Archive for Obergurgl

Obergurgl Blues

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , on January 13, 2009 by dcairns

Mrs Norma Bates making her screen debut in Hitchcock’s THE MOUNTAIN EAGLE.

John Russell Taylor’s authorized biography Hitch is still a damned good source of Hitchcockian insight — if the author was unable to include the more scurrilous or sinister stories that have circulated since Donald Spoto came on the scene, it’s nevertheless rather a relief that he doesn’t feel obliged to trump up some kind of “case against.”

Anyhow, according to JRT, Hitchcock was coming back from a location-scouting trip to the out-of-the-way German Austrian town of Obergurgl (and you can bet I’m going to keep saying “Obergurgl” until somebody laughs), preparing his second film, THE MOUNTAIN EAGLE, when he was attacked by a violent fit of nausea. Using the kind of Freudian detective techniques that would later play a role in SPELLBOUND and MARNIE, Hitch later decided that the attack was caused by a claustrophobic reaction to the German language. Right before the upset struck, Hitchcock recalled wanting to scream “Let me speak English to someone,” since neither his German guides, nor the Obergurglians themselves, spoke a word of English.

Obergurgl does sound like the sort of place where you WOULD be taken ill, leading me to wonder whether place names have some secret influence upon our physical constitutions. Are the people of Liverpool more prone to renal problems (I expect some of them are, but this might be unrelated to the name of their fair city)? Are the residents of Windhoek, Namibia, plagued by excessive flatulence?

No, they’re not.

The second question is whether languages can really cause claustrophobic nausea. I have no trouble believing Hitchcock’s story, but I’m not absolutely certain that claustrophobia is the correct word for what he had. I have a suspicion — or perhaps a prejudice — that German might be the most claustrophobic language, however.

Anyway, STAY TUNED, because although THE MOUNTAIN EAGLE is officially a lost film, this week Shadowplay will attempt a very special reconstruction of this project, allowing you to see, smell and taste Hitchcock’s second  completed film as director in a way you never dreamed possible.