that Thorwald is a killer but are unaware of his capable instincts. Therefore, the audience are placed in Jeffries’ uncomfortable position and feel frightened of Thorwald. Suspense has become Hitchcock’s most identifiable theme but there are other implications of his auteurist style.

5The majority of Hitchcock’s films were either adaptations or original screenplays written by somebody else. Hitchcock looked for certain elements from sources that he can relate to and present on the screen. For example, Vertigo is based on Boileau and Narcejac’s novel D’entre Les Morts. According to Wood (1989), the book was weak but Hitchcock’s acquirement of the film adaptation and personal expression through mise-en-scéne sparked its superior status. This suggests that an auteur becomes attracted to the material’s content that enables them to portray their own vision through personal style. Furthermore, it is also suggested that an auteur’s style is identifiable to a different material. Truffaut (1983) believed that the D’entre Les Morts novel was especially written for Hitchcock. This is perhaps where he capitalizes on his personal approach as an auteur with his selective technicality and thematic strategies to sign his signature; hence the “Hitchcockian style” (Pramaggiore and Wallis, 2011, p412).

The physical and emotional attachment between characters is similarly portrayed in certain recurring Hitchcock themes, including voyeurism and the perversity of relationships. Romantic and sexual desires in his films are usually between heterosexual couples. For example, in North By Northwest (Hitchcock, 1959), Hitchcock examines the romantic yet strange relationship between Roger and Eve. For example, when the couple are inside a train cabin, a limited space, Hitchcock examines their intimate contact through a two-shot and over-the-shoulder angle. These shots confine the audience into not only the cabin but even closer into their romantic and sexual behaviour.

6The audience’s observation of a couple or individual is different in comparison to how voyeurism, another Hitchcock theme, is portrayed in his films. Viewers normally look at a character and their actions or behaviour in a particular setting but certain characters observe others in Hitchcock’s films, which often comes from the audience’s perspective. For instance, Rear Window is entirely voyeuristic. L.B. Jeffries is spying on his neighbours from his apartment window and the audience spy on him doing so. According to Perkins (1993), Jeffries’ role in Rear Window is similar to the audience’s role in the cinema and reactions in certain scenes are mutual. Therefore, Hitchcock places viewers in the same situation as Jeffries.

Throughout his career, Hitchcock would collaborate with specific figures who he believes possess certain abilities in order for him to reflect his style. His most regular male actors were Cary Grant who appeared not7ably in more enlightening and perhaps humorous roles, most famously in North By Northwest and also in To Catch A Thief (Hitchcock 1955), Notorious (Hitchcock 1946) and Suspicion (Hitchcock 1941), and James Stewart who portrayed more serious characters in films such as Vertigo (Hitchcock 1958), The Man Who Knew Too Much (Hitchcock 1956), Rear Window (1954) and Rope (Hitchcock 1948). Furthermore, Hitchcock was selective towards his casting of blonde actresses and occasionally collaborated with specifics more than once, such as Ingrid Bergman in Notorious, Spellbound (Hitchcock 1945) and Under Capricorn (Hitchcock 1943) as well as Grace Kelly in Rear Window, Dial M For Murder (Hitchcock 1954) and To Catch A Thief. How these actresses have been portrayed imply their roles perhaps suggest that Hitchcock may have been a misogynist seeing as females in his films have been treated as either desirable objects (Vertigo), victims of punishment or death (Psycho (Hitchcock 1960) and The Birds (Hitchcock 1963))and ones that are forced to be made respectable (North By Northwest). Alfred Hitchcock also worked with music composer Bernard Hermann who not only wrote the score for North By Northwest but also Psycho, Vertigo and The Man Who Knew Too Much. Nevertheless, Hitchcock’s selection of certain individuals either on or off screen initiate that he wants them to reflect a film in a way that he desires.

8Another vital Hitchcockian trait was his cameo appearances throughout most of his films. For example, he briefly appeared within two minutes of North By Northwest just as the opening credits concluded, or as his name disappeared. He does not have a character name and does not play a vital role within the film so he is perhaps playing an extra. However, audiences are able to identify through his symbolic image that it is Hitchcock on the screen. A director’s contribution to a film is perhaps equally as important as the stars and plot are on the screen. Belcher (1980) believes that Hitchcock’s cameos became one of his ingenious trademarks as an auteur (cited in Truffaut, 1983, p350). So, although we know Alfred Hitchcock directed North By Northwest, his cameos have perhaps influenced directors to briefly appear in their films.

9Furthermore, Hitchcock appeared on certain posters. For example, on The Birds (Hitchcock 1963) he stands in the margin next to the film’s features – displaying a woman’s terror of being attacked by birds. This implies that Hitchcock aimed to present himself as important as the characters and the plot. In addition, his name is highlighted in a thick font above the title, implying another strategy which emphasises Hitchcock’s auteurist signature. Therefore, his name and appearance on the poster, as well as his cameos suggest that he is the star.

