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Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock are considered two of the most important names of the Golden Age of Hollywood and two of the most influential directors of all time.
Hitchcock was a successful director in Britain before coming to Hollywood in 1940. Rebecca (1940), Hitchcock’s first Hollywood film, explores the gothic genre by using voice-over for the opening sequence to cast a gloomy and mysterious shadow over the entire film. Rebecca’s presence haunts Mrs. de Winter due to the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers’s obsession with keeping the house exactly how her former mistress liked it. At one point, Mrs. de Winter’s insecurities almost get the best of her when Mrs. Danvers is coaxing her to commit suicide.
“Hitchcock was one of the first directors to have his name above the title as a key selling point, and he is among the few directors whose films almost constitute a genre unto themselves, the suspense-filled ‘Hitchcock thriller.'” (A Short History of Film, p102) Hitchcock made the term ‘MacGuffin popular through his films. A MacGuffin is the object around which the plot revolves, driving the narrative forward and being of crucial importance to the protagonists, although the audience themselves may have little or no investment in it. (British Film Institute)
“A meticulous planner, he storyboarded each of his films from first shot to last before a single foot of film was exposed”(102). Rope (1948) was one of the first films to be made with the illusion of having been filmed over one long continuous take. This technique inspired many modern-day filmmakers, and now we have the technology to employ the technique for real. Hitchcock also forayed into television with Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which inspired many directors to explore that medium.
Orson Welles began in the theater and then drifted into radio dramas in the 1930s. Due to his success in theater and radio, RKO signed Welles to direct in 1939. His first film was Citizen Kane (1941), which was loosely based on the publishing tycoon Willam Randolph Hearst’s life. “The film tracing Kane’s life from an unhappy childhood to old age and death through a series of complicated flashbacks was a masterpiece of set design, camera placement, deep focus composition, lighting and editing.”(110) Welles used deep focus to capture all subjects in the frame in perfect clarity. In Citizen Kane, an example of the deep focus he employed is the first scene where we see the adults in the foreground and Charles playing in the snow in the background. His techniques and storytelling have influenced many directors.
John Ford is a famous filmmaker known for making westerns. A contemporary filmmaker Quentin Tarantino criticized Ford for keeping alive the idea of Anglo-Saxon humanity compared to everybody else’s humanity. He also said that Ford killed faceless Indians like zombies in his work. Kent Jones, a film critic for Film Comment Magazine, defended Ford from that critique in his article Intolerance. Jones states that American culture and history are still so commonly viewed through a New Left prism, which means that around 1964 became a “Year Zero” of political enlightenment. “As a consequence, the preferred stance remains that of the outsider looking in, or in this case back, at a supposedly gullible and delusional pre-Sixties America” (Jones).
He posits whether it is helpful to keep looking back at the past, disowning things we don’t like, and attributing those failures to others instead of our whole society. According to Jones, we as a society insist on the de-complication of history to justify our tastes and abolish our discomforts. Ford’s films do not live apart from the shift in American culture and the film industry’s demands; they are in dialogue with them (Jones). Those films do not match the contemporary views of race that we expect today. Jones suggests that it may be time to stop searching for moral perfection in artists. Ford’s vision was paternalistic, which reflected American culture at the time. “Holding an artist working in a popular form to the standards of an activist or statesman and condemning him for failing to escape the boundaries of his own moment is a fool’s game” (Jones).
Jones states that Ford went deep into the painful contradictions between solitude and community, or the fragility of human bonds and arrangements. He also notes that “Indians” in Ford’s films are a platonic ideal enemy and that every age has one. One can find the same device employed throughout the history of drama and in countless other westerns. Jones also notes that people can spend a lifetime contemplating Ford’s work and continually find new values, problems, and layers of feeling.
In The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Ford explores the plight of sharecroppers during the Dust Bowl. He focuses on the desperation the characters are feeling throughout their journey to California. In one scene, the father struggles to pay for a loaf of bread and candy for his children. There is also a theme of social justice sparked in Tom Joad after his friend Casy’s death.
François Truffaut is known as the best director from the French New Wave. The French New Wave was an influential group of filmmakers that revolutionized post-World War II cinema. “In his famous 1954 essay “A Certain Tendency in French Cinema,” published in Cahiers du cinéma five years before the release of his first feature, François Truffaut proposed the revolutionary notion that the director is the true author of a given film, an idea that has thoroughly permeated film culture by this point” (The Criterion Collection). That concept was part of what came to be known as the auteur theory. Truffaut was one of the pioneers of a movement that accepted that traditional storytelling and filmmaking techniques needn’t be obeyed.
“Truffaut’s first feature, The 400 Blows (LesQuatrecentscoups), was more than a semi-autobiographical film; it was also an elaboration of what the French New Wave directors would embrace as the caméra-stylo (camera-as-pen) whose écriture (writing style) could express the filmmaker as personally as a novelist’s pen” (The Criterion Collection). His style inspired many American filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg. When asked to choose between Truffaut and Jean Luc Godard Xavier Dolan, a Canadian filmmaker chose Truffaut as his inspiration. “Truffaut is more moving, more human, also more aware of the need to accord importance to characters and stories rather than merely to processes, to himself, to a vision, to freedom, to a revolution, to a play on words” (Xavier Dolan interview).