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Suspense Through the Lens

Alfred Hitchcock remains one of the most influential directors from Hollywood, especially for his work in suspense. North by Northwest does not fail to live up to expectation as Hitchcock’s directing takes the audience into the narrative. The use of point of view shots, long, moving camera work, and variations in distance all add to the personalization of the film for the viewer. Through the lens, the audience becomes one with the film and interacts with the characters as they try to solve the mystery of North by Northwest.

The film North by Northwest follows Roger Thornhill as he tries to piece together a tale of spies, murder, and seduction. The story starts with a series of long, flowing scenes with long to medium long shots. The camera follows the characters through buildings, cab rides, and streets with few to no cuts or other editing transitions. This technique allows the audience to follow the narrative as if viewing the scene in real life. The long and medium long shots allow the audience to view the entire scene and learn the basis of the story of who Roger Thornhill is.

In contrast, the love scenes between Eve Kendall and Roger Thornhill move much closer to the subjects. The relationship between Even and Roger on the train is much more personal than any other relationship in the film and thus Hitchcock sticks to much closer frame; hardly straying from a medium close-up. The audience becomes enraptured in the relationship as the focal point of the scene. The lack of cut edits compared to other films’ love scenes again gives the audience a closer relationship to the film.

By the middle of the film, Roger Thornhill has found himself in an isolated farmland outside of Chicago with little ahead of him but the occasional car passing by. The emptiness of the surrounding area is emphasized by first a point of view shot from Thornhill showing the landscape, then a cut to show Thornhill looking in that direction. These shots incorporate the viewer to see the film through Thronhill’s eyes. The point of view shots continue as the audience watch a plane fly towards the screen and almost hit both Thornhill and the camera. The camera angle matching Thornhill’s upward angle creates even more suspense of whether or not the plane will hit and kill him.

North by Northwest successfully incorporates the audience into the narrative through the camera lens. The choice of framing and scene editing leave the audience with a much more personal perception of the film. Introductory scenes such as the opening shots show long camera shots to open the story to the audience where as much more personal scenes like those with Eve Kendall move in. The incorporation of the audience to the story line adds to the suspense of the narrative, as not only is Roger Thornhill attempting to solve the mystery but the viewers as well. The airplane crash not only threatened Thornhill but also was shot as if the plane was heading straight for the audience.

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