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George W. Startz

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About George W. Startz

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  1. 1 - In this sequence, describe how Hitchcock uses sound design to put you into the subjective “mind of Alice”? Be specific. Most of the sound in the scene is fairly realistic, with an exception when the other woman talks about knives and the word “knife” is heard repeatedly and becomes the only word that registers with Alice. Prior to this, the woman was talking but could no longer be heard when Alice entered the phone booth: this reflects how Alice would have heard things. Clearly the killing is very much on Alice’s mind, and what the other woman is saying upsets her further. Hitchcock’s sound design distorts and muffles the speech, which helps the viewer to understand that Alice is not really listening to what other woman is saying. The word “knife” comes through repeatedly and increasingly more loudly, however, and is a trigger of sorts for Alice: when it is heard mostly loudly, Alice is startled and inadvertently throws the knife. The word is said in a way that can be interpreted as accusatory, and it is unclear whether this is how the woman is actually speaking or whether it is simply how Alice, in an agitated state and feeling guilty, hears it. 2 - Describe the different ways that the sound design of this scene operates in counterpoint to the visual track. For example, how does Hitchcock set up the shot where the knife flies out of Alice’s hand so that it registers a shock in his audience? Pay attention to both what is happening visually and aurally. Be specific. Prior to the portion of the scene with the knife, both the sound and cinematography were fairly normal. There was nothing remarkable about the sound, and visually there were more long and medium shots. As the scene progresses, however, the cinematography does change and eventually becomes a pair of close-ups: first on Alice’s face, and then on her hand holding the knife to cut the bread. This corresponds to the way that the sound changes and becomes less general: the viewer, although able to hear the woman’s voice, does not see any of the other characters and so attention remains on Alice. In a sense, what Hitchcock does with the sound design provides what one might call an “aural close-up” (as distinguished from a visual close-up). Characters other than Alice are excluded, and in counterpoint the sound excludes everything that is being said except the one important word that resonates with Alice. It might be instructive to share what Hitchcock said about this scene during the Truffaut interview: 3 - Why do you think this particular use of subjective sound is not used frequently in cinema? There are several possible reasons why this might be the case: a. The technique is markedly artificial and not realistic, and calls attention to itself. Since the majority of films (probably) strive for realism, it would not be appropriate in most films. b. Cinema is essentially a visual art, and even now visual special effects receive more attention and publicity than do audio effects. Consider all of the innovations in visual design throughout the history of film: color, green screen and blue screen, widescreen, 3-D, Steadicam, CGI, high definition etc. Aside from traditional “sound effects,” the main innovation in sound that comes to mind is stereophonic sound. Not only are visual effects generally more impressive to the audience, but filmmakers have many more tools at their disposal to create visual effects as opposed to sound effects. c. It is a fairly primitive technique, suitable for the early days of sound in film and thus experimental. In contemporary cinema, however, the director and sound designer have access to more options due to the technological advances that have been made since 1929, so this would seem heavy-handed now. On this point, Hitchcock was very limited: Anny Ondra, who played “Alice,” was Czech (not English) and had a strong Czech accent so her voice had to be substituted. Even simple dubbing was not available yet, so Hitchcock had to use a different (English) actress who spoke Alice’s lines off-camera:
  2. 1 - In your own words, please describe the effect of watching the POV dolly shots / POV tracking shots in this scene? I think that the shots definitely tend to keep the characters separate from one another. Roddy Berwick and Tim Wakeley form a unit, the Headmaster (Dr. Dowson) is another, and Mabel is a third. It also seems to prolong the action, which is to say that what happens onscreen as Roddy and Tim approach the Headmaster takes up more time than it actually would in real life. In this particular case, it heightens the tension/suspense (for me) because I am anticipating learning why the two boys have been summoned to the Headmaster’s office: it quickly becomes clear that it’s nothing pleasant. For me, the cinematography of the scene creates a sense almost of claustrophobia: although the Headmaster’s office is fairly large, the way that the scene is shot conveys a sense that one is trapped. This is, of course, a very dramatic scene (one might almost say “melodramatic”), and the shots underscore the drama and emotion of the scene, which is the moment when Roddy’s life begins to “go downhill.” 2 - Why do you think Hitchcock uses the technique of a POV tracking shot? What does it add to his visual storytelling? I think that Hitchcock uses the technique of a POV tracking shot in order to enable the view to identify with Roddy (and Tim) and what is happening to them, as if the viewer is “walking in his shoes” also. This would increase the viewer’s empathy for Roddy in the situation. There is also a sense of “me/us against them.” Visually, this technique (as noted before) prolongs the action and therefore the suspense of the scene. The effect is almost that of a condemned man walking to the gallows. It also adds some visual interest to the scene. The viewer is able to see what is happening as Roddy and Tim see it, so it’s not simply an objective narrative. 