Posts tagged “alfred hitchcock

Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936)


It’s been a few years since I’ve really sat down for a “cockle warmer”, a film that really warms you at the heart, leaving you all soft inside and happy. It takes a lot to beat that feeling, a feeling that for a period of time Frank Capra was able to achieve film after film. Working during the golden age of Hollywood, reaching the masses during the Great Depression. From It Happened One Night (1934) all the way through to his crowning achievement It’s A Wonderful Life (1947). More than a decade of warming an audiences hearts. I’ve not seen It’s A Wonderful Life since I wrote my film talk about it. My eyes were opened to the directors thinking, his position in film after his time away at war, in charge of propaganda for the US armed forces. The country was then in a far different state. A country brought to it’s knees by the effects of a broken economy, to the highs of winning a war, which itself came with a heavy cost both financial and emotional. His own industry had grown up, his fellow directors who were out in the field of battle would never produce the same work again, each deepened by what they saw.

Now lets back track a few years to the midst of the Depression and look at one of his earlier films – Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936) his fourth big feature film and second large success. Even after all this time I could start to see the themes and ideas that run through his films. Most notably we have a number of recurring actors. Deeds was the first outing for both Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur, it was Capra’s relationship with James Stewart, which would be the most successful. We can see that Capra was able to work with actors he saw as either the every-man who could easily be transported to an unfamiliar world, turning his life upside down. Whilst the women, usually Arthur who his femme fetale (not that he would use that term) who turned the men’s lives upside down. This even works when the men come from the upper class to explore the working class. That’s another clear theme the blurring of class boundaries that his protagonists are brought into. Here Deed’s inherits 20 million dollars, which when inflation is taken into account is a very tidy sum at $357,281,159.42. Even now that’s too much money to even think about. For poet Longfellow Deed’s is nearly blows his minds. Instead of letting it all go to his head he decides to see what it’s all about. Taking with him a healthy dose of reality and his down-to-earth nature which in turn keeps him grounded. We see the same a few years later in You Can’t Take it With You (1938) when Tony Kirby (Stewart) who comes from money can see past his own trapping of wealth to love his girlfriend Alice Sycamore (Arthur) and her struggling family (who only have their own eccentricities and music to see them through the worst of times). Both men are grounded emotionally and financially enough to see what is in front of them.

Cooper seems to a be a man who seems as if he can easily be duped. Taking on the fortune, trying to make the best of it. He naively starts going out with the only girl that talks to him, all the time she’s a journalist trying to get a big scoop on the new rich man in town. It’s Babe Bennett’s job to potentially bring him down, going as far as giving him the name Cinderella Man, whilst her own paparazzi hide in a taxi or the bushes. In a later film Cooper becomes the face of a fictional newspaper story lead by Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) in the less success Meet John Doe (1941) which ultimately pushes and pawn in the newspapers hands to the brink of suicide. An act we finally see in Capra’s masterpiece – It’s A Wonderful Life when the ultimate every-man has been pushed to the limits of life for so long that he finally cracks and nearly gives up.

Apart from Wonderful Life they are all grounded in reality (ignore Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)) they acknowledge the country they’re set in, whilst hoping for a better life. Capra celebrates the working man, this is where he could be the communist and socialist leanings could easily be found. Probably why the films are still celebrated, they focus on the hard-working man. Raising them above all the corruption of government, the protectors of the law, even the Newspaper man whose job is to reveal the corruption to the public. There are quite a few journalists in Capra’s world, from the “wise guy” Peter (Clark Gable) out for the story of his life all the way to critic Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) who are all pushed out to find the stories that are to make their careers. That also includes trying to believe that even your aunties are capable of mass-murder. The hardworking man are seen either en-mass or in microcosm, this is always for the extra emotional punch. Deed’s is a god-send to the poor who are piling into his house as he plans to give all his money away to anyone whose willing to work a farm for at least 3 years. Whilst George Bailey ensures the residents of Bedford Falls (small town America) have a decent crack at life. Not living under the shadow of Mr Potter (Lionel Barrymore) the very epitome of capitalist America, the “communist Capra” fights back with Bailey ensuring that they can all own their own homes. Bailey’s the extension of Deeds intentions.

