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From Classics to Our Time: the Evolution of the Cinema Essay (Movie Review)

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Updated: Aug 26th, 2020



The suspense that sends shivers down the viewer’s spine can be considered the definitive characteristic of Hitchcock’s mise-en-scène. The elements of suspense are clearly traceable in the famous shower scene in Psycho, where the tension reaches its boiling point as the scream can be heard. The mise-en-scène works perfectly as it adds to the overall tension and foreshadows some of the plot twists, thus inviting the audience to participate in the analysis of the mind-twisting mystery. The silhouettes and the contrasts in Psycho do their part to create an almost surreal impression, therefore immersing the audience in a nearly nightmarish atmosphere (Psycho 1960).


What makes the movie leave such an impact is that its lead antagonist is not revealed until the final third of the film. In the rest of the scenes, he is mostly kept in shadow, allowing the audience to create their own interpretation of what he looks like and what makes him so intimidating. The high contrast between the silhouette of the murderer and the bright yet hazy environment makes the scene mentioned above surreal and, in this way, helps embrace the horror of the situation. Blending nightmares and reality, the technique used by the director can be considered revolutionary (Psycho 1960).


As another example of Hitchcock’s brilliance, the editing in Psycho tricks the audience into experiencing nearly the same shock and horror as the alleged victim of the killer. The whole scene in the shower is shot in close-up, focusing mostly on the face of the protagonist. As a result, an impression of intimacy and security is created. Therefore, as the murderer assaults the lead character, the shock that the viewers experience increases exponentially. With a careful selection of intimate shots, Hitchcock creates an illusion of safety and security, thus mixing the building tension with the seemingly soothing environment of the bathroom (Psycho 1960).


The violin screech that immediately gets on the viewer’s nerves, will forever remain in the gallery of iconic cinema sounds, along with the wah-wah effect (Loh-Hagan 2015). The soundtrack contrasts with a comparatively soothing scene in the bathroom, as described above, thus foreshadowing the attack. The harmonic elements of the tune and the dissonance that the sounds of the violins bring into it, though seemingly being from two different worlds, in fact, comprise a single piece that stirs a mixture of fear and thrill in the audience, tricking them into paying attention (Psycho 1960).


Needless to say, the story grips the viewer from the very start of the movie. It develops slowly, creating the freedom to move to a rapid climax. The narrative is linked directly to the US and European culture, which places the story in a context. However, the fears that the movie unlocks blends the cultures, sending a message that can be understood by anyone.



Similarly, the disposition of the lead characters in Vertigo creates the impression of an actor (Elster) and the audience (Scottie), hinting at the denouement. Specifically, the spatial placement of the characters and the objects, with Scottie being located at the bottom of the scene and Elster being at the top, creates an impression of a scene in a theatre. In this mise-en-scène, the concepts of a lie and acting are intertwined; as a result, the spatial arrangement of the objects and people in the scene contributes to building the tension that is inevitably going to resolve into a tragedy (Vertigo 1958).


The camera movements in Vertigo have, perhaps, become iconic in the history of cinema. Mirroring the name of the movie, the movements of the camera can often be described as spastic, nearly wearing the audience out by the end of the film. Both swift and elusive, the motion of the camera captures the nature of the movie as in a bottle, representing the essence of the thriller. Furthermore, the impression of the feeling of vertigo is achieved not merely by the movement of the camera, but also the change in focal length and the technique known as the dolly zoom. As a result, the audience becomes sucked into the atmosphere of the film (Vertigo 1958).


The editing also captures the petrifying magic of the movie, switching from slow and elaborate to swift and abrupt. By using the above-described type of editing, the movie director allows the viewer to sink into the character’s mind and share experiences with the character. Following along with the stages of insanity that the demented mind of the lead goes through becomes a possibility, due to the careful and well-thought-out use of the editing techniques. The technique helps create the feeling of actual vertigo, also hinting at the theme of voyeurism and, thus, creating a uniquely uncomfortable feeling. Particularly, the zooming effect leads to a rapid and drastic change in the perception of the background, which creates an additional impression of descending into madness (Vertigo 1958).


Needless to say, the work done with the sound is impeccable. The movie does not feature numerous soundtracks—instead, it uses a single yet powerful tune. Its mesmerising and soothing elements are in striking contrast with the sudden interruptions of the wind instruments, and the trumpet in particular. As a result, the environment of suspense and an imminent threat is successfully built, making the audience shiver. The music adds to the impression of impending doom, which fits the movie’s main theme perfectly (Vertigo 1958).


Using a subjective camera shot, the director encapsulates the emotion of fear. The personal point of view that the movie provides makes one embrace the idea of the film and become a part of it. As a result, the dizzy feeling does not let go of the viewer throughout the entire picture.

The Birds


It is quite remarkable that the mise-en-scènes in The Birds are done mostly in warm and colourful hues, in this way adding to a rather light-hearted atmosphere. The artistic choices, therefore, seem to contradict the movie’s theme, as well as the overall nature of horror films.

