Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose #9: Last Night I Dreamt (Opening Scene of Rebecca)

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Hi #Hitchcock50 Students:


This week we shift gears from Hitchcock's British sound period to his first film made in Hollywood for David O. Selznick, Rebecca (1940). The film wins the Oscar for Best Picture of the Year.


Read more about the Selznick-Hitchcock relationship in today's module over at Canvas, as well as some background on the making of the film, and then watch today's Daily Dose and reflect on the opening scene of the film.


Here are three questions to get the conversation rolling: 


1. Describe how this opening is different from the multiple opening scenes you have seen in the Daily Doses from the British silent and/or sound period? 


2. What are the Hitchcock "touches" in this opening that help you identify this as a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock? 


3. How does this opening sequence use Manderley--the house itself--as a kind of character in the story? What affect does the flashback structure and the voiceover narration have on your experience of this scene? 


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Although the opening is so much Selznick it still has a number of Hitchcock touches that work well for the opening, Definitely more of a Gothic film, there are the touches here that imply “horror” and the Hitchcock brand.

 

The opening shot of the full moon, on a cloud covered evening shining down, the narration and the narration describing what Manderlay may look like in the present. The closed, high iron gate, with stone supporting and surrounding it. Over grown brush and ivy hanging down from the top of the stone arch. The drive overgrown, trees down, nature taking back what man had made and destroyed, the low lying fog you must pass through to move forward. The suddenly light on Manderlay, the windows lighting up, shadows moving over the scene, just as the narrator is describing.

 

Then the fade to black, opening on the roiling sea and rocks below, dangerous water and panning up the cliff to see Maxim in silhouette looking down. The close up of his forlorn, troubled face, looking like a jumper. Then editing do a half shot from the back, Maxim silhouetted by the sea and the crashing waves silhouetted by Maxim's dark shape. Then moving to his feet from the side, one foot rising, looking about to step forward, then a 'scream'--”Don't”.

 

Maxim pulled out of his fixation on the water, angry at the person who stopped him, grilling her, telling her to “get along”. The future Mrs. de Winter moving off like a scared, chastised school girl, yet also anxious if she should, wondering still if he will jump.

 

Yes, this is a Selznick movie and treatment, but Hitchcock puts his stamp on it, his new Hollywood stamp, in a way he didn't in Britain, or working for his friend Charles Laughton on Jamaica Inn.

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Almost a touch of what we know we will see later in Psycho when we finally get to the Bates motel.

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1. Describe how this opening is different from the multiple opening scenes you have seen in the Daily Doses from the British silent and/or sound period?

 

Interestingly it begin with more location and setting including a voice over/narration as opposed to a group or audience type opening we've been seeing more of. This is perhaps more of a studio including the Hollywood style to introduce the setting and having a voice indicate details for us.

 

2. What are the Hitchcock "touches" in this opening that help you identify this as a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock?

 

For me the touches are the shots that move closer to the subject of manderlay and the introduction of our characters on the cliff side overlooking the southern France Oceanside. Hitchcock has a unique crawling camera movement that includes many strong visuals with the shifting of lights and darks with moody gothic-like depiction of the grounds leading to the castle.

 

3. How does this opening sequence use Manderley--the house itself--as a kind of character in the story? What affect does the flashback structure and the voiceover narration have on your experience of this scene?

 

The description of the Manderlay house and its grounds including the shots highlighting the scene create a character because it places it as the main subject/focus of the opening. If there was a spotlight it could be placed on the setting and the house in particular. Probably because it is the area of discussion and focus for our attention.

 

The flashback gives us more insight to our leads and sets the stage for the story is my interpretation. It has the affect of informing us the man is upset and seemingly suicidal. The woman who happens upon him is concerned that he may jump so right away I feel she is the rational and caring type where this man is too much in his state of remorse or sadness to care or speak to the woman more kindly. Just observations. I've never seen Rebecca and can't wait for Wednesday! Will enjoy people's impressions but try and hold off on spoilers that give away too much (if you've seen) before folks see it please...

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1. Describe how this opening is different from the multiple opening scenes you have seen in the Daily Doses from the British silent and/or sound period? -- It began with a narration and miniature shot... and finally our two main characters meeting. There were no dancing girls or crowd... the film began quietly, softly... like the monster that creeps from the closet when you are near sleep.


2. What are the Hitchcock "touches" in this opening that help you identify this as a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock? -- Nothing really springs to mind. Upon reflection, the camera angles on the two characters and their intensity for the moment and brings to mind the Farmer's Wife in the treatment of the two characters; dark and light; despair and laughter.