Hitchcock’s symbolic self-representation defines him as an idol; however, it is the stars who illustrate his auteurist style on the screen. Dyer (1979) argues that their cinematic delivery centres on specific characteristics which brand them as stars. First, their status as a social phenomenon (Dyer, 1979) suggests that they can serve as marketing strategies for a studio to attract audiences and gain profit (Hayward, 1996). This can relate to Sarris’ theory because an auteur may select a star, who they believe will provide them with a commercial boost due to their personal and professional qualities. Consequently, it could also be an opportunity for the auteur to publicize themselves through their relationship with the star.

Hitchcock collaborated with the star Ingrid Bergman in three films (Wood, 1989). Bergman had already become a star before appearing in Hitchcock’s films and inbetween those performances; she won an Academy Award (Smit, 2012). Hitchcock (cited in Truffaut, 1986) referred to Bergman as the biggest Hollywood star at the time and casting her in his films became a triumph. In her work with Hitchcock, she arguably became the first female to represent her natural feminist image as a star into her roles, notably as Alicia Huberman in Notorious (Hitchcock 1946). According to Modleski (1988), Notorious is presented from Alicia’s perspective. Hitchcock’s direction provided the audience with time to examine Bergman’s role and her physical image such as medium shots, in which her costume would enhance her feminism, and close-ups presenting her natural beauty. This suggests that Hitchcock relied on his stars to represent the on-screen image he expected.

A star’s persona is visualised through their on-screen image representation (Dyer, 1979). Dyer (1979) proposes that there are four features when examining a star’s image – the films they have performed in, their involvement in a film’s promotion, such as artwork and interviews, the exposure of their personal life and finally, the public criticism related to the three previous features. To a certain extent, these attributes challenge each other as they together reveal the connection between the star and the character. A star’s publicized life can tell the audience about their personality, whereas their on-screen performances and image often reflect the impression of a star’s persona. For example, the majority of Ingrid Bergman’s starring roles have been related to the concept of a “nice woman” (Wood, 1989, p313). Audiences can perceive her as this character type and as a result, they assume that it represents her true personality. Therefore, it can be argued that her acting talents merge with her star persona.

According to Wood (1989, p311), Ingrid Bergman’s star status is categorized into four components – nature and health, the lady, niceness and the actress, which link together to a certain degree. Wood (1989) commented that her natural and healthy attributes were maintaine10d through photographs of Bergman without make-up in a lifelike setting, such as an image of her with baby ducks (cited in Wood, 1989, p312). This healthy outlook on nature connected with Bergman’s natural beauty and uncovered a sense of innocence and feminism.

This relates to the third aspect of star theory – stars become signs through their character performances. A star’s aim is to become a representation of a certain type through a film’s screenplay and mise-en-scéne. In that sense, stars are meant to provide a sense of on-screen realism within their acting for the audience to believe. Their on-screen positioning is in the director’s control but it is the personal qualities that the star has which draw them into a role and, therefore, allows them to adapt into a character. Pramaggiore and Wallis (2011) state that an actor and a star are not identical as the former is expected to deliver on-screen character performances from a screenplay. On the other hand, stars possess both personal and professional abilities that draw them into a role, a strategy known as type-casting (Shingler, 2012, p110). Hitchcock became known for his favouritism of blonde actresses because they were “the real ladies who become whores once they are in the bedroom” (cited in Truffaut, 1986, p224). This suggests that Hitchcock visualises his female stars’ sexual appetite through their physical appearance. He would often display this in an erotic fashion in his films such as Rear Window, Vertigo and Psycho where these blonde women became attractive to the male characters.

According to Cook (2007), women are portrayed onto the screen from men’s perspective. Mulvey (1975) argues that Hitchcock represented his female stars as desirable objects to male spectators; thus, resulting in the male gaze. Often in Hitchcock’s films women glamorously stand out on the screen and as a result, the audience can overlook the narrative and focus on their physical appearance. Mulvey (1975) refers to this effect as freezing the look in which the female’s passive image becomes a pleasurable spectacle to the male’s active gaze. In Hitchcock’s films this approach can lead to plot development.

11In Rear Window, the audience sees Jefferies’ neighbourhood from his perspective. Perkins (1993) comments that his role in the film is similar to the audience’s because he is snooping at a murder mystery plot whilst viewers are spying on him. Therefore, Jefferies is observing the world around him through his window which could be perceived as a cinema screen, similarly to the viewers who are watching him. Jefferies is often represented as the active male upon the passive female. Grace Kelly’s feminine attributes were displayed through her character Lisa Fremont that enhanced the male visual pleasure. The audience’s first impression of Lisa is of a stylish woman, which is illustrated by her make-up through close-up shots and her closer moves towards the camera, explaining Jefferies’ stunned reaction towards her. According to Mulvey (1975), Lisa’s sophisticated dress sense as a model evokes a visual pleasure; on the other hand, Jefferies’ profession as a photographer allows him to gaze upon Lisa’s physical image. His perspective is also maintained in a tracking shot in which the camera follows Lisa switching on the apartment’s lights; consequently, it exposes Kelly’s full feminist appearance.