However, the impression of the inconsistency is only an illusion; after a more detailed and careful observation of the scene, one will realise that it is the striking contrast between the lively background and the events that unfold on it that makes the picture so disturbing. The use of green and blue colours, which is a trademark of the movie, also tricks the viewer into assuming that they are going to have a comparatively light and not very suspenseful experience, which, once revealed to be a misconception, provides the viewers with an entirely unique experience (The Birds 1963).


The close-ups used in The Birds help to build up the tension and create the impression of impending doom. Finally, the clever use of shadows in The Birds to reveal the victim also builds the tension and serves as a means to foreshadow a twist. Furthermore, the focus on seemingly harmless scenes, such as the one in which a bird lands on a jungle gym behind the lead character, allows the film to communicate essential messages to the audience, such as the imminent danger that the character is facing. Consequently, the movie remains horrifying even without jump scares and similar strategies that have been worn to death by other directors (The Birds 1963).


Under Hitchcock’s direction, the use of editing alone as a tool helped build a strong and surreal atmosphere. Switching from one frame to another, the film director does not allow the viewer to focus and, thus, keeps the audience on their toes throughout the movie. The identified technique is especially clearly visible in The Birds, where it merges with the sound to create suspense (The Birds 1963).


Speaking of which, the ingenious sound decisions in The Birds need to be brought up. It is quite remarkable that the movie does not have any soundtrack. Instead, the sounds of birds are fittingly used in the film. Combined with a melancholy song performed by children in the background, the screeching of the birds sends shivers down the viewers’ spines. Moreover, Hitchcock demonstrated a masterly use of silence in the film. The continuous absence of any sounds, which is then interrupted by an avalanche of birds’ screeching, keeps the audience on their toes and makes the movie suspenseful (The Birds 1963).


Abandoning the traditional narrative approach, Hitchcock juxtaposes the caged birds and the free ones in the movie. Furthermore, the caged birds are compared to the people who are trapped in the reality that they have created. The two-part narrative suggests implicative ideas about the nature of the phenomenon that people are witnessing in the film.


A bit silly and light-hearted, Fred may suffer from a heavy emphasis on modern cultures, such as the use of a popular tune as the excuse for making the cat dance with mice. However, the idea behind the short is comparatively, harmless and innocent. The cute premise and its skilful execution make the picture charming and worth viewing. The mise-en-scènes work especially well in the film. For example, the striking contrast between the size of the elements in the scene at the start of the movie works well with the next one that reveals a small and harmless toy built by mice. Thus, a comedic effect is achieved.

The film also captures the movements of the characters very well. For instance, the erratic motions of the robot built by the mice contribute to the environment, making the scene hilariously believable. The bright colours used by the authors of the short also serve a very specific purpose, sending a message about the overall mood of the picture (Fred 2016). As a result, the audience is prepared for a series of comedic events with cute characters.

The editing of the shots in the movie also serves a purpose, as it helps keep the audience’s attention on what is important. By placing an overly strong emphasis on certain elements of the scenes, the authors render the characters’ emotions successfully; for instance, when blurring the image of the cat discovering the robot placed in the foreground of the scene, the director marks the essential stages of plot development. Charming and simple, the film is worth viewing.


Perhaps one of the most famous short movies released over the past few years, Kiwi’s simplistic design helps keep the focus on its powerful message and tells the story without any narrative elements. The computer-generated imagery might seem far too artificial, which is why some viewers might need time to get into the necessary mood to enjoy the movie. Luckily, the film gives its audience enough time to immerse themselves in a unique environment. The plot twist, which reveals a tragic yet powerful message, is what makes the short film stand out in a range of similar stories. Although possibly implying the idea of suicide, the short movie, nevertheless, manages to tell a beautiful and passionate story (Kiwi 2006).

The editing techniques should be mentioned separately. The fact that the first scenes do not show the face of the character contributes to the amazing experience of its being revealed in the next scene. However, it is the final scene that defines the movie; as the imaginary camera captures the fall and turns it into the flight, the film’s emotional appeal reaches its peak.

Reference List

Fred 2016, video recording, Leftchannel, Columbus, OH.

Kiwi 2006, video recording, The School of Visual Arts, New York, NY.

Loh-Hagan, V 2015, Sound effect artist, Cherry Lake, Ann Arbor, MI.

Psycho 1960, video recording, Paramount Pictures, Hollywood, CA.

The Birds 1963, video recording, Universal Pictures, Los Angeles, CA.

Vertigo 1958, video recording, Paramount Pictures, Hollywood, CA.

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"From Classics to Our Time: the Evolution of the Cinema." IvyPanda, 26 Aug. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/from-classics-to-our-time-the-evolution-of-the-cinema/.

1. IvyPanda. "From Classics to Our Time: the Evolution of the Cinema." August 26, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/from-classics-to-our-time-the-evolution-of-the-cinema/.


IvyPanda. "From Classics to Our Time: the Evolution of the Cinema." August 26, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/from-classics-to-our-time-the-evolution-of-the-cinema/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "From Classics to Our Time: the Evolution of the Cinema." August 26, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/from-classics-to-our-time-the-evolution-of-the-cinema/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'From Classics to Our Time: the Evolution of the Cinema'. 26 August.

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