Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I love this editorial from last summer by Terry Richardson, "The Untold Crime," for Vogue Nippon August 2010. In a previous post I considered how the fashion editorial is beauty unexplained. The editorial serves as an index to a larger post-modern condition of fragmented meaning. There is also a quite obvious aspect of suspense. Below the images is Hitchcock's theory of suspense. "Show the audience the bomb and they will watch with anxiety." In the best fashion editorials, we see a story and it generates unresolved suspense.

"There is a distinct difference between 'suspense' and 'surprise,' and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I'll explain what I mean. We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let's suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, 'Boom!' There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence...

Helmut Newton, Nova, 1970

Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o'clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: 'You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!'In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story," Alfred Hitchcock.

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