“I prefer to observe”

Tippi Hedren receives instructions from Alfred Hitchcock during the filming of the movie "Marnie" (1964) © akg-images GmbH (epd)

His name makes the hearts of film lovers beat faster – and faster. For his thrillers still instill fear. 40 years ago Alfred Hitchcock died, 100 years ago he entered the film business.

"You never know the end," Alfred Hitchcock opined shortly before his death. And added that one had to die to know exactly what would happen afterwards. "Although Catholics have their hopes there." On the morning of 29. April 1980, 40 years ago, was the time.

The specialist in murder and manslaughter in cinema breathed his last in real life in Los Angeles. The credits showed the director as a rich man; Hitchcock's multimillion-dollar fortune included shares in oil and gas wells, 66 cases of top wines, and 2.250 head of cattle on his farms.

"I prefer to observe"

Flashback: A sense of business must have come naturally to the son of a greengrocer. Born in London's East End on 13. August 1899, the young Alfred tended to keep his distance from other people rather than winning them over. Classmates described him as a lonely, fat boy "who smiled at you and eyed you as if he could see right through you". All his life, Hitchcock had nothing to do with any form of physical exercise.

"My kind of sport takes place above the neck," he used to say. "I prefer to observe."

And so Hitchcock haunted London like a movie set, attending theater performances and Scotland Yard's police museum, devouring detective stories – or studying maps and timetables. Even as a young man, a certain aimlessness surrounded him. Until he landed in the advertising department at his first employer, the Henley Telegraph and Cable Company. Among his first assignments was illustrating a brochure on the benefits of electric lighting in public buildings.

Hitchcock wrote "church lighting" on the cover and drew two candles to go with it. "I left everything else in deepest darkness," the filmmaker later recalled. "This was to suggest that candles alone were not enough to illuminate a church." humor, a fine sense of timing and the importance of light and shadow: Here flashed the genius of Hitchcock. And suddenly everything fell into place: In 1920, 100 years ago, he came to film. In a city that was an early hotspot of European cinema culture.

The future director learned his craft from scratch. And developed an enormous ambition. Just a few years later, he was looking over the shoulders of greats like Ernst Lubitsch and Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau in Berlin. The man with the distinctive double chin made himself talked about. About one of his early works, "The Mountain Eagle", the critics judged in 1926, Hitchcock proves to be "a skillful and in places brilliant director". His favorite subject: human abysses.

"Master of Suspense"

Guilt and fear, shame and sex – according to his biographer Donald Spoto, the "master of suspense" didn't need scripts for these recurring motifs. Ultimately, Hitchcock drew from the dark side of the Catholic milieu, with whose rigid moral concepts he had grown up in predominantly Anglican England. The filmmaker remained true to his themes – even after moving to Hollywood in 1939.

Hitchcock's best-known works were made in the U.S. between the late 1940s and the mid-1960s, from "Red Lola" with Marlene Dietrich to "To Catch a Thief" with Grace Kelly and Cary Grant to "Psycho" with Anthony Perkins as a sinister sex offender. Admittedly, a shadow lies over this time. In "The Birds," the manic perfectionist Hitchcock went too far in 1962. He repeatedly exposed his leading actress Tippi Hedren to the attacks of trained birds. The actress suffered a breakdown.

"Ugly, brutal and merciless" the shooting was, Hedren said decades later. In the next film, "Marnie", she was again humiliated by Hitchcock and, moreover, sexually harassed. A unique personal low point in the career of the director, according to his biographer Spoto, whose cinematic legacy is still on the cutting edge today.

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Christina Cherry
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