Look forward, not back…
I don’t want this title to suggest that I am not a lover of Hitchcock’s cinema. He is a genius, and one of the greatest directors to ever live. I am also not going to try and directly compare the films of Kubrick and Hitchcock, as masterpieces like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Psycho couldn’t be more different. Instead, I will be looking at how they innovated, the artistic risks taken by each director, and how their films have held up.
Hitchcock made many contributions to the film world, the most significant of these arguably being his use of the subjective camera to display the viewpoint of characters, his unrelenting use of suspense – earning him the title of ‘Master of Suspense’ -, and his masterful use of exposition. This use of exposition is most noticeable in the intro of Vertigo, in which the film’s world is set up without any dialogue. Hitchcock has left a lasting mark on cinema and influenced some of the greatest ever directors. However, Hitchcock’s cinema can be replicated due to its classic Hollywood style (maybe not as masterfully, however), whilst Kubrick created a cinematic style that no one could ever reproduce. Hitchcock made commercial cinema for a Hollywood audience, and this shows. His films lack a cutting edge, and even his darker films have a saccharine feel, with films like Vertigo and The Birds having a much more romantic comedy, mainstream quality to them. He made films for a more conservative audience, who weren’t open to experimental, boundary breaking narratives. Kubrick after the studio interference on his Spartacus project, moved away from Hollywood to create a subversive, niche art cinema, with his own unique harrowing style. He had the freedom to explore, whereas Hitchcock had to be more restrained.
Hitchcock did experiment to some degree, however. The plot twist in Psycho, in which Norman Bates has become his long-deceased mother, and the use of a single take in Rope, are notable examples of Hitchcock’s attempts to push the boundaries. However, his most loved and famed work came from within the same genre, the suspense thriller, and did tend to be thematically similar, with things like voyeurism, mistaken identity, murders, and much more, recurring across his filmography. This may not seem like a criticism, as what Hitchcock did, he did masterfully. However, the point of artistry is to constantly innovate, and move beyond what has been done before. And this is what Kubrick did. Kubrick cannot be called solely a sci-fi director, or a war film director, or a black comedy director. And yet he has made films in these genres. Looking at Kubrick’s best-loved films reveals how experimental, and unpredictable he was:
Spartacus – Epic historical drama film
Lolita – Crime film/Comedy-drama
Dr. Strangelove – Fantasy/black comedy
2001: A Space Odyssey – Sci-fi
A Clockwork Orange – Dystopian sci-fi
Barry Lyndon – Period Drama
The Shining – Horror/Psychological thriller
Full Metal Jacket – War film/drama
Eyes Wide Shut – Mystery/Drama film
All of Kubrick’s best-loved films cannot be categorised in the same genre. He was more forward thinking, more ambitious. He looked forward, where Hitchcock looked back. With 2001: A Space Odyssey, he looked at how man can evolve beyond his current form and where humanity will next go. In A Clockwork Orange, he told a 1984-esque tale of the importance of free will in a censoring society. He looked at and examined societal taboos, like pedophilia in Lolita, or rape and ultra-violence in A Clockwork Orange. Hitchcock however, never looked at what might be.
The legacy of these cinematic greats is inseparable in terms of popularity and acclaim. Where Kubrick lands the fatal blow, however, is how his films hold up. Because of how experimental and forward thinking he was, his films are still fresh and challenging to modern audiences, retaining the nightmarish feeling they conveyed when first released. Hitchcock’s films, however, have not dated as well. Whilst still classics, they don’t provide quite the same horror or suspense they first did. An example of this would be the rather hilarious, clearly artificial, bird effects in The Birds. Whereas the visuals in 2001: A Space Odyssey are still breath-taking in the CGI age. Hitchcock’s use of cinematography, his snappy dialogue, and his intelligent study of human psychology is still impressive, but overall Kubrick’s cinema has better stood the test of time.