Show Review: Hitchcock Week — Greatest Hits

by Chad Liffmann on November 3, 2013

Iconic Vertigo credit sequence.

Iconic Vertigo credit sequence.

Last night closed the book on Hitchcock Week with the San Francisco Symphony.  The talented orchestra players, conducted by Joshua Gersen, performed selections from Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, Strangers on a Train, Vertigo, Dial M for Murder, and North by Northwest.  Part of the night belonged to the complex scores, at times sweepingly romantic, other times suspenseful and bombastic.  The other half belonged to the charming host, Eva Marie Saint (On the Waterfront, North by Northwest).  At 89 years old, she still carries a youthful exuberance that would make you question whether she was a day over thirty.  Aside from a few film intro slip ups, she held her own, constantly throwing out sharp pokes at herself, hilarious flirtations at Gersen, and telling fascinating anecdotes about her work with Hitchcock.

It’s difficult to replicate the playful and thorough introductions to the musical works of the evening, especially when they were delivered by Mrs. Saint.  Needless to say, it was a special evening that, once again, showcased the powerful marriage between film and music.  The film scores, composed by Lyn Murray, Dimitri Tiomkin, and Bernard Herrmann, were all very indicative of the characters and plots of their respective titles.  The highlight, in my opinion, came in the form of a few selections from Vertigo.  Amongst the few clips shown, we were treated to the opening credit sequence, a rooftop foot chase, and the haunting kissing scene between Kim Novak and James Stewart.  Hermann’s score is appropriately mesmerizing, thrilling, and when appropriate, deeply emotional.  No piece of music, however, was more addicting than the opening theme of North by Northwest.  It consumes the listener with a sense of adventure and mystery.  Even as my friend and I dashed up Van Ness to catch the bus after the show, my friend was singing the tune out loud.  I think it propelled us.

This is the lasting effect of strong film music.  Film scores strengthen scenes and manipulate the audience’s attachment to those scenes.  And, the feelings we feel when we first hear the themes, we then carry out with us as we leave the theater.  This is a musical connection unlike any other, and it is worth experiencing with a live orchestra.  The San Francisco Symphony continues its phenomenal film series with a two-night event screening of Singin’ in the Rain on December 6-7.  For information and tickets for Singin’ in the Rain and for upcoming film nights in early 2014, please visit

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