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About williamasmith

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  1. Did you watch the same film as I did? I've seen Kiss Me Kate at least 10 times, and the dance numbers are magnificently photographed--particularly "From This Moment On".
  2. I recently made an estimate of Hitchcock's batting average--basing my judgments on having seen nearly all of his films. (The only ones I haven't seen are a couple of the silents and among the sound films Juno And The Paycock, Mary, Strauss's Great Waltz, Young And Innocent, and Under Capricorn.) I rated it at 60% very good to great; over 80% for the films after and including the first versionof The Man Who Knew Too Much. Most of the silents I've seen except The Lodger are just about unwatchable--the flashes of the Hitchcock touch are buried in typically bad silent film acting and impossibly bad scripts. The Lodger and Blackmail are each half good and half bad. Number 17 is worthless except for the final sequence; The Skin Game has its moments, but is remarkably static. I don't think that Rich And Strange is all that good, but, along with Murder, it's the best of the pre-Man Who Knew Too Much films. Among the mature work, there are a few that I have some considerable problems with: Mr. And Mrs. Smith is shockingly unfunny. I'd put it near the bottom. Rebecca--yes, Rebecca!--is a beautifully made film dragged down by the source material, which doesn't make a lick of sense psychologically. I'd rank it good, but pretty much at the bottom of his good work. Jamaica Inn is just plain dreadful, in spite of a nice final sequence which has the fall-from-a-great-height trope we see so often in Hitchcock. Lifeboat--kind of a one-trick pony. Doesn't really work for me. The Wrong Man--another one that just doesn't work. Glum and uninvolving. Among the films after that, the only one that I have a real problem with is Torn Curtain, another one that doesn't quite work. Contrary to some others, I think Topaz is close to being a masterpiece. It's one of my favorites.
  3. I confess to being more than a little disappointed with some aspects of Hitchcock 50. 1. Far too many of the early British films. Those of us who love Hitchcock would naturally want to believe that every one of his films is a masterpiece. Personally, I think that about 80% of his films from The Man Who Knew Too Much to Family Plot are somewhere between very good and masterpieces, and I'm including in that number some I don't particularly like, like The Wrong Man, The Birds, and The Trouble With Harry. Except for The Lodger, the rest of the silents are darned near unwatchable--flashes of the emerging Hitchcock style buried in a soggy morass of exaggerated acting and silent film cliches. And, to be candid, a lot of The Lodger is silent film cliche as well. 2. Strange omissions and inclusions, besides the early films. Why no Sabotage (a critical film in Hitchcock's development) or To Catch A Thief? Why Number 17, the only interesting bit of which is the final sequence? Why Mr. and Mrs. Smith, except to prove that Hitchcock had no sense for screwball romantic comedy? If it was necessary to be comprehensive--show all of the surviving films. 3. If I may paraphrase Casablanca--of all the Hitchcock experts in all the world, why on earth have a preening little nonentity like Alexandre Philippe, except possibly that there may be a TCM financial interest in his documentary? His commentary has been, to put it charitably, banal, where it has not been inaccurate. For example--Madeleine Carroll is not the first Hitchcock blonde. Anyone forget June Tripp in The Lodger--not to mention all the blonde victims? Or Anny Ondra, in The Manxman and Blackmail? Making a point of milk in Suspicion and Spellbound (two instances does not a repeated trope make) and no mention of the repeated trope of vertical movement followed by a fall from a great height--suggested in The Lodger, present fully developed in Blackmail, Foreign Correspondent, and Saboteur, to note the obvious ones. Guys, you can do better.
