Archive for Alfred Hitchcock

The Sunday Intertitle: Things I Read Off the Screen in Blackmail

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2015 by dcairns

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Glasgow! With silent film accompanist Jane Gardner, to see BLACKMAIL with live score by Neil Brand, under the baton of Timothy Brock. This was preceded by a special concert of Hitchcock scores — Webb, Rosza, Tiomkin, Waxman and of course Herrmann. It’s quite something to have VERTIGO blasted at you live. As for PSYCHO, a young couple to my left obviously regarded the shower scene as their song: as the violins shrieked, he mimed stabbing her in the back with an invisible knife, to her apparent delight.

Getting there, mind you, was a journey of Hitchcockian suspense — taking the bus to meet Jane we got caught in football traffic (ugh! the worst kind of traffic — even worse than badminton traffic) and arrived late, then scooted off in her Fiat 500, struggling to find a parking spot near the venue and then struggling to find the venue, eventually arrived seconds before the lights dimmed.

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra did us proud, and there was a surprise treat in the form of a theremin for SPELLBOUND — I wasn’t at all sure such a thing would be provided — there are, after all, entire recordings of the SPELLBOUND score without a theremin — some wretched fiddler taking the part, I guess, I haven’t troubled to listen to such abominations. This was a delight.

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Then BLACKMAIL, which I hadn’t seen since Hitchcock Year, Maestro Brand’s score was thrilling, of course — with many playful references to the musical spirit of Hitchcock to come. The most overt was the extract from Gounod’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents theme (I know, I know, he didn’t write it for TV) played when Hitch makes his first true guest appearance. I wondered whether such references would distract me,  but in fact, the playfulness was discrete — it must have taken restraint not to turn the scene where artsy rake Cyril Ritchard waits while Anny Ondra changes into something more comfortable into a straight reprise of the similar scene in VERTIGO.

The score, in fact, worked wonderfully, the proof being that despite the visible presence of the orchestra between us and the screen — Brock’s hands would occasionally rise into the bottom of the frame as he signalled a particularly vigorous moment — for much of the show we forgot the music except as part of the enjoyable experience of watching a story unfold on a screen. A smooth artistic synthesis was achieved!

Hitch’s cameo got me noticing how incredibly well handled all the extras are. The small boy who torments Hitch on the underground ends the scene, having been told off, standing on his seat and simply glowering malevolently at Hitch, like a raven from THE BIRDS. He doesn’t realize that Hitch has a short way of disposing of children on public transport. From then on, I was aware that each individual walk-on character, however crowded the scene, had a bit of personal business to distinguish them, and each performed his role perfectly.

I also started noticing writing. Some of what follows was noted during the show, some found afterwords, perusing the DVD.

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Receiving a radio message — “Flying Squad Van 68 — Proceed at once to Cambri” — the rest is unfinished — the van makes a 180 turn into Looking-Glass Land, where all the shop signs run backwards into a kind of cod-Russian cypher. Evidently nobody had shot a background plate traveling in the right direction, so they simply flipped the film. The store Dollond & Aitchison glimpsed here, is also advertised on the London Underground scene later.

Perhaps due to this confusion, when the Sweeney arrive at their destination, it isn’t Cambridge Street or Place or Circus of Terrace, it’s Albert Street. Perhaps close to Eastenders‘ Albert Square? Certainly in the mysterious East. Less salubrious than Hitch’s native Leytonstone.

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A slew of text inside. The criminal is reading The Daily Herald. An ad for Wrigleys in the bottom corner. Another newspaper lies on his desk, bearing his watch and revolver. We can read a headline about MURDER TRIAL and, at the bottom, the words I’VE FOUND IT! — probably another advertisement. Most amusingly, above the bed is a religious motto, GOD HELPS THOSE WHO HELP THEMSELVES. Ironic, since it seems our friend in the nightshirt has been helping himself a little too freely.

