dsanders

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  1. Not Contemporary, but I wonder why Hitchcock didn't work with Graham Greene. They share some of the same interests: espionage; doubles/twins; obsession and guilt; the underbelly of the world; Ferris Wheels and carnivals; world travel, especially involving hot spots; great writing; suspense and thrillers. For that matter, what about Malcolm Lowry?
  2. Charade Wait Until Dark Memento Inception Signs Blood Simple The Third Man Videodrome Dead Ringers
  3. Daily Dose #20: Look! Opening Scene from Frenzy (1972) The long swoop down from the sky over London, down along the center of the Thames to London Bridge, and past and turning toward the huge building, and a public official reciting Wordsworth to a small crowd emphasizes, the size, modernity, history, institutions, and civilization of London and Britain. The official rolls his British r’s with histrionic fervor as he talks about restoring the river to its pre-urban condition. Then the shot of the crowd, a photographer in particular, and a naked woman floating on her belly in the river. The contrast of the heights of human achievement and the depths of human corruption and savagery that co-exist, side by side, even just down this darkened ally, of which there are many in London.
  4. Daily Dose #19: Real Identities Opening Scene from Marnie (1964) Marnie is a very put together person, everything done with a click of the heel, a dressed-to-the-tee at all times personality. Her gloves are in plastic, her bills—gained criminally—bundled in neatly wrapped packages, her lingerie thrown on the chair, draped over by her topcoat. She keeps her alternate identities in the form of social security cards, easily available in a hidden compartment of her compact. She has a compartmentalized life, with a suitcase stuffed into an anonymous locker, the key to which is kicked down the drain, which recall Bruno’s desperate, and edge-of-the-seat suspenseful attempts to recover the key in Strangers on a Train. I did not initially catch the resemblance of the hair dye down the drain to the blood down the drain in Psycho, creating a play on the plot expectations for Marnie, and think that is a terrific insight and argument for the evolution of these techniques and increasingly complex and mature characters in the films, which can only be seen when they are watched in chronological sequence, not to mention the fantastic mind that can retain these bits and use them over and over in new and meaningful ways. I love the lush tones of the Hermann score as Marnie tosses back her newly blonde hair and together with the close-up of her newborn self.
  5. Daily Dose #18: Love Birds? Opening Scene from The Birds (1963) I have to say that The Birds is another favorite of mine, often viewed, going back to my childhood, when it was very scary, and then later on when it became more interesting for its film-making aspects, and the apocalyptic theme, which makes it stand out from his other works. Like Dr. Edwards, and Dr. Gehring, I too know Rod Taylor from The Time Machine, which we got to see at a school assembly, as a reward. I think Taylor does an remarkable job here, starting in this opening scene, where he is ‘dressed as Cary Grant,’ but continuing on later in the film, where he dons workman’s clothes and becomes an anchor of stability in the film, balancing the four strong women in his life, including another strange Hitchcock mother, who becomes more humanized for once. I notice in this scene how Tippi Hedrin crosses in the street, back now to San Francisco again. Her hair is tightly done up, Kim Novak style, but missing the signature whirlpool curl. The birds flocking in San Francisco are not unusual, and even present the same kind of picture today, creating a commotion late in a Giants game, for example. But if you listen to the sound track here, even though you assume it is a normal sound for the scene, the actual sound in isolation is artificial, strange, and unnerving. Then amidst the gulls, there is a catcall at Tippi, as she turns the corner and walks to the pet shop, which she acknowledges, good-naturedly. I had never noticed this before, because even though I have seen the film many times, I am easily distracted when a film begins. I had to play this section over a couple of times to see that it is coming from a young boy, she passes on the street, immediately before Hitchcock emerges from the store, dragged by his two dogs. I immediately thought of the dog in Rear Window, who gets buried in the garden, and the kittens directly opposite in the store window, like the cat crossing the path in the opening scene of Rear Window. Cats and dogs, men and women. One way to see the two dogs might be as the actors Taylor and Hedrin leashed to director Hitchcock. Melanie proceeds to have a flirtation scene with Mitch in the pet store, reminiscent of the scene we just discussed between Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant. As usual, as Hitchcock adapts his techniques to new situations, a little twist ensues. This time, Mitch holds all the cards, though Melanie does a remarkable job fencing with him, trying to make up knowledge she doesn’t have, as he goads her along, malevolently amused. He is just playing with her, knowing she is not the shop clerk, while he pretends to be someone he isn’t, an innocent, while actually withholding much more knowledge about her then he lets on. This will spark her competitive nature to the next plot action, delivering the lovebirds to Mitch’s island-like home in Bodega Bay. I love the setting of this movie, and the outdoor shots. Hitchcock has moved beyond San Francisco, again, as in Psycho, to the more pastoral setting of Northern California. I listened to an audio version of Daphne du Maurier’s short story, and though it is in a different setting, great Britain, and a different time, Hitchcock updates the story, but retains a lot of the creepiness, nature-in-revolt, apocalyptic feeling of the original story. I liked the response in the Hitchcock interview at the end of the lecture video. We often see an interviewer making a statement, which Hitchcock then contradicts, or corrects. Here he finally has an interviewer who is a willing student to what he is saying, and gets it, in regard to North By Northwest. “But it had a tremendous air of reality to it…” “Ahhhh!” Hitchcock says…”and so do nightmares.”
