On the morning of April 3, a construction crane that was erecting a tent beside the Dallas Museum of Art for the institution’s annual Art Ball gala tipped over, just missing a Mark di Suvero sculpture and hitting the museum’s roof. The resulting jumble of tent beams, fire-engine-red di Suvero, collapsed crane, and other cranes that swooped in to the rescue occasioned many construction-snafu-or-contemporary-art jokes.
Newly released security camera footage of the crane’s collapse obtained by the Dallas Morning News shows the incredible mundaneness of the crash: for 50 seconds of the 59-second clip, nothing happens, and then … It’s also a perfect illustration of Alfred Hitchcock’s distinction between suspense and surprise.
As Hitchcock put it in his book-length interview with François Truffaut:
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. 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.
With that in mind, here is an extremely ordinary scene of a construction crane at work, made suspenseful by the knowledge that it is about to collapse:
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