Archive for Alfred Hitchcock

Nothing succeeds

Posted in FILM, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2021 by dcairns

Finally catching up with Succession which is every bit as good as everyone says. An excellent lesson in how to make a show without sympathetic characters, except damned if I can pin down how they’re doing it. I guess because everyone is focused on achieving things that we can understand, so we can follow the machinations with interest. As Hitchock knew and constantly showed us, watching somebody try to do something is fascinating and involving when we know (a) the goal (b) the stakes and (c) the obstacles. And then it doesn’t necessarily matter if we like them, we at least understand them. The boardroom battle in episode 6 was incredibly tense, even though the character most involved, the one with the clearest goal and the most at stake, is one of the least appealing (great per from Jeremy Strong) though admittedly he does have a rather heartrending central position (needs his father’s respect, will never, not ever, get it).

The only character without a really clear set of wants is, arguably, Brian Cox’s Logan Roy, the show’s Lear, who is basically just futzing around, upsetting people. Maybe he had a sense of direction once in his life, but now it’s just the love of power, making people do things.

Nothing will come of nothing.

The show, at least in these early eps (we’re at S1E06) has an irritating, jerky-zoom style presumably imposed by exec Adam McKay who directed the pilot. It’s a look, I suppose, but not a pleasing one. He tried something similar on THE BIG SHORT. It’s purportedly a cinematic idea, this “look” thing — TV used to all look the same, while movies tried to look distinctive (sort of — there have always been genre norms, and constraints on what was considered “commercial,” though these are fluid over time). I think Hill St. Blues‘ briefings introduced the idea of the unstable camera — use all the reframings! It’ll give it a documentary edge. Except we can tell, I think, when the camera is reframing just to create jitter, as opposed to actually, you know, getting a better framing.

I discussed the Paul Greengrass approach with a producer friend. “He tells the operator to move whenever they feel like it,” I said. He replied, “I think if you asked most operators what they feel like, they would feel like offering up a nice, stable, beautifully-composed shot.”

Through the static, we can still see that Succession is brilliantly written by Jesse Armstrong and team, always brilliantly acted, and often well directed by folks like Adam Arkin and Andrij Parekh. I eagerly await the moment when they realise the crash zooms are stinking the place up and ditch them.

Mitehunter

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2021 by dcairns

Purely by accident we wound up rewatching BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING last night. Which was well worth it — I’d forgotten just how excitingly Otto Preminger melds his two main stylistic tropes here: long takes (enhanced by the ultra-widescreen) and location filming. He somehow manages to cram some kind of a crane inside a tight staircase, he rushes from room to room (but tends to use the passage from indoors to out and vice versa to motivate the few cuts in his sequences).

Poor Carol Lynley has to work very hard to not seem to SEE this busy, nosy intruder with its heap of crew — she’s constantly required to look into, past and THROUGH the lens, giving her an unsettling blind quality. But on the other hand, the long takes and domineering camera eye seem to calm both Laurence Olivier in a major role, and Martita Hunt in a smaller one, and they give perhaps the most restrained and naturalistic performances of their careers. And this was done, we’re told, without Otto’s usual beetroot-faced temper tantrums: Larry let it be known that he didn’t want any shouting, and as long as he was around, there was none.

In the extras, Lynley recalls that Otto found it amusing, when an actor was struggling with nerves, to sidle up behind and scream “RELAAAAX!” in the player’s ear. John Huston recounts this happening to Tom Tryon on the set of THE CARDINAL, but Huston gives no clue that Otto was being humorous. Carol L was in THE CARDINAL too, but I bet Otto gave poor Keir Dullea the same treatment.

BLIM is preposterously crammed with familiar faces from the previous thirty years of British cinema. Finlay Currie turns up for one scene, Megs Jenkins is practically an extra (maybe her nurse is the same character from GREEN FOR DANGER?) and Lucie Mannheim, from THE 39 STEPS (Fiona excitingly noting that she was Conrad Veidt’s first girlfriend) gets a bit.