3 - What connections (visual techniques, images, motifs, themes) do you notice between the films that came before this (The Pleasure Garden, The Lodger) and a film that came after it (The Ring)? Please cite specific examples. There are quite a few separate shots, so I noticed Hitchcock’s montage: the camera does not remain stationary or hold on one shot for very long (with one exception). Hitchcock also makes use of a variety of shots, mostly medium shots and close-ups, as he did in both The Lodger and The Ring. This is particularly the case with the Headmaster (intimidating) and Mabel (malicious): This scene is definitely Hitchcockian in terms of its visual style and lack of reliance on dialogue/title cards. There are very few title cards in the scene, and all except one are the Headmaster’s speech (Mabel is the exception, with one). Oddly enough, Roddy (the protagonist) and Tim don’t have their words clarified by titles. It is clear that Hitchcock is relying on the images themselves (and the acting), rather than words, to advance the narrative. Another, less visually-oriented director would probably report more of the dialogue. I had mentioned that there is one shot that is held for a relatively long period of time: this is the close-up of Mabel’s face as she is relating a false story about what happened between her and Roddy. Mabel’s actual words are not specified, but the close-up showing her face gives the viewer a very good idea of what she is saying. Here there is use of double exposure, of superimposing a scene over another, to create a sort of “flashback,” as Hitchcock had done in The Ring. In this case, two images are superimposed over Mabel’s face: And here:
  3. 1 - “How does Hitchcock use montage or expressive editing to add vitality and rhythm to this scene?” The scene contains a lot of shots, and none of them lasts more than a few seconds: this avoids boredom from having to watch the same shot for too long a time and keeps the action moving. Hitchcock also uses a variety of shot types, including long shots: (This is recognizable as a long shot because the entire bodies of both dancing women are visible, head to toe.) medium shots: and close-ups: The close-ups of one character’s face tend to occur when Hitchcock wants to show that the character is feeling some emotion, such as misgiving (Mabel) or suspicion and jealousy (Jack). Shots from one room into the other from both Mabel’s and Jack’s perspectives draw attention to the physical separation of the two characters, which parallels their emotional separation: Hitchcock also uses dissolve and multiple exposure very effectively in the scene. The first shot shows the dancers at the party: which dissolves: and becomes a close-up of the spinning record: and then dissolves into a multiple-exposure of the record and guitar players superimposed over the piano keyboard: and finally becomes a close-up of Jack’s distressed face with the guitars and record superimposed: These techniques add visual interest to the scene and synthesize the external (physical) action of the party with the internal (emotional) action. 2 - “As is the case with a lot of German Expressionist films, in this scene, there are many shots that are very subjective and put us into the psychological mind of a main character. Please note the various techniques Hitchcock uses to create that feeling of subjectivity.” One technique is the close-up, which forces the view to focus his/her attention on one character (first Mabel, and then Jack) and the emotions that manifest on their faces (this requires the actors to emote appropriately). A second technique is the perspective shot, which is a shot from the perspective of one of the characters. We see this first first from Mabel’s perspective, and then from Jack’s. This shows the physical and emotional separation of the two characters, and makes clear that they are on each other’s mind. A third technique is double-exposure, which is used in the scene where Jack is talking with his manager but is thinking about Mabel and Bob and imagining them in a more intimate situation than what they are in reality. One represents the objective reality, the other is subjective and does not occur in the actual action of the scene but rather depicts what is going on in Jack’s mind. It also shows that, although Jack is with the manager in the physical setting and is talking with him, his mind is very much on Mabel and Bob: These techniques help Hitchcock to put the viewer “into the head” of the characters. 3 - “How does Hitchcock stage the action, use set design, and editing techniques to increase the stakes in the rivalry between the two gentlemen?” Hitchcock first stages the action in the form of a discussion between Jack and the manager about boxing and what Jack needs to do (whom he needs to defeat) in order to move up the hierarchy and become Bob’s sparring partner. This establishes Bob as Jack’s future rival in boxing. Then Hitchcock moves the camera to a shot of Mabel and Bob sitting together and flirting with each other at the party, as Bob sees them through the window of the room that he is in, establishing Bob as Jack’s rival for Mabel’s affections. In terms of set design, Hitchcock shows the two men in different types of settings. Bob is with Mabel at the party, in a lively and happy setting in a larger room, enjoying themselves. Jack is with the manager in a smaller room (perhaps an office), which is a more serious setting, discussing the “business” of Jack’s boxing career. In the scenes with Mabel and Bob at the party, there is a lot of action and merry-making, the camera work is much more interesting, and the set is more attractive, whereas the scenes of Jack with the manager are just of the two men talking: the camera work is much more conventional and the set is businesslike rather than festive. The viewer understands that Bob can offer Mabel fun and excitement, but her life with Jack might be more ordinary. The editing techniques focus attention on the characters’ emotions and what they are thinking. This is especially the case with Jack: close-up shots and subjective double-exposure shots portray the character’s concern and jealousy regarding Mabel’s dalliance with Bob. It also makes clear that Jack feels that he must “win” Mabel, even though he is already married to her at this point in the film. This reflects the dual meaning of “ring” of the title: on one level, it is the ring in which Jack will fight Bob and, on another, it is the wedding ring that signifies Jack’s marriage to Mabel.