3. How does this opening sequence use Manderley--the house itself--as a kind of character in the story? What affect does the flashback structure and the voiceover narration have on your experience of this scene? -- The allure to know more about this character, what happened to create its current state pulls me into the story. The voiceover narration is an additional tease to enhance my interest. If this had been a silent film and only the camera to the house, I would still be interested to know what happened.


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1. Describe how this opening is different from the multiple opening scenes you have seen in the Daily Doses from the British silent and/or sound period?

 

Insread of a character filled opening sequence, Rebecca opens with a narration over a tracking shot of Manderley.

 

2. What are the Hitchcock "touches" in this opening that help you identify this as a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock?

 

Use of shadows in the beginning, then suspicion is instilled with a man seemingly pondering suicide.

 

3. How does this opening sequence use Manderley--the house itself--as a kind of character in the story? What affect does the flashback structure and the voiceover narration have on your experience of this scene?

 

From the opening scene we can tell that Manderley will be a major part of the film. The lights turning on almost seems to pump life into the house.

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1) This scene does not have a large grouping of people forming the beginning, whether it be in a hotel, theatre, etc. Instead, we have the solitary commentary of approach to a dreamlike sequence, wherein the lead female role provides us insight into the house to be known as Manderlay. Manderlay has an omnipresent hold over the film and becomes very important in the structure of the scene. 

 

2) POV is strongly used in the approach of the unseen narrator as she approaches Manderlay. Hitchcock uses POV many times in the openings of his films and this again is one great example of this. Furthermore, the use of camera panning from the surging tide and waves, up the cliff to view the solitary person at the cliff edge is a great example of placing a sense of danger that Hitchcock like to imbue upon his audience.

 

3) The house becomes an eerie and haunted being in the opening and there is a sense of fear and foreboding for what will come later in the film.

 

One thing that I note is a complete lack of any type of humour that had become typical of Hitchcock in his more recent British films.

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The opening of the film "Rebecca" is quite different from his previous British films. Instead of being introduced to the characters in an action oriented setting, the narrated dream is a soft, quiet, misty and dark introduction. Joan Fontaine speaks of Manderley like someone who is now dead, but remebered fondly.

 

Travelling down the drive as the narration takes place reminds me of other POV tracking shots of Hitchcock's other films, building a bit of tension before we see Manderley.

 

Joan Fontaine's description of Manderley in the dream gives you the sense of its importance, and the sadness of its fall into ruin. The use of light and shadow give the illusion of Manderley being full of life, then an empty shell. It sets up the location as being central to the story, and the viewer wanting to know more about what has happened there.

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1. Describe how this opening is different from the multiple opening scenes you have seen in the Daily Doses from the British silent and/or sound period? 

 

Thoughtful, introspective, nostalgic compared to previous efforts that profiled an event that instigates action and introduces characters with the plot taking off. Characters are the focus here with the glimpse into their thoughts and personalities.

 

 

2. What are the Hitchcock "touches" in this opening that help you identify this as a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock? 

 

Skillful craftsmanship, camera movement, sound design, set design, introduction of characters, mise en scene and environment, time and place.

 

 

3. How does this opening sequence use Manderley--the house itself--as a kind of character in the story? What affect does the flashback structure and the voiceover narration have on your experience of this scene? 

 

Nostalgia, environment, mood, demographics clearly defined. 

 

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1. Describe how this opening is different from the multiple opening scenes you have seen in the Daily Doses from the British silent and/or sound period? 

       ​Unlike several of the opening scenes that we have seen from the British Period, this opening is very slow moving.  The music is very somber unlike the theatre music or Music Hall sounds in previous openings. We start out with a voiceover narration from a female character unidentified to us. We ask ourselves "Is this Rebecca?" We view this mansion of Manderley but have no idea where we are in time, space or location. Finally, we move to the South of France in keeping with Hitchcock's use of exotic locations and there, we are introduced to two nameless characters. At this point we have no idea who they are or what role they play in the film. We see Hitchcock's use of nature in this opening i.e. the overgrowth on the driveway and the churning sea in the South of France. At the very beginning of the opening scene we see Hitchcock's use of models in the form of Manderley. This use of models has not been seen in previous openings. They have used full set like a theatre, music hall, St Moritz ski slope or a hotel in Bandrica.

 

2. What are the Hitchcock "touches" in this opening that help you identify this as a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock? 

