Never have I been asked by the makers if a film to stay silence. A short piece ran before A Quiet Place (2018) began. Asking for no food, no phones, no talking. They might as well have added that no one else is to be admitted to the screen after the film has begun. Obviously the filmmakers are taking a leaf out of Alfred Hitchcock‘s book. Requesting that no one be allowed to enter once the Psycho (1960) began. With a focus more on cinema etiquette once a film has begun. As much as cinemas rely on the sale of refreshments after a huge chunk of the ticket sales are deducted. The request at the start of A Quiet Place reminds us to keep quiet and actually watch the film. A huge part of this film functioning is the reliance on silence, if the silence is interrupted by a rude cinema goer than they potentially ruin the atmosphere that the film has constructed. I even asked my friends to stay quiet, we had a nice hearty meal before we went in, allowing to really focus on the film.
What drew me to A Quiet Place to begin with is the lack of traditional dialogue that allows a conventional film to progress. Instead we have an apocalyptic universe in which blind monsters rely on the slightest noise to find and kill us. It’s too later for most after less than 100 days, the monsters with extremely acute hearing have decimated the population. It’s only the clever few who have been able to remain alive. Adapting to an almost quiet existence where even the slightest sound can draw out one of these monsters and end it all for you. Cue the Abbott family who we meet in a general store, tip-toeing around to find some much needed supplied before heading out.
If you thought that the projectionist has not been playing with the volume, it is deadly quiet and for reasons that are too soon revealed to the audience and reminding the family how important it is to remain silent. It helps that one of the character’s is played beautifully by young deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, who plays a deaf teenager who the family have recently had to adjust to her perception of the world. Usually film has treated the disabled as the other, the victim who we pity, not celebrate or embrace until more recently. The reminder of the need for silence becomes too deadly real for the family as they return home. It takes a battery operated toy to bring home that fact before we are even 20 minutes into the film.
Jump forward a year and we have time to take a breather – a quiet one. We see life on the mid-Western farm that has become more than just a home, carefully constructed base to stay quiet, nothing is left to chance as they have adapted to a life of quiet fear. Oh and did I mention, the mother Emily Blunt is now pregnant, bringing with her the potential for real danger, once the baby arrives which will bring a whole load of noise. Don’t worry they have that one covered too, literally nothing is left to chance, having to go to some unorthodox lengths to stay alive.
What is never far away is the threat of the these monsters that are lurking in the woods. Leaving the audience incredibly tense, there’s very little relief in the tension, a minimal soundtrack and even less dialogue. We have to rely on subtitled sign language, we are part of this world and there’s no escape for us or the family. It’s far more immersive that just having them talking in whispers which would defeat the object of staying silent, leaving them vulnerable to being killed in no time.
Each member of the Abbott’s are given or less equal screen time, we see how they experience this changed world. how they have all adapted to this silent world. Being just over a year in this world, adapting to it is easier for the parents who have to protect their family more than the average family in the noisy world. The aftermath of the opening sequence stays with all the family as they try to survive another day in the silence. Everything comes to a head on the final day as father and son (John Krasinski and Noah Jupe) go fishing/male bonding/survival training leaving a daughter guilt ridden and a mother heavily pregnant at home. It leaves everyone vulnerable to the blind monsters who we finally get to see more intimately, we understand how they function, the incredibly sensitive hearing really on show. Revealing a twist that connects Reagan’s deafness and the monsters together which leaves you waiting for the big finale that is really drawn out and that’s not a criticism. If anything it really leaves you wondering how and when it all pays offs.
The finale feels really drawn out, maybe that’s due to the almost silence, we have nowhere to hide either. Accepting that we have to see this through to the end, A family that has been brought to the edge and living through a silent hell pulls together to ensure that they do all they can to survive. With a few extra twists that leave me and my friends ready for a nice relaxing drink and a chance to breathe. Experiencing the world of noise as we leave the screen takes a good half hour to adjust to our surroundings. As if we have been given back our hearing. Just moving a chair reminds me that it would bring on the monster, the sound of coffee being ground up is too unsafe in the world I’ve just left. When we finally get sound in the closing minutes that breaks the silence it comes as a massive relief.