vertigo-embraceMulvey’s theory of the male gaze oscillates between voyeurism, a recurring Hitchcockian theme, and erotic fascination. According to Hayward (1996), this is known as scopophilia which means the love of watching. For example, Vertigo is arguably Hitchcock’s most substantial film that reflects scopophilia through Scottie’s obsessive relationship with Madeleine, who comes across as a femme fatale. This suggests that she has a sense of dominance over males with subtle sexual passions. Madeleine is introduced in the restaurant through striking mise-en-scéne, specifically the costume design. Hence, she becomes an attraction to the audience through her dress straps and bare back after which music commences and the camera zooms in. Scottie’s gaze towards her can be similar to the audience’s and cross-cutting between shots enhances this fascination. His obsessive behaviour towards Madeleine as a mesmerizing object develops the plot which continues throughout the first half of the film through point-of-view shots while Scottie is following her.

It can be argued that Hitchcock’s treatment of women on and off screen may suggest that he m0182ight have been misogynistic. He has represented women as not only attractive objects but also as victims of punishment or death (Modleski, 1988). For example, Marion Crane in Psycho is depicted as a respectable woman, who becomes trapped by temptation and greed when committing theft, and as a coward. This connects to a recurring Hitchcock theme – guilt. A close-up shot of her nervous facial expressions in the car exemplifies her guilt and progressively through voice-over from the same angle, she imagines a conversation between her colleagues regarding her theft. While the shower water becomes Marion’s way of washing away her guilt, it consequently becomes her punishment. The audience feels her fright and the power that Mother possesses, especially as the diegetic sound of the knife piercing her flesh synchronizes with Marion’s screams.

13Another significance of Marion’s guilt is perhaps through the colours of her clothing, which relates to the male gaze. In the opening scene she wears a white bra and then a white dress, perhaps representing her as an angel. However, as Marion becomes tempted to steal and eventually she does so, the audience sees her in darker clothing wearing a black bra, which symbolizes her transformation into a thief. This message implies a gaze and visual pleasure to the male audience due to Janet Leigh’s feminine image, which includes the sharp quality of the costume that catches the viewers’ attention, suggestively forming a sexual phantasy.

Hitchcock often expressed both his desire and misogyny towards blonde women through which male protagonists became his substitute. For example, in Vertigo Scottie is immediately attracted to Madeleine in the restaurant and becomes obsessed with her. Hitchcock had already stated (cited in Truffaut, 1986) that blonde women were the real sexually active ladies and Scottie perhaps feels that way too. This becomes evident when Judy is introduced and Scottie tries to physically transform her into Madeleine. The fact that Scottie glares at Judy’s brown hair in a contempt manner implies that he, like Hitchcock, favours blonde women and despises brunettes. Oglethorpe (2012) states that Tippi Hedren called Hitchcock a sexual predator that harassed her physically and verbally whilst filming The Birds. According to Truffaut (1986), Hitchcock cast Hedren in two films that he desired to transform into another Grace Kelly. That is the realization of Scottie’s aim to convert Judy into Madeleine.

14Mulvey’s (cited in Fuery, 2000) ideas regarding the male gaze were similar to Freud’s psychoanalytical theories but they were interpreted from a feminist perspective. Her work on how male spectators visualise female stars on the screen challenges certain theories, particularly fetishism. However, Lapsley and Westlake (2006) state that fetishism can also be seen as an act of erotic desire towards an object relating to a specific character. For example, in Rebecca (Hitchcock 1940) Mrs Danvers is obsessed with Mr De Winter’s deceased wife Rebecca. Mrs Danvers’ fetishness is exposed through her handling Rebecca’s nightwear and pillowcase whilst in front of the new Mrs De Winter. Modleski (1988) argued that Mrs Danvers had an erotic attachment to Rebecca who felt threatened by Mrs De Winter. Hence, this suggests that Mrs Danvers’ affection for Rebecca’s belongings is a fixation towards the dead and it reveals the psychoanalytical complexity in her thoughts and feelings.

Hitchcock also embedded fetishism in characters and in their relationships, particularly through Freud’s Oedipus Complex (Lapsley and Westlake, 2006, p68) which examines the bond between the mother and the son. According to Freud (cited in Lebeau, 2001), the son fantasises from his mother’s affections which enhances psychosexual development. Arguably the prime example is Norman Bates, who has a fixated desire for his mother Norma. Fuery (2000) states that Norman’s affection for Norma had been caused by her possessiveness of him; thus, the psychiatrist explained that she was a clinging and socially-isolated woman. This is perhaps another idea of Hitchcock being a misogynist as Norma’s natural instinct as a mother becomes a punishment; hence her murder.

