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Question: Scenes from the film North By Northwest and the elements that create suspense in these sequences; How does Alfred Hitchcock use lighting camera angles and music to heighten the feeling of tension?

11 Sep 2023,8:58 PM


Select scenes from the film North By Northwest and explore the elements that create suspense in these sequences. How does Alfred Hitchcock use lighting camera angles and music to heighten the feeling of tension? Do you find this technique to be effective? Do you think there are elements of this film that could be improved? Finally, do you believe that Hitchcock let the audience "play God" in any of these scenes that you selected to analyse? is North By Northwest and Hitchcocworthy of the "Master of Suspense" title?



"North by Northwest," directed by Alfred Hitchcock and released in 1959, is indeed a classic example of Hitchcock's mastery of suspense. Let's explore some key scenes from the film and analyze the elements that create suspense:

  1. Crop Duster Attack: In this iconic scene, the protagonist Roger Thornhill (played by Cary Grant) finds himself in the middle of nowhere, chased by a low-flying crop duster plane. Several elements contribute to the suspense:

    • Camera Angles: Hitchcock uses wide shots to emphasize Thornhill's isolation in the vast open landscape, making him vulnerable. As the plane approaches, the camera switches to close-ups of Thornhill's terrified face, intensifying the audience's connection to his fear.

    • Lighting: The bright, sunny setting initially seems safe but quickly turns ominous as the plane dives. The stark contrast between the idyllic environment and the threat of the plane adds to the tension.

    • Music: Bernard Herrmann's score plays a crucial role in building suspense. The music starts subtly and gradually crescendos as the plane approaches, creating a sense of impending danger.

    • Editing: The sequence of shots, including the slow buildup as Thornhill realizes he's being pursued, the plane's relentless pursuit, and Thornhill's desperate attempts to escape, keeps the audience on edge.

    This scene is highly effective in building suspense, and Hitchcock skillfully uses camera angles, lighting, and music to heighten the feeling of tension.

  2. Mount Rushmore Climax: In the film's climax, Thornhill and Eve Kendall (played by Eva Marie Saint) climb the faces of Mount Rushmore while being pursued by the villains. Key elements of suspense in this scene include:

    • Camera Angles: The use of high-angle shots from the top of the monument emphasizes the perilous height and the vulnerability of the characters.

    • Lighting: The scene takes place on the monument's faces, with dramatic shadows and highlights creating a visually striking backdrop that adds to the suspense.

    • Music: Herrmann's score continues to build tension, accentuating the danger of the characters' situation.

    • Editing: The rapid editing between shots of Thornhill, Kendall, and the pursuing villains keeps the audience engaged and anxious about the outcome.

    Hitchcock effectively creates suspense in this scene, making the audience fear for the characters' safety as they navigate a treacherous environment.

As for the question of whether Hitchcock let the audience "play God," Hitchcock was known for involving the audience in his films by providing them with more information than the characters have. In "North by Northwest," the audience often knows more about the situation than Thornhill, which creates dramatic irony and increases suspense.

Alfred Hitchcock's title as the "Master of Suspense" is well-deserved, as he consistently employed innovative techniques to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. His use of lighting, camera angles, music, and editing in "North by Northwest" is a testament to his skill in building tension. While some may argue that no film is without its flaws, Hitchcock's ability to captivate and thrill audiences with suspenseful storytelling remains unparalleled in cinematic history.

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