A Quiet Place is easily read as a metaphor for those facing parenthood, the fears and anxieties that comes with that. The daily decisions to ensure your family are safe in the outside world. OK it’s an extreme here, but that’s what a good horror film does, heighten emotion for the effect of scaring the life out of you. It’s not just a thrill, each build-up of tension is gently relieved if only momentarily before that fear of the unknown dangers of the outside world return to remind you, it’s not as a safe as I thought it was. For me it was a real breath of fresh air. I rarely watch a horror, however the reliance of near silence was the added element that attracted me to want to see this exciting film that demands your silence for it to work, to function as it was intended, listen and understand so you can see the outside world with new ears and eyes, more cautious, more alert.
It’s been a long week at home and I needed either a comedy that I could lose myself in and not have to do much thinking. Or really treat myself with a dissection of film history, gain an even better understanding an appreciation never go a-miss. I settled for 78/52 (2017) a very obscure title that needs the prior in-depth or nerdy knowledge of Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho (1960) which the second documentary in recent time to explore the director. Previously the taped conversations between Hitchcock and Truffuat in Hitchcock/Truffuat (2015) which were the basis for the bible as it known by famous film directors who have worn and tatty covers that they have in their possession.
The earlier piece was steering us towards the making and the influence of Vertigo and ultimately Psycho a film that has changed the medium of film making. It’s a natural progression to then make a documentary that builds on that discussion, focusing not just on the film, it’s that scene, the scene that has become part of popular culture to the point that you don’t even need to have previously seen the shower scene. A moment in film that has become ingrained into the language of film that it’s essential reading for all students and fans of the medium.
78/52 is very much a labour of love, the aesthetic of the film’s built around the film, there’s no contributor sat in-front of a green-screened image or a hotel room. Instead a faithful recreation of the Psycho motel sets has been built to sit the contributors both famous, obscure and really unknown if you don’t have a love of horror films. Writer/director Alexandre O. Philippe has really done his research in pulling this documentary together. Drawing us into the world of the America that has become cut-off from civilisation to find the motel that Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) found that led to her bloody demise, all filmed in black and white, even our contributors are brought into this world. The only jarring break to colour is for colour film clips which you get used to, once you except that its a back and white world we are in it’s excepted.
The first 3rd of the film is pure build up, as we learn – again the context behind the film, the behinds the scenes that is even left out of the fun film depiction of the making of the film Hitchcock (2012) that focuses more of the directors psyche rather than the minute detail of what is essentially 78 shots of film and 52 cuts in the editing room that ends all that build up. Exploring that drives that lead Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) to dress as his dead mother and kill what could easily be his latest victim. Looking at the state of films in the late 1950’s all that were begin to bubble over from innocence to a burst of sex of violence in the following decade, breaking free of the Hays code that had restrained them to conform to the strict moral virtues of the country and “Mothers knows best” that Hitchcock exploits to shock his audience who had seen nothing like it in America in mainstream cinemas around the world. We can see this all in Hitchock’s earlier films, the role of the mother, waking up America from it’s nieveity to the war in his native Europe. The drives in his works, the symbolism that was building up his thrillers before delivering his first horror, a film that he would never top. Leaving me wondering how the rest of the classic really can work or live up to all the build up to that scene. Leaving Marion’s sister and lover to workout what happened, the result of the shower scene and that comes after pales in comparison. Yet without that lesser part of the film we wouldn’t have understood the motivations and get the conclusion that we leave with.
What could have been a replay of the shower scene, including the undressing, stepping into the shower to the eventual and famous climatic murder and the disposing of the body. Every frame and cut’s dissected with equal measure. Getting insights from everyone from editors, directors and even Jamie Lee Curtis. Instead of the classic fun of stills we have an in-depth discussion of the scene. At times light whilst at others very insightful, putting Hitch on the couch for some psychoanalysis through various film clips. We can see his had been building up to this film for over thirty years, finally breaking free of the holds of his childhood, expressed through his films.