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The note Anny has received proposing a secret assignation ~

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Torn from a cocktail menu, it suggests a whole furtive nocturnal backstory. I like the abbreviated slogan “NIPPY” COCK — a partial directorial signature?

Anny’s despondent walk after she’s killed Ritchard is full of printed cues and clues. For one thing, she passes a poster advertising the climactic fight from THE RING, Hitchcock’s previous film, starring Carl Brisson, Anny’s lover from THE MANXMAN. The fight is staged at the Albert Hall, looking forward to THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH.

A neon sign in Piccadilly Circus, advertising Gordon’s Gin “The Heart of a Good Cocktail” dissolves so that a cocktail shaker outline becomes a hand stabbing with a kitchen knife — a ludicrous idea, but bold, and the call-back to the “nippy” cocktails is appreciated.

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IS PRAYER ANSWERED? A significant question in Hitchcock, directly addressed at the film’s climax, when Ondra apparently prays, and her decision to confess her crime is answered with the death of the blackmailer. See also THE WRONG MAN.

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Ondra’s family newsagent yields a plethora of signage! My eyeballs dart like frightened mice, from one corner of the screen to another to try and catch all the little textual nudges. Alice’s first sight of home is viewed through the reverse side of a shop sign, so we get mirrored lettering AGAIN — Alice is through the looking glass! The earlier accident begins to look deliberate. Confirmed when Alice stares at herself in her dresing table mirror just moments later.

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PICTURE SHOW — lower right. Ah, if only Anny had gone to the pictures with John Longden, we wouldn’t be where we are now. The reference may also remind us of the pieces of art in Ritchard’s sex garret, each of which has an accusatory role in the narrative. One is a laughing, pointing jester, the other is a sketch on canvas signed by Ondra.

When we see the phone booth again, from Longden’s POV, that sign has vanished, in the best ROOM 237 manner. On the left of frame is a possible explanation — a MYSTIC ERASER. Just what Anny needs to obliterate the past 24 hours as neatly as the obliterated her incriminating signature from Ritchard’s canvas.

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The booklets and other props around the phone booth will continue to change randomly throughout the scene, an uncanny peekaboo of discontinuity.

Ondra’s dad, Mr. White, is explicitly framed with a halo reading the word WARLOCK. Not sure why. But the shopkeeper dad is obviously a stand-in for Hitch’s own father, with whom he associated his fear of arrest. So although Mr. White is kindly, Hitch makes him a source of anxiety with this supernatural halo of occult lettering.

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Ondra has mentioned Edgar Wallace earlier — now a poster at floor level refers to Sexton Blake, stalwart hero of schlock thrillers, whose exploits had been printed in the Union Jack since 1894. The threat from ‘D’ (no idea who he is), “If Sexton Blake comes to Yorkshire, I’ll get him!”, gives the blackmailer’s first appearance a further underscore of menace.

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And finally ~

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SHAG (middle left). Obviously a reference to another fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, whose favourite pipe tobacco this was.

The Whit Sunday Intertitle: Crossing Delaunay

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2015 by dcairns

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Marvelous Mary came back from the Sonia Delaunay exhibition at the Tate, clutching the catalogue and full of enthusiasm. I was totally unable to procure the Delaunay-designed 1926 movie LE P’TIT PARIGOT, a clip of which had entranced Mary, so we settled for Marcel L’Herbier’s LE VERTIGE, costumed by Delaunay the same year, which the IMDb doesn’t even know she did (sharing screen credit with Jacques Manuel).

LE VERTIGE is pretty slow and dull dramatically, but the production design by a team including top architect Robert Mallet-Stevens and Delaunay’s husband Robert, is really striking. Sadly, there aren’t many of the striking patterns she made her name with. L’Herbier’s lover and star Jaque Catelain does turn up with a nice robe at the 105 minute mark, and there’s a Mexican stand-off at the end by two men both attired in fabulous scarves, but that’s your lot.

