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11/29/2004 - BOOK REVIEW - "Hitchcock's Notebooks"


Hitchcock's Notebooks, by Dan Auiler (copyright 1999 and published by Spike Books) is an interesting sort of read.

With the full cooperation of the Hitchcock Estate, Dan Auiler had access to thousands of documents, notes, papers, etc. upon which he could study Hitchcock's way of working. What do you end up with? An interesting in-depth study of a director who did the majority of his work BEFORE the film began to wind it's way through the camera.

I think it is safe to say that most film-makers today know that pre-production is where you lay the groundwork for the film. It is those days and months of working that allow for an easy transition once you go behind the camera. It's easier to story-board and finagle thoughts when it's just you and a co-writer or you and a secretary or you and an empty desk than it is when you're sitting on a set, the very expensive actors milling about, the crew awaiting your word and the sun going behind clouds. To find out that Hitchcock did this and did it to such an extent is both understandable and surprising.

What you find in the pages of this book are notes after notes of pre-production thoughts, script thoughts, set thoughts, acting thoughts, etc. No detail seemed too small. Early on in the book you get a side-by-side-by-side comparison of the film "Rebecca" (Hitchcock's only film to win Best Picture) in three different versions. The novel, the treatment for the film and the stage play. Presumably to keep continuity and content straight.

Later, in what I consider a bit of excess, you have transcriptions of a tape recorded session between Hitchcock and his leading lady Tippi Hedren in regards to her character in "The Birds." This session goes on and on for 20 pages (!) where he goes, step-by-step through each scene in regards to what her character is doing now and what her character is going to do next. I don't know if this gave them some sort of "short-hand" when they were on the set but this seemed to me to take detail to ANOTHER level (and would Julia Roberts stand for this now?).

But what of the Screenwriter's POV? Would this book benefit the screenwriter? Well...it wouldn't hurt. The longest chapter, Chapter 2, is entitled: Building the Screenplay and it takes up 273 pages of this 568 page book. There are some telling items as story ideas flowed freely from the author of the book or screenplay and Hitchcock himself. With Hitchcock's attention to detail and constant battles with the studios, there are a number of points (and examples) where scripts were changed or altered to suit the tastes of the time. Hitchcock, though not the writer of the script, would often write the treatments of the film and this book includes hand-written notes and dialogue for certain scenes that Hitchcock would write on his own. Hitchcock had good relationships with his screenwriters, though he had a falling-out with the screenwriter Brian Moore ("Marnie") and went on to put-down play-write/screenwriter and actor Hume Cronyn (who's wife, Jessica Tandy, was in "The Birds").

I only have a couple complaints about the book: One, is the few amounts of negatives that float to the surface. Nothing much negative about Hitchcock and nothing much negative about his feelings towards certain actors, actress, producers and other directors. Maybe there weren't any notes of complaints or overall negative issues but I would assume that since this book is an "AUTHORIZED AND ILLUSTRATED LOOK..." those items that showed Hitchcock in a negative light were not used. He comes off as a completely driven, obsessed with detail, artist who's only goal was to create a vision to his liking - and I can live with that, but still...

Two, is that fact that Dan Auiler spends an inordinate amount of time on Hitchcock's EARLY films ("Rebecca", "Shadow of a Doubt") while I would have much rather the time be spent on Hitchcock's defining films: "Rear Window", "Vertigo", "The Birds" (other than 20 pages of character definition) and "Psycho". "Marnie" also gets a lot of pages (almost 100) while "Psycho" is only noted on 16 pages.

This is an exhaustive book sprinkled with many rare photographs, story-boards, copies of actual telegrams, memos and hand-written notes. A must read for any Hitchcock fan but for screenwriters? I would borrow a copy from a friend.


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