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 had no idea that I would be driven (pardon the pun) to review a film so early into the new year. More so by a foreign documentary, focusing more on the subtitles to stay up to speed. However when it came to Taxi Tehran (2015) watched at a time when protests in Iran have gone on for nearly a week now after promises of reform have not gone away in the memories of the voters who brought Supreme leader Khamenei, who will do anything to suppress the public from having a voice. It was the voice of a single director in 2010 was given a 6 year jail sentence and a 20 year film-making ban that includes distribution, promotion even a travel ban unless of religious grounds. In the eyes of the West this was against all that it means to be a filmmaker, the agency to express oneself creatively, in the case of Jafar Panahi cinematically. He has since made a few films under the ban that have been made in very unorthodox yet still very creative, first releasing This is Not a Film (2011) on a memory stick to Cannes before making, an extended home video of him under house arrest, at times jumpy and confusing, Panahi is owning the camera on this film set and prison. Before moving onto Closed Curtain (2013) a brief return to conventional film.
That same year Taxi Tehran was released, filmed from a number of camera positioned in a taxi he drove around. Documenting the passengers and the lives that they bring with them to the car. The aim to help expose the suppression of Iranian film censorship tries to cover up the realities of life in the country. I could give an overview of the film but I feel that would not really do it justice at all. Even at its short length we seem to spend at lot of time some passengers. We’re thrown in the deep in with two very different passengers, a man and a woman from different parts of society, the man very vocal on capital punishment for most offences whilst the teachers in the back is willing to listen to the criminal in order to understand them, looking at the root causes. Coming from a profession that nurtures and listens before passing judgement. Whilst the man, who we learn is a mugger – or so he says, sees that as fair and just to kill thieves. These two passengers set up the clear differences that are in Iran, opening out eyes to those living in the country, who aren’t representative of the oppressive government.
With the arrival of a smaller passenger, a DVD bootlegger who in the West we wouldn’t think about encouraging his crimes of piracy. However Panahi has another take on it all. The bootlegger doesn’t take before he blows the drivers cover, talking opening about his “business” to the director who does nothing to stop him. What he sees and we learn is that the bootlegger is bringing in culture, films that are otherwise banned, ideas and images that would have to be censored if they came in through official channels. For a while the two “work” together to help the distribution of Western culture reach the masses. Interrupted by the wife who hopes that her injured husband doesn’t die. In tears he records his last will and testament to ensure his wife gets everything, not left homeless. For a few moments I wonder if the gentlemen has died in that backseat, has he ensured his wife security. I have to reminded myself none of this is scripted, only the end credits come close to that.
Things lighten up with in the form of two elderly ladies and a bowl of goldfish. They must reach their destination of a spring before noon, they lives literally depend on the fish making it to the water. They are delightful to listen to as they bicker and worry over a superstition. Even in Iran you can find dotty old ladies, showing wherever you are in the world, somethings are universal. They soon leave us to spend time with the drivers niece, a very precocious young lady who knows her own mind and is not afraid to tell everyone. She wants to talk to her uncle, who she clearly admires, yet doesn’t understand his situation. Her class has been given a month to make a movie. I thought he was going to give the same advice he gave to the bootleggers film student customer – not much except to find his own material. Instead we have this wonderful perception of what film is, the film censorship that she clearly doesn’t understand (blames it on her teacher). Wanting not to end up like her uncle her direction with the camera is more inline with government policy, without understand it’s origins or meanings. We learn how contradictory they are, ties for bad men, not depicting reality, it’s all about smoke and mirrors, depicting a fantasy that escapes everyday life, instead of responding to it. Now I know why Panahi was banned.
He takes time out to talk to a man whom he grew up with, who hopes will be able to assist him. It’s disturbing how close people are in this part of Iran. It’s not so easy to send people you know to a possible death sentence. It reminded me of how quick justice can be dealt with as we saw in A Separation (2011) that sees a man almost wrongly convicted of murder, when all the facts are stacked against him. All he wants to do is look out for his family. His next passenger is a flower-lady, a soon to be disbarred lawyer, whose as open-minded as our driver, they share each others pain. Both know what is going on the country, they are more than aware of what goes on behind closed doors. I wish we could’ve spend more time with her. Instead picking with the niece whose eyes are slowly opening to the complexities of life in her country.
