You never watch your films with an audience. Don't you miss hearing them scream? No. I can hear them when I'm making the picture.
Do you feel that the American film remains the most vital cinema? Worldwide, yes. Because when we make films for the United States, we are automatically making them for all the world--because America is full of foreigners. It's a melting pot. Which brings us to another point. I don't know what they mean when they talk about "Hollywood" pictures. I say, "Where are they conceived?" Look at this room--you can't see out the windows. We might just as well be in a hotel room in London, or anywhere you like. So here is where we get it down on paper. Now where do we go? We go on location, perhaps; and then where do we work? We're inside on a stage, the big doors are closed, and we're down in a coal mine: we don't know what the weather is like outside. Again we don't know where we are--only within our film, within the thing we're making. That's why it's such nonsense to talk about locale. "Hollywood." That doesn't mean anything to me. If you say, "Why do you like working in Hollywood?" I would say, because I can get home at six o'clock for dinner.
How would you define pure cinema? Pure cinema is complementary pieces of film put together, like notes of music make a melody. There are two primary uses of cutting or montage in film: montage to create ideas--and montage to create violence and emotions. For example, in Rear Window, where Jimmy Stewart is thrown out of the window in the end, I just photographed that with feet, legs, arms, heads. Completely montage. I also photographed it from a distance, the complete action. There was no comparison between the two. There never is. Barroom fights, or whatever they do in westerns, when they knock out the heavy or when one man knocks another across the table which breaks--they always break a table in bars--they are always shot at a distance. But it is much more effective if it's done in montage, because you involve the audience much more--that's the secret to that type of montage in film. And the other, of course, is the juxtaposition of imagery relating to the mind of the individual. You have a man look, you show what he sees, you go back to the man. You can make him react in various ways. You see, you can make him look at one thing, look at another--without his speaking, you can show his mind at work, comparing things--any way you run there's complete freedom. It's limitless, I would say, the power of cutting and the assembly of the images. Like the man with no eyes in The Birds--zooming the camera in--the staccato jumps are almost like catching the breath. Is it? Gasp. Gasp. Yes. Young directors always come up with the idea, "Let the camera be someone and let it move as though it's the person, and you put the guy in front of a mirror and then you see him." It's a terrible mistake. Bob Montgomery did that in Lady in the Lake--I don't believe in it myself. What are you really doing? You are keeping back from the audience who it is. What for? That's all you are doing. Why not show who it is?
How do you work when you are shooting? Well, I never look through the camera, you know. The cameraman knows me well enough to know what I want--and when in doubt, draw a rectangle and then draw the shot out for him. You see, the point is that you are, first of all, in a two-dimensional medium. Mustn't forget that. You have a rectangle to fill. Fill it. Compose it. I don't have to look through a camera for that. First of all, the cameraman knows very well that when I compose I object to air, space around figures or above their heads, because I think that's redundant. It's like a newspaperman taking a still and trimming it down to its essentials. They have standing instructions from me--they never give any air around the figures. If I want air, I'll say so. Now, you see, when I'm on the set, I'm not on the set. If I'm looking at acting or looking at a scene--the way its played, or where they are--I am looking at a screen, I am not confused by the set and the movement of the people across the set. In other words, I follow the geography of the screen. I can only think of the screen. Most directors say, "Well, he's got to come in that door so he's got to walk from there to there." Which is as dull as hell. And not only that, it makes the shot itself so empty and so loose that I say, "Well, if he's still in a mood--whatever mood he's in--take him across in a close-up, but keep the mood on the screen." We're not interested in distance. I don't care how he got across the room. What's the state of mind? You can only think of the screen. You cannot think of the set or where you are in the studio--nothing of that sort.
What is your technique of working with actors? I don't direct them. I talk to them and explain to them what the scene is, what it's purpose is, why they are doing certain things--because they relate to the story--not to the scene. The whole scene relates to the story but that little look does this or that for the story. As I tried to explain to that girl, Kim Novak, "You have got a lot of expression in your face. Don't want any of it. I only want on your face what we want to tell to the audience--what you are thinking." I said, "Let me explain to you. If you put a lot of redundant expressions on your face, it's like taking a piece of paper and scribbling all over it--full of scribble, the whole piece of paper. You want to write a sentence for somebody to read. They can't read it--too much scribble on the face. Much easier to read if the piece of paper is blank. That's what your face ought to be when we need the expression." Take The Birds. There is not one redundant expression on Hedren's face. Every expression makes a point. Even the slight nuance of a smile when she says, "What can I do for you, sir?" One look says, "I'm going to play a gag on him." That's the economy of it.
You've said that your pictures are finished before you set foot on the set--that is, once the script is completed. What is your working process with the writers? In the early days--way, way back in the English period, I would always work on a treatment with a writer who would be a plot maker, or story man. I would work weeks and weeks on this treatment and what it would amount to would be a complete narrative, even indicating shots, but not in the words of long-shot or close-up. It would have everything in it, all the details. Then I used to give it to a top writer to dialogue it. When he sent in his dialogue, I would sit down and dictate the shots in a complete continuity. But the film had to be made on paper in this narrative form. It would describe the film, shot by shot, beginning to end. Sometimes with drawings, sometimes without. I abandoned this method when I came to America. I found that American writers wouldn't go for that sort of thing. I do it verbally now, with the writer, and then I make corrections and adjustments afterwards. I work many weeks with him and he takes notes. And I describe the picture for the production designers as well. Marnie has all been finished as far as the layout of the picture, but there's no dialogue in it. I would say I apply myself two-thirds before he writes and one-third after he writes. But I will not and do not photograph anything that he puts in the script on his own, apart from words. I mean any cinematic method of telling it--how can he know? On North by Northwest, Ernie Lehman wouldn't let me out of the office for a whole year. I was with him on every shot, every scene. Because it wasn't his material.


©1999 The Museum of Modern Art, New York