Lastly we see the cinematic influences of the shower scene of slasher horror and main-stream film, how much of an impact that the scene has had on the medium. Even with the utterly pointless Gus Van Sant remake that I have so far avoided. Just proving that remakes can be completely pointless. Mere exercises in replication in shot for shot films hold no interest for me, there’s no point, however its inclusion in the film makes that very point, without even saying much about it. All part of the relationship between the original and the development of film since it’s release.
Ultimately it’s a very well researched documentary that is at times light whilst at other moments deadly serious. Full of clips that are needed to build up a compelling argument that unpicks the shower scene that forever changed the face of film, without ignoring its own and the directors influences. I know I made the right choice night, enough to make me write this review so it must have been.
I’ve just finished a book I bought from my local independent cinema, which has started a small shop. The book I bought was Dogville Vs Hollywood: The War Between Independent Film and Mainstream Movies by Jake Horsley was on the basis it would go into what the title suggest, look at the battle between directors who are either considered auteurs or independent of the Hollywood system. Building on Peter Biskind’s fascinating Easy Riders, Raging Bulls which was an entertaining and in-depth look at the American New wave which began with Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and ending around Raging Bull and Heavens Gate (1980). Dogville covers much of the same ground coming up to 2006 (when the book was published).
I remember when I first started reading this book I had a gut reaction to the harsh critical tone that the writer who didn’t check his facts, saying Citizen Kane was released in 1942 – was 1941, and Hitchcock’s first sound film was The Lodger (1927) – it was Blackmail (1929), I found a few more errors but these two stuck in my mind. It shows how fast this book was written, with passionate anger and disregard for accuracy, when talking about the history of any medium in such detail he got things off to a bad start.
The first chapter was an extended review of Lars Van Trier‘s titular film Dogville (2008) which he uses the basic framework for the book. A film made in response to the current state of Hollywood. A film that is devoid of likeable characters, a set that’s limited to suggestion and a dog that it’s just a drawing on the ground. Most notably an all American cast. I do see the film in a new light now which explains a few things. It’s a dogme that had teeth to bite back.
There were sections where pages where the main body of text was fighting the foot notes that were almost half a page long in places. Why didn’t here just incorporate his research into the main body or minimise it, they became not so much backing up the quotes legitimacy but they were points of trivia which pulled you away from the main body. Eventually I just stopped reading them, noticing that Horsley lifted a lot of quotes from two of Biskind’s books; Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and Down and Dirty Pictures, showing an over-reliance on superior books on the subject. (I haven’t read the second one yet).
Lastly the overall tone of the book was scathing on just about any director whose mentioned in the book. I agree on some points, the state of Hollywood has not changed in ten years, relying on franchises, special effects and remakes – nothing new there, showing that the argument still stands up. However hardly anyone gets off lightly, unless its a director you’ve never heard of yet. The established directors – Scorsese, Spielberg and Coppola etc are seen in varied shades of black. They’ve either sold out, burned out or just faded away. He blame critics for helping Hollywood in the dumbing down of audiences, their expectations and their thinking of a film. You could say Horsley is a film snob who has an axe to grind, has he been burnt in Hollywood and fighting back? It would explain the horrible tone and the scathing attack to practically everyone, he can be fair in places which is rare, whole chapters and sections are rants, building up individuals before bringing them back down to earth with a bump.
I’ve not really learned a lot, except who Horsley hates and hates not so much. I hope in the 10 years since it’s publication he has mellowed.
If Alfred Hitchcock is the master of suspense then Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) is the master of horror, the B-movie producer who wants to really engage with his young audience. Even when the Cuban missile crisis is looming heavy over his next release. Reschedule maybe, or maybe not, as history has taught us the timing of a films release can make or break a film. Take Donnie Darko (2001) released soon after 9/11, poorly timed with the plane crash and audiences having experience events that had not been imagined on-screen. Reality had beaten film at its own game.