We see a man at his very breaking point in Bedford Falls, a 2nd class angel comes to the rescue of the troubled man. His actions don’t lead to the threat of being institutionalised – showing how dark that Capra’s prepared to go. Stewart plays a more convincing man on the edge, it took an audience over a few more years to see Cooper brought to the brink. We have a classic court room finale that allows us to look back and question Deeds actions over the course of the film. The suggestion of Manic Depression is made by the his own lawyers, who are out for his fortune at any cost. The idea of bipolar disorder is treated lightly, the commonly known highs and lows, or the depressive and manic states are used to try and blind the court with psychobabble without having analysed the patient, it’s used as a blunt weapon in hopes of stupifying the judges and the public. We all know that Deeds is the clearly sane with his own unique eccentricities that define him. Whilst throughout Wonderful Life we see a build up of events that see dream after dream crush a man who tried so hard threaten to jump. Only to have some fairy dust sprinkled over by the director who could only go so far. In his defence we do have a clear image of Deeds uncle who drives of a bridge, directed to be a very intentional act. Had all that money driven him to the edge? Was he a Mr Potter who’d had enough? It comes down to a layman’s definition of insanity – Pixelation that saves him as nearly everybody is suffering from it.

I could literally be here for hours, write 1000s of words about what makes Capra’s films work. They of course tug at the heart strings, some more overtly than others. Expressing his own view of America, an immigrant who had to be politically careful of what he said. Almost confined to his films that whilst being very American we can see the Sicilian view of a country, all the goodness that the dream he had been living that could easily be taken from under his feet. You could argue he was naive to the world around him. The working man being essentially good, whilst those in positions of power are corrupt. Most foreign directors played with this idea to some degree, such as Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock. A view that’s shared by the rest of the world even to this day, that’s why Capra’s still respected, his work still holds up and you return to his films time and time again –  the very definition of a classic. Now I’ve seen Mr Deeds I can really see what’s going on in his work. Maybe it’s time to revisit his work again.

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I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016)


I have mixed feelings about I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016), Again I came to this having read a short interview with Christopher Lloyd and the trailer for the film which really was selling me a very different film. Like anything you’re sold, you want to believe the advert or promotion portrays a positive and accurate spin on what you have bought into. Which was a disturbed teenager who sees a few murders and becomes fascinated by them, and becomes inspired to follow in the serial killers footsteps, were we seeing his victims as the trailer progressed. I was miss-sold this film. Even the small role that Lloyd was supposed to be playing.

Moving on from my initial complaint I need to lay down a few points as to what I received in the full film. I came to this film bringing my thoughts from having recently revisited Shadow of a Doubt (1943) which I can only draw minor comparisons too. Looking at the dark conversations between our disturbed teenager John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records) and Max (Raymond Brandstrom). (I’m wondering if the lead characters names inspired by the serial killer John Wayne Gacy) There was a relationship based on the dark murderous content of their conversations. Reminiscent of father Joseph Newton (Henry Travers) and his neighbour Herbie Hawkins (Hume Cronyn) which begins as playful, a way to unwind and let the imagination run wild, Which disturbs Josephs daughter Charlie (Teresa Wright) whose very concerned about her Uncle Charlie’s  (Joseph Cotten) motives for staying with them. That dynamic is not really developed further than a few scenes at the start of the film. Probably to tell us that John has serial killer tendencies trying to lead a normal teenage life, that’s against the backdrop of all the murders.

The Hitchcock connections don’t stop there, from the trailer we could be looking at a Norman Bates type, the quiet boy next door who doesn’t get out much. Yet this one does, spending his free time helping his mother April (Laura Fraser) at the funeral home. An early joke about the home not going out of business anytime soon, two bodies in a week. We are however allowed to see the start of the embalming process, with a focus on the blood-letting process, it’s not properly explained but filmed with a fascination that stays with you – there’s a small positive to take away from the film. It’s the first time we are given no real explanation of  whats going on – that’s the main fault of this film.

Moving away from the master of suspense to look at the John himself, we’re told he has all the makings of a serial killer, so already we are looking to him to potentially kill someone, he likes to hang around with his mum at the family business. His social skills are limited to alienating bullies who find him to be an outsider who they spend very little time on. I see a young man who is deeply troubled yet fascinated with death and human anatomy. Spending so much time with the dead has a turned him into an anti-social loner who is trying to function among his peers. Being presented with a possible future that he’s trying to prevent. Yet the events of the present could easily mold him into a different more dangerous person complete with murderous tendencies which are simmering on the surface.

