Camera techniques in dramatic and humorous scenes in Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes"

Seminar Paper, 2008

21 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

0. Introduction

1. Definitions and key concepts of the camera
1.1 Shots, camera movement, and perspectives
1.2 Cutting, matching, and blending

2. Sir Alfred Hitchcock and The Lady Vanishes
2.1 Short biography of Alfred Hitchcock
2.2 Hitchcock’s most important elements in a movie
2.3 Summary of Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes

3. Analysis of The Lady Vanishes
3.1 Scenes of drama and suspense
3.1.1 Death of the Singer
3.1.2 The Spiked Drinks
3.1.3 Charters Is Shot
3.2 Scenes of comedy and relief
3.2.1 Charters and Caldicott Meet the Room Maid
3.2.2 The Newspaper Scene
3.2.3 The Nun Helps Gilbert
3.3 A sequence mixing up both genres

4. Conclusion and private statement



Alfred Hitchcock is, without doubt, one of the most famous film directors in the history of cinema. Many of his movies are still regarded as well-planned and marvellously produced classics; apart from his masterpiece, Psycho, the films made in the 1950s belong to the best-known ones of the 20th century.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The appeal of Hitchcock’s films lies, amongst other features, in the narrative camera techniques he uses to integrate the audience directly into the plot action. Pans, cuts, and visual special effects are essentials of his work. The camera techniques contribute in a large degree to Hitchcock suc-ceeding in keeping the audience on tenterhooks and manipulating their perception. The repeated award-winner describes this a structure of film making as follows:

In all my films, about two-thirds of the way through, I try to supply a definite contrast. I take a dramatic situation up and up and up to its peak of excitement and then, before it has time to start the downward curve, I introduce comedy to relieve the tension. After that, I feel safe with the climax. (Gottlieb 1997: 81)[1]

The Lady Vanishes, a Hitchcock movie of 1938, is not an exception to this: Hitchcock mixes a dynamic and surprising plot with elements of comedy and satire.

Inhalt der Hausarbeit

Es ergibt sich folglich die Frage, ob eine bestimmte Kameraführung in humoristischen und dramatischen Szenen grundsätzlich verwendet wird und aus welchem Grund diese so gut funktioniert. Die Analyse ausgewählter Szenen aus The Lady Vanishes soll hierauf eine Antwort geben, nachdem die Grundzüge der Kameraführung und Hitchcocks favorisierte Stilmittel in seinen Filmen vorgestellt wurden.

1. Definitions and key concepts of the camera

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The camera takes an important and even leading role in films: The spectators are only able to watch the frame presented by the camera instead of taking a look around at the theatre. For that reason every film director has to pay close attention to camera techniques which have to be appropriate to what is presen-ted. The actions and takes which can be varied using the camera can be sub-divided roughly into two categories: First, the features which can be influenced directly by managing the camera, namely shots, camera movement, and per-spective; second, indirect camera work by changing from one shot to another, that is, cutting, matching, and blending.

1.1 Shots, camera movement, and perspective

Shots depend on the totality and on the size of the focused subjects or objects.

A common structure includes five basic concepts of the shot. A long shot is pre-sented with hardly a detail, a person in its entirety fills very little space within the frame. A medium long shot stands for a shot which presents persons in full size and and much of the environment surrounding the image. The most centralized shot is called a medium shot; persons are shown from head to knees and one can see just enough of the environment. A medium close up mainly includes more detailed parts of a person from head to navel. The environment can hardly be seen in this kind of shot. A close up forms the last key concept. It is by far the most detailed kind of shot, which is the reason for it also being named detail shot. The subject fills the screen completely, it can even be bigger than the image space even if it is merely a small detail. The more detail there is to see in the shot, the more subjective it seems. If the shot is totalized the subjects are subordinate to context (see Hayward 1999: 317-8)[2].

Without any movement the camera frame is static, which means that if there is movement it has to belong to the scene itself. In order to achieve a realistic and dynamic image a camera concept is needed which allows the camera to move.

The pan belongs to the most elementary concepts of camera movement. While panning a scene the camera remains at its position but turns horizontally or vertically. There is a huge number of possible panning movements which can be developed from combining horizontal panning and vertical panning pro-cesses. If the camera is moved from its position to another, it is tracking. The use of tracking shots immensely raises the level of realism within the scene. A track can also be performed horizontally and vertically, and foreward as well as backward—which again leaves a huge number of possibilities.

Every kind of camera movement can be either motivated or autonomous. When motivated, the camera focuses on a particular subject or object and on its movement. A special case is parallel tracking: the camera is situated opposite to the subject or object in focus, and it is moved into the same direction at the same speed. Autonomous camera movement is defined as being much more independent. The camera behaves more like an actor with a will of its own. All of the variations of movement introduced above can be combined. Normally camera movement includes panning and tracking (see Steinmetz 2005: 26-7)[3].

Shots and camera movement are completed by a third category, perspective. A centralized perspective (the camera points directly at the subject or object, eye-line parallels horizontal and vertical screen axis) is considered as documentary, while a perspective differing from the centralized has the effect of commentary. Several differences from the axis summarize and raise the assessment factor.


[1] Sidney Gottlieb, Hitchcock on Hitchcock, London: Faber and Faber, 1997.

* picture from

[2] Susan Hayward, Key concepts in cinema studies, London: Routledge, 1999.

[3] Rüdiger Steinmetz, Filme sehen lernen, Frankfurt am Main: Zweitausendeins, 2005.

Excerpt out of 21 pages


Camera techniques in dramatic and humorous scenes in Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes"
University of Koblenz-Landau  (Institut für fremdsprachige Philologien, Fachbereich Anglistik / Cultural Studies)
The Cultural Study of Film - British and American Hitchcock
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ISBN (Book)
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Aus dem Kommentar des Dozenten: A very careful, well thought-out and intelligent analysis of an aspect of Alfred Hitchcock's cinematic art [...] very convincing.
Camera, Lady, Vanishes, Study, British, American, Hitchcock, Techniques, Dramatic, Humorous, Scenes, Cultural, Studies, Film, Analysis
Quote paper
Marc Faber (Author), 2008, Camera techniques in dramatic and humorous scenes in Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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