  6. Daily Dose #17: What Do I Do With My Free Afternoon? Title Sequence and Opening Scene from Psycho (1960) The title sequence to Psycho joins the music of Bernard Hermann and the graphic design of Saul Bass impeccably. It’s a forceful intro that grabs your attention, with minimal visual detail, to indicate what’s coming. Only these essential graphic lines, horizontal and vertical that slide in and out foreshadow the break in personality that is at the heart of Norman Bate’s character, the break and attempted escape from society that Marion tries to make, the unconventional break in the film’s plot, caused by the murder of the main character, and the shocks created in the audience that will leave them exiting the film shaken and a little unhinged. The intro feels very modern, even today, as does the stylized black and white, high contrast, high clarity, and high-def camerawork of the film. Even though Hitchcock had to use his TV crew, the film has a high quality look that we don’t associate with the TV of the time. The establishing shot of a sun-drenched Phoenix, in contrast to the rain-soaked drive to the Bates motel emphasizes the dark nature of the film. Similarly, the camera’s descent to an anonymous hotel room venetian-blinded against the white hot desert sunlight, and through the window, like the remarkable opening shot of Rebecca, where the camera flows through the wrought iron gates, like it’s floating down a river, takes us into a room that could be the boarding house room of Uncle Charlie, film-noirish, and night. Marion Crane is laying down a lot of rules, Mr. and Mrs. Smith style, for lover Sam Loomis, who looks suspiciously as handsome, but more mature, than Norman Bates, who is just down the road. The time and setting stamps on these early scenes indicate the restrictions of living within society’s norms, and though they will not continue throughout the film, time and setting will continue to be very important to the plot. They also create a tension and require the viewer to focus on the unfolding events and decision of Marion to take off.
  7. Daily Dose #16: It’s a Nice Face, Scene from North By Northwest (1959) This is my favorite Hitchcock film of the ones I have seen before. I think I probably saw it in childhood, but I can’t remember the exact time, but I do remember seeing it in my early 20’s and starting to realize how great Hitchcock was by getting swept up in the crop duster scene. The diner car scene in particular is so memorable. I love that it is set on the train, with the passing scenery. It’s a brief pause in the frantic chase that is going on. He’s just barged into her compartment and kissed her to escape his pursuers. It lets the viewer catch ones breath. Just the way Cary Grant sits down with those cheap sunglasses on, his signature, and the way he is playing the scene off of his screen image with part smirk, part grin. He orders a Gibson without even looking at her and then seems to notice her and does an almost imperceptible double take, like he is surprised. “Do you recommend anything?” “Mmmm. The brook trout.” Kind of a weird recommendation, and this is the first time I’ve heard the follow up line, “a little trouty, but good.” A little trouty is not good. He reads her mind. “You feel you’ve seen me somewhere before.” The two fence with their dialogue. He’s so poised and suave with every line, but she’s young and quick and keeps catching him off guard with her feints. She’s bold and frank, he’s continually surprised, showing little, and guarded with sophisticated evasion, yet intrigued. She turns the tables on him when she responds to his comment about being lucky to be seated with her, and she tells him she tipped the steward to make it happen, a comment on the role of fate in Hitchcock’s thrillers. He asks her, “What do you do, besides lure men to their doom on the 20th Century limited?” which echoes his later line to her after surviving the crop duster, one of my favorites. And finally in the flirty interchange with the lighting of the cigarette, he grabs her wrist to light her cigarette, revealing ROT, he withdraws his hand, but she pulls it back to blow out the match. She matches him every step of the way. The low key background music shifts to the more emotion laden love motif.