The murders at first are mysterious, the victims arrive at the funeral home, usually already open and a few organs missing, soon its arms too. John’s fascinated by the freshly delivered corpses, wanting to explore them in more detail. The closest he gets a first to the killer, to understand his methods, exploring them like a child would their food, in short he’s a disturbed guy. However we learn far too early on who the serial killer is – it’s the old guy living across the street – Mr Crowley, but that still doesn’t explain the black oily gloop that can be found at the scenes of the killings. If only we could wait a little longer to discover the killer. It’s the curiosity of John the drives him to keep looking, spotting odd behaviour and following him from a distance to what is grisly end in the snow. Taking us out of straight forward crime thriller into I don;t know what – supernatural bizarre maybe. The killing is over in a flash, like a poorly shot YouTube video, I couldn’t believe my eyes

We go into a the second half of the film to a game of innocent chasing the guilty, trying to catch him out and get him arrested, it’s not as easy as he hopes it would be. A could be killer following a killer in action. The danger of finding and understanding him is too much to pass-up, just as he wants to control and prevent that future happening to himself. It’s like a Luke Skywalker constantly being tempted by Palpatine to join the dark side, yet his humanity and the lighter side of the force sees him resist the temptation.

Admittedly there are moments of real dread, from the imagined death that’s described to John lashing out at his mum. However it’s when he almost crosses the line from his potential to certain future, trying to understand the psychology of a serial killer he tests a theory out that forces emotions that could see him enter a darker part of his life. For a few moments such as this we are given some real thrills, its too far and between to really make it worthwhile. The deaths and danger gets closer to home, then we reach the really weird ending which at first is shocking, we see John taking control, clear headed as we’ve ever seen him. He’s saved his mum but at the cost of revealing the killer and what is actually going on. I’m left scratching my head, wondering what the hell just happened. The final images stay with you, but given no real explanation for them, which is frustrating beyond the fact that the beast inside Crowley has been harvesting organs because he is dying. Nothing more is given, the loose ends aren’t tied up, we’re left with more questions and leaving us with The Spirit in the Sky to play out the film.

There’s some potential in the film, as much as there is for John to go either side of being a serial killer, exploring a future that’s being played out before him. It’s pure temptation, it’s just a shame we see little of that after the reveal, going into hunting him down, trying to understand him, which we don’t get to. It’s frustrating really and little time is given to explore other characters and how they are affected by the murders. I wish more time was given to his friendship with Max which is just 4 short scenes, his only link to the real world – or normality. It’s dark at times, and very flawed trying to be more than it is with so much there to work with. I have to admit that the cast of Lloyd in the villianous role is something I have forgotten he does so well. He’ll be forever associated with Doc Emmett Brown, however he has before and since played the weird and wonderful and the bad-guy so well so long. His height and face have allowed him to to produce some memorable roles, I can safely say this role can be added to the list, its the film that lets him down.


Rubber (2010)


Rubber (2010)I remember the first time I saw the trailer for this film, my sides were splitting at the idiocy of the idea of a killer care tyre. I knew I had to see this film eventually. Until recently I had all but forgotten the film even existed which is bad for me. I leapt at the opportunity to catch Rubber (2010) a few weeks ago. I didn’t know anything beyond that I had to see this horror comedy, that all that really mattered. The concept behind the film is quite interesting observation of some classic film’s trying to pull them apart, the tiny pieces that are glanced over by the average viewer. However if you have a questioning mind and time to kill you can ask film-fans, or anyone who will listen in a pub about the banality within these films, the small whys, the miniscule details that really could kill a conversation if you take it too seriously. My Sister is guilty of this at times, questioning a the parent in Ponyo (2008) who drives the children through what is essentially a tidal, saying that she should be reported to social services for bad parenting. I have to remind her it’s just a film and to just go with it. I’m guilty of it too, looking at Big (1988) coming to the conclusion that the young boy Josh when he’s grown is mentally still a child, losing his virginity is practically raped, but that’s just overkill. I know that but the more you think about films, the more you question the thinking, the creative decisions behind them, which we don’t generally question.  Yet it’s not just about that, it’s the little aspects in film that are glanced over such as washing hands, the boring stuff which is edited out, or written out. Of course it’s all played for comedy.

As Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella) lays down for us, it’s about all of this, the no reasons, the unexplained that form the foundation of this film that critiques film. We have a live audience for the first act who are each given a pair if binoculars, acting more like spectators to this film, or the events in the middle of nowhere. As a tyre literally comes to life, find its feet. Not the standard premise for a film you would sell to a studio, or trying a get funding. This is the macguffin for all the events that follow.