Although Norman murdered his mother, he still desired her. His initial guilt of matricide encouraged him to psychiatrically keep her alive (Fuery, 2000) in which he would become part-mother and part-son (Cook, 2007). Norman becoming Mrs Bates, even if it means transforming into a killer and disposing of bodies, ensures his commitment towards her. The fact that he also utters “a boy’s best friend is his mother” (Smith, 2009, p64) additionally seals his faithfulness towards Norma though she is dead.

Freud also comments that the son has hostility towards his father and other ‘rival’ males who desire the mother’s love (cited in Lebeau, 2001). The audience lea15rn that Norman killed his mother’s lover; however, they do not discover the cause of his father’s death. Hitchcock overlooked it and the fact that the psychiatrist explained that “Norman had been dangerously disturbed since his father died” (Smith, 2009, p65) which could suggest he had some involvement. Nevertheless, Hitchcock’s visual complexity of the Norman Bates character through Freud’s theory has sparked one of cinema’s most unique and compound characters.

To conclude, Alfred Hitchcock’s auteurist approach has become influential to theorists and to the entire film industry. Sarris’ characteristics of the Auteur Theory connect with Hitchcock’s work and have enhanced a wider critical analysis of cinema in which other theories can be discussed. Hitchcock’s stars became substantial to Dyer’s theory and have, consequently, enhanced how audiences perceive them today. Hitchcock’s reflection of psychoanalysis introduced a closer connection between the film and the audience’s mind. Mulvey’s work on the male gaze became inspired by Hitchcock’s films and has revolutionized visual pleasure on behalf of male spectators. Thus, the Hitchcockian style resulted in a timeless, influential legacy and remains one of Hollywood’s true auteurs.

RESEARCH PROJECT QUESTIONNAIRE: Psychological Appeal & Pleasure of Horror Cinema


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This is a research project motivated from general interest in the horror genre and audience research. In order to analyse the findings of horror pleasure, I’d like you to fill out this survey.If you could do this for me, I would greatly appreciate it. You can send them back to me by either commenting on this post, tweeting me a file of your answers to @CinephileSam91 or to my email address – Thank you!


  • Gender

o   Female

o   Male


  • Age

o   14-19

o   20-29

o   30-40

o   41-49

o   50+


  • Do you enjoy watching horror films?

o   Yes

o   No


  • If ‘yes’, what is it that you like the most about them?

o   Becoming scared

o   General entertainment

o   Plot twist

o   The tension

o   Other


  • Would you consider horror to be a popular genre of cinema?

o   Yes

o   No


  • How often would you say you watch them?

o   Regularly

o   Occasional

o   Rarely

o   Never


  • What time of day would you normally choose to watch a horror film?

o   Early morning hours (3.30am – 6.30am)

o   Morning (7am – 11am)

o   Afternoon (12pm – 4pm)

o   Evening (5pm – 7pm)

o   Night (8pm – 3am)


  • Where would you normally choose to watch a horror film?

o   At the cinema

o   At home


  • Who would you prefer to watch them with?

o   Alone

o   Friends

o   Partner


  • What would specifically encourage you to watch a horror film?

o   Poster

o   Review

o   Trailer

o   Word-of-mouth

o   Other


  • Which of these do you think stands out as the thematic colour of horror?

o   Black

o   Blue

o   Red

o   White

o   Other


  • What do you look out for in horror films? (Choose your top two options)

o   Darkness

o   Eerie silence

o   Good storyline

o   Intertextual references

o   Surreal music

o   Suspense

o   Violence

o   Other


  • Which do you feel is the most important element in a horror film?

o   Acting

o   Costumes/props

o   Plot

o   Setting

o   Visual effects


  • What do you mainly expect to see from a horror film?

o   Graphic violence

o   Jumps and screams

o   Psychological terror

o   Unique characters


  • Do you favour horror film adaptations or original horrors?

o   Adaptation

o   Original


  • Favourite sub-genre of horror?

o   Comedy (e.g. Shaun Of The Dead)

o   Gothic (e.g. Dracula)

o   Psychological (e.g. The Shining)

o   Religion (e.g. The Exorcist)

o   Science-fiction (e.g. Alien)

o   Slasher (e.g. Scream)

o   Supernatural (e.g. Paranormal Activity)

o   Zombie (Dawn Of The Dead)


  • What plot structure in horror films appeals to you the most?

o   Collapse of social formations (families and friends)

o   Earth invasion

o   End of civilization

o   Fear of the unknown

o   Psychopathic murderer(s)


  • How do you feel about horror remakes, sequels and franchises?

o   Like them

o   Dislike them

o   Doesn’t matter


  • Do you believe that they deliver at least similar elements of fright and terror as the first original film?

o   Yes

o   No

  • Do you feel there is a stereotypical representation of women in horror films compared to men? If yes, how so?

o   Yes

o   No


  • How do you feel men are traditionally represented in horror films?

o   The monster

o   The hero

o   Other


  • How do you like a horror film to end?

o   Hero victory

o   Villain victory

o   Cliffhanger

o   Plot twist

o   Ambiguous (open ending )


  • Do you believe a horror film’s villain overshadows the hero?

o   Yes

o   No


  • Which horror character types are the scariest?