​        In the lecture given by Dr. Edwards and Dr. Gehring for this lesson we heard that this film is a combination of the influences of Hitchcock and Selznick. I referred back to my Daily Dose notes and looked at the Gene Philips checklist and found that nothing in this opening fit the list. A few cases in point: "Ordinary people"... we don't know the status of the two characters that we meet; "Ordinary settings" ... Manderley doesn't look ordinary to me. However, I did find three things that might display the "Hitchcock Touch" in this opening scene. The first is the use of the POV shot as the narrator (unknown to us) moves down the driveway towards Manderley. The second is the POV shots from Laurence Olivier's perspective on the cliff overlooking the sea. The third thing is the use of an exotic location ... the South of France

 

3. How does this opening sequence use Manderley--the house itself--as a kind of character in the story? What affect does the flashback structure and the voiceover narration have on your experience of this scene? 

​       Manderley appears to be almost someone we are going to meet as we move down the driveway with the ethereal narrator. The changes in the moonlight cause us to see Manderley in different lights and in different conditions. Since we do not see any one else Manderley does seem to stand in as a character in the story. We have no one else to focus in on but Manderley. The use of the flashback structure and the voiceover narration caused me to be drawn into the film. They caused me to want to find out more about who are these people, what is Manderley, where is Manderley, why does Laurence Olivier appear to want to commit suicide, who is this woman who hollers to him and why are they in the South of France. 

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1. Describe how this opening is different from the multiple opening scenes you have seen in the Daily Doses from the British silent and/or sound period?

 

The opening is different in that it's not in a public setting; the setting is the present immediately followed with a return to the past.  There's no humor or interaction with people, but instead there's a narration that sets the tone of the story.  The other thing notable was the music that was more luxurious than the British films of the 1030's.

 

2. What are the Hitchcock "touches" in this opening that help you identify this as a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock?

 

The "touches" are perhaps the subjective point of view during the narration and the introduction of the main characters with them confronting each other in a rather short an abrupt exchange of words; humor is definitely not present.

 

3. How does this opening sequence use Manderley--the house itself--as a kind of character in the story?  What affect does the flashback structure and the voiceover narration have on your experience of this scene?

 

The house seems sinister and sets the viewer in a mood to beware of the surroundings in the photoplay as not being very friendly.  The use of voiceover reinforces the sinister nature of the opening sequence.

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1. Describe how this opening is different from the multiple opening scenes you have seen in the Daily Doses from the British silent and/or sound period? 


The opening seems much more introspective and panoramic to me than the previous films. There is no theatrical setting, nor close-ups of women screaming, and no act or event with large groups of people present.  It also focuses on an individual house, rather than a public place.


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2. What are the Hitchcock "touches" in this opening that help you identify this as a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock? 


The "dolly shot" up the drive to the house, the large shot of the cliff with a tiny individual standing on the brink, the roaring sea, the close-up of Olivier's feet, the cut to the shot of him from behind and then the close-up of his face, are Hitchcock "touches" to me.


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3. How does this opening sequence use Manderley--the house itself--as a kind of character in the story? What effect does the flashback structure and the voiceover narration have on your experience of this scene? 


Because the house looms so large, both literally and figuratively in the narrator's words, we understand that the house will play a large part in the story. The flashback and voiceover tell the audience that something tragic and dark took place in this once beautiful house.


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1. Describe how this opening is different from the multiple opening scenes you have seen in the Daily Doses from the British silent and/or sound period? 


The opening of Rebecca is different from the multiple opening scenes we've looked at from the British silent and sound period films in many ways. First, this opening contains a voiceover. Second, this opening does not use humor. Additionally, this opening is not driven by interactions between several characters.  


2. What are the Hitchcock "touches" in this opening that help you identify this as a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock? 


One Hitchcock touch in this opening sequence is the interesting shots. The pan from the water, up to the cliff, to a character is classic Hitchcock style. Following the point of view of the narrator is also classic. 


3. How does this opening sequence use Manderley--the house itself--as a kind of character in the story? What affect does the flashback structure and the voiceover narration have on your experience of this scene? 


Manderley is seen as a character because it is the focus of Joan Fontaine's introductory voiceover. The more she talks about Manderley, the more you want to see it. The voiceover draws you in and the flashback makes you want to know how the characters got from that point to where they are now. 