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Compare with the designs for LE P’TIT PARIGOT ~

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Or this stunning set of jammies modeled by architect Erno Goldfinger (whose name inspired the Bond villain) ~

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If I owned a set of jim-jams as stylish as that, I wouldn’t think twice about detonating a nuclear device in Fort Knox either.

Still, LE VERTIGE has something else: a storyline which seems closely connected to Hitchcock’s similarly-titled 1959 necrodrama. The movie opens at the height of the Russian revolution. The jealous General Mikhail (Roger Karl) shoots his rival Jaque Catelain in full view of his straying spouse, Emmy Lynn. Then the revolutionaries burst in and bayonet the prone philanderer. So he’s dead, right? Shot in the heart and bayoneted by the entire Russian revolution, he’s dead. Rumours of his death are not only NOT exaggerated, we can say they don’t go nearly far enough.

So imagine Emmy’s surprise when Catelait turns up on the Cote D’Azur years later, alive, smirking and driving a speedboat. The same smile, the same lipstick, the same guyliner. Positively the same Catelait.

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She now attempts to recreate this passionate affair with the doppelganger of her lost love, and it works pretty good too, from what one can gauge between passionate fadeouts, but she still has that jealous husband.

“Did Hitchcock see this?” asked Fiona. We agreed it was possible, but perhaps more likely that Boileau et Narcejac, the writing team behind the novel D’entre les Mortes, Hitchcock’s source, saw it. In VERTIGO, Both Kim Novaks are the same character. In LE VERTIGE, there are two Catelains, their resemblance coincidental. Jimmy Stewart’s vertigo is a literal acrophobia, but it’s also a spiritual terror, a fear of falling out of one’s place in time, into the past, and a desire to do so. That feeling is already present in LE VERTIGE, and accounts for all Emmy Lynn’s swooning fits, I guess.

More Sonia Delaunay to enjoy — in colour! (And with the promised intertitles.)



Secret Cinema

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 22, 2015 by dcairns

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As you might have noticed, we don’t tend to do lists here at Shadowplay. I have, at various times in my life, enjoyed making lists, but now the internet is flooded with them, so I will only do lists if they can be complete rubbish, like this one.

So, what follows is a list of the most secret films ever made, films that have never made it onto their respective auteurs’ filmographies.

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1) Alfred Hitchcock’s STOLEN. Alfred Hitchcock’s career officially contains two missing films, the unfinished NUMBER 13 and THE MOUNTAIN EAGLE, completed but lost. But some time in the sixties, Hitchcock conceived a complex, self-referential movie called STOLEN, which was designed to be stolen and never recovered. Hitchcock scripted and shot a complete feature film which then went missing without a trace. The empty film cans were later retrieved, but with no trace of the footage. It has been suggested that, as a kind of perfect crime, Hitch actually shot the movie without film in the camera, and thus STOLEN never actually existed. At any rate, he planned a major publicity drive, inviting audiences to buy tickets and see a blank screen glowing white where the movie would have been had it not been nicked (using a slogan adapted from THE BIRDS: “Stolen Isn’t Coming”), but Universal bosses nixed the scheme and the whole thing was hushed up.

2) Alejandro Jodorowsky’s NUDE. After he lost the rights to Frank Herbert’s DUNE and saw Dino de Laurentiis make a dog’s dinner out of it, the famously eccentric Jodorowsky attempted to make his own version without copyright by rearranging all the letters. DUNE became NUDE and the rest of the story was similarly rearranged, making NUDE officially the first filmed anagram. The adventures of Sir Lead Taupe on the planet Ark-Sari, where he battles the evil Bonar Nan-Honker and rides on a colossal Norm’s-wad, NUDE also lived up to its title by being made without a costume designer, or even costumes. To further save money, Jodorowsky adapted an idea from his earlier plans, in which Salvador Dali as the emperor was to have been played party by a life-sized statue (because Dali would only agree to a few days’ filming). Going one better, Jodorowsky cast his film entirely with statues. In reality, the extremely limited budget only ran to one naked statue, which the director modified from shot to shot with a series of wigs, false beards and false breasts. The film, basically a series of shots of statues with anagramized dialogue dubbed on, was immediately slapped with an injunction by Dino De Laurentiis and was never screened. Jodorowsky subsequently denied ever making it. But he totally did.