I was constantly wondering how they achieved that motion of a tyre, was a rolling motor fitted discretely to the interior of the piece, well our main character that causes all the death in the film. It couldn’t be animation; as it was all too real, and probably more costly too. It’s all happening before the camera and the spectators who can somehow work out whats going on from the incredible distance they are kept at. The scene mustn’t be interrupted or broken by the fourth wall which is making this essentially live theatre that edited for mass consumption. As much as this is about the “no reasons” of film the fourth wall’s broken and resealed, placing an audience into the film, the full realisation of what they are seeing is fake.

The makers of the within the film are conscious of what they are doing, unsure if it is working. Early on the audience is all but killed off with a poisoned turkey. Playing on the turkey phrase for poor films which they fear’s being played out, this is anything but that. Leaving only one avid viewer, an older man in a wheelchair watching on. The experienced audience member is able to discern what is going before him. Has he been to one of these performances before? The police who are investigating the killer tyre are at first bemused by how wacky it actually is. Crossing over into another reality where the film loses its façade, becoming something they have to investigate.

Dropping the façade of they realise they have a killer on the loose, not the most convention two-legged, two armed kind with a motive to boot. Instead a tyre using telekinesis causes heads to explode which admittedly look poor. Its that build up to that moment that matter, the comedic climax of how gruesome it looks as a head explodes before us. All pyrotechnics that work in time with a tyre which determination (sounds like I’m a trye salesman) that vibrates with concentration, a force that cannot be stopped.

OK it’s not Hitchcock but it doesn’t want to be a master film, it simply wants to poke fun at film, showing up the “No reasons”. So why not have a killer tyre with no back-story, it makes it so much more interesting. You have the option to either read into it or just go with it. Has an unknown force taken over this car-part that has caused so much death with so much comic timing you are left either speechless or full of laughter. If you want a horror film with twists and turns that conform to the genre then don’t stop by. If you want a horror that doesn’t take itself or the medium of film seriously, up for a laugh then look no further.


Peeping Tom (1960) Revisited


Peeping Tom (1960)Notably the film that practically killed Michael Powell‘s career dead, a film that scared the world just before we were shocked by Psycho (1960). You could say it was a matter of timing with Alfred Hitchcock‘s film that altered the language of film forever. So why am I returning to this film? It’s a question I’m still asking myself, Peeping Tom (1960) is one of those film I was originally recommended to me at university. It’s a film about the desires of film-makers really if anything else, equally about those who watch them and the power that the medium we have come to be in awe off in the last 120 years. The power of the medium from a side-show attraction to a multi-billion dollar business with a fully formed language that depicts all aspects of life from the mundane, the daily to the fantastical. Yet to understand the power and the darker limits of the medium, we usually avoid them.

The camera as a tool captures all that it sees, it never lies until, unless the image before has been manipulated. In some cultures it’s believed to take part of your soul if it looks at you. Part of yourself imprinted and shared with the world. Projected on a scale that we could at first not fathom, the power of the image over an audience is a spell yet to be broken. Today we can capture and record images at the touch of a button and a bit of memory on a phone. These images still can have the power to scare or even humiliate. Film is a medium that goes beyond just another creative expression it has the power to tell the truth or even manipulate. This is just a basic description of the power of film.

So why return to Peeping Tom I still find I am asking myself, it felt like a test more than anything to see if I could still be provoked by it, a film that is as much gripping as it is perverse, it’s as much terrifying as its addictive. It’s a film of emotional contradictions that is both in love with the medium yet fears how far we can push it to the limits of decency. Filmed using stock used for pornography it already attached the dirty aesthetic of being something to be either a fetish or adored. It took a while to find a healthy balance. It is a film that at the time of release had the same reaction of Marmite – you either love it or you hate it.

It has become a film about film in a fictional realm where the gaze is lethal. Making the actions in Rear Window (1954) look tame in comparison. When a murders observed from a distance, now the act take place involving the camera. It records the act, the reaction of the victim as the violently die on-camera. Very few people have died on camera – ignoring war-time footage, Death is a very private moment in a person’s life. We see murder take place 3 times over the course of the film. We are first trapped behind the camera-mans gaze as he carries out the first murder, we’re trapped indirectly, unable to look away at this blend of horror-pornography. It’s only the fact that Powell’s credit the beginning of the film that we are in for more of a horror than the adult blue film this could become. We don’t really know what has happened this early into the film, We only know that Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Böhm) has committed the act, but how or why is still a mystery.

