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Hitchcock100 Tuesday, 10 August, 1999, 08:03 GMT 09:03 UK
Honouring the Master
Hollywood or bust: Actress Janet Leigh showers Hitch with praise
By BBC News Online Entertainment Correspondent Tom Brook

The master of suspense, the late Alfred Hitchcock, is being feted in America with a series of high profile events to celebrate the centenary of his birth.

A key event will take place in Los Angeles on Friday, Hitchcock's actual birthday, when the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hosts a special evening in his honour.

Janet Leigh, who appeared in the harrowing shower scene in the Hitchcock classic Psycho, will be the special star guest at an evening film programme. Home movies donated by the Hitchcock estate will be shown, as well as never-before screened footage of the director at work.

Janet Leigh: One of Hitchcock's blondes
Dozens of other commemorative Hitchcock Centennial events have already taken place. Last month Universal Studios held a special ceremony to unveil a bronze bust of the director near the studio entrance.

In April, the Museum of Modern Art in New York began one of the most comprehensive Hitchcock retrospectives ever mounted, screening virtually every film he made. At least two major American universities will be holding international conferences on Hitchcock in the coming weeks.

One of the reasons why interest in Hitchcock remains so strong is that the harrowing images from his classics remain so indelibly etched in the psyche, even years after seeing them.

The shower scene in Psycho is truly unforgettable, as was James Stewart peering through binoculars in Rear Window, or Tippi Hedren running from a schoolhouse with screaming hysterical children under attack in The Birds.

The Master of the macabre
Robert Kapsis, who has developed a comprehensive multimedia Hitchcock computer program to document his legacy, says what is remarkable is that the director made 53 feature films and more than half of them still enthral.

"He's a master psychologist," says Kapsis. "He really gets to the audience. He made you concerned about the characters and the fate that they were up against."

To my mind, what made Hitchcock so disturbing - and so impressive - was that he presented evil as lurking just beneath the surface of everyday normality, and it could suddenly erupt with terrifying results.

Hitchcock's impact on contemporary filmmakers has been tremendous. His influence can be seen in a whole range of films including Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill, Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and John Schlesinger's Pacific Heights. Last year director Gus Van Sant went so far as to recreate, shot by shot, a remake of Psycho.

Even the master of contemporary horror, Kevin Williamson, who wrote the screenplay for the teen slasher picture Scream and its various offshoots regards Hitchcock as the ultimate genius.

Replica or remake: Van Sant's Psycho
"He's the master. I hold him in such high regard," he says, freely admits that he is such a big fan that in his forthcoming film, Teaching Mrs Tingle starring Helen Mirren, audiences will see that "once in a while I rip-off a Hitchcock shot".

Twenty years after his death, on the centenary of his birth, Hitchcock is undergoing an image overhaul. He was always considered rather strange.

A re-evaluation of Hitchcock is under way and some scholars say he was neither timid nor shy, nor misogynistic as has been suggested in the past.

Hitchcock's personal psychology may forever remain murky, but most critics agree that he did more than just define the thriller genre. He also displayed extraordinary skills as a storyteller and master of film technique.

His legacy is immeasurable. The best testimony to his skill is that he created several timeless classics, which are cinematic works of art that inspire as much awe and trepidation among audiences today as they did when they were first screened decades ago.

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