Archive for Hitchcock

The Icebox Moment

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on March 26, 2019 by dcairns

We really liked BORDER — even if you’ve had a big spoiler about what’s going on in it and who the lead character really is, you can enjoy it hugely seeing the revelation built up to, and then there are a load of really nice plot twists after that point too.

But this post will unavoidably contain heavy spoilers. It’s all about the ending. STOP NOW if you think you might like to see this really good Scandi-noir fantasy drama by the writer of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.

We had what Hitchcock called an Icebox Moment with the film’s conclusion. Hitch said that you can make a film and have the audience in the palm of your hand, then Audience Member #1 goes home and, as he takes a beer from the icebox, asks himself a key plot question he hadn’t thought of during the film’s fast-paced narrative whirl. Something like, say, “But why didn’t they just go to the police?” In between him selecting his beer and getting the cap off, the whole storyline falls apart in his mind, and the next morning at work when someone at the water cooler asks if that film was any good, he says “No, it was stupid.”

Understand me, though — I still think BORDER is really good.


I wanted the fate of the kidnapped human baby to be explained. The kidnapper was caught, but did he have the baby on him or around him, or not? It would be very easy to establish the status of that baby, and it was the main thing we could be expected to care about, to be honest.

The “villain” meets with a fate that would be fatal to most people. And we kind of think, Fair enough, he’s done some very bad things. He’s a damaged individual, you can have some pity for him, but he’s probably best off out of this world for all our sakes. But is he dead?

Earlier in the film we get a hint that he’s very comfortable in water for long periods of time. Clue #1

Clue #2 is that a baby, (not the kidnapped one) is mailed to Tina at the end of the film. The implication seems to be that this is his baby, and so it’s presumably come from him and he’s presumably alive.

The letter with the baby indicates that there are a group of character Tina will now want to seek out. So the letter seems to have come from them, or else he’s with them, which seems the only way to make sense of things. Tina is being invited to join them all. But then, why send her an undocumented baby to look after if they want her to join them in a neighbouring country, since that baby is going to make it very hard for her to travel. In a film that shows her working as a customs officer dealing with smugglers, we can’t be expected to never think of this issue, it’s literally a plot point.

The really big implausibility earlier is when Tina catches a criminal who is trying to smuggle a memory card with images of child porn on it. Which is just crazy, in this modern age. Digital info doesn’t need to be physically carried about to cross borders, and why would you do that when being caught with it would result in a hefty prison sentence? True, many criminals are dumb. But I’ve literally never thought about the best way to smuggle child porn, and these are people who have basically that one thing to think about in their professional lives. By the same logic, though, the filmmakers should have cracked at least some of the issues with the ending, because they had more time to think about it than me.

But, you know, I’m not a plausibilist at heart. It’s a very good film.


39 Steps in the right direction

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on January 4, 2019 by dcairns

I’m once more a guest on Good Evening, the excellent Alfred Hitchcock-themed podcast, which is looking at all the Master’s films in sequence, a process I can personally recommend. Here’s the link to our discussion on THE 39 STEPS. Big thanks to my hosts, Brandon Shea-Mutala and Chris Haigh, and fellow guest Alice Baker.

My previous appearance, weighing in on BLACKMAIL, is here. You can also read my thoughts on T39S here (for my Hitchcock Year) and here (for Criterion).

And a reminder that Fiona & I’s podcast, The Shadowcast, has its latest edition here.

Vertigo Views of VistaVision

Posted in Dance, FILM, Painting, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2018 by dcairns

Having been blown away by the new 4K of VERTIGO, I called up Nick Varley of Park Circus, who are releasing it in the UK, for an interview — after all, he’s only over there in Glasgow, that other, darker city. But I learned the hard way that the audio recorder on my phone doesn’t record phone calls, apparently, so I can’t give you any direct quotes. But I learned lots of things of interest…

The first thing I learned is that the restoration is by Universal, not Park Circus. Universal went back to the original Vistavision negative and scanned it at 4K, so what we’re seeing is 100% new. And, since prints formerly would be several stages removed from the negative, via interpositive etc, we’re able to see more than even audiences of the original release could see. Fortunately, in this case, I can attest that this doesn’t show up anything that wasn’t visible before that the filmmakers didn’t mean for us to see. Nick cited the wires suspending the Wicked Witch’s winged monkeys in THE WIZARD OF OZ as a major example of a not-entirely-welcome discovery. The line where Martin Balsam’s makeup ends on his neck in PSYCHO is a less glaring one from Hitchcock’s work.

I asked about the sound — it feels much more authentic than the 1996 job, which threw out the foley tracks and replaced them with modern stereo recordings, so that the gunshots at the opening had a jarringly contemporary quality — the metallic sound of the hammer coming down that you get in DIE HARD, the gratuitous ricochets on bullets being fired into the air. They now just go BLAM! as they should. Nick spoke of the tendency to sometimes want old films to sound and look like new films, a misguided approach I hope is finally going out of fashion.

I asked what Park Circus are up to next, in terms of restorations they’re doing personally. THE APARTMENT just got a 4K restoration, fixing one damaged reel and some problems with the main title. The results played in Cannes, and are different from the Blu-Ray Arrow just released (with a video essay by me). They’re now at work on SOME LIKE IT HOT, which could be very exciting, and next up will be John Huston’s MOULIN ROUGE, for Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation.

I mentioned meeting the film’s script supervisor, Angela Allen, in Bologna, and it turns out she’s a good friend of Nick’s. We paused briefly to marvel at the life and career she’s had.

The standard problem with MOULIN ROUGE as a 3-strip Technicolor film is that often the film shrinks, and as there are three negatives (red, blue and green), if they shrink at different rates, when you combine them you get the colours out of register, like in a cheaply printed old comic book, with characters and objects acquiring luridly coloured halos around their forms. In the digital age, this problem can be 100% solved, so that’ll be one result of the restoration.

The more unique problem comes from the film’s unique look. Huston loved experimenting with colour (MOBY DICK, REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE) and Oswald Morris was doing things with diffusion and the palette to emulate the look of Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters. And there seem to be no original 35mm prints extant to show what the results were supposed to look like. All we have as an authentic guide is the negative, and a 16mm dye-transfer print in Scorsese’s collection, which will be referred to.

It’s going to be exciting! I think in this case, possible the false noses will look falser, but they already look pretty false. The main result will be that a gorgeous looking film that exists only in tatty dupes, will suddenly look many times more gorgeous. Ossie Morris is the man.