Follow by Email

Monday, 25 June 2018

On Blu-ray - David Hare welcomes a new edition of Hitchcock's UNDER CAPRICORN

Rohmer and Chabrol in their wonderful book on Hitchcock, which ends at The Wrong Man in 1957, are in the text below contradicting Andre Bazin’s analysis of Hitch’s continuous long take experiment with the filming of Rope in 1948 as simply an alternative to traditional montage, in the way Bazin suggests it simply re-arrives at the conventional setups and “champs-contrechamps” POVs of the travelling shots. I think they very astutely pick out both the correct nature of Hitchcock and Cardiff’s completely liberating travellings in Under Capricorn as well as providing the key to this critically underrated movie, thus:
“The majestic beauty of Under Capricorn foreshadows that of I Confess in 1953. These films are related not only by theme but by rhythm, both having been conceived as a slow but sure march punctuated by abrupt halts. Though neither scorns to jangle our nerves, the very baldness of these effects purifies them, makes them more fascinating than really terrifying. At the highest point of the emotion in which they grip us they nevertheless permit us the distance necessary for the contemplation of great works of art. This distance needed only be taken once. The profundity of this work having been brought out, it will reflect light on the other films.”
I will only add to this typically poetic homage from les gars that even after Hitch himself complained so long and loudly of his disappointment with the “failure” of Under Capricorn, commercially, artistically and critically, there is no ignoring the astonishing steps he takes with this new adventure in long takes and travellings in which the camera and the movie itself is liberated not only from the conventions of the narrative, and conventional dramatic tics, to express a pure physical lyricism which extends the imagination of the film to another plane, beyond even the fourth wall of the camera, the audience and the screen itself. In Rope Hitch’s long takes (and the trick invisible cuts with the camera travelling behind furniture, etc) were all executed in the service of presenting a drama in real time, an exercise itself which denies to a large extent very much more meaning to the camera as visual signifier. In Capricorn Cardiff’s first travellings, after several very long takes, all static, of four minutes or more are used for the copious (and tiresome) exposition. With Sam’s/Wilding’s first visit to see his cousin the governor Cedric Gibbons having his bath, a narrative turning point, Cardiff’s camera glides behind and with Sam through not one but two doorways and apparently solid walls which appear to dissolve into the depths of Government House. 
The shock of this, after so much prosaic and fundamentally routine setup literally breaks the movie’s mood and only just prepares the viewer for the next of several outstandingly beautiful series of travelling and counter travelling tracks, dollies and cranes – all of them great lyrical flights with the power of the privileged moment, which enable us to glide as well over under and into the Flusky house and the characters imprisoned within it. 
Not only does Cardiff’s camera visually correlate Henrietta’s addiction and confinement, it creates another completely open frame of reference for viewing and interpretation which is clearly promising the possibility of liberation and freedom. That outcome will only be delivered in fact by Henrietta’s Confession which itself is played in the last staggering eight minute take of the picture.
Screens above (1) are Bergman as Henrietta Flusky and Michael Wilding as Charles Adare, in the first mirror shot after he’s freeing her from the house. 
Next (Screen 2) Bergman drugged but conscious seeing the steps Margaret Leighton as Milly has been taking to drive her crazy. And (Screen 3) Cotton in a shock of natural auburn hair as the “emancipist” Flusky. The new Kino Lorber Blu-ray is derived from a new 4K scan, although the disc is not clear about provenance. I have included a couple of screens at the end of the review to show the radically different tone and color of the first NTSC DVD disc released by Image back around 2000, and a French Universal PAL DVD released in 2005. Both look like they have used a weak and fairly damaged Eastman element, with color and black levels that have been obviously manipulated for too much contrast and indeed the limitations of the old DVD medium. 
The new Kino Lorber displays a strong, coherent and ultimately very satisfying image, with ideal, maximum white levels (Like the sort coming from projection of a Tech IB print thrown with a carbon arc lamp.) And a neutral color tone which is consistent and correct for skin tones. There is hardly any trace of three strip Technicolor fringing and shrinkage based frame instability which plagued both DVD renditions. The new 4K image is not what I was expecting but it has to be said I’ve simply never seen a 35mm, or even a decent copy of Under Capricorn 
until now. The bonus items on the disc are not yet explored by me but if Kino had more faith in sales the title might have benefited from a fuller supplemented package of critical opinion. 
But, thanks to the new disc, one of Hitch’s most maligned pictures is rescued for a new generation of enthusiasts. This might be one of the most important “rediscovery” titles of the year for movie lovers in fact.

French Universal Pal, 2005


  1. The long takes in the Hitchcock films are anticipated by John Farrow in his 1947 CALIFORNIA of which I must assert the heresy that it is a better film in more handsome Technicolor

  2. SUch heresy always welcome when talking about Farrow. His two 50s RKO Noirs for Hughes Where Danger Lives and His Kind of Woman are full of four minute and more serpentine tracks through the dangerous lighting of DPs Harry Wild and Nick Musuraca respectively.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.