3) THE BAWDY ADVENTURES OF TINTIN. Remember when Peter Jackson was going to make the second part of the TINTIN saga begun by Spielberg? But then nobody went to see the Spielberg film because the mo-cap characters looked like corpse-puppets? Well, in fact, Jackson shot his film back-to-back with Spielberg and it has been awaiting release ever since. Owing to the disappointing response to the corpse-puppet version, however, Jackson has been working furiously to make the footage acceptable to the public. First, he toyed with releasing the film straight, without animation, just as a series of scenes of Jamie Bell and Andy Serkis in gimp-suits, studded with measles, cavorting in front of greenscreens. TINTIN DOES DOGVILLE was the working title of this version. Then Jackson considered a return to his low-comedy roots, adding a lot of sex and violence. In this cut, the Thompson Twins would form an incestuous relationship, Captain Haddock would turn out to be a female transvestite, and Snowy… but it is better not to know. Fans will learn the truth when the film finally sees the light of day as the fourth part of THE HOBBIT trilogy.

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4) Andy Warhol’s UNTITLED. Not its real title. The true title is . Not a full stop, just a space. Like this one: . Not the colon, not the full stop, the bit in between. This has ensured that even when film historians remember to include   on Warhol’s filmography, nobody notices it. The film itself is just sixty minutes of Candy Darling’s left nipple.

5) FILM MAUDIT. Jean Cocteau, having invented this useful term, then had to use it as a title for a film he made about swanning around Picasso’s villa, taking lots of opium, and annoying Picasso in his trunks. The film lived up to its name when it vanished in a puff of smoke after coming into contact with a drunken Robert Shaw.

6) UNSEEN FILM. This 1997 curiosity was cobbled together by director Raul Ruiz from out-takes of several of his earlier films and part of an incomplete Jesus Franco women-in-prison romp. Threatened lawsuits by several cast members (or their executors) were only forestalled when Ruiz screened the film for a drunken Robert Shaw.

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7) NIDAKRA .RM This unofficial version of Welles’ MR. ARKADIN was never released, but some claim it to be the director’s preferred cut. Unhappy with his makeup, which mainly consisted of two false beards, one stuck to the top of his head, Welles toyed with the idea of threading the film backwards so it projected in reverse and upside down. He had always favoured achronological narrative structures, and viewed in this inverted manner the beard sprouting from his scalp didn’t look so bad. The film itself was just a perfectly ordinary print of one or other cut of the film, so that even letting Robert Shaw near it didn’t ultimately do it any harm.

8 1/2) Fellini’s NINE AND A HALF. We all know that EIGHT AND A HALF was Fellini’s eight-and-a-halfth film, but what of his nine-and-a-halfth? This was a misguided experiment inspired by the maestro’s exploration of LSD. JULIETTE OF THE SPIRITS may have been influenced by Fellini’s hallucinogenic experiment, but the untitled follow-up was actually made DURING an LSD trip. Reversing his usual practice, Fellini did not have his actors speak numbers and then dub on dialogue: ha had them speak a carefully prepared script and then dubbed on numbers. Producer Dino de Laurentiis had previously had a scene from NIGHTS OF CABIRIA stolen from the lab to prevent Fellini from using it, but on this occasion he had the entire film stolen and claimed it on the insurance. Rumours abound that Adrian Lyne later claimed the film simply by adding the word “WEEKS” on the end and redubbing it. And adding tits. Others claim that a remorseful Fellini begged Robert Shaw to borrow the negative, usually a safe way of destroying something, but that several reels may have survived despite Shaw setting fire to the cans, his house, and his legs.

The Forgotten has been on hiatus for Cannes, but will return to The Notebook next week.

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