There’s also the Zombies. Otto had a weird sense of showmanship — turning up in his own trailers, Hitchcock-style, is understandable (although the one for IN HARM’S WAY is inadvertently hilarious, with Otto standing talking to us in the middle of war scenes, apparently invisible to those around him, like Christopher Walken appearing in his own visions in THE DEAD ZONE). He promoted BUNNY with orders that nobody be admitted late, and requests not to reveal the ending, a la PSYCHO. But he does other things that are stranger: here, a pub TV is tuned to a performance by posh sixties beat combo the Zombies, and the film stops for a bit to enjoy the show. And the same song turns up whenever a radio is turned on. Otto and songs is a whole essay in itself: the sung end credits of SKIDOO and strolling troubadour Pete Seeger wandering through TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME, JUNIE MOON… Otto is an artist but also a huckster, but his sales techniques would make Stan Freberg wince. It’s comparable to Jerry Lewis’ use of product placement, which was always so unembarrassed — it was like Jer was PROUD that he could get Colonel Sanders to associate with his movies (the only other filmmaker to woo the Colonel was Jer’s namesake, Herschell Gordon of that ilk).

Paul Glass’s score is very attractive, but behaves oddly too: Lynley’s exploration of a doll repair shop’s spooky basement, lit by oil lamp, should be terrifying, but Glass treats the place as enchanting, a delicate wonderland.

It’s an odd movie, all in all, but effective enough as thriller and mystery, until the last act, which is a tad unconvincing. A character who’s seemed acceptably normal throughout is revealed as the crazed baddie, and is suddenly completely deranged, a dissociated manchild who can be tempted into children’s games at the drop of a hat. Fiona rightly wondered how he’d held down a responsible job previously.

Impossible to know whether screenwriters John & Penelope Mortimer are to blame for this, or Ira Levin who did some uncredited work on it. Haven’t read Evelyn Piper’s source novel. But I think I recognise the Mortimers’ style in the quirkier details, as when Olivier notes that bus drivers are notoriously unobservant: “They’re philosophers and poets, mostly. Probably out of self-protection.”

While everyone else is mostly underplaying, Noel Coward as a sleazy landlord and BBC personality, seems to be having the time of his life, showing off his chihuahua, his African masks, and his collection of whips.

Well worth seeing — Preminger is almost anti-Hitchcockian in every aspect (despite Hitch’s dalliance with the long take) so it’s fascinating to see him waddling about in the master’s disguise.

BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING stars Heathcliff; Mona and Regina Fermoyle; Dave Bowman; Lady ; Miss Prism; McWhirter and Sheik Abu Tahir; Magwitch; Annabella Smith; The Witch of Capri; Mrs. Alexander; Mrs. Grose; Nervous Man; Ancious O’Toole; Grogan; Antoinette de Montfaucon; ‘Bluebeard’,- Gilles de Rais; Sir Nules Thudd; and the Zombies as themselves.

U.N. memorable

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on August 18, 2021 by dcairns

Two images.

The top one is from NORTH BY NORTHWEST.

The lower one is from THE INTERPRETER. Obviously Sydney Pollack has positioned his camera as identically as humanly possible to whoever took the reference picture for Hitchcock, which was then turned into a glass painting. Hitch wasn’t allowed to film in the actual U.N. and Pollack was. Nothing against Pollack, but that just seems wrong. Sort your priorities out, United Nations. Next thing we know you’ll be allowing genocide.

I watched THE INTERPRETER a couple of weeks ago which means I have now completely forgotten it, save for a general impression that it was nice, sometimes suspenseful, well-crafted. Very pleased to see Britain’s own Earl Cameron in the cast, and Tsai Chin too.

Thanks to Randy Cook for pointing out this duplicate image. It feels like Pollack is tipping his hat to his producers by putting their credit over the Hitchcock copy, but for that to work he’d have to have told them about it. So maybe he just told them about the shot, and they said, “Can we PLEASE have our credit over that?” And at any rate I get the sense that Pollack was too modest a gent to put his own credit there.