o   Ghosts

o   Humans

o   Vampires

o   Zombies

o   Other


  • Favourite horror villain?

o   Count Dracula

o   Dr. Hannibal Lecter (The Silence Of The Lambs)

o   Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare On Elm Street)

o   Ghost Face (Scream)

o   Jack Torrance (The Shining)

o   Jigsaw (Saw)

o   Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)

o   Michael Myers (Halloween)

o   Norman Bates (Psycho)

o   Regan MacNeil (The Exorcist)

o   Other


  • Favourite horror film?

o   A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)

o   Dawn Of The Dead (1978)

o   Halloween (1979)

o   Psycho (1960)

o   Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

o   Saw (2004)

o   The Exorcist (1973)

o   The Shining (1980)

o   The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

o   The Thing (1982)

o   Other


  • Before you watch a horror film, do you usually expect to be frightened?

o   Yes

o   No


  • During a scene, what raises your anxiety?

o   Anticipation (something you at least think is about to happen)

o   Exposure (something that is revealed on the screen)


  • What is your biggest fear?

o   Clowns

o   Confined spaces

o   Death

o   Heights

o   Needles

o   Snakes

o   Spiders

o   Vermin

o   Other


  • How does watching that fear on the screen make you feel?

o   More scared

o   Emotionally closer to that fear

o   Physically closer to that fear

o   Safer from it

o   Other


  • Which of these sound types contributes the most to creating a scary atmosphere?

o   Long silences

o   Low-pitch noises

o   Sharp high-pitch noises


  • What do you think is the biggest psychological effect after watching a horror film?

o   Desensitization

o   Fear & triggering

o   Sleeplessness

o   Other


  • How do you feel about child stars and characters in horror films?

o   Abuses innocence

o   Enhances further terror

o   Doesn’t bother me

o   Other 


  • Name at least two children’s films that you would consider scary.



  • What aspect of answered film in Q34 is the scariest?

o   Plot

o   Characters

o   Acting

o   Costumes & make-up

o   Setting

o   Other


  • Do you believe horror films illustrate anything that you consider inappropriate? If ‘yes’, what would that be?

o   Yes

o   No


  • Do you think horror films become more enjoyable during Halloween?

o   Yes

o   No


  • Name at least two horror films (including family ones) you expect to discuss or watch on Halloween.


  • Overall, would you call horror as a genre of entertainment?

o   Yes

o   No

An analysis of the climax in North By Northwest (1959)


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The majority of Hitchcock’s films contain the same recurring themes but there are certain scenes which are included that destabilize one another to a certain degree. In the fifteen-minute climax in North By Northwest, we get a glimpse into Hitchcock’s most frequent themes, which include voyeurism, suspense, entrapment, perversity of relationships and guilt. Although all of these have different aims during this scene from North By Northwest, they are not separated and regularly undercut one another that unveil significant meaning.

First, Alfred Hitchcock uses certain settings that are categorized into two types – places of order and places of disorder. In this sequence from North By Northwest, the audience witness both. The place of order is the national monuments. These are there naturally and appear striking with a sense of civilization and order behind them. Earlier in the film, Roger observes them through a telescope. He knows it is the whereabouts of Vandamm’s house but audience perceive it as a landscape of order and perhaps as a tourist-attracted location. However, this becomes jeopardised by Roger and Eve wanting to escape and Vandamm’s henchman go after them. Locations are perhaps threatened by specific forces of disorder via the characters and their motives. On the other hand, Vandamm’s house and Mount Rushmore serves as a place of disorder. It becomes the centred location of suspense, entrapment, voyeurism, guilt and the perversity of relationships in this sequence yet at the same time; it is a wealthy, rich-looking mo1dernist house. Therefore, to a certain extent, it could be a place of order too that has been introduced by disordered forces.

The first theme that is introduced into this sequence from North By Northwest is voyeurism, which Hayward (1996, p393) describes as “an act of viewing the activities of other people unbeknownst to them.” The first action takes place from a tracking shot of Roger pacing towards the gate entrance as his upward gaze and long shot of Vandamm’s house becomes the outlook from his perspective. This cuts back to his reaction and he begins to sneak towards the house. Whilst Roger does so, he becomes to not only move closer to Eve but to observe her. The first glimpse he gets whilst trying to watch Eve is from a low-shot in a wide position. We see half of the house as a close-up yet the window, suggestively with Eve inside it, as a long shot. The audience know that the scene places him in that exact position. The camera simply looks upward towards the window whereas the camera looks downward on Roger, which implies that he still has a mountain to climb to save Eve.

2From this point, the suspense begins. A lot of tension in cinema relies on music but in this sequence, Hitchcock creates suspense through mise-en-scéne and camera shots. This particular scene is full of suspense and becomes crucial to not only the film’s narrative flow but also to Hitchcock’s auteurist style. For the first few minutes, we experience suspense but not at a highly intense pace. It is Roger’s figure expressions that build it up further as he paces closer to inside Vandamm’s house through multiple still, long and tracking shots. This leaves the audience with fear of Roger being caught and what may happen to him.

