Book Review: The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock

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Publisher: Nai010 Publishers

Release Date: April 30, 2014

“Settings, of course, come into the preliminary plan, and usually I have a fairly clear idea about them; I was an art student before I took up with films. Sometimes I even think of backgrounds first.” -Alfred Hitchcock

Having worked as a set designer in the early 1920s, Hitchcock remained intensely concerned with the art direction of his films, which feature a remarkable collection of Victorian manors, suburban dwellings, modernist villas, urban mansions, and posh penthouses. Some remarkable single-set films, such as Rope or Rear Window, explicitly deal with the way the confines of the set relate to those of the architecture on screen. In this book, Steven Jacobs discusses how Hitchcock’s cinematic spaces are connected with the narrative, the characters, and the mise-en-scène of his films.

Perhaps the best description of the book comes from Jacobs himself (in the book’s introduction).

“In the process of creating cinematic space, phenomena such as lighting, sound, editing, camera positions, and camera movements can and should be interpreted as architectonic practices. As a result, this book not only deals with production design but also the way Hitchcock creates cinematic space by means of cinematic devices.

Nonetheless, this book takes Hitchcock as an architect… Apart from discussing the achievements of art directors, production designers, and set decorators, this book links these imaginary buildings to the history and theory of architecture.” -Steven Jacobs

Those who find the concept compelling should not be disappointed. Jacobs not only utilizes expert analysis to examine the architecture in the director’s work, he also includes reconstructed floor plans, film stills, and screenshots to illustrate his points. With the wealth of Hitchcock scholarship available, it is a wonder that this book wasn’t written sooner. Architecture obviously plays a vital role in Hitchcock’s work.

Two pages from the book.

Two pages from the book.

There are a few errors in the text (such as referring to John Ferren as John Ferrer, and listing Hitchcock’s subway cameo as occurring in The Lodger instead of Blackmail.) However, these errors do not overshadow the insights that can be found in the book. Unfortunately, it isn’t likely to interest many of Hitchcock’s casual fans and seems to be targeted towards scholarly research.

Review by: Devon Powell

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Book Review: The Alfred Hitchcock Story

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Publisher: Titan Books

Release Date: August 19, 2008

Ken Mogg’s coffee table book is better than similar books about the director. The title might lead one to believe that the book is another biography, but it is really a tribute to the director’s film output. There are similar books about the director available, but The Alfred Hitchcock Story stands out for a number of reasons.

The text of Mogg’s book benefits from an easy to read style, and will certainly expand the reader’s appreciation of the films discussed. Readers should also be suitably impressed with the vast amount of photographs that are included on each page. I would venture a guess that readers will find at least a few photos that they have never seen before.

The book’s structure is somewhat unusual. It is broken up into five different units (The Early Years 1899-1933, Classic British Movies 1934-1939, Hollywood 1940-1950, The Golden Years 1951-1964, and Languishing 1965-1980). Each of these units includes a four page introduction written by Dan Aulier (who wrote Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic, and Hitchcock’s Notebooks). These introductions provide the reader with a little biographical and ‘behind the scenes’ information that place the films in a certain period of the director’s career. This context enriches Moggs chapters on the individual films (which are usually either 2 or 4 pages in length).

Articles written by various other writers are also scattered throughout the book. These include:

“Behind the Scenes Collaborators” by Philip Kemp
“Hitchcock’s Cameo Appearances” by David Barraclough
“Hitchcock and His Writers” by Steven DeRosa (who wrote Writing with Hitchcock)
“Famous Locations” by Philip Kemp
“Hitchcock on Radio” by Martin Grams Jr
“Hitchcock and Film Technique” by Philip Kemp
“The Icy Blondes” by Philip Kemp
“Alfred Hitchcock Presents” by J. Larry Kuhns
“Remakes, Sequels, and Homages” by David Barraclough
“The Short Story Anthologies” by Martin Grams Jr
“Unrealized Projects” by Dan Aulier

Most of these diversions are either two or four pages long, and all of them should interest readers. I imagine that many Hitchcock enthusiasts will likely know a lot (if not all) of the information provided by the book, and some will likely disagree with some of Mogg’s theoretical analysis. In addition, both Mogg and Kemp have a tendency to relay other people’s so-called “research” without questioning it. Let’s face it, there are a lot of myths about Alfred Hitchcock that have no basis in reality (and even more that is questionable). However, there is certainly enough here to recommend the book to Hitchcock fans. The photos alone provide an adequate excuse to add it to one’s library.

Review by: Devon Powell