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(1) The opening of Rebecca is exposition (in the form of voiceover) and includes a dream sequence.  This contrasts to many of Hitchcock’s previous films which throw the viewer directly into the action in real time (e.g. the woman screaming in The Lodger or the travelers waiting around the inn in The Lady Vanishes).  The opening scenes in Hitch’s previous films were often in lively public settings.  Rebecca, however, opens in a dilapidated private residence.  No people appear on screen until about the 2-minute mark when the scene jumps from Manderley to the South of France. 

 

(2) The opening 2 minutes are essentially a POV of Joan Fontaine’s character, albeit the POV of her dream.  While the opening lacks action, intrigue is developed at the onset of the film.  Questions that arise are: Why does Mrs. de Winter dream about Manderley?  Why has Manderley been abandoned?  How much time has passed since Mrs. de Winter lived there?  Why is Olivier’s character contemplating suicide? 

 

(3) It’s easy to think of the setting as character in this instance, especially since no people appear on the screen for the first two minutes during which Manderley is introduced.  I think the house itself seems like a character in the opening scene because it is so isolated.  It is grand and looming and gone to ruins.  It has a story.  Because the voiceover establishes mystery, the viewer wonders what the house would say if its walls could talk.  It could answer the viewer’s questions.  Why can’t Mrs. de Winter ever go back to Manderley?  What role did the house have in driving her away?

 

The voiceover provides a great deal of background information perhaps more swiftly than a traditional flashback could have done.  The voiceover sparks my interest immediately because I don’t know what the character speaking looks like; I can only tell that she is female.   

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1, 2, and 3. Rebecca's opening scene is atmospheric, and although Hitchcock audiences would be familiar with London fog from other Hitchcock efforts, the fog here is presented in a dream like quality to match the dream narration. As the camera wanders through what was the majestic de Wynter drive, the audience can plainly see that Manderley's surrounding foliage has been burnt out, hence the reason Joan Fontaine notes "we can never go back to Manderley again." Although the house is shrouded in darkness, the audience can also see that Manderley is a burned shell.

 

This opening is faithful to the book, which I have read, and the rich look of the black and white photography are both characteristics of a Selznick production. The Hitchcock influence is his powerful ability to show the audience with visuals as well as tell the audience with narration what it is in for in terms of the ending to the story which is laid out right in the beginning. In other words Hitchcock is still showing us the crime right up front as he did in so many of his other works. This is the Hitchcock touch added to the lush production values of his first Hollywood effort. As in the book, the Manderley estate is is a key character in the story. It is much talked of, sought after, and one character basically dies because of its worth to another character.

 

I feel I must comment on something the two instructors discuss in the lecture video. It is clear after reading "Memo From David O Selznick," that the Olivier character is changed from a murderer to a victim because of the Hollywood production code. Selznick knew when he bought the novel he would have to change this aspect of the story because the code would not have allowed a murderer to escape punishment for his crime. Selznick notes this in a number of memos he wrote about the production of the film and its basic storyline.

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Further Reflections:  After watching the clip, please go to Twitter (#Hitchcock50) or the TCM Message Board (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.  (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site to continue your reflections on this clip. Here are a few discussion starters (though feel free to come up with your own):

1. Describe how this opening is different from the multiple opening scenes you have seen in the Daily Doses from the British silent and/or sound period?  As opposed to a public setting, the opening begins with a dream sequence that leads to a flashback. Both characters are alone, isolated, no other people around. Hitchcock incorporates a tall structure, i.e. height as a device to heighten the suspense (the shots looking down to the beach and the imposing silhouette of Manderley).

2. What are the Hitchcock "touches" in this opening that help you identify this as a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock? The dream sequence and the use of the beach rushing in and out seem inspired by German Impressionism. It also reminds me of the innocent person who by sheer random fate is placed at the scene of a crime (in this case though the crime – suicide – does not occur). In addition, the opening uses fog and a winding deserted road to as well as moonlight (in full then blacked out by clouds) to foreshadow the ambiguities that will plague the leading characters. The fog reminds me of the opening scene of “The Lodger.”

3. How does this opening sequence use Manderley--the house itself--as a kind of character in the story? What affect does the flashback structure and the voiceover narration have on your experience of this scene?   The castle represents (physically and psychologically) the past – a past that must be overcome. 

