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Sunday, 20 June 2021

German Film Festival - Janice Tong highly recommends THE AUDITION/DER VORSPIEL (Ina Weisse, 2019)

Anna (Nina Hoss)being serenaded by her
husband Phillippe (Simon Abkarian)

I fell in love with the idea of this film even before I sat foot in the theatre; what is not to love when the story presented is about a struggle for perfection in the arts (which we all know is a futile search because art can never be perfected, hence the struggle; and we bath in the glory and heights that is achieved in that struggle). In this case, the ‘art’ is the study of classical violin.
 

The story centres on a young teenager at the cusp of maturity and with a potential that is recognised by an older mentor; the latter is driven and perhaps a little fractured as a human being because of the struggle that they’ve already gone through. As such, The Audition as a Bildungsroman works well; the story is evenly paced and unfolds its multi-foliate intricacies with such ease that we are drawn into its plot twists without ever feeling that is laboured; even though from the start, we already know that with this genre, the denouement will be a searing one.

 

Nina Hoss plays Anna, a dedicated violin teacher who is quietly ambitious but with a fiery interior that she reserves for her art (both in playing and in teaching). She is married to French-speaking husband, Phillippe (wonderfully portrayed by Simon Abkarian in I would dare say one of his best performances) a violin and cello maker who runs his workshop just downstairs from their apartment. Although at the start of the film, this couple seems to be a loving run-of-the-mill family unit - the scene that introduces their pre-teen son Jonas (Serafin Mishiev) and ageing parents is at a family dinner in celebration of Anna’s birthday. Together, they painted a picture of happiness, with Phillippe serenading Anna on the guitar, an acoustic version of Le Temps des cerises - which incidentally is a song that is chimed at alternate hours by the clock at the town hall of Saint-Denis - there’s a Parc Le Temps des cerises there too. But things are not what they seem, this is not a charade, but a protective shield they’ve wrapped themselves around - we soon see that a loose thread has been pulled and all is about to unravel. The song, for those who know, hints at the spirit (perhaps not as much revolutionary here, but transformative or tempestuous) that is about to erupt and break apart this family. 

 

But let’s rewind a bit.


The very talented Ilja Monti as gifted violin student Alexander

 

The audition for a potentially gifted student to receive teaching funding opens the film. The audition sequence of the many hopeful young musicians reminded me of the hours of violin and ballet practice my daughter went through for many long years. The competitive nature of the arts (which I believe is sometimes even more severe than academic studies) forges those who possess exceptional qualities, like Rodin’s marble sculptures from a chisel blade: fluid, wondrous, alive. Fine-motor dexterity and technicality is one thing, artistry, however, takes talent; and when the two are combined, the music that is borne transcends the monotony of the day.

 

Ilja Monti is Alexander Paraskevas; the gifted student who caught Anna’s eye. She wants to possess him in spirit, like Rodin does his sculptures. And he, is at that age, around thirteen or fourteen, which carries a charming mix of earnestness and innocence; his desire to please his tutor only serves to allow him to discover his own ambitions, which are not yet formed, and is continuously shaped by his own talent and hard work. Raw, passionate, unformed, but rich too, and with a predisposed maturity that nevertheless haunts you. His attitude and perseverance draws you in, as does his playing - the Bach Violin sonata No. 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001 never sounded so mesmerising in his many practice studies of the piece - this is how its done: practise a phrase, perfect it, change up the tempo, practise another phrase, perfect it, set and repeat. 

 

Monti’s performance is spot on; he is composed and fragile, driven and unsure, a fine mixture of the raw ingredients that in some people can yield brilliance and in others, ruin. I must admit that I’ve Googled him since the film, and he was only fourteen years of age when the film was released.  He must have been only twelve or thirteen when it was shot and is currently studying at the Internationale Musikakademie in Berlin. It’s no wonder Ina Weisse, the director said she was so happy and proud of the boys in her film (she gave a lovely phone-camera intro to the film especially for the Australian German Film Festival  screening). 


The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Judith Kaufmannand. The washed-out palette of the Conservatoire and Anna’s home where Alexander played a duet with her young son contrasting with the dark-wood interiors of Phillippe’s workshop. Just as the darker moods of the film contrast the two glorious young actors in the centre of this story. 


Alexander and Jonas (Anna's son) playing a duet
 

There is so much to love about this film... the large open rooms at the Conservatoire with sunlight pouring in; the scene when Phillippe shows his son Jonas the type of wood grain that will make a good violin. (My own insight to add to this is that the grains of the wood vibrate when played, and the vibrations, over time, shape the violin’s voice, so much so that a violin is only ‘alive’ when it is continuously played and if left unplayed for too long, its sound becomes dull). 


