Archive for Hitchcock

Burbanex

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2021 by dcairns
This is a good image

THE ‘BURBS is one of the Joe Dante films I haven’t watched much — I think only once, until now. But I got the excellent Arrow Blu-ray with the alternate cut and ending and a big documentary and a commentary. EXPLORERS and SMALL SOLDIERS are the other two I want to go back to. Oh, and THE HOWLING also because it’s been years.

There are Dante films that are on TV a lot and if they come on and I watch for five minutes I end up watching the whole thing, no matter how many times I’ve seen them — these are the GREMLINS films and INNERSPACE. Even if I channel-hop into them middle of one, I’ll end up staying to the end credits.

But THE ‘BURBS had sort of slipped by me. I remember it was either Sight & Sound or the late Monthly Film Bulletin that said their problem with the ending — and we all knew there had been more than one ending shot — was that the revelations about the creepy neighbours didn’t fall comically short of our suspicions, and nor did they comically exceed our suspicions. Which I think is probably true, but this time round it played differently.

It’s a really fun film. Tom Hanks is superb (and I miss the funny Tom Hanks, fine as he is in straight stuff), Rick Ducommon is great in the Jack Carson role, Carrie Fisher and Bruce Dern, and then the Klopeks are wonderful, and for a while it seemed like only Dante knew how great Henry Gibson was and would use him.

And then this ending. Which is, it’s true, not quite triumphant comically, but also seems to run against what the whole film is about. Tom Hanks has a fantastic speech at the end in which he denounces the curtain-twitching paranoia he’s been sucked into — THEY’RE not the monsters, WE’RE the monsters! And Hanks bats it out of the park. The Klopeks being innocent really puts the audience on the spot. Well, we kind of knew the protags were getting carried away, but this is really strong. So having the Klopeks turn out to be the monsters after all negates that completely. True, the speech still happens. But what people tend to take away from a film is the ending. A weak ending ruins your MEMORY of the experience. The meaning imparted by the ending is always seen as the meaning being promulgated by the film as a whole.

The original ending was going to be Hanks being loaded into the ambulance and Werner Klopek (Gibson) is in there and he’s going to kill him. Which is the ending of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (which also had multiple endings shot, but that was, I believe, based around the question of what order the episodes would eventually run in). But the reason they didn’t end on that note was, “Well, you can’t kill Tom Hanks.” Which I understand.

Weirdly, that ending might have worked better for me in terms of what it’s saying — true, having the Klopeks turn out to be killers seems to retroactively justify all the intrusive snooping and paranoia. But look: our hero’s going to DIE for it. Maybe that sort of works. It doesn’t make being a nosy neighbour look all that attractive.

But now, since Tom Hanks can never die, he has to win, and we get Dern and Ducommon preening xenophobically about their success. And while they’re comic buffoons, and Hanks is now disgusted with them, which helps a little… Fiona was RANTING about the inappropriateness of this ending. I think she took it personally, since we’re both a pair of life’s Klopeks at heart. I was more muted in my dissatisfaction, maybe because I was thinking about the difficulty the filmmakers were up against. If you suddenly have to explain all the weirdness including a human femur turning up in a back yard 10 RILLINGTON PLACE style, you’re into the ending of SUSPICION and it becomes a rather dry box-ticking exercise and anticlimactic to boot. And the script hadn’t been written, and filmed, with that intent in mind. It’s like you’re in a labyrinth and all the exits are sliding shut and you’re being channeled towards the most reactionary finishing line, the one that ends by making the conformists in the audience feel good about themselves.

So it’s a film that could be Dante’s most subversive movie apart from the last ten minutes.

Does the same objection apply to REAR WINDOW, which was kind of the progenitor for THE ‘BURBS? The characters debate whether spying on your neighbours can ever be a good thing, but then it turns out it can. But that also makes us feel rather awkward when Lars Thorwald confronts L.B. Jeffries with his “why are you persecuting me?” speech, and Jeff is even more tongue-tied than usual. Does that get Hitch out of trouble altogether? Is THE ‘BURBS held to a different standard because it’s satire, and so ducking back into being on the side of the normals feels like more of a cop-out?

And if it turns up on TV will I get sucked into watching it again? That’s something I won’t know until it happens.

Show Me Nothing

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

LE HORLA (1966) is a pretty fine short film adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s unique psychic parasite story, probably the first psychic parasite story ever written, unless you know otherwise.

I’ve never seen anything else by Jean-Daniel Pollet but he seems interesting. Great colours in this and Laurent Terzieff is a perfect embodiment of Maupassant’s neurasthenic protagonist. He’s not as eerily skinny in this one so his beauty is more conventional than in later features. Since the original story is in the form of diary entries, Pollet has Terzieff record his impressions into a tape machine, which is a simple but effective way of rendering the thoughts perceptible.

One criticism I would make concerns an early moment where Terzieff’s character is walking in the woods and hears a noise. He turns, but there’s nothing there. The camera stalking him from behind works well, and it then catches his reaction when he turns. But we never see what he’s looking at.

Well, there’s nothing there, so why shoot it?

I would argue that we need to SEE that there’s nothing there. We need to see the nothing. That empty space will be charged with mystery and menace. And when we cut back to Terzieff, his baffled expression with be charged with additional anxiety.

It’s Hitchcock: we feel what the character feels because we SEE what they see and also how they REACT. I’d argue that a really good actor could react to the presence of something in such an evocative way that we barely need to see the something, but no actor is good enough to react to nothing without us benefitting from seeing the nothing.

Weak direction is over-literal, shows us just the actors talking. Strong direction shows us what is dramatic and meaningful, and the performances become more effective when they’re only about 70% of what we see.

Pollet does actually show us lots of unpeopled scenes in this film, so I take my hat off to his empty rowboat.

Hitchpod

Posted in FILM with tags , , on November 10, 2020 by dcairns

Fiona and I have been sluggish podcasters this year (my fault), but I couldn’t resist an invitation from Michal Oleszczyk and Sebastian Smoliński to chat about THE 39 STEPS for their Hitchcock podcast, Foreign Correspondents.

A fun evening was had!

The rest of the episodes are here.