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Maxim de Winter, who is in Monte Carlo to forget the drowning death of his wife Rebecca, meets the demure paid companion of matronly socialite Edythe Van Hopper and begins to court her. The girl falls in love with Maxim and happily accepts when he asks her to be his wife. The bride's happiness comes to an abrupt end when Maxim takes her to his grand seaside estate, Manderley. There she is tormented by the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who continually reminds the young bride of the great beauty and elegance of the first Mrs. de Winter and undermines her attempts to assert herself in the household. One night shortly after her arrival, a boat is wrecked off shore, and during the rescue attempt, another submerged boat is found in which the body of Rebecca is trapped. Maxim then confesses to his insecure wife the true story of his miserable marriage to Rebecca: After only four days of marriage, Rebecca began flaunting her infidelities. For the family's honor, Maxim continued his marriage, with Rebecca playing the great lady, until she informed her husband that she was to become a mother and he was not the father. Angered, Maxim struck Rebecca and she fell, hitting her head on a ship's tackle. He then placed her body in a boat and sunk it. When a new inquest is held into Rebecca's death, things look dim for Maxim until Rebecca's London doctor testifies to the authorities that she was dying of cancer and was contemplating suicide. Maxim is then free to begin life anew with his now blossoming bride. However, Mrs. Danvers is unable to relinquish her beloved Manderley to the new Mrs. de Winter and sets fire to the house and perishes.

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1. The opening scene differs from the films made in the British period in that it's much more intimate and isolated; not so public.

 

2. The setting is very important to the films, which is a popular example of the Hitchcock touch. I've noticed he also likes to build suspense from the moment the film opens. Within two minutes there's the suspense of the leading man committing suicide.

 

3. The house is really the first character the audience is introduced to. We know much more about this mysterious house than the character speaking. The house is considered a character cause we are shown the relationship between it and the people inhabiting it.

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Brit films open with expressionistic, abstract montage. Once under the spell of Hollywood, Hitch resorts to a V.O./F.B. Noirish into in REBECCA. He leads us slowly and methodically to the isolated castle. Brit's smash close-ups contrast to the long tracking shot, used and developed further with later, STRANGERS. The cinematography appears crisper, Hollywood translates to bigger bucks. Hitch's pallet is sophistatcated in Hollywood, Briit's amateurish.

Hitch's touches include composed Suspense w music, ordinary man/woman in trouble, extreme close-up to convey emotion, a new touch could be Weather As A Metaphor to mist atmosphere & tone, and star relateability.

Mandeley serves as its own character, the mood is conveyed with its overgrown path and shadowy moon, personifying its malice.

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1. Describe how this opening is different from the multiple opening scenes you have seen in the Daily Doses from the British silent and/or sound period?

REBECCA opens with a POV tracking shot in a rural setting, far from any public space packed with people. In fact, no people are seen. We are in a dream, narrated by an off-screen voice. The mood is not light. It's dark, like an enchanted forest. A witch could appear at any moment. (This, of course, will happen later with the first appearance of Mrs. Danvers. More on that later.)
Because we are in a dream, we don't know if what we're seeing is actual, or just an imagined dreamscape. But the dreamer/narrator tells us Manderley--real or imagined--was once beautiful, a vision, but now reduced to a ghost of its former self. It's all very mysterious. And we want to know what was this Manderley and what happened for it to be dreamed about in this way?
​(Note: The way the film opens with the approach to a mansion made me think about Orson Welles's opening in CITIZEN KANE. But whereas Welles's camera approaches the dark Xanadu in static, ever-closer still shots, Hitchcock uses a traveling POV shot. Hitchcock here is preceding CITIZEN KANE by at least a year. So, I wonder if Welles was influenced by REBECCA's opening sequence.)

 

2. What are the Hitchcock "touches" in this opening that help you identify this as a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock?

The opening's traveling shot is an extended example of Hitchcock's POV shot. As this subjective view continues, we go through dappled moonlight, the dark shadows of trees playing over the vegetation. This constantly changing dark-to-light-to-dark is reminiscent of the chiaroscuro of Renaissance drawings, specifically those by Da Vinci.
Even before we get our first view of Manderley, a mystery seems to be in the offing. The shot, coupled with the off-screen voice narrating the sequence, makes us wonder, "What was Manderley?" "What happened at/to Manderley that it is now a magnificent shell?"

 

3. How does this opening sequence use Manderley--the house itself--as a kind of character in the story? What affect does the flashback structure and the voiceover narration have on your experience of this scene?

