The following extracts are translated from an article by Jean Douchet: “L’escalier” in “La mise en Scène” (ed. Jacques Aumont), De Boeck Université, 2000 p.36-45.
Film makers have their own unique relationship with features of the everyday: doors, windows, stairs, sofas, mirrors… Stairs are often the setting for pivotal, transitional moments, scenes of violence, of union or of momentary realisation. They can be of practical use where the mise-en-scène requires a high angle shot (instead of a crane) or of metaphorical use to denote moral high ground or depravity, high or low social class, life and death.
Hitchcock uses the staircase in most of his films and brings a new dramatic twist every time. As a location that can mark the passing of time through space, the stairs are used for tension and suspense, especially going down them. For Hitchcock the descent represents a form of abandon, of pleasure and irresistible attraction.
The stairs in The Magnificent Ambersons, Citizen Kane and Othello are for Orson Wells a symbol of excessive pride. This choice of setting coupled with low angle shots is an indication of false grandeur. For Buñuel also, the stairs can function as part of the system of the film: the anxiety evoked by the zig zag of a landing or a silent clean fall like the unheard scream of a child.