We learn that he is an outsider socially when he returns home, catching the attention of birthday girl Helen Stephens (Anna Massey) and is allowed into his world where we learn he in living in the shadow of his father, whose home-movies are research into human fear. We also have the classic German villain, made only 15 years after the end of WWII there are still tensions, a man not to be trusted, luring Helen into his world, I wonder if she is next, I really had forgotten how this film plays out. I could only remember the film studio murder, built up with Vivian (Moira Shearer) being lulled into a false sense of security, The act’s captured twice, once for us, another for Mark, part of his own film (or documentary). A film maker with dark motive and drives that we still can’t understand.

Mark is very much a product of his fathers up-bringing, wanting to complete his work. When the police begin to investigate the second murder he doesn’t run and hide; he wants to film it all. As if he enjoys the investigation, not caring if they find him. Its only when he’s made aware of his problem does he begin to unravel before us. Realised by Helen’s mother (Maxine Audley) a blind woman whose remaining senses allow her to see what is blind to the others. There was a part of me that thought that Helen was another victims, which really would have been a betrayal to the audience, innocent to what was going on, even inspired by her new friends hobby.

Peeping Tom is not a film for the passing fan of Powell and Pressburger who have given us numerous delightful and powerful British films. It’s quintessentially British in tone which makes it fascinating, how can something so dark come out of this little Island. Well look back at the duo’s work together, they’re drenched in the darkness Black Narcissus (1947), the psychology in the film that drives the sisters to the brink. We’re pushed to the limits of what cinema can do, what the medium can do in terms of content and the ideas it can convey before becoming something that is not fit for consumption. It’s a fine line which Powell walked, his inner drives of what it means to be a film-maker, how far do you push the medium to get the results you want. Lastly its shows us up as voyeurs, who all congregate in a dark room and stare. Instead of the loners who use a telescope or long-lens camera. We are in a sense as bad as those loners, except our habit is accepted as the norm.

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Marnie (1964) Revisited


Marnie (1964)I first watched Marnie (1964) when I first discovered Alfred Hitchcock devouring them nearly on a nightly basis, wanting to watch them all with eagerness. When it came to Marnie however I felt somewhat let down by it all, it wasn’t the standard thriller, the wrong man on the run from the police, it was something different, Something with the master of suspense was trying after the huge success of Psycho (1960) which he would never come close to topping or really meeting. He came close to that with The Birds (1962) which has the effect of staying with you, nature turning on humanity, a villain who can’t be locked away by the police as we usually found. The journey was one not only of making others around you believe your story, but to convince them to run as-well, to understand the enemy to quell or restore order.

I have also been troubled by a provocative statement by film critic Robin Wood

If you don’t like Marnie, you don’t like the movies of Alfred Hitchcock and if you don’t love Marnie you don’t love cinema.”

Quite a statement right? I think he was trying to make a point which I am only just understanding beyond the flippancy of its power. He understands the film on another level, something the average film-lover or goer might not get. He wants us to enjoy and read the film on another level a level is may well have been intended for. Now some films aren’t meant to be read on another level, they are what they are. Some have hidden depths, some simply make you laugh, other grab your attention. Others such as this really do take some time and real attention to understand them. Something I am starting to get with Marnie. I’m not saying its all clicked, that would be presumptuous of me.

We started with Vertigo (1958) to understand the director, the man, Hitch who idolizes the blonde, his desire to make them as he desires. Controlling them sexually, lost in the image and the idea of them. 5 years later we aren’t trying to make-over a woman in another image, we want to understand Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren) who we meet as a leaving after another robbery at work. Making herself over from one image to another. Creating and living in multiple guises to hide from the men she hurt financially. It was only 4 years earlier that Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) stole from her boss to help her lover out. There is no lover here as yet, wanting only to support her lifestyle and her mother. A figure that recurs in many of Hitchcock’s films, a parent who never loses complete control over the destiny and of their off-spring, always there to guide them in ways the child is never aware of.

It’s well-known now that Tippi Hedren was the last of most actress to suffer under Hitch’s films, controlling her options, obsessing over her to the point she wanted to leave during the making of The Birds torturing her in many ways. It becomes more clear in Marnie the object of his affections, the damage of the previous film’s used to the actresses/models advantage. Playing the part of a psychologically damaged woman who hates the affections of a man. Something which Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) is curious about, he is the on-screen Hitchcock able to carry out his own investigation into her mental state.

There is more than an insatiable fear of male affections as we discover early on, the sight of red, induces her and the audience to have flashes of red. Overwhelming her for some unknown reason, the psychological becomes cinematic in its experience, the flash of red before her and our eyes. A fear of thunderstorms leaves her in a child-like state, vulnerable to Mark who makes his move and wants to know more about this beautiful and fragile woman who has come to work for him.

