Saturday, April 16, 2016

Sequencing the North by NorthWest Crop Dusting Scene

The image above of the crop dusting plane chasing down Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest remains one of the most iconic in all of moviedom. That this is so more than 50 years after its theatrical release only goes to show the visionary power and mastery of craft that Alfred Hitchcock brought to film making. (You can see a 4:23 long sequence at YouTube; but they do not allow embedding)

Sometime ago, I went to an exhibit at the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University in Chicago. It was filled with original notes, drawings, and other artifacts from Hitchcock’s work. I was reminded of this when thumbing through my copy of “Casting a Shadow: Creating the Alfred Hitchcock Film” by Will Schmenner and Corinne Granof, which accompanied that show.

The film is a classic take on mistaken identity, with Grant playing a New York advertising executive mistaken for a government agent by foreign spies. The famous Crop Dusting sequence discussed up top is where we learn how far the spies are willing to go to get rid of Grant, but we also see that he has more survival skills than they bargained for.

The book is a Cinephile’s delight, filled with all manner of delightful insider info to how Hitchcock actually made movies.

One of my favorite pieces of Hitchcock lore from the book is below: It is the Cinematographer’s camera angles for the the crop dusting sequence. All 61 bullet points (below) represent a specific camera angle, a specific shot, as detailed below:

1. High Shot – Bus arriving – Man out.
2. Lonely figure (Sketch 3)
(Shot Monday, Slate 211)
3. Waist Shot – Thornhill looks about him in four directions.
a. Process plate for all Thornhill’s Close Ups.
4. a. P.O.V.
Through wide fence onto plowed field.
(Shot Mondaym Slate 203X
b. P.O.V.
Empty road from where bus came
(Shot Monday, slate 201)
c. P.O.V.
Wast Brush
(Shot Monday, Slate 202X)
d. P.O.V.
Corn Field
(Shot Monday, Slate 204X)
e. P.O.V.
Empty road ahead
(Shot Monday, Slate 210X)
5. Closer Shot – Thornhill glaces at west with satisfaction and then looks up road expectantly.

by Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture | Read more:
Image: North by NorthWest