Alfred Hitchcock was born on this day in 1899. Still fairly early in his career, in 1938, the great critic and scholar (and former Nation literary editor) Mark Van Doren wrote a piece on Hitchcock titled “Artist of Anxiety”:

A commonplace about Alfred Hitchcock is that he has no peer among directors in the fine art of suspense. For most of his competitors, as for most story-tellers, it is in fact a gross art: We are kept waiting for the end and that is all. For Mr. Hitchcock there are as many ends as there are moments in the tale; even his means are ends; he polishes as he goes, lavishing as much skill upon details, and upon transitions between details, as upon the swift disastrous curve described by the whole. His material is melodrama, and he does not mind if the examples of it which come to his hand are relatively empty; he even prefers them thus, since then he is freer to be the virtuoso he naturally and by discipline is. The virtuoso of suspense; or, by a further refinement, of anxiety. For his special distinction is that he knows perfectly how to worry us and keep us worried. If there were time to do so we might reflect that it did not matter whether the young man ever reached Mr. Memory (“The Thirty-Nine Steps”), or whether the bomb ever got to the point where it would do the most public mischief (“The Woman Alone”). But Mr. Hitchcock sees to it that we do not reflect; he makes us as restless as the hero is, and keeps our anxiety identical with his until the sudden moment when the mystery dissipates.

August 13, 1899

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