In addition to what's written above, after the traveling shot leading to Manderley, we cut to the South of France where two characters are introduced: one apparently considering suicide, the other interrupting said suicide. Here, the camera discovers Maxim de Winter on the precipice of a cliff overlooking the ocean. A tight shot of his raised foot tells us all we need to know: the man is distraught and wants "to end it all." This introduces yet another mystery.
​Manderley--a very effective miniature--IS going to be a character. Most of the action will take place in the mansion, its opulence at moments threatening to steal the whole show. (The opulence was provided by Selznick's budget and his insistence on making Manderley as impressive as it was in the novel. As we know from GONE WITH THE WIND, Selznick always got what he wanted. I also wonder if his reason for buying the rights to the novel wasn't, in part, because, like GONE WITH THE WIND, it's about the importance of a house (Manderley/Tara). It also gave him another opportunity for the spectacle of a great fire (the torching of Manderley/the burning of Atlanta). 

"Manderley," like "Tara," is said throughout the film.

But Manderly is a haunted house--haunted by the ghost of the dead Rebecca, but also haunted by the living Mrs. Danvers who doesn't want to see anyone even consider taking Rebecca's place. In short, Manderley is a shrine to a corpse.


​4. None of the following is in the opening sequence, but it is foreshadowed by the mysterious opening. 

As a foil to the innocent, naïve Rebecca, Mrs. Danvers is this statue-still, hands-clasped, stone-faced presence who, like God, seems to be everywhere--even when she's not onscreen. After she's made her first appearance, we never forget that she is…s-o-m-e-w-h-e-r-e…in the house, quite often appearing, seemingly out of nowhere, having overheard the scene we've just witnessed. Like God, she seems to hear, to KNOW, everything that goes on at Manderley.
As the film progresses and we learn that the heretofore perfect Rebecca was not so perfect after all, we realize that Mrs. Danvers has, essentially, been a stand-in for Rebecca throughout the film. She's not beautiful like Rebecca supposedly was, but she's a domineering presence from the outset. She's the keeper of Rebecca's flame, apparently having been more than the living Rebecca's personal maid. She was Rebecca's intimate confidante--and perhaps even more.
With this character, Hitchcock seems to be going far deeper into the psychology of a single character than ever before. When Mrs. Danvers discovers "the second Mrs. de Winter" (Joan Fontaine) in the late Rebecca's boudoir, she seems to relish finally getting the opportunity to give the second Mrs. de Winter a tour.
But it's not just a tour. It's a kind of sadistic torture she's relishing--torturing the "second Mrs. de Winter" with how beautiful, how perfect Rebecca was, how beautiful her bedroom still is, kept just as it was when Rebecca was alive.
Finally, the "tour" gets downright kinky when Mrs. Danvers displays Rebecca's lingerie, fondling it with her fingers. This is as far as Hitchcock goes--can go--with the psychological make-up of Mrs. Danvers but it's powerful enough to put questions in the viewer's mind, questions that linger for the rest of the film.

Mrs. Danvers--cool, controlled, contained in her first appearance in the film--would seem unfeeling. And yet in the boudoir scene we see perhaps she was capable of love--love that now has become worship. The actress Judith Anderson holds the same facial expression throughout the film, except maybe once when she opens her eyes wider while encouraging the second Mrs. de Winter to "jump." I can't remember ever seeing any actor hold the same expression throughout an entire film. How she didn't win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1941 is beyond me. Jane Darwell was great in THE GRAPES OF WRATH, but Anderson's performance, in my humble opinion, was far more powerful.


With each step of this tour, Mrs. Danvers lashes the second Mrs. de Winter with the facts--or, rather, her perceptions--of Rebecca, knowing that with each statement she's making the second Mrs. de Winter feel increasingly inferior. Mrs. Danvers is essentially telling her: "You will never rise to Rebecca's standard. Even in death, she's your superior."

​With Mrs. Danvers, Hitchcock is moving ever deeper into what can go on in the human mind; that is, what is actually happening underneath, even when the outward appearance gives another impression. While Mrs. Danvers is "spooky" from the outset, that exterior could be seen as merely the demeanor of a servant who takes her job seriously. But when she finally torches Manderley,  we realize she has been--if you'll pardon my French--batshit crazy from the get-go.

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The major difference in the opening scene in Rebecca from the previous Hitchcock openings we’ve studied thus far is the way we are introduced to Manderley, the sprawling gothic estate that is as important a character as the film’s two leading roles of Lawrence Oliver and Joan Fontaine.  This is also, I believe, the director’s first extensive use of visually using finely crafted miniatures to reinforce the narrative of the story.  One other departure for Hitchcock in his approach to Rebecca, is the lack of crowds.  Isolation is the key for making this film, a suspenseful, puzzling thriller.  