  8. Daily Dose #14: Here Lie the Broken Bones of L.B. Jeffries, Title Design Opening Scene of Rear Window (1954) I love this movie. It’s a masterpiece, maybe his key work, but also competes with so many other masterpieces from the man. I’ve seen it many times, using it in a film club I teach to middle school students. They enjoy it every time, and lay aside their cell phones for two hours, with their social media, the logical progression of the world predicted in Rear Window. The opening scene establishes the set as a real world, quotidian, natural, with a cat, not a dog, crossing the courtyard path below, going about its cat business. Birds swoop naturally across the camera’s path and over the courtyard. For a moment it feels like a slice of peaceful daily life in this New York compound. The camera swings around in one long, fluid shot that becomes increasingly dreamlike—there are only two cuts in the scene—and contains so much information. We get a preview of each of the characters and their stories that will be laid out over the course of the film, including the little dog in the alleyway, briefly, like a Hitchcock cameo. The camera swings around to Jeff’s fevered brow, and the room temperature of 94 degrees, close to body temperature and the human condition, suggesting the summer swelter, but his eyes are closed, his back to the window, so also a fevered dream, then explores his psyche as it sweeps over objects that symbolically render his life and milieu. The car crashes and war photo reflect his penchant for danger and proximity to catastrophe, including the immediacy of an actual smashed camera. Was it damaged in the car crash? The photo of the atomic bomb is another reference, alluded to in other Hitchcock films, to the uneasy postwar world, which like the main character, has embraced the entire population and edged everyone next to apocalypse. And the magazines, with the woman on the cover. I don’t quite get that. Who is she? Is it Europe in some way? So we learn much about Jeff, with little dialogue. It’s not his point of view, since he is asleep with his back to the window, but more like the viewpoint of his sleeping brain. The opening scene encapsulates so much, all visually, and thus portends the most cinematic of Hitchcock’s movies, which will utilize the camera to it’s fullest potential. One of the few un-cinematic statements in this scene is the inscription on the cast: “Here lie the broken bones of L.B. Jeffries, a perfect title for the strewn images of his psyche and the way the director intends to smash the bone structure of cinema in the film to come.
  9. Daily Dose #15: Lissajous Figures, Title Design Sequence of Vertigo (1954) I really like the subject of this Daily Dose. It’s a very creative assignment to focus on a title sequence to extract the meaning from it. I looked at the link to the Saul Bass website and was surprised by the familiarity I had with the posters and their look. It’s a signature design style that in my mind really stands in for edgy, new, sophisticated works of art. I have seen the style almost more on the covers of paperbacks than on movie posters. I think of James Baldwin, Nelson Algren, Hubert Selby and others, a moderness that really played in the heyday of the 60’s and continues to feel modern. I love that reduction down to very simple geometric shapes, like jazz, modern art and poetry, the short stories of Hemingway, or Carver. I really like the poster for The Magnificent Seven, a favorite movie of mine, but I don’t remember ever seeing this one, five hash marks with a line through, and two below, in the bright red heavy brush strokes of Japanese Shodo, on a white background. It says so much, so simply. That said, I have mixed feelings about Vertigo in general, some of it present in this title sequence. I too saw it when I was younger, and didn’t care for it that much. I have seen it several times more recently, and though I find it growing on me, and I do love the San Francisco, Northern California 50s travelogue of it, I’m with Dr. Gehring when he says, I don’t even think it’s the best Hitchcock, let alone the best movie of all time. I don’t get how it replaces Citizen Kane. But I will admit it is an interesting film and fertile ground for discussion and repeated viewings. I find the computer graphics of the title sequence kind of hokey and artificial. They remind me of that kid’s art tool, the Spirograph, some of us used to make interesting mathematical art shapes. And the dream sequence later on, with the tinted, disembodied James Stewart head, and the funky animation of flowers, not convincing or effective. I do like the Bernard Hermann score, which reminds me of Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade, with its impression of the rising and falling of the ocean swell in Sinbad’s voyages by crescendo and decrescendo, and the gentle sway of Herman’s score creating a dream-like vertigo, like the car sequence Marty describes.