The extreme-wide shot of Roger pacing towards the house indicates a sense of entrapment because through that single angle, the camera focuses on the surroundings. Whilst Roger is lurking inside the house, Eve becomes trapped by Vandamm, which the audience can see through physical contact. For example, Vandamm says to Eve “soon, we’ll be off together and I shall dedicate myself to your happiness”. As he said that, his arm is around her shoulder. It is also emotional manipulation from Vandamm as he calmly utters it in a way which he will always be near her. It is her figure expression that signifies her entrapment because she would either look downwards towards the ground or rub her hands together; the latter perhaps serving as significance in this situation to wearing handcuffs.

3In the medium shot of Eve, Vandamm and Leonard, the audience see the sequence’s MacGuffin – the microfilm in the antique figure. The two men believe it possesses multiple government secrets that are important to Vandamm and Leonard; however, its purpose and use does not carry the narrative forward. Vandamm described it as “a treasure” yet we never learn why he thinks that. It becomes the MacGuffin too because in this particular moment, viewers see close-ups of the object. Alfred Hitchcock has “defined the term as the device, the gimmick or the papers the spies as the device, the gimmick or the paper the spies are after… the ‘MacGuffin’ is the term we use to cover all that sort of thing: to steal plans or documents, or discover a secret, it doesn’t matter what it is. And the logicians are wrong in trying to figure out the truth of a MacGuffin, since it’s beside the point” (cited in Maltby, 2003, p479). This suggests that the MacGuffin is simply an object placed into a film which is important to the characters but does not mean anything major to the plot. Some MacGuffins can also be underdeveloped and perhaps if that wasn’t the case, it would’ve been important to the plot.

4In addition, Roger is mistaken for George Kaplan, a CIA agent, who turns out to be non-existent. This becomes vital to Roger as it is what has made him a fugitive, yet the background surrounding “George Kaplan” is not taken into consideration. This MacGuffin connects to Roger being a character of guilt and voyeurism from the perspective of others. First, he is a falsely accused man in whom the police attempt to follow and watch him. The audience know that he is innocent but the characters believe him to be guilty. Also the fact that he runs away from the police and spies initiates his guilt, even though he and the audience know he is not guilty of anything.

While Roger is observing the circumstances of Eve being trapped by Vandamm and Leonard within the house, we see that the medium-shot of his observation only focuses on his eyes and fixed gaze upon the situation. In fact, they are in the centre of the screen and become the stand-out feature within the shot. Furthermore, when Eve enters her room through a wide shot, Roger is still watching her. At this time, the lighting on Roger changes, particularly around the mouth and nose area of his face. Before Eve enters, his nose and mouth appear as shadows yet when she does, the lighting becomes slightly clearer. However, the strong array of lighting does not change on his eyes. This reinforces his observation of Eve. After throwing an object to catch her attention, the majority of characters all look at someone or something – Roger watches Eve, she looks outside on the balcony after hearing a sound and out of suspicion, Leonard watches outside.

Leonard goes back inside and a conversation between him and Vandamm commences, once again from Roger’s perspective. During the dialogue, the camera continuously cuts back to Roger. Through these cut-backs, Hitchcock wants the audience to get a glimpse of Roger’s reaction to what he is seeing. This perhaps links Roger’s perversion of the relationship, possibly homosexual, between Leonard and Vandamm. As Roger is watching, Leonard says to Vandamm, “I know you’re terribly fond of Miss Kendall” while he has an angry expression on his face. Vandamm responds to “I think you’re jealous” at which point, Leonard gets a gun out and suspense is suddenly built. Once again, the camera cuts to Roger’s uncomfortable response, which reveals to the audience that even he is uncertain of what may occur.

In this particular incident, we witness the appearance of a stain, another Hitchcock auteurist trademark, which is an occurrence or prop that is purposely wrong, in which both the characters and audience establish. As Leonard pulls out the gun, he fires it but the audience do not see any bullet strike Vandamm, not to mention he was not wounded by it. It can be argued that Leonard’s gun is a toy because no bullet was fired but the fact that he is a spy, it must have been a real one to him. Some could argue that stains are bloopers5 on Hitchcock’s behalf seeing as it is clear ‘mistake’ but as he is known for deliberating portraying these stains, it becomes another auteurist style of Hitchcock’s. As a result of this gunshot, the camera now moves inside the house with two reverse medium shots of Vandamm and Leonard. This suggests that the audience too are intruding, yet perhaps trapped, not only into the house but the possible homosexual tension between them.

