North By Northwest in sixteen frames
11 July 2018
My local cinema is doing a Hitchcock season, which kicked off on Sunday with North By Northwest.
Thinking about choice of moment as a storytelling device, I had a go at telling the story in just sixteen images.
The good news is Hitchcock’s images are so striking and memorable (the film is full of them!) it’s easy to name the film with just one or two. But I also wanted to try and use my choice of images to try and convey the cause-and-effect of the plot.
The first four panels pick up roughly the first act.
I thought about using the first image to introduce the character & personality of Roger Thornhill (which the film spends about five minutes doing); but with limited frames I chose instead to go straight to the start the story proper: Roger’s kidnapping.
I don’t achieve great clarity in the following frames, but his first encounter with the antagonist and subsequent murder attempt are shown here.
I left out a large chunk of the story where Roger appears in court charged with drink driving and tries to prove he was kidnapped: they felt hard to convey in panel form and the story just about works without them.
Instead, the next four panels show the murder of the UN ambassador and Roger’s fleeing New York, including meeting his love interest on the train.
In the next row of panels, I did something a bit different - I dedicated three of the four panels to a single scene: the famous crop duster chase.
So bold and broad were Hitchcock’s paint strokes, this single scene alone is enough to jog anyone’s memory of the film.
At the same time, the scene is about tension. If you watch it, you see it is largely silent, with long shots, building to the attack. I wanted to reflect this tempo and so used three panels - all from the same position to show what happens.
I struggled to achieve a sense of plot in the 16 frames. So it is not always clear as we go from panel to panel how exactly the story has moved forward.
From the crop duster attack in panel 12, Roger is now being ‘shot’ by Eve in panel 13. They reconcile in panel 14, and have the famous monument chase in the penultimate panel.
Here I faced a choice: show the plotting of the climax better (with maybe two panels dedicated to the chase) or again lean on Hitchcock’s unforgettable imagery.
I chose the latter - and in my final panel, I show the final shot of the film, the cheeky sexual pun. It felt right to show the story’s happy ending as much as the drama of the climax.