We see that even in the space of just over an hour, life in Iran is rich and diverse. Filled with laughter, joy, great pain and sorrow, as it is in any other part of the world. Panahi is shining a light on that world that his country would otherwise not like us to see. It’s an eye-opener, yet at times not surprising. After seeing Ai Weiwei’s show at the Royal Academy a few years ago I was left speechless at times. Himself fighting the suppression of his own government that wont allow him to speak. Both artists are fighting their own wars on the different fronts. Maybe the protests might one day lead to the directors ban being overturned. He’s clearly loved by all that know him as he once against risks it all for his passion and believe in breaking with censorship that only inhibits him to make films. It’s a refreshing film that doesn’t shy away for a minute from the truth, something his government shy’s away from.
If I’m honest I had mixed thoughts when it came to Elstree 1976 (2015) a little known documentary about some of the extra’s from Star Wars (1977). Instead of all the docs that had gone before focusing on the stars, the director and the origins of the film that in themselves have all taken on legendary status. But what about those bit parts which in the Star Wars universe have all become remembered, anything that’s vaguely relates to the franchise is worth sharing, selling or talking about. My reservations for this doc I think came from what could really be discovered that hadn’t already been said or discussed about the history of the film.
As soon as I got started I knew this was going to be different, unique even. Thankfully made in cooperation with Lucas Film that gave this doc more authority allowing it to be more credible, instead of just talking to the extra’s, we have recreations of the film sets, the costumes are brought out if only briefly. All these elements are important in telling the Star Wars story, without them it wouldn’t be authentic to the audience, false and not worth telling. You could say the untold story is more exciting as we have only had glimpses, If you look away from the hard-core fan-base your knowledge is not so sharp beyond the credited actors in the film.
Beginning with introductions that link the extras directly to their action figures, a strong link to the film that no average person can claim to having. Through the figures that helped to provide George Lucas with his fortune and ensuring the next two installments would be possible. The idea of action figures being tied into a film had tried and failed in the past, as history of the film tells us, for Lucas holding onto the rights to the toys was a very clever move. Becoming collectibles over time, practically anything that appeared in the three films has great value (if in great condition and in the original packaging). Ten figures to ten actors faces, all playing varying parts in the franchise’s first film.
Beyond opening comments of having their own action figures they talk very little about Star Wars. We learn of their childhoods, youth and early acting careers none of them as spectacular as Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher who all had more success. These 10 actors have stayed in obscurity more or less. David Prowse the actor behind the helmet of Darth Vader has one of the more familiar stories, an ex body builder who turned to acting after being told he’d never be successful – because of his feet. I forgot he had a small part in A Clockwork Orange (1971). To lesser known actors such as Pam Rose who was in the Cantina as Leesub Sirlin before going onto other extra parts late 1970s and early 1980’s. Whilst others have made a career out of being an extra like Derek Lyons with more than 80 credits to his name, that’s a lot for an extra.
During the main body of the film – the making of Star Wars we gained an insight to what film was like. From the tacky costumes, the 100’s of storm troopers to prosethetics and meeting the quietly spoken George Lucas who got one of them a cup of tea. How some of them ate lunch with Hamill. I learned how some of these extras took on speaking roles such as the storm trooper who waved Obi Wan, Luke Skywalker and co through, with “the droids they were looking for”. All these and more moments that are looked over in favor of the Fisher/Harrson affair, or the quotes about the awful script. What also makes this film stand apart is the gifs, that show us those blink and you’ll miss them moments in the films where the extra’s can be found. Weird at first, you soon get used to what it going on. Really bringing to life those moments that we in the audience wouldn’t care about.
All this before moving onto post Star Wars life, some it opened the doors to steady work as an extra, for others little came of it. Yet the power of that film alone, ignoring Empire and Jedi we have a film that changed so many lives for those who worked on it. Leading to the present the culture that has been created by this little b-movie science fiction film of good vs. evil- the convention circuit that some warming to it, whilst others have shied away from it. Prowse talking about honestly how he has made a career out of Star Wars and fair play to him, there’s money to be made.
I see this short documentary as a nice little insight into those much forgotten actors who brought to life the characters who are just as celebrated, Greedo, Boba Fett and all the X-Wing fighters, the list is endless really. To see the faces behind the make-up and costumes, and their lives which brought all of that to the screen. It won’t be as exciting without an all star documentary, however its something more special, shinning a light on the overlooked actors who did gave their time and effort to bring Star Wars to life.