Suspense picks up intensely when Roger climbs through Eve’s window and writes her a message on a matchbox with his initials engraved on. On the note, it says “they’re onto you – I’m in your room.” So, we know Roger is aiming for Eve to read it but Hitchcock’s use of extreme close-up shot whilst Roger is writing it implies viewers to read it. This matchbox turns out to be the sequence’s guilty object. Its significance is that it serves as an important prop which is transference of guilt on behalf of a certain character. Hitchcock used this in the majority of his films seeing as to certain degree, guilt is reflected. We see it serves as an important prop through a close-up shot that introduces it and we still follow the small box, not entirely through camera movement or whether it’s in shot or not, but the knowledge that Roger has written the note for Eve and suspense of whether she will receive it or not. It becomes important to Eve because her reaction and discovery of Roger’s intrusion is perhaps a way out of her guilt seeing as she’s been guilty throughout the entire film. Nevertheless, although the matchbox is only included for approximately one minute of the sequence, it becomes vital to the characters as it builds up further suspense.

As Roger throws the matchbox onto the floor at an opportune moment, it becomes the centre of the audience’s attention for a brief time, intensifying the suspense. This is still at a high-shot from Roger’s perspective. Leonard’s pacing towards Eve sparks fear that he may find it, especially when it appears right below his feet. Leonard discovers it but the camera cuts to Roger’s reaction. He illustrates his uncomfortable, tense expression by removing his hand from the wall, implying that he may need to run and hide, yet he still keeps eye contact. Luckily to Roger and the audience, however, Leonard overlooks it and places it on the table – indirectly leading it to Eve. Hitchcock still allows viewers to follow the matchbox and Hitchcock creates perhaps a two-shot between it and Eve. It is her sudden movement towards the matchbox which lead6s to her discovery. In a sense, Hitchcock leaves a touch of ambiguity at this point because her head is back to the camera and she reads the note in which she shudders; hence leaving us to imagine her reaction. Nevertheless, we are aware that she wants to get out of this trapped predicament she is in at the hands of Vandamm and Leonard but because she realises Roger is there to rescue her, suspense has rapidly strengthened. Leonard and Vandamm have yet to learn but it arouses nerves and anticipation that they will and also, Eve’s safety is now in jeopardy and of concern to the audience.

Eve has a brief moment with Roger in her room, successfully preventing his presence from Vandamm and Leonard. However as she leaves, Vandamm’s housekeeper Anna spots Roger’s intrusion in reflect of the TV. The camera illustrates that she looks at something and the TV is the result. Hitchcock cuts the camera back to her to get a glimpse of her reaction, in which she appears calm. However, she disappears away from the camera and out of sight which raises suspenseful questions – where is Anna going knowing she’s seen Roger, what is she going to do and what will happen if Roger comes across her?

7Suspense tightens even more as Anna holds a gun to Roger, appearing as a threat to shoot him. A wide two-shot of the two arouses tension because it takes place inside the house and the audience know that they are the only two characters within. In addition, Roger becomes trapped; not only that the duo will discover him and the fact he has a gun pointed towards him, but that the entire scene takes place near a cliff. During this incident, the gun is central to the significance of entrapment because the gun’s consequences become Roger’s prevention from overpowering her and escaping, otherwise he will be killed. As this is happening, Vandamm and Leonard are outside walking with Eve towards the plane through a medium shot of all three characters. This angle not only Vandamm’s physical manipulation of Eve but Leonard’s eye contact on her. We perhaps already established that Leonard is jealous of Eve because she gets affection from Vandamm but his fixed eye contact on her and his behind positioning on the screen implies that he’s the outsider and at this moment, becomes of no interest to neither Eve nor Vandamm.

Just as Roger is being restrained by Anna, Eve is still being dominated by Vandamm. As they are walking out of the house towards the plane, Eve’s eye contact towards Vandamm and his dominance towards her signify her entrapment and anxiety. He is still physically holding her with his arm and she still appears similar to wearing handcuffs. After seeing the plane, Eve’s anxiety builds up and Hitchcock establishes this through a close-up, to which she looks backwards towards the house. The camera moves backwards away from it as she does, which could mean it’s a point-of-view. Also, she knows that Roger is inside the house and expects him to save her from Vandamm and Leonard. She still remains calm as she edges closer towards the plane. We get a brief moment of suspense in this incident too as Vandamm asks Eve why she looks anxious to which she lies. The audience know that she is but tension builds because we do not know if Vandamm believes her or whether Eve will suddenly run away from him. She also feels guilty at this point because she knows Roger is inside the house and prevents it from Vandamm and Leonard. So, she finds out something that they do not know, not until Roger reveals himself and her guilt in this incident becomes demolished.

As they approach the plane, the audience hear a gun-shot and distinctly witness Roger leave from the house. His escape from the housekeeper appears off-screen and Hitchcock once again leaves the audience to imagine what happened. As a result, Vandamm and Leonard know of Roger’s presence and his ambitions to rescue Eve. This is when the suspense heightens and the entrapment tightens. The suspense becomes more action packed as it relies on the figure expressions of each character. The entrapment of the gate being locked forces Roger and Eve to run away with Vandamm and Leonard following them. Roger and Eve become trapped by the entrance gate being locked and find no other way but through the woods, an even more confined territory. As the couple brush past trees, there is a brief moment of entrapment in which Eve’s scarf gets tangled and ends up being left behind.