Psychology has left the confines of the psychologist and is has becomes something for the laymen to investigate, making Spellbound (1945) look tame in comparison. Reaching out more into the public realm. We have a psychological thriller, not just one that uses it to induce the thrills and suspense, its taken to another level that we can all start to consider, that is if we allow ourselves. Which is where this film can and does lose its appeal to the main-stream, when you get too technical and book-smart you can leave your audience behind. You have to be careful how you do it to keep them on-board.

So with Mark acting as a psychologist and lover he also becomes part-time private investigator who finds out about her past, a past which he is eager to understand and hopefully break her from this awful mindset that has allowed her to take on job after job to fund her lifestyle. You could even suggest that he raped her, something which is easy to infer on the face of it. Overpowering her on their honeymoon cruise, she’s stripped of her clothes and forced upon, which implies rape. She also lies there and does allow it to happen. I’m not condoning rape for a second, more understanding the construction of the scene, the character is overcome by the force of her husband and allows him to make love to her. Making her passive and a victim, or more a victim of her state of mind. We don’t actually know what happened after those few moments. Waking up the next morning in separate beds. Her mental state could have made the rape possible and then left not to be mentioned again.

I am beginning to see this film in a new light now, which you can see in the text above, there are layers to this film beyond the ideas of psychology being discussed. The special effects are by now looking tired and out of date, something which he never moved much away from. We do however have some interesting high angle shots throughout the film, looking down upon Marnie a fragile  woman who needs to be healed to function, to love and be loved not just by men but her mother. They say that your childhood shapes your adulthood, this is very much an extreme, something which audiences back at the time of release may not have been able to accept. Now its common place, these principles of psychoanalysis are a part of western culture. You could say Marnie was ahead of its time, let down by dates special effects and heavy dialogue. There is still very much a classic Hitchcock in terms of style, nothing is left to chance, he is trying new things out and they pay off such the robbery whilst the cleaner share half the shot. When you comparing to Psycho it does pale, as he is trying something new after all the audience wanted was to be wowed and scared once more. This was a step to far for the director one which is now overlooked in the mainstream, repeating viewings and patience are needed to understand and appreciate the film and the woman or women of Hitchcock.

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Citizen Kane (1941) Revisited


Citizen Kane (1941)This is one review I never thought I’d be ever writing up. Theres a few reasons really behind why i had to get around my dislike for Citizen Kane (1941) which was recently overtaken by Vertigo (1958) in the BFI’s latest Sight and Sound greatest films of all time poll, made by a whole host of directors, critics and other esteemed film folk. After 50/60 years of being  on-top Orson Welles‘s masterpiece was overthrown by Alfred Hitchcock voyeuristic private detective thriller. At the end of the day all these polls are incredibly subjective, the IMDB Top 250 poll is changes constantly, we have The Shawshank Redemption (1994) currently in the top-spot, the only definitive classic from the “golden age” in the top ten is 12 Angry Men (1957) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Of course we do have The Godfather Parts 1 and 2 completing the top 3. It’s always varying. Probably influenced this time if year by the awards season.

Putting all that aside to focus on why I wasn’t really enamoured by the “greatest film of all time” I found it at the time of first viewing to be self-indulgent. I could easily see its technical achievements which lead to film noir in the following decade. I was watching it to see what all the fuss was about, not looking into what was going on in terms of story telling and the technical combined, Something I have since rectified, understanding it to be both innovative in terms of both aspects. Welles coming from radio stardom on the other side of the country with his realistic telling of War of the Worlds, he had a natural flair for story telling which Hollywood had to have. On strict conditions set down by the man himself, no outside interference from the studio, his choice of actors and production team, very much a crafted piece of work that pushed the boundaries. With a little help from Stagecoach (1939) which he referenced, I think I now need to watch that to see the connections.

History lesson over and onto the opening shot which was a number of transitions that leads the audience into the Xanadu home of tycoon Charles Foster Kane (Welles) who we see in his final moments of life, his last words begin a journey back through his life, a journalist investigates the importance of that last word, something we all begin to want to know. A new way of storytelling is born, retrospectively looking at the life of a fictional characters who was larger than life, even larger than the man Kane was “based upon” William Randolph Hearst turning him into caricature, a man who wanted to loved by all he knew, without loving anyone really himself. The story of a sad man who made it big before losing his media empire.

All this is made even more real with a fictional news reel that pardon the pun reels you into this world that is entirely constructed for the film. This is where you could say its self indulgent, to bathe in the glory of what this man was, before realising that the great man in the news reel was a fallible man who appeared more successful. We no longer see the powerful figures in films as these great indestructible people. They are now full of faults like everyone else.