The beautiful Brahms String quintet in G Major, Op. 111 is performed by Kuss Quartet- yes, in the film, they’re a quintet - with Anna’s lover Christian (played by Jens Albinus- you may know him from the TV series The Eagle), standing in for the actual cellist of said quartet; and lastly, the sublime music that fills this film, breathes another layer of complexity and texture to the narrative. Even the Pleyel duo played by the two young violinists, Alexander and Jonas (my daughter and her teacher used to play these pieces that Pleyel was famous for) was filled with nostalgia to balance out the rising unease.  Weisse is a master at building tension, right through to the gripping final act.


Kuss Quartet with Nina Hoss (second from left)
and Jens Albinus (far right)


The German name of the film Das Vorspiel does not only come to mean ‘the exam’ or ‘audition’; but the word ‘Vorspiel’ means ‘prelude’or ‘prologue’and hints at the idea that this is simply the introduction to the main act that’s to follow. In musical terms, ‘Vorspiel’also means ‘performance’; so the reading of this film can split in different ways, recalling Weisse’s end frame (below), where we see Anna ‘spying’ on Jonas performing with his orchestra. Her face is half hidden by the door frame; it is literally ‘cut’ in half; she had that same shine in her eyes as when she first saw Alexander play and you can’t help but wonder if Alexander is merely the prelude to Jonas. And if so...what tempest must surely follow.



 

#german film festival is currently playing at selected Palace cinemas around Australia, finishing on the 20th June in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth; and 4th July in Melbourne.

 


 

Saturday, 19 June 2021

On CinemaScope - Marshall Deutelbaum unlocks the secrets - ‘Why Does It Look Like This?’ A Visual Primer of Early CinemaScope Composition


A year or so ago Professor Marshall Deutelbaum of Purdue University, Indiana sent in a post devoted to the way production designers used the Cinemascope screen to organize the composition of the rectangular picture. 

In Marshall’s words Ages ago, artists discovered that every rectangle has two squares within it. Using either or both of those squares to organize the composition of a rectangular picture is called rabatment. Since the CinemaScope frame is also a rectangle, production designers knew they could use rabatment to define the proportions of movie sets for ‘Scope films.  All that was needed, then, was for the cameraman to put the camera in precisely the right spot to capture the composition on film and for the director to position actors to energize the frame. 

 

In these images, doorways, door frames, and the hard edge of a door clearly demarcate the interior verticals established by rabatment, though even soft curtains bunched together just right can serve the same design purpose. Rabatment encourages off-center compositions. Placing an actor on or close to one of the verticals enhances focus on him or her.”


Here's an example featuring below the rabatment grid of Deborah Kerr in Henry King's Beloved Infidel:



 







You can read the full post and get started delving into the subject if you CLICK HERE

 

Marshall has now made a presentation on the subject to the Society for the Cognitive Study of the Moving Image and has published an essay on rabatment which is now online and can be accessed if you CLICK HERE.

On Criterion Blu-ray and DVD - John Baxter revives memories of an eye-popper from the 70s - MAÎTRESSE (Barbet Schroeder, France, 1975)

           

Gerard Depardieu, Bulle Ogier, Texas the Doberman,
and the bath with snakes, Maîtresse

 The story goes that a young actress, seeking to fast-track her career, engineered a dinner à deux  with producer/director Barbet Schroeder.

            “You can only have two reasons to seek the company of an ancient like myself,” he said over the escargots. “Either you hope I will use you in a film....” 

            She assured him that nothing was further from her mind.

            “....or you wish to have a sexual relationship. In that case,” he continued,  ignoring her demur, “you should know that, with me, it must always end in blood.”  

            True or not, this anecdote  hints at why such a man might make the 1975 Maîtresse. 

            Schroeder’s films range from More, celebrating the drop-out generation, to the stalking thriller Single White Female, not forgetting his witty riffs on those seedy characters Klaus von Bulow and Idi Amin Dada. Wearing another hat, he produced Eric Rohmer’s Le Genou de Claire and Ma Nuit Chez Maud, and Jacques Rivette’s Céline et Julie vont on bateau. 

            While, superficially, these have little in common, they share an interest in outsiders and the price they pay for living on their own terms.  

            Such a person was dominatrix Monique von Cleef, aka The Baroness. A colourful feature of Manhattan’s sixties sex scene, her penthouse “pain parlor” was shut down by the NYPD in 1967 amid fears that the Pentagon officials among her clients risked blackmail. She moved her operation to Amsterdam, then Paris, where she and Schroeder crossed paths, inspiring Maîtresse

            Naive Olivier (Gérard Depardieu), fed up with his job in a slaughterhouse, comes to Paris, and hooks up with an old mate who burgles apartments while the owners are away for the summer. The first they crack, however, isn’t empty.  Its closets bulge with leather and rubber outfits, and sundry instruments of chastisement, while the bathroom houses a cage with an apparently willing occupant (Roland Bertin).  