Roger and Eve know that they will be followed like the audience do and through a wide shot, Hitchcock illustrates that Valerian and Leonard are in pursuit. This wide shot sees the separation of the two which indicates mystery of where they are heading to and implies further confinement for Roger and Eve. Whilst they are still running, the couple approach the top of the monuments, identical to the edge of a cliff; therefore, suggesting that they are almost certainly trapped. Roger and Eve’s figure expression staying in the same position and point-of-view shots of the two henchmen approaching them.8

In these circumstances, they are almost totally confined with Roger suggesting the only way is to climb down the monuments as he said “We have no choice.” It is the couple’s wealthy costume design and make-up which signify their danger. Roger is wearing a shirt and Eve in an orange dress. In addition to losing her scarf, her heels break and she is still wearing gloves, lipstick, has fashionable hair and holds a handbag. This also suggests Hitchcock is misogynistic as he allows women, even when looking good, to become the centre of danger.

As Roger and Eve are climbing down the monuments, Hitchcock uses certain shots that signify their entrapment even further and provides further tension for the audience. For example, there is an extreme long shot focusing on one of the monuments. In this particular angle, the audience witness Eve and Roger climbing down to escape close to one side of the monument’s head and a henchman near the other whilst heading in the same direction to pursue the couple. In a sense, this adds a fatalistic atmosphere because viewers know the opposing aims in this situation and they all are heading towards each other, yet none of the characters know it. Ther9efore from the perspective of Roger and Eve, they will become trapped if they manage to climb down because the henchmen are still following them. Their entrapment becomes sealed when they discover Leonard pursuing them through a long shot, which immediately change direction to their right. However, Roger and Eve have yet to see the second henchman that appeared in the extreme long shot on their right as they were climbing down; consequently implying to viewers that the couple are about to be completely trapped.

However, just before that occurs, the audience get an intense but brief moment of suspense in which the couple are crawling across the monuments, hoping not to get caught. They do not know that Vandamm’s henchman is right above them yet the audience do. The medium shot of Roger and Eve shows that they are slowly pacing but the camera zooms out and implies that something is wrong – the henchman. The space between the three characters signifies that the couple become completely trapped and fights break out. Although the suspense regarding whether the henchmen will get to the couple has ended, it still continues. Viewers become closer to the action and anxiety is there as to whether Roger and Eve will triumph over these henchmen. At the same time, they are still trapped because there are limited spaces for them to fight seeing as the location is quite literally down a cliff. While we get multiple close-ups and long shots of the surroundings and fights, suspense intensifies when Eve is dangling from the edge of a cliff and Roger is almost falling too. The close-up of Roger’s hand is the only thing that is preventing both him and Eve falling, and probably dying. Leonard notices this and in a slow manner, the camera s11lowly moves down towards his foot, implying that he will stamp on Roger’s fingers that’ll result in their fall. This could become a personal vendetta on Leonard’s behalf because we already saw that he is jealous of Eve due to Vandamm’s physical affection and Roger has also been on Vandamm’s mind throughout most of the film. So, he perhaps wanted to kill both of them at this point because then they could no longer have Vandamm’s affection after which he could. However, all of a sudden, Roger and Eve become safe from the henchmen as Leonard is shot and falls off the monument to his death.

Eve and Roger are still dangling from the edge but suddenly, he slowly pulls Eve up. Hitchcock gives the audience little time to actually see Roger pull her up so instead, the camera suddenly cuts to the couple inside a cabin. The audio of “Up you get, Mrs Thornhill” does not synchronize with Roger hoisting Eve onto the cabin bed but it does argue that this could be a visionary scenario in the mind of the two. At this point, the guilt that Eve has been feeling throughout the entire film is wiped away because she transgresses from the guilt of serving as a CIA agent against Roger and being associated with Vandamm and Leonard to becoming “Mrs Thornhill” in the final few seconds of the film. The same could be said for Roger too. We do not find out if everyone finally realises that he has been falsely accused all along but the “Mrs Thornhill” in the final two shots is perhaps Hitchcock showing the audience what he wants us to feel about the characters. The final shot of the tunnel is perhaps a significance of passion because the previous shot showed the couple kissing. So, the underground tunnel could be a loose reference to the notion of a couple being inside the bed and having sexual intercourse. Nevertheless, Hitchcock ends North By Northwest as a “happily ever after” by giving the audience what they want to see, yet it ends ambiguously as we do not get an exact explanation as to why it ended the way it did.

12To conclude, Hitchcock’s work on North By Northwest is among many others that have established him as an auteur and its climatic sequence illustrate how each of his separate characteristics connect to one another. Hitchcock may have been known as the ‘Master Of Suspense’ but his legacy of filmmaking has been branded as ‘Hitchcockian’ (cited in Pramaggiore and Wallis, 2011, p412). Thus, in North By Northwest and throughout his career, Alfred Hitchcock has proved himself to be one of the most creative and influential filmmakers in cinema history.