  4. I started the course a bit late, or I would have posted some thoughts on this topic earlier. To make my position clear--my comments come from a background as a long-time student of film, a noir enthusiast, and several advanced degrees in English literature, with an emphasis on historically-based readings of literature. Much of the material here has been first-rate, particularly the material of realist versus formalist style and the literary, artistic, and studio system milieu within which film noir takes shape. The readings on the studio system and A and B films were completely to the point. I wouldn’t have minded a reading on the distinction between formalism and realism. However, I do have to point out some limitations in the approach and readings in the fourth and fifth lectures. I would in particularly take exception to the heavy emphasis on using French existentialists as a gloss on film texts--in particular, the assumption that existentialism, as a philosophy, is an influence on these films. There is no question that, particularly beginning in the post-war period, that ideas of alienation, dread, paranoia, and despair become more prominent in American society—although I would certainly question the degree to which they were pervasive, particularly in the 1950s, for the vast majority of Americans. These were natural responses to the changing world after World War II and Korea. They were, however, not new. Stoicism, as a philosophy, deals with many of the same issues, and it goes back to classical times. I have no doubt that one could interpret many of these films in terms of classical stoicism with perfect clarity. Alienation, dread, paranoia, and despair are by no means unique to the mid 20th century. Similarly, I have no doubt that one could interpret some of the novels of Charles Dickens—particularly Great Expectations—as existentialist, although the ideas that Sartre or Camus advance would be completely alien to Dickens. (It would be interesting to look at Dickens as a precursor to the noir literary style, and, in particular, David Lean’s superb film version of Great Expectations could be called a noir film, almost as much as The Third Man, in stylistic terms.) The question that would need to be answered for any film that one would describe as existential would be, was the director or screenwriter familiar with existentialist writers, and did he intend to use those ideas? I don’t doubt that there would be some films that fit those criteria—but they would have to be in the later period. It is reasonable to say that film noir exhibits themes similar to those treated by existentialist writers—but to say that the interpretation of those ideas is similar is questionable, in my mind, since nearly every noir film ends with some kind of reassertion of cosmic justice—even the darkest, like D.O.A. or Kiss Me Deadly, a narrative reality that directly contradicts the existentialist notion of a purposeless universe. I am aware that many discount the narrative logic of these films in favor of interpretation through mood or character—but, in a narrative form, you cannot ignore the logic of the narrative itself. It is reasonable, I think, to point out parallels between existentialist texts and noir themes—but one cannot reasonably argue influence, and arguing existentialist interpretation is at the very least questionable. (Porfirio’s article is highly selective, and I find it unconvincing.) A second point—Freudianism, clearly, is a significant influence, and it would be useful to add a reading on the basis of Freudian thought, particularly dream interpretation, which is far more relevant to these films that merely mentioning the tripartite division of the psyche into id, ego, and superego. I would also say that Jungian psychology would be a very useful analytical framework for these films, and some mention of that framework could be useful. (Porfirio makes one, incorrect, allusion to Jung in his article. These is more than one manifestation of the female archetype, and, further, every archetype manifests itself in a positive, as well as negative, sense—if he means The Great Mother, there is both the devouring aspect, to which he alludes, and the nurturing, positive aspect. The same goes for archetypes of female libido.) A third point—Casper’s summary of the postwar world was riddled with errors (concerning, among other things, taxation, the TV dinner, and divorce—citing the raw numbers, instead of the rate, is misleading, inasmuch as the divorce rate begins to rise steeply well after the date he assigns) and betrays a good deal of political bias, as in his remarks on the Truman doctrine. It also overemphasizes the negative aspects of 1950s America. I raise these points as a corrective, and as a suggestion for modifications in future versions of the course.
  5. I found this podcast interesting, but it raises some very important issues in critical methodology. For the record, I'd rate D.O.A. very near the top of the noir output--I'm a long-time enthusiast for film noir, and am well on the way to watching every film that TCM has broadcast in the current noir series. (I'm contributing capsule reviews of each on a thread on Amazon's Movie Forum.) I'm a long-time student of film. I also come to this task with a couple of advanced degrees in English literature--I say that only to clarify my approach. E. D. Hirsch makes a useful distinction in Validity In Interpretation between meaning and significance--meaning being defined by the intent of the author and thus a topic that it is possible to approach with a high degree of objectivity, and significance being defined by the reader's reaction and thus individual and subjective. Much modern criticism confuses the two--in fact, much modern criticism denies the existence of meaning in the first sense, which strikes me as at the very least unreasonable, privileging as it does the reader over the author and ultimately undercutting the notion of meaning itself. For the sake of this discussion, let’s take an auteurist point of view and take the director as the author, or at least a reasonable proxy for the author in a printed text. Clute and Edwards discuss a sequence in D.O.A at some length, in which Frank Bigelow, learning that he has been fatally poisoned, runs pell-mell along a San Francisco street and stops in front of a newsstand, with a rack of Life magazines clearly visible. Mate follows this with two vignettes of life that is closed off from him—the ball rolling into the screen followed by the little girl (which might well be an ironically positive inversion of a similar motif near the beginning of M) and then the woman waiting for her boyfriend, ignoring Bigelow. Objectively, the meaning is clear. Whether it works, or is believable or appropriate—I would opine that it does work and is an appropriate strategy in the film—is a matter of critical judgment. To suggest, however, that Mate means (again in Hirsch’s sense) to suggest the exhaustion of the traditional means of noir goes well beyond a reasonable analysis of meaning. The scene may well suggest that to a viewer—but it has nothing to do with what Mate had in mind.
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