I think it is impossible to truly label any one director as “the best of all time” but if you put a gun to my head I would probably say Hitchcock. This man was the quintessential director, not only in technique but also appearance. Of course, a lot of this has to do with the fact that he was the first director to make any!
Let me first take a moment to mention his cameos themselves. He is not called the king of the cameo for nothing. He appeared in a grand total of thirty six of his own films between 1926 and 1976. Thirty seven if you count his opening narration as part of The Wrong Man.
He appeared in so many of his films, usually in dialog free roles, but my fondest memories of the man came from his weekly appearances on his The Alfred Hitchcock Show. These appearances solidified his image as a dignified and rather humorous gentleman who seemed more like a butler than anything else… All part of his wonder.
The body of work this man created is unprecedented. His list of accomplishments is insurmountable. He created the greatest single scene of all time in Psycho, brought riveting ideas to life in movies like Rear Window, and in general did everything perfect in movies like Notorious. He had a classic directorial style that still stands as an admired viewpoint to this day.
He knew suspense like the back of his hand. I remember an interview the master gave where he talked about suspense. Paraphrased: “In real life two people are talking and a bomb goes off. Shocking but no suspense. However, imagine that there is a bomb under a table between the two people that will go off in three minutes. The audience knows this but they do not, and so they go on talking. But to the audience their conversation now means nothing and they keep screaming at them, ‘Check under the table!’ And that is suspense.”
He experimented. This man tried more variations of existing methods and new techniques than any director of his era. His movie Rope, for instance, was supposedly one long continuous take. In actuality it is many ten minute takes spliced smartly together, as ten minutes was the maximum amount of film a reel could hold at the time. But the fact that he has the camera seemingly follow the characters around the entire movie without appearing to cut makes this in my eyes the most ambitious bit of filmmaking I have ever heard of, and this came half a century ago!
Alfred Hitchcock is undoubtedly a master. In many cases genius can seem inaccessible and mysterious. He stripped away the enigma every time he appeared before the camera and shined that wonderful sense of humor of his onto the screen. I’m glad he did it. It felt right to see him from time to time, to see that genius walks, talks and acts like any of the rest of us. Alfred Hitchcock was truly the king of the cameo.