  4. 1 - Compare the opening of The Lodger to the opening of The Pleasure Garden - what similarities and differences do you see between the two films? Both films contain a fairly large number of individual shots for a film of the era: one does not get the impression of a static camera that is merely recording the action. The way that each shot conveys a piece of information is even more evident here in The Lodger. For example: first there is a shot of what one of the characters sees (the dead body of the victim), followed by a shot of the character’s reaction as she is describing what she witnessed. In another shot, we see that the murderer leaves notes on his victim that identify him as “The Avenger.” The Lodger conveys a considerably more information via the written word than The Pleasure Garden does. Interestingly, this is more through information that is present in the action of the film and that the characters could see rather than information given by title cards (I would describe this as “diegetic,” but that word is usually reserved for sound). Examples include: TO-NIGHT “GOLDEN CURLS” “The Avenger” (note with triangle) The telegraph teletype report of the murder (extended) “ANOTHER AVENGER CRIME - LATE THIS EVENING THE BODY OF A FAIR-HAIRED GIRL…” (Consider that there are only two title cards in this clip.) Hitchcock’s penchant for humor also is present in this clip from The Lodger, when a man plays a trick on the woman who saw The Avenger by wrapping up his face so that she will think that The Avenger is there. In this case, the humor is much “sicker” than what was in The Pleasure Garden. There is also the visual “joke” of the two heads in the police car seen through the back windows that make the car appear momentarily as if it has eyes. There was more light in the clip from The Pleasure Garden; the scenes in The Lodger were generally darker (natural, I suppose, since much of the action was taking place at nighttime). This does complement the lighter, gayer nature of The Pleasure Garden versus the darker, more ominous tone of The Lodger. The Lodger seems less set-bound than The Pleasure Garden. The latter film took place mostly in the cabaret or music hall, whereas there appear to be several different locations in The Lodger. This, and the way that the scenes are cut, give the view a sense of urgency, that an emergency is occurring. 2 - “Identify elements of the ‘Hitchcock style” in this sequence? Please provide specific examples. Even if you are not sure if it is the “Hitchcock style,” what images or techniques stand out in your mind as powerful storytelling? Or images that provide an excess of emotion?” There is, of course, another Hitchcock blonde and she is seen right at the beginning of the film. This, and the close-up of the female witness, both convey the characters’ emotions along with a sense of claustrophobia, of feeling trapped. The acting, as is typical of many silent films, tends to seem overdone to a 21st Century audience because silent film relied so much more on facial expressions and the human body to communicate emotions. The way that the witness opens her eyes wide and points with exaggerated gestures show that she is nervous and very upset. The fact that there is very little dialogue is significant. Hitchcock conveys information through images rather than words… in many cases, the viewer must infer what is being said. Consider the scene on the airport runway in North by Northwest, in which the Professor (Leo G. Carroll) explains to Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) what the motivation for Eve Kendall’s (Eva Marie Saint) conduct has actually been: what is being said is really unimportant because the audience already knows what is going on, so Hitchcock dispenses with sound and lets images predominate. 3 - “Even though this is a ‘silent’ film, the opening image is one of a woman screaming. What do you notice in how Hitchcock frames that particular shot that makes it work in a silent film even though no audible scream can be heard. And what other screams like that one come to mind from Hitchcock’s later work?” The woman’s face and hair are the only things in the shot, and this forces the viewer to focus his/her attention on the woman (victim). Also, the lack of an audible scream is compensated for by the fact that her mouth is open so wide and is near the center of the frame. Her eyes appear to be focused, so one can safely guess that the killer is right there too, seen by the character but not by the viewer. The first scream in one of his later works that comes to my mind is actually in Frenzy when Brenda Blaney (Barbara Leigh-Hunt, another blonde) realizes that Bob Rusk (Barry Foster) is “the necktie killer” and is about to kill her after **** her. Frenzy is as close to The Lodger (thematically speaking) as any of Hitchcock’s movies: serial murders of women, the wrong man is suspected of being the killer, the London setting etc. The poster for Frenzy even depicts a woman screaming (Anna Massey), very similar to this shot. There is also, of course, the iconic extreme close-up of Marion Crane’s (Janet Leigh) mouth as she is screaming in surprise and fright at the beginning of the shower scene in Psycho. There have been interpretations of this as a vaginal counterpart to the phallic knife, leading to an interpretation of the shower murder as a rape as well as a murder. (Murder and sex are linked more explicitly in Psycho and Frenzy than they were in The Lodger.) The Birds is notable for another “silent scream,” even though it is a “talkie:” when Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy) runs from Dan Fawcett’s house after discovering his dead body. More distantly related, stylistically and thematically, are numerous shots of the children’s faces screaming in fright as they run from the schoolhouse and are attacked by the birds.
