The Architecture of Suspense: The Built World in the Films of Alfred Hitchcock

Univ. of Virginia. Sept. 2022. 264p. ISBN 9780813947679. pap. $29.50. FILM
This is an artful combination of film study and mid-20th century architectural history, framed through the lens of Alfred Hitchcock. As one of the great modernist film directors, it’s unsurprising that Hitchcock used modernist structures in films, such as North by Northwest, to create a feeling of isolated elegance. His film sets, both real and backlot, drew inspiration from the likes of Richard Neutra, John Lautner, and, of course, Frank Lloyd Wright. Hitchcock cannily used exteriors for added meaning, such as the sinister Bates’s house, the Greenwich Village courtyard of Rear Window, or the phallic skyscraper imagery in Vertigo. French, a screenwriter and historian, calls the Vandamm house in North by Northwest “the building that changed movies forever,” as it began the trope of a suave, sophisticated villain living in a home that mirrored his psyche—a concept the James Bond franchise wholly absorbed. French explores the architectural history of several film locations, includes a brief chronicle of the American motel, and discusses the influence of architects in the cinematic role of production designers. There’s an appendix of 50 films in which buildings are essential characters.
VERDICT A truly engaging study that should appeal to fans of both Hitchcock and architecture.
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