Depardieu wth one of Ariane's clients (Roland Bertin)

            They have stumbled on the “dungeon” of dominatrix Ariane (Schroeder’s wife Bulle Ogier), who lives upstairs. Connected by a folding steel staircase hidden under the coffee table, her home is only slightly less bizarre. Its bath is embedded in an aquarium filled with sea snakes and she keeps some carnivorous Venus Flytraps, to which she coos as she feeds them flies.

            Arianne and Olivier hit it off, and he becomes her companion, equally useful in fixing a blocked bathtub and urinating on a client. She even takes him on a house call to a country chateau, where they are greeted by the butler Emile (Tony Taffin) who, Olivier belatedly realises after Ariane orders him to clean his shoes and grinds out a cigarette on his hand, is no servant but another customer. An orgy follows, in which Olivier enthusiastically participates.  Habitually slow on the uptake, however, he still hasn’t quite got it the following morning when they sit down to breakfast. “Emile,” he orders, “butter me some toast,” momentarily forgetting that the games are over and the toys back in the box. 


Tony Taffin as Emile wipes Depardieu's shoe
whle Bulle Ogier watches

            Exactly contemporary with Just Jaeckin’s self-congratulatory Histoire d’O, Maîtresse offers an ironic commentary on its Vogue-ish vision  of bondage and sado-masochism. Both films, like Bunuel’s Belle de Jour,  were part of a  debate in French society that began with Simone de Beauvoir’s 1953 Must We Burn Sade?  It argued that Sade’s pornography obscured an important argument about free will. What were its limits? Did it excuse doing violence to others, and to one’s self? 

            To judge from Maîtresse, Schroeder had doubts.  Karl Lagerfeld designed Ogier’s costumes but her activities when wearing them are scarcely haute couture, and the scenes of torture, shot by Nestor Almendros in bilious green half-light (and featuring actual S/M devotees, who reportedly paid to participate) are less Sade than sad.  Ariane’s activities don’t leave her replete like Belle de Jour or as fulfilled as O, who exclaims to the engineer of her torments “You made me healthy and happy, and a thousand times more alive.” Instead she collapses from a panic attack,

            With the possible exception of an episode involving male genitals, a plank and some two-inch nails, the film is tame by today’s standards. More troubling to contemporary sensibility than its dungeon scenes is one where Olivier, desperate to reconnect with reality, visits an abattoir, and watches a horse stunned, hung up, and, still kicking desperately, drained of blood. On his way home, he stops at a boucherie chevaline  for a couple of horsemeat steaks, which he devours with relish. “I had a bit of a party,” he tells Ariane with a grin. 

             Histoire d’O, which Dominique Aury wrote as a divertissement for her lover Jean Paulhan,  originally included a long thriller sub-plot describing the criminal activities of its wealthy sadists. Paulhan persuaded her to remove it, arguing that narrative and character are irrelevant to erotica, in which appetite rules all. 

Depardieu and Ogier enjoying sex in a speeding car.

             Subversively, Schroeder chooses to tell his backstory, and sends Olivier on a bumbling search for the mysterious M. Gautier (Danish actor Holger Löwenadler) who appears to exercise some sinister hold over Ariane. Instead of high crimes and misdemeanours, however, he uncovers a prosaic domestic arrangement in which, we infer, a complaisant husband has indulged his wife’s fantasies of sexual dominance by financing her dungeon as others might back a boutique.  Relieved to have this out in the open, the lovers enjoy some delirious sex in a speeding car, culminating in a wreck from which they stroll away, laughing.  Not exactly an ending in blood, but then Ariane isn’t exactly a dominatrix, and Olivier is enough of a wimp to give pimping a bad nameSomewhere, the Divine Marquis must be shaking his head in despair.  

Sunday, 13 June 2021

German Film Festival - Janice Tong reports on two highlights starring Maren Eggert - I WAS AT HOME, BUT... (Angela Schanalec, 2019) and I'M YOUR MAN (Maria Schrader, 2020)

Maren Eggert, I Was at Home, But... 
(click on any image to start a slideshow)

In recent years I’ve been more and more drawn towards German films and television shows. Of the latter, I’m referring to some of the brilliant Netflix series that I’ve savoured; like DarkFreudBabylon Berlin, and Perfume; of the former, where can I even begin...Angela SchanelecFlorian Henckel von DonnersmarckJoachim A. Lang’s Brechtian trilogyMarie Kreutzer’s The Ground Beneath My Feet; to name but a few. 