 

The Hitchcock “touch” is augmented by a moody haunting musical score accompanying Joan Fontaine’s ghostly narrative as the audience is led down a fog drenched path to meet the persona of Manderley.  The Hitchcock elements of mystery and suspense are well illustrated with the creative lighting effects on the mansion with dispersed moonlight through dark clouds as well as the introduction of Lawrence Oliver precariously standing on the edge of a steep cliff with his look of despair, only to be interrupted by (what else?) an attractive blonde woman.  Within this short clip we are aware of the three major characters each with their own emotional dramas in an unsettling environment, leaving the audience with the need for many more questions and hooked on the story for answers. 

 

The opening sequence of the house itself lets the audience know right away that this is no ordinary home and though it is told as a dream, it boarders more along the lines of a nightmare, and of course we and the audience want to know why. 

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1. Describe how this opening is different from the multiple opening scenes you have seen in the Daily Doses from the British silent and/or sound period? 

 

The other opening scenes were of public places with lots of action and the reactions of the observers of the action. "Rebecca" opens with no visible observers and not much action, just a narrator voiceover and a tracking shot to Manderley, a private estate that appears to have been deserted many years ago. Near the end of the opening, there is a transition to a cliffside in the south of France, (from where the narrator eventually goes to Manderley in England), and we finally see two characters, who have a humorless exchange.

 

Our lecture notes state that David O. Selznick wanted Hitchcock to make a faithful adaptation of the novel, so I am assuming that the book started this way, as opposed to how Hitchcock might have opened the film if he had been allowed to make a loose adaptation.

 

One line spoken by the narrator puzzled me. She spoke of the "perfect symmetry" of the walls of Manderley, but the mansion does not look symmetrical to me. I wonder if something was lost in translation between the novel and the builders of the model of Manderley?

 

 

2. What are the Hitchcock "touches" in this opening that help you identify this as a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock? 

 

Hitchcock appears to have come up with a flashback that was not truly a flashback, in that it shows a scene that is identified as being a place the narrator has been in the past, but it shows the scene as it looks now, rather than how it looked then. I am not familiar enough with film history to know if this was the first use of this type of "flashback," but it was new to me.

 

Another Hitchcockian touch was the tracking shot used in the approach to Manderley, which seems to be almost a montage shot, due to the lack of clear focus in the shots and the twisting and turning involved.

 

Other Hitchcock touches were the use of locales that would have been exotic to American viewers (England and the south of France, (although I suppose one could argue that these were the locales used in the book, so Hitchcock should not get credit here), and the suspenseful shuffling step of the man toward the edge of the cliff, making it appear to the viewers he was about to commit suicide. Of course, if he had actually committed suicide then, that would have been the antithesis of the Hitchcock touch. It seems he actually was contemplating it, as he does not allow the woman to complete her explanation of what she was thinking when she screamed (he knows what she was thinking).    

 

 

3. How does this opening sequence use Manderley--the house itself--as a kind of character in the story? What affect does the flashback structure and the voiceover narration have on your experience of this scene? 

 

​I liked the lecture video discussion of the use of Tara in "Gone with the Wind" versus that of Manderley in "Rebecca." Although I would not go so far as to call the buildings "characters" in the movie, the emphasis given to the buildings is much more significant than that typically given to buildings. We do not yet know what kind of a role Manderley will play, but we are led to expect that it will be important to the story.   

 

​The flashback and narration lead me to wonder what the significance of the mansion will be (and why can't she go back there again?). It also leads me to suspect that the significance will have a dark side.

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1. Describe how this opening is different from the multiple opening scenes you have seen in the Daily Doses from the British silent and/or sound period?

 

We are introduced to Mrs. de Winter II only by voice. There are no people in the scene (no crowd). The location is particular to the character speaking — the house called Manderley — rather than a public location where life and activity are going on.

 

There is no sense of humor in the narrative voiceover, or when the characters do appear on screen. The scene is instantly depressing and moody, with an overgrown and destroyed home. The story is not happening as we watch it unfold before us. It happened previously and we will learn it as we go, in past tense.

 

Mr. de Winter is clearly burdened by torrid thoughts that cause him to stand on a precipice between life and death. He tells the woman who screams not to stand around screaming — which is in contrast to Hitchcock’s silent scream. If there is anything humorous about this scene at all, this is it. She is afraid, but it isn't a fear for her own safety. It's a fear for the man's.

 

There is music, but it is soft and dreamlike to complement the voiceover.

 

2. What are the Hitchcock "touches" in this opening that help you identify this as a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock?

 

There is an overlay of imagery and variety of camera angles that give Hitchcock away as he attempts to show state of mind and times. The focus on psychological state of a character (Mr. de Winter), and the female scream... which isn't silent at all this time. Instead, she clearly states, "No! Stop!".