In Matinee (1993) timing really can mean everything, and also showmanship in how you deliver and promote your film. Which now relies more on digital methods to find their audience, back in the early 1960’s all they had were the old-fashioned posters, trailers and advertisements. For Woolsey he only needs himself to sell a film, much like Hitchcock who used his celebrity to promote his work with his own dry macabre humor, which is channel with good effect by John Goodman whose having a ball in this rare lead role.
He even takes the stance of the master of suspense, it’s all in good fun. For his next film Mant the film within a film of a man whose been transformed by overexposure of X-Rays and an Ant he becomes transformed into a massive ant. Taking a number of cues from the golden age of B-movies such as Tarantula (1955), The Fly (1958) and any number of other classics which are form the fabric of this homage to the genre that had gone into. In 1962 when cold war tensions had a reached a new high with the Cuban missile crisis maybe now is not the time to release a film about the potential harmful effects of radiation with nuclear missile potentially flying in the skies above. This doesn’t stop Woolsey who uses that fear to encourage his young audience to a test screening of the film in the new medium to fully immerse the audience. It reminds me of theme-park attractions that employed similar techniques, explosion, water spray and shaking seats just to get you even more excited.
Woolsey is a movie mogul who understands the changing audience even admits the current political climate which he uses to his advantage. He knows his genre, what horror does to an audience, who want to be scared, to feel alive. They know what they are seeing isn’t real, it’s that primal instinct which is only sought out now for fun not survival.
Lawrence Woolsey: “A zillion years ago, a guy’s living in a cave. He goes out one day, Bam! He gets chased by a mammoth. Now he’s scared to death, but he gets away. And when it’s all over with, he feels great.”
He’s even in a relationship with his lead actress Ruth Corday (Cathy Moriarty) whose too cynical to see what is going on, a realist going out with a dreamer living the Hollywood dream. his investment in Rumble-Rama similar to other gimmicks looks to be his last-ditch attempt as real success, not that Woolsey would let on, he’s passionate about the audience experience he wants to deliver.
Away from Mant we have a less exciting teen comedy that take a while to find its feet, following two young teenage boys Gene (Simon Fenton) the son of a Navy father and Stan (Omri Katz) who befriends him at his latest school. There’s more focus on the army kid, who has traveled from base to base, not able to put down any roots. We even have a jealous older man Harvey (James Villemaire) who warns Stan away from his much to young ex girlfriend Sandra (Lisa Jakub) who wants a man to hold. You feel like your watching two genres colliding, that of a b-movie with a the kids relationships before they go to the movies and get more than they bargained for.
Once we have built up a dynamic we are back in the cinema ready for everything to come together we have the young love-stories complete with hurt ex working the Rumble Rama a system that synchronises experiences with moments and lines in the film. It’s all coming together, whilst cinema owner Howard (Robert Picardo) is more concerned about safety and the potential nuclear fall-out, having built his owner bunker. We have adult fear of the real horrors juxtaposed with those induced into children for quick thrills, escaping a reality they are all to aware of.
Mant the homage to science fiction at a time when it was only for kids, reflecting a time of great political fear. Oversized creatures terrorising neighbourhood’s that were recognisable to audiences. All made on shoe-string budgets with unknown actors using these roles to hopefully break through to bigger roles. Combined with in-screen novelties that keep audiences in their seats or even falling out of them. I just wish I was there to see this spectacle. Up to the point where things start to go wrong but somehow in favor of Woolsey who understands whats going on.
Matinee maybe much forgotten film today, which should be rediscovered by film-lovers and those who wants a piece of nostalgia the golden age of cinema. We are surrounded by film posters of classics from 1962, a lot of detail and love has gone into this film that you can’t help but enjoy. Before special effects were the beginning and end of a film. Woolsey bring these effects to the audience who he understands more than others may think. He’s all about the emotions that cinema stimulates, that good story telling is based upon, if you are engaged with the action, everything else is either falls or is a bonus