  5. 1 - “Do you see the beginnings of the ‘Hitchcock touch’ in this sequence? Please provide specific examples.” Yes, I do see it. One is the stage/theatrical setting, which recurred throughout Hitchcock’s career: Murder!, The 39 Steps, Stage Fright, and Torn Curtain are prime examples. Also, a number of Hitchcock movies were based on plays and he used a lot of stage actors in his work. The “Hitchcock touch” also is present in the panning of the audience members before it settles on one specific man. Going from the general to the specific is not, of course, unique to Hitchcock but it does suit his visual style very well (consider the crane shot at the end of Young and Innocent that identifies the killer from among a group of people). This is probably the first appearance of a “Hitchcock blonde” in a film that he directed. It is typical of Hitchcock to show one character gazing at another character, and then to show the other character’s reaction (Patty’s reaction upon realizing that the man is ogling her). The sleeping (bored?) woman among all the men who are enjoying themselves watching the chorines is an element of humor (Hitchcock’s films typically include a lot of humor). Also humorous is the shot of the man smoking a cigar right next to a large sign that reads “Smoking Prohibited.” The fairly sexualized atmosphere (for 1925) of the scene is Hitchcockian because sex plays such a major part in so many of his films (To Catch a Thief, North by Northwest, Psycho, Marnie, and Frenzy to name only five). The shot of the chorines descending the spiral staircase is Hitchcockian: I remember Hitchcock commenting to François Truffaut that staircases are very photogenic (consider Shadow of a Doubt, Psycho, and Frenzy among others, as well as the staircase in the bell tower in Vertigo). 2 - “Do you agree or disagree with Strauss, Yacowar, and Spoto assessments that this sequence contains elements, themes, or approaches that we will see throughout Hitchcock’s 50-year career?” Considering the number of examples that I cited in the previous question, it should be obvious that my answer is yes, I do agree.’ 3 - “Since this is a silent film, do you feel there were any limitations on these opening scenes due to the lack of synchronous spoken dialogue?” Definitely not. At the time that The Pleasure Garden was produced, silent film was the standard; sound did not come until a few years later. This is the way that directors were used to working, and the way that audiences were accustomed to viewing a movie. When sound did come along in the late 1920s, a number of people assumed that it was a “fad” that would eventually pass (much like other fads such as 3-D and Cinerama). Hitchcock’s films are at their most “Hitchcockian” during their silent times. One must always keep in mind that Hitchcock was very much a VISUAL director, which I think is a product of his professional formation as well as of the time when he began his involvement in the movie industry. Many of his films, including his sound films, have lengthy scenes that contain no or almost no dialogue: think of the scene of the attempted assassination at the Royal Albert Hall in The Man Who Knew Too Much, or of the scenes where Scotty pursues Madeleine in Vertigo (especially in the museum), or the scene in which Norman Bates cleans up the motel room after Marion Crane’s murder in the shower in Psycho I remember Hitchcock saying during the Truffaut interview that his complaint about so many films of that time was that they were not cinematic but rather just “pictures of people talking.” He was definitely a montage director (the shower murder sequence in Psycho being the example par excellence), although he did experiment with the mise-en-scène approach in films like Rope and, to a lesser extent, Under Capricorn. Silent films demand more from a viewer, in a sense, because they cannot be as explicit about specific things as a film with sound can: the viewer has to make certain assumptions about what is going on or what characters are saying in silent films. This, I suppose, requires better skills of observation and also more imagination on the part of the viewer.
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