Archive for Paul Merton Looks at Alfred Hitchcock

Candlelight and Shadowplay

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2009 by dcairns

Feel like I’m treading on Shahn’s territory here:

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But all this is just to prove the point that Hitchcock’s NUMBER 17 is a very lovely film. Regular cinematographer John Cox outdoes himself with expressionist jangles of blackness and whiteness, exploiting the surprising shapes of Wilfred Arnold’s impressive set.

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I’d also like to gently scold Paul Merton, whose TV show Paul Merton Looks at Hitchcocksuggested that the film was stagey and uninteresting, apart from the use of model shots for the climax.  A preponderance of interiors does not make a film stagey, and certainly not when it crackles with kinetic energy like this one. Maybe he’s referring to some of the acting (Leon M. Lion, stand up. What’s that? You ARE standing up? Oh, excuse me) but if so he’s muddled the message. Paul Merton Fails to Look at Hitchcock.

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But I’m grateful to that show for bringing on nine-million-year-old British cameraman Gilbert Taylor to talk about working on the film as a clapper loader: how he was almost decapitated by a low bridge when filming atop a moving train, which would have deprived us of the future cinematographer of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT*, REPULSION and STAR WARS (where he displeased George Lucas by routinely referring to Chewbacca as “the dog”); and how members of the camera crew would torment each other by purposefully breaking wind within the sweltering confines of the soundproof camera booth. Whenever you see the camera wobble in an early ’30s film, just think of that, have sympathy, and provide a descriptive sound effect.

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*Taylor was greatly disturbed by the frenzy of Beatlemania and declined to work on the follow-ip film, HELP! Such was the high-pitched screaming of fans that one member of the camera department reportedly lost a tooth. I know, that makes no sense, but there it is.

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Genius or Lifeboat?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on February 28, 2009 by dcairns

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Comedian Paul Merton’s show about early Hitchcock airs tonight, at 9, on BBC4, which is terrific timing in terms of what I’m doing with Hitchcock Year, finishing up his silent output this week.

Merton’s previous film show, dealing with the great silent clowns, featured some great clips, some amusing lines, and some nice stories. My only problem was the lack of real critical analysis — because the episodes were structured as critiques, not as biographies or histories. I have a suspicion that the Hitchcock show will have some of the same issues — in an article for The Times, here, Merton makes some good jokes, (‘One newspaper wrote a headline: “Hitchcock — Psycho or Genius?” Why not say: “Hitchcock — Lifeboat or Genius?”’) and partially explains his interest in Hitch; but doesn’t seem able to describe the films or express much about what’s interesting in them. The idea of Hitch as master manipulator of audiences only goes a short way towards evoking his artistry, and it’s even less relevant to why his earliest films are interesting.

But I think it’ll be good fun as far as it goes. My only other complaint is that, as far as I know, the show is really looking at Hitch’s silents, but the accompanying mini-season of films are all talkies, the earliest of them from 1935 — a case of BBC4 not quite having the courage to be a genuinely highbrow channel that respects its audience’s intelligence and interest.