On the technical side there is also a lot going on, from the dissolves that take us into his life, intruding into his own life. To the set design which is more elaborate than many films of the previous decade to this. Welles creates world that is so grand in scale that you are taken, losing yourself to the high angles and stretched out pieces that go on endlessly. Incredibly theatrical in design allowing for a grand figure to be explored, pulled apart and put back together again. Leaving a reporter still none the wiser as to what Rosebud means. Only the audience is allowed to know that secret as the evidence as the life of Kane is burnt.

It’s easy to say it’s just a comment on the media, how it has the power in influence world events, or even local ones. It’s so much more really, a new form of narrative is born, techniques are crafted. I would now say it’s an important film to say the least, but not the most important film, I guess that will always evade me, they are all so different, with their own strengths and weaknesses. Kane indulges on Kane, a look into the life of a man who wants what we all want love in the form of a fictional biography.

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The Man from Laramie (1955) Revisited


The Man From Laramie (1955)I remember watching this at the at of 2nd year at university, having just discovered James Stewart I was exploring his film, taking a look here at his westerns which back then I had little understand of what was really going on in the film, let alone the world of the west which was being fought by a stranger and cattle men. I was also unaware of the 7 film deal between Stewart and director Anthony Manngiving us here The Man From Laramie which plain confused me. Even as I explored other films that have made together I was still not really appreciating them. Deciding another look was needed to fully appreciate this western.

James Stewart’s Will Lockhart could have come from anywhere, when he arrived in Coranado with a delivery for a shop, he gets more than he bargained for. In the very first scene we are shown the remains of a deadly raid which means more to Lockhart than he first lets onto his colleagues. It’s more than just debris from another Indian raid. Trouble soon follows him and his men when they try to take some salt, which stirs up the local cattle baron’s son Dave Waggoman (Alex Nicol) who doesn’t take much to anger him, burning Lockhart’s wagon’s and shooting his mules. Mann’s west is a very dangerous and dark place, where anything can stir a man to the brink, drawing his gun on a stranger who so much as steps foot on a man’s land. All this does is anger Lockhart further who wants to find the man who wronged him before he even entered the town.

His presence is something that puts fear in cattle baron Alec Waggoman (Donald Crisp) who believes he has dreamed that Lockhart has come to kill his son, wanting to employ him, to ease his mind. There is a sense of dread and fate in the air amongst all the tension between the stranger and the cattlemen. It’s only an old flame Kate Canady (Aline MacMahonof Alec’s that takes in the stranger, his only true ally in this dangerous town that only wants rid of him.

Whilst an internal struggle between Dave and Vic Hansbro (Arthur Kennedy) to take over the ranch after Alec. Whilst rumours of weapons being sold to the Apache are in the air. Tensions throughout are high, no one can truly be trusted in the town or Mann’s world that has no real light at the end, just the hope of some form of justice that might bring peace to a man.

On the second watch I now understand more the inner workings of Mann’s westerns, cleverly placing Stewart in the centre, an actor known more for his every-man roles that leaves you feeling all warm inside. If it wasn’t for Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) he may never have been considered. It’s that pent-up emotion that explodes on-screen from a man who seemingly won’t hurt a fly. He was a passionate man, unafraid of laying bear the anger inside him. Now I can see why the partnership worked so well.

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Suspicion (1941) Revisited


Suspicion (1941)I rarely ever revisit a film and talk about it. Usually watching it for the pleasure, sometimes there’s a need to understand what was earlier lost on me. I have a few lined up which I need to reconsider, not really seeing them for what they are. An underestimation of what they are about. So the first in a series of reviews I begin with one of the very first I watched about 3-4 years ago. Having already seen North By Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960) which I found to be more engaging than Suspicion (1941) which was darker in tone than the lighter North by Northwest with Cary Grant. I think I was caught up in the upper-class world that the earlier film took place in when Johnnie (Grant) begins to court Lina (Joan Fontaine a shy and reserved woman who falls for his charms. Who wouldn’t, its Cary Grantwho was Alfred Hitchcock’go to actor at the time.

However the average man in Grant has a far darker side that starts to reveal itself when they marry and move into a world if debt and doubt. Living in a house that has yet to be paid for and a husband who won’t take a job. The life of a playboy, emphasis on the playing with his friend Beaky (Nigel Bruce) who is in his own little world.

