Casting a Shadow: Creating the Alfred Hitchcock Film

Alfred Hitchcock presented himself as the sole author of his work – a director whose films translated his creative genius to the screen. In reality, however, Hitchcock was a deeply collaborative artist, working intensely with actors, producers, cinematographers, screenwriters, editors, and production and sound designers to create what the public knew as “an Alfred Hitchcock film.”

Born outside of London in 1899 – just a few years after the first public exhibition of motion pictures – Hitchcock got his start at Famous Players-Lasky’s studios in Islington, London, designing titles for silent movies. In 1925 he made his directorial debut with “The Pleasure Garden” and went on to direct more than 50 films over the next six decades. He made transitions from the silent to sound era and black-and-white to color film with inventive ease, and throughout his career his films demonstrated the possibilities of the medium in both technique and content. At the same time, the director never lost sight of his audience, and today his films remain extremely popular and unabashedly entertaining.

Although Hitchcock’s image as a solitary and visionary artist was periodically buttressed by his own strident pronouncements for the press, “Casting a Shadow” reinforces the notion that in as complicated an art form as film, masterpieces do not spring from an artist’s mind fully formed. In fact, Hitchcock himself once said that his movies were created “slowly, from discussion, arguments, random suggestions, casual desultory talk and furious intellectual quarrels.” Through drawings, paintings, storyboards, script pages and clips from such classic films as “Shadow of a Doubt” (1943), “North by Northwest” (1959) and “The Birds” (1963), this exhibition revealed how Hitchcock’s colleagues contributed critical ideas and how the director himself engaged his team in the creative process; it examines how the films were crafted, sometimes frame by frame, as a collective enterprise that would ultimately be shared with an audience.

“Casting a Shadow: Creating the Alfred Hitchcock Film” was organized by the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, in collaboration with the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library. Support for the exhibition was provided by the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Northwestern University; the Alfred J. Hitchcock Foundation; American Airlines; the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; the Louis Family Foundation; the Myers Foundations; James B. Pick and Rosalyn M. Laudati; and the Rubens Family Foundation.

The Birds

Harold Michelson, storyboard for “The Birds” (1963). Photostat of graphite on paper.

The 39 Steps

Ray Simm, production design for “The 39 Steps” (1935). Graphite and watercolor on paper.

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