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Architecture In NORTH BY NORTHWEST

North By NorthwestThe Lone Star Film Festival and Kimbell Art Museum partnered together to present the free film series Architecture in Movies. The series features films that use architecture to shape the emotional and intellectual mood for viewers, as well as drive the narrative. For those who missed our latest screening, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, our very own Will Grella had the following to say about architecture in the work of Alfred Hitchcock.

Architecture always played a key role in Hitchcock’s films. The Bates Motel in PSYCHO, the courtyard in REAR WINDOW, and the bell tower in VERTIGO are all good examples of the way in which Hitchcock uses setting to bring you into his world. Hitchcock credits his artistic background as the source of his focus on heavily detailed settings. There is a great book on this subject written by Steven Jacobs called The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock.

An Emotional Labyrinth

In that book, Jacobs quotes Pascal Bonitzer, who said, “The set in Hitchcock is more than just a mere set; rather, it is a labyrinth in which everyone—characters, director, and audience—loses and finds themselves, in the intensity of their emotions.”

Hitchcock himself stated that “a rule I’ve always followed is: Never use a setting simply as a background. Use it one hundred percent.” He said, “You’ve got to make the setting work dramatically. You can’t use it just as a background. In other words, the locale must be functional.”

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Influence

NORTH BY NORTHWEST displays so many incredible settings that it would be hard to discuss them all in one sitting. I just want to point out the most obvious: the Van Damn house.

Frank Lloyd Wright, who was at the time the most popular modernist architect in the world, inspired the architecture of the house. The MGM staff designed the Van Damn house itself. Hitchcock wanted to use a Wright inspired house because it was the symbol of absolute luxury. Much of NORTH BY NORTHWEST is about the protagonist, played by Cary Grant, being trapped in a labyrinth of luxury, both figuratively and literally. The house, therefore, acts as a metaphor while motivating much of the character’s actions in the film.

This is a good year for Hitchcock fans. The new film HITCHCOCK, starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, opened in theaters on November 3. Additionally, HBO’s new film THE GIRL explores the unorthodox, and sometimes horrifying, professional relationship between Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren, who starred in THE BIRDS and MARNIE.

Don’t miss PLAYTIME, the next and last installment of Architecture in Movies, January 13 at 2 PM. Admission is free of charge.

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The Lone Star Film Society (LSFS) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that exists to cultivate an appreciation and understanding of the moving image as an art form.

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