  10. Daily Dose #13: Criss Cross, Opening Scene from Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) What a way to ring in the 50’s with Strangers on a Train. When I watched this film several weeks ago, I was just overwhelmed with it. I saw it several times when I was younger, but not for many years. Seeing it again, I still remembered the story, more or less, but from the opening shots on, it just seems like it brings together so many of the techniques and styles we have been studying in such an integrated way, that the film just charges forward from the opening scenes, and never lets up. A work of genius. The titles play over the grand arches of Union Station, framing the Capitol Building, like the movie palaces, the symbols of grandiosity made available to all via U.S. democracy, and now a democracy, renewed in the blood of war and triumph over Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, but facing all kinds of new challenges, despite the remnants of the prewar order. The train plows forward over a multitude of switched crossings, and you feel like you are riding on the cowcatcher. The metonymy of the pairs of legs and shoes, those distinctive two tones and the kind of decadence they suggest, and then the feet of the owners, moving in different directions toward an inevitable intersection of lives. It reminds me of the crossed skis at the end of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, how lives intersect, and create new lives, new patterns, and sometimes a lot of chaos. One man has two racquets, clattering as the valet unloads them. Makes sense that a tennis player pro would have two racquets, but an indication that a game is afoot, and those racquets will soon be crossed. As both characters move toward each other, down the length of the car, the passenger seated as Walker passes by, has her legs crossed. He sits and in the same motion crosses his legs. A similar passenger passed by Granger has her legs uncrossed. He sits down, at first with his legs uncrossed. A moment pauses and then he crosses his legs too, bumping Walkers. Interesting that he makes the first contact. You would expect it to be Walker, creating an incident to initiate conversation, but Walker is so good, all he has to do is let the fly come to him. “Oh go ahead and read…I don’t talk much,” …such a funny line.
  11. Daily Dose #12: Why Do You Care How I Feel? Early Scene from Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946) In the opening of this scene, Cary Grant stands in shadow, framed by the doorway, his darkness a reflection of the agency he works for and his role working for them, as well as his emotional state toward Alicia. He is frozen inside, choked up, unable to respond to her love at first, and when he does, only to pull back, because ‘they have a job to do’. He’s jealous and insecure and shies away from her with the least little suspicion. She is lit in the scene, even though covered in blankets and hung over, the top edge of her hair glowing like gold. The camera zooms in on one eye, from which she regards him, a duplicate of the scene in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, where Carole Lombard spies on her husband, while feigning sleep. As Alicia recalls the evening she remembers he is a copper, and he can only want her for one thing, to be a stool pigeon. She wears a striped blouse, like a convict, the bars of shadows law in complex structures around the walls, but unlike the harsh shadows of Shadow of A Doubt, these shadows are soft and light, and the lighting all around is in soft focus. As Devlin advances toward her bedside and the camera swings around to cast him upside down from her point of view, another duplicate scene, this from The Lodger, recalls the uncertainty of that character’s moral nature, and suggests a topsy-turvy world that Alicia is entering. Cary Grant gives her a glass of medicine for her hangover, acting doctor to her sickness, in contrast to the way Claude Rains will later be poisoning her with an innocuous cup of tea. When Alicia stands framed in the doorway now, her blouse has sequins on it, but only one or two glint into the camera at a time, like stars twinkling in a hazy heaven. The close-up of a record spinning, as we have seen in previous works, also foreshadows here a mechanistic fate and surreal turn of events. In many ways, the casting of this movie is all. Cary Grant plays against type, as a humorless cog in the espionage establishment, only redeemed late in the film when he finally decides to act on his own and question his agency’s judgment, to go check on Alicia. And Bergman plays a depth and melancholy that makes you hurt for her. Together their chemistry is fantastic.
  12. Daily Dose #11: Thought I’d Left? Opening Scene from Hitchcock’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1943) I don’t like this one as well as some of the others. I admire Hitchcock’s attempts to move into other genres to expand his repertoire, but some don’t fit him the way others do. There is an ambivalence here that gives the story an uneasy undertone. When Robert Montgomery admits that he would not get married again if he had the chance, because he misses his freedom, it makes sense on one hand as someone being absolutely honest about his feelings, without thinking about the consequences, under the strange tyranny of the rules they have set up for their marriage, but we have already had this long intro, which is almost a cat and mouse game, of Lombard pretending she’s asleep, like a kid does, Montgomery pretending to leave, to test her feelings about him and other signs of their affection for each other. It reminds me of Uncle Charley suddenly speaking his inner thoughts at the dinner table in Shadow of a Doubt, or Norman Bates going too far in telling Marion Crane about his feelings in Psycho, and other male characters in Hitchcock’s pantheon and their quirky ambivalence about women. I was comparing this in my thoughts to The Thin Man, and Dick Powell and Myrna Loy’s easy rapport, and hilarious shotgun dialogue, yet another marriage constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and this film pales greatly in comparison. I did enjoy the anecdote I read about Hitchcock having Carole Lombard direct his cameo and how she made him do multiple retakes of it.
