Archive for Vertigo

Ways of Seeing

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2018 by dcairns

Watched two film documentaries — SIDE BY SIDE and DE PALMA.

Christopher Kenneally’s SIDE BY SIDE (2012) is the better show, exploring the pros and cons of digital vs. film. Hosted by the affable Keanu Reeves, it’s a;ready wondrously dated: they’re talking about digital “largely” taking over from film in the next ten years. The budget seems to have been impressive — whenever they want a clip, there it is, whenever they want to talk to somebody, there they are. Great cinematographers and editors, several of them no longer with us (Michael Ballhaus, Vilmos Zsigmond, Anne V. Coates), top directors on both sides of the debate (Lucas, Lynch, Nolan, Cameron, Soderbergh, Scorsese), key figures and early adopters of digital shooting (Von Trier, Anthony Dod Mantle), all contribute engaging bits, and Keanu is so likeable he can get away with saying “Yeah, but it looks like shit.”

The most worrying thing covered is the issue of storage — digital files on drives are potentially MORE vulnerable to being lost than silver nitrate ever was. Someone cheerfully says this problem will be solved if we want to solve it, and since we have to, we will. But in the history of cinema, we’ve ALWAYS solved our preservation problems too late, and substantial amounts of important work has slipped through the cracks/crevasses.

Overall, a very relaxed, enjoyable experience — educational and interesting. It might trigger some more blog posts from me…

DE PALMA (2016), from Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, would benefit from other voices. The directors are occasionally heard asking questions, but De Palma dominates so utterly that we never learn, for instance, why the documentarists are interested in him. He just takes us through his career, film by film, and we learn that BDP thinks all of his movies are good, even WISE GUYS and BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES — he admits the late Tom Wolfe’s book is better, but he has a solution: “Just don’t read the book.”

We open with VERTIGO and De Palma talking about how the movie shows the film director at work. And one thinks, Uh-oh. I’m not convinced we’re supposed to take the film as an instructional video, and Jimmy Stewart’s make-over of Kim Novak as a lesson in how to do it, which Brian is basically saying we should and he does. BDP has undoubtedly learned from Hitchcock, but has he learned the right things?

Fascinating to watch De Palma with Scorsese on Dick Cavett in the seventies (which I can no longer locate on YouTube). In those days, De Palma was an ebullient, goofy guy, and Scorsese was intense, detached, aloof. De Palma was clean-shaven and Scorsese had a beard. Today, De Palma is a growling, surly bear in a beard, and Scorsese is clean-shaven, charming, avuncular. Does this say something about the psychological effect of beards, or the psychological meaning of beards? Of the effect of forty years of De Palma being beaten up critically for his bravura depiction of graphic violence, and Scorsese being lauded critically for his (admittedly very different) bravura depiction of graphic violence?

DE PALMA could work as the gruff maestro explaining his rules of filmmaking — he’s good at this, and his rules make sense, though of course they aren’t everybody’s rules. Or it could work as a psychological exploration of the peculiar obsessions driving his cinema — De Palma is happy to supply all the clues, including the personal stuff about bugging the girl’s sex ed class when he was a schoolboy, and stalking his father’s mistress, and so on. We definitely get material that helps bring his work into focus. And these twin prongs of the movie do work in parallel, to an extent. But De Palma isn’t remotely interested in discussing meaning — understandably, I guess, since throughout his career these discussions have come back to accusations of misogyny, exploitation, which are perhaps harder to bear than the stylistic conversations which always come back to ripping off Hitchcock.

The solution to De Palma’s reluctance to delve deep and actually think about what his films are exploring — ironically, he wants to be considered an artist, but resists anyone finding anything to think about in his work, beyond the level of “cool Steadicam shot!” — would be to talk to someone else. Scorsese might have been helpful, but he’s not really one for deep analysis either — his appreciations of cinema are strongest when focussed on technical achievement. I think whoever you got, it would be helpful if they were female. Misogyny is the rampant bull elephant in the room. Two guys are making a documentary about a third guy, and THIS is their closing image ~

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Fogged

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on January 17, 2018 by dcairns

Guy Maddin and a couple of pals, Evan & Galen Johnson, remade VERTIGO using found footage — I wrote a review for Mubi’s The Notebook — here. One of my favourite Maddin-related things — a scratch video, a city symphony, a mysterious and ludic assemblage.

It always happens

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 12, 2016 by dcairns

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On a whim — I’m a whimsical fellow — I made a gif of a dummy Kim Novak falling past the mission tower window in VERTIGO.

Stare at it long enough and you will begin to get past the initial amusement. You will see that what is happening is not funny, but terrible.

The shot in the movie itself is bathetic rather than tragic, escaping a Bad Laugh only because it’s part of a powerful montage with good acting and music. What’s wrong with the shot?

I think Hitchcock is up against the fact that figures falling past windows are somehow comic. There’s a whole Monty Python sketch about this, and one also thinks of Charles Durning’s cartoony plunge in THE HUDSUCKER PROXY. Rigid dummies are also funny, though not as much as floppy ones. Did nobody think of manufacturing a realistically articulated dummy with a degree of stiffness in the joints? The expense of the exercise may have been a factor, but I bet I could knock up a better dummy in a day, if supplied with some mannikin parts and a wig and costume.

Are you actually reading this or have you become hypnotized by the perpetual motion falling Novak?

As often with Hitchcock’s less effective moments, the artificiality is an issue. He’s built a full-sized window and a big bit of background art, more of a cyclorama than a matte painting (we know this because it’s recycled in ONE-EYED JACKS). So there’s no reason I can see why the dummy has to be superimposed, but it appears to have been matted in afterwards. You could actually have placed a trampoline off the bottom of frame and dropped a real Kim Novak into it — it would have been hilarious when she bounced back into view, but George Tomasini would have cut by then. You could rely on George to get things like that right.

(Unlike Frank J. Urioste, who allows us to see a stuntman’s legs waving as he hits a crash mat just out of frame in ROBOCOP, even though he’s supposed to have been flung from a high window. Strange carelessness, in what’s otherwise a superbly cut film.)

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Then there’s the pose. Of all the possible angles of descent, head first seems to me the most potentially comical. Because it shows the ersatz Novak full-figure, in her most recognisable aspect (although we’re not used to seeing her upside down), Hitch may have thought it would be helpful for clarity, since we would only have an instant to recognize the plummeting figure. But I think the context he’s set up would allow him to get away with being less clear, and a less perfect angle would enhance the sense of glimpsed reality. Basically any angle that’s not upskirt would be better.

(See Polanski’s POV shot in ROSEMARY’S BABY of Ruth Gordon on the phone in the bedroom. The cinematographer was astonished that Polanski chose to obscure most of the actor with the door jamb, but that awkward framing is what convinces us we’re seeing something through the eyes of a real-life onlooker who cannot be expected to have a perfect view.)

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Anything else? Well, the dummy (and even in under a second we are in no doubt that it IS a dummy) seems to be falling at a very slight angle. I guess that’s possible if she stood on the edge and pitched forward, or did an Olympic-style dive, but it makes us wonder about things that aren’t relevant to the emotion of the scene.

Still, it’s been voted the best film ever made, so I guess Hitch was doing something right.