 

The lead woman is blonde. The characters have an elegance about them. The woman is doing an everyday thing — walking — but alone, not as part of a public scene.

 

We transition from dream state to reality because of the way the camera moves… first seemingly floating through the air along the driveway, through the gate and forest and along the house… and then we clearly stop at the top of the cliff with Mr. de Winter, overlooking the water. We sympathize with him immediately, wondering what events brought him there. And we are equally curious about the woman walking along the cliff -- wondering why she chose that time and place to walk...

 

3. How does this opening sequence use Manderley--the house itself--as a kind of character in the story? What affect does the flashback structure and the voiceover narration have on your experience of this scene?

 

The way Mrs. de Winter II talks about Manderley is with a fondness and carefulness that is similar to the way she might talk about a family member. There is a gentleness there. A love of the place. Or is it a sense of dread? Her description of the house gives it character. Also, the words she is saying to describe it are romanticized.

 

We first “meet” the house under a full moon, which feels romantic in nature. The clouds blocking out the light foretell the light and dark elements of the story. We wonder who the narrator is actually speaking to. And the fact that she says she dreamt she visited Manderley *again* tells us that this is a common enough occurrence for her that others (whoever she’s talking to -- us? a psychologist?) would (or should) understand is natural.

 

That Mrs. de Winter II was able to pass like a spirit through the gate and along the drive presents a sense of ghostliness to the scene. Is the house haunted? Is the narrator dead? Is she crazy? All sorts of questions arise…

 

When we enter the house through the broken window, we expect the room to light up and be completely restored as in days gone by (as in the movie Titanic, when the scene blurs from a view of the ship ruined on the bottom of the ocean to the first day it sets sail, as elder Rose tells the story of meeting Jack, etc.). Instead, we go through Manderley's window and find ourselves standing on the cliff.

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1. Describe how this opening is different from the multiple opening scenes you have seen in the Daily Doses from the British silent and/or sound period?

 

​Common things I noticed in the opening would be the danger to a character even though in this film it is more implied than actual and there is the girl watching the guy which is much like the crowds watching a sport. The differences is there is a house which is far more center stage than people and there are only two people in the whole opening.  Also no one dies, there is no comedy and other than the voice over, sound seems almost secondary in nature. 

 

2. What are the Hitchcock "touches" in this opening that help you identify this as a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock? 

 

​One touch I noticed right off was the people come off as rather normal.  The nothing special here approach Hitchcock is famous for using in his films. Another touch would be letting the audience in on a secret the charters will not know which is the adventures, love, fun do not last.  This secret may have us root against a character or for another one so we are now set in motion on Hitchcock's own path, not the films or with the characters. 

 

3. How does this opening sequence use Manderley--the house itself--as a kind of character in the story? What affect does the flashback structure and the voiceover narration have on your experience of this scene? 

 

​It all eases you into the flashback itself, it sets the tone this house was once a grand thing though years later whatever happened has been lost allowing nature to overtake it and the film at this point is being told from the female who is doing the voiceover. If we had started out with the two people, we probably even half way through would have hoped the adventures of this house lasted but Hitchcock makes sure we are well aware that is not the case. 

 

​NOTE... I don't think many films give away certain secrets to the audience anymore. Look at West World in HBO and it's vast secrets. If one or two had been leaked on purpose to get the audience to feel or connect with a character, would it be less a great show? I think few directors understand how to use this effectively without destroying the actual film itself. Most audiences also expect to be kept in the dark the duration of the show in order to be surprised at the end. 

 

 

 

 

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There are differences between this opening and the ones we have seen from Hitchcock's British films but there is one noticeable similarities: the opening sequence is all about movement and pacing for the movie. The opening sequence introduces the home, Manderley, but also the main characters first meet as Joan Fontaine's character is walking along the cliff. What is different about this opening is that the movement is one continuous shot, not a montage of edits like his earlier silent works. 


The movement in the opening sequence marks it, to me, as a Hitchcock film, especially seeing it in the lineage of his earlier work.  In the quick opening, I really wasn't able to pick up on what other touches mark it as his work. 


Manderley is humanized because it is made to be the center of the opening. As Joan Fontaine's continues her narration, she marks the home as the center of the movie itself. She reminisces about past trips to the house and how it makes her feel. Coupled with the second part of the opening - the meeting between the characters - the house serves as the impending location for the plot, where everything set to happen will take place.


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