  13. Daily Dose #10: Nothing on Me, Opening Scene from Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943) Of Uncle Charlie’s character, we get a very heavy sense of fatalism and doom weighing on him, as he lies on the bed, as in the montage-like fluid movement of the camera down the nightstand to the bills tossed haphazardly aside on the floor, suggesting even money doesn’t matter to this character, and the complex lattice-work of shadows that lie across him and the room. The landlady comes in and with crystal clear depth of field, her in the background, his prone figure close up, what a great shot, she prattles on in her everyday reality, contrapuntally to his nihilist existential reality. The way Charlie stands at the window, with a voice-over about how the two “friends” waiting for him on the street have nothing on him, is like the interior monologues of Chandler’s and Hammett’s characters, yet is remarkably seamless: he seems to talk, but we never see his lips move in the way the shot is cut. When Charlie sits on the edge of his bed, he downs a shot, but we never see him drink. This movie is pretty near perfect and has so many great details, at every turn, of the Hitchcock touch. I like his hat sitting at an angle on his head as he walks onto the street, in film-noir the jaunty hat sometimes denoting confidence, or street-savvy, but here, his sinister intent, with the darkness shadowing his forehead, or the complete arrogance of his world-view, when he practically bumps into the detective, forcing him to move out of the way, as he strides past, flaunting his scorn of banal human law, and other useless humans. I paid more attention to the music in this signature scene, since it is pointed out, and noticed how the score starts building in the apartment, during the monologue, first with strings in minor key, and the tension they build in this early scene, over seemingly mundane actions, creating an unbearable suspense so quickly, we don't even know why yet, immediately, culminating in Charlie’s exit out the front door, where the horns and woodwinds join in a huge crescendo, just as he exits the apartment building. It’s almost comical to focus on the sound in isolation, because, after all, it’s only a guy going out the front door. I just love this movie. What a great opening scene, and terrific inspiration to use the opening of the Hemingway story.
  14. Daily Dose #9: Last Night I dreamt, Scene from Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) The opening scene is slower than the fast paced editing and montages of previous Daily Doses. And it is talky immediately, with the voice over narration, a symptom, I wonder, of Selznick’s influence and words right from the novel? It reminds me of one of the opening shots of Citizen Kane, with the iron gate, and Xanadu hovering in the background. The camera moves fluidly through the gate, along a winding path that looks highly artificial, dark shadows over it, not quite like the movement of cloud shadows, and then the broken down ruins of Manderlay. So the verbal element is very different, trying to tell the story in words, but the dream state visuals similar to the nightmare opening of The Lodger in that they created the same state. The pathway is a familiar motif in Hitchcock, with his fascination with travel, and picaresque plots. Hitchcock has another mode that contrasts to his manic, intercut crowd scenes, more elegiac, slower-paced, focusing on creation of a mood full of haunting and loss. I don’t see much of the Hitchcock touch here. Yes there is an ordinary woman drawn into a mystery, and she relies on her own resources when she sees De Winter looking like he is about to fall of or jump off a cliff, but the setting is not an ordinary place, there’s no villain, no McGuffin. The house as a character creates a heavy mood, ominous, and portentous, like the Psycho house, dominating this world. The flashback structure and voice narration lay out the director’s intent to path of this character’s story, how we got from point A to point B.
  15. Daily Dose #8: Cooling Our Heels, Opening scene from The Lady Vanishes (1938) The opening scene from The Lady Vanishes sets a tone, again, of a series of quick-paced interactions, verbal and physical, to a background of musicality, in the light-hearted folk-music, the musical international languages of the guests, and resulting mis- and non-understanding of the actors, and light-hearted repartee. I like Caldicott and Charters dialogue: “It has always been my contention that The Hungarian Rhapsody is not their national anthem…In any case we were the only two standing…” “That’s true.” And their conclusion that the women must be American, bossy, self-centered, oblivious to the needs of others. Hitchcock focuses on Margaret Lockwood using the pace of editiong of the scene. All three are together at first, interacting with the manager (“Nothing is changed” “Not even the sheets.” Then coming down the stairs, she takes the lead, she is in the center of the scene, a close-up on her as she describes her personal distress, back to mid-shot, and then up the stairs, now sharing the lead with the manager, but a bit ahead, those two solely talking together.

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