Whilst Lina and Johnnie are squarely in reality with a different set of morals. One living by his wits to get the money he wants, whilst the wife wants stability and safety in her life. Its Johnnie who is control of everything here, helped very much by Grants charismatic performance that steals the show. Leaving both the audience and Lina in the dark as to his true intentions. Lina and the audience develop a very different picture from that of the gambling man. Who could even kill to get what he wants. We never see any deaths on-screen, more a suggestion of what could be. The power of Hitchcock has travelled across the Atlantic and slowly being honed up to become what we see in his later films of. It’s not so much what we see but what we don’t, that power of suggestion. Even the dramatic imagery of a death is just in the imagination.

I think what made me come away from the film so disaffected was the ending that after such a climax, on the open road became a happy ending, very much in the style of films at the time. On thinking about it there is still room for what happens after we leave them on the coastal roads. Will there be another argument, which leads to a death. Who knows. That is the power of Hitchcock which was very much misunderstood at the time. I now hold the film in a higher regard, not as strong as other works of the decade such as Shadow of a Doubt (1943) which really questioned what we really know of people’s past and the true drives.

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Foreign Correspondent (1940)


Foreign Correspondent (1940)After the success of Hitchcock’s first film in the U.S. Rebecca (1940) there is a loosening up in tone when it comes to his second film in the states Foreign Correspondent (1940). Casting the successful Joel McCrea before he becomes a man of the Westerns in the 1940s and 50s in this pre-war film that fictionalised the events that lead up to WWII.

The tone of the film begins far lighter than most of Hitchcock’s work set in a New York Paper who want to know what is going on in unstable Europe, knowing that war is imminent. Not wanting to send a war correspondent, instead believing a massive crime is being committed, they send a crime reporter who is unaware  if the world outside of America. This could be seen as Hitchcock‘s perception of his American friends in their isolationist position over Europe.

With a new identity John Jones/Huntley Haverstock (McCrea) he heads to London to interview the Dutch Diplomat Van Meer (Albert Basserman) an elderly man who is growing wreary of the changing world around him, still is striving for peace. Before Jones can interview Van Meer he begins to fall for Carol Fisher (Laraine Day) who her and her father Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall) are apart of a peace organisation that are doing their best to represent the people in averting the upcoming war. Jones is soaking this all up and falling for the Carol Fisher with every word she utters.

Things start to heat up for our fish out of water reporter in a foreign land when he witnesses first hand the assassination of Van Meer a story that is too good to pass up, joining up with another reporter Ffolliott (George Sanders) and Carol Fisher are hot on the trail of the dirty rat who shot the diplomat. Heading out into the country in a field of windmills the trail runs cold until our reporter picks up on a few things that only Hitchcock would point out to our average man and audience. Something is going on in the windmill that the stop at, leading to a more dangerous investigation. When the police are informed of Jones’s findings he is proved wrong when nothing is to be found.

For the rest of the film he has to prove to those around him there is more going surrounding the diplomats assassination, when in fact he is alive in London, being coerced to reveal important treaty details. Something that he wont do easily. Whilst Jones’s life is at stake as he travels around in London. Only his fellow reporter Ffolliott really believes him, setting up a trap to land Stephen Fisher who is behind this morally corrupt plot that he believe will save his country from going to war. 

All is revealed in a dramatic climax as war is declared whilst everyone is mid-air aboard a plane to America, landing everyone into dangerous waters (literally) before the truth can finally out to the world. Foreign Correspondent can be seen as Hitchcock’s way of shouting at America to pay attention to the conflict back home that he was lucky to escape. America was more than happy to accept the likes of German directors such as Billy Wilder and Fritz Lang before the war began. Yet took no interest beyond secret surveillance as we later found out. McCrea is average America opening it’s eyes to the bigger problems, and how countries will do anything to avoid war. Not the strongest of his body of work, but has some of the elements that make his films stand out.


Just Peering out of a Window


I wasn’t to post anything apart from almost daily film review, until I checked my Facebook feed and found an awesome from my mate and fellow artist Richard Taylor   who posted me a fascinating article on artist Jeff Desom who recently exhibited his work as part of the Video Art and Experimental Film Festival (2013). Taking the exterior shots from Rear Window (1954) and crafted a superb panoramic installation that combines all the action that occurs outside of L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies’s (James Stewart) window. Already a carefully constructed piece of work by the director Alfred HitchcockFor those who couldn’t make the festival there is a little video on Vimeoin time-lapse form that allows you to see all the action of the 20 minute looped video in just over 2. You have to sit still to take in all the excitement that whizzes by you in no-time at all. So sit back and enjoy for yourselves
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