There is something very powerful in the way German films can strip off the veneer and arrive at the heart of the matter from the get-go, like an arrow, this is a swift and fluid trajectory; and the beauty you see there is raw and intense; laid bare for what it is; and perhaps all the more heart-wrenching in its purity. These emotions strike you when you least expect them to, rather than succumbing to the delicate winding narratives of English and French films, (the ones I prefer at least) which are more palimpsestic and require prying minds, like when one is peeling off the silk-fine skins of an onion. German films arrive at the profound without hesitation, from zero to a hundred in the blink of an eye - the very notion of the augenblick.

 

It was mere luck that I happened to see two films, I Was at Home, But...  (Ich war zuhause, aber) and I’m Your Man (Ich bin dein Mensch) , on consecutive days with Maren Eggert as the main protagonist in both films. 

 

There couldn’t be two more different films, but somehow there was unity in this paired viewing. 


Maren Eggert as the grief-stricken Astrid,
comforted by her two children, I Was at Home, But

 
I’ve often found the sensibility of Angela Schanelec’s cinema to be an intimate one, without having to obey strict narrative structures; her disregard of this means that dialogues need not be articulated to convey a sense of the passing of time, or a tool to gel the lives of friends, family or strangers together. 

 

Life is messy, frustrating and full of moments of waiting and stillness, and her cinematic eye adheres these moments in dreamlike chronicles. I Was at Home, But... charts the uncompromising surrender of a mother to what defines her - is she a woman? A mother? A lover? A work colleague? Isn’t it too much to ask for a single person to be all of these? 

 

The film opens and ends with scenes of nature, where Schanelec treats us to the most beautiful of beasts, a donkey, whose fur is scruffy and velvety at the same time. At the end of the film, the donkey is in quiet meditation, looking at the view outside an open window in an abandoned house; it’s a shell of a house with a domesticated farm dog sleeping by its hooves. What is the donkey looking at? It looks as though he is contemplating life. Just as you begin to ask these questions, the donkey turns his head to direct his gaze towards you - as though asking you the same question. 


Schanelec's enigmatic donkey, I Was at Home, But...

 
Schanelec’s donkey immediately conjures up another - Au Hasard Balthazar (1966), and one is reminded of the last image in the film of the beast of burden; and you realise that existence for you or I are not so dissimilar to Balthazar.  He lays down at the end, in the middle of a field and succumbs to his last breath. 

 

I Was at Home, But...poses these existential questions without so much as directing a single line of dialogue to this. We see it in Maren Eggert’s gestures (her grief struck shoulders doing the dishes with her back towards us), her determinism and strong will (when conveying her ideas to a former colleague, her fiery intellectual criticism of the artifice of dance and theatre compared to real life), shows that her struggles manifest themselves continually and reshape her as a person at each instance. Schanelec tells us these details through the intimate close ups of hands, toes, feet, parts of the body as fragments of the whole, but also importantly, that singular gestures also have meaning. 

 

At the outset, we learn that Astrid is the mother of two children; her young teenage son, Phillip (Jakob Lassalle) has reappeared after an unexplained absence; the way she wraps herself at his feet at the school echos that of Mary at the feet of Jesus, bowing down before him, or a different Mary, about to anoint his feet for burial (she is not yet a Stabat Mater, her son is in fact alive). In this perfectly staged image, we can see Phillip’s small hand gently resting on her shoulder, a calm and affecting hand against the torrent of Astrid’s ragged breaths. Later, she takes his soiled yellow parker to the dry cleaners -  is the duty of the mother to provide clean clothes? Or, could the external appearance of cleanliness bear enough resemblance to a life unsullied, and we live in that lie?

 

There are beautiful moments of pause throughout the film, the staging of Hamlet by primary school children has an Eugene Green quality to it. Acting as artifice; the play within a play can be seen to remark on the fact that the real erupts into the scene without the need for announcement or pronouncement; it simply does arrive. Thus the beauty of the dance sequence to an acoustic version of Bowie’s Let’s Dance mesmerises us in that it doesn’t pretend it’s real life - it is, in fact, art; it is invention.


The brilliant dance sequence to an acoustic version of
Bowie's Let's Dance, I Was at Home, But...


Sometimes you wonder if Astrid will lose it, when she gives a colleague a piece of her mind about his film, or when she yells at her children and then demands her solitude by having them vacate her immediate space (they were seen later to be waiting outside their home for her to finish with her lover). It is without a doubt that Phillip and Flo’s reticence and patience has been passed down from Astrid; they are a part of her, and so they understand innately what it means to be a family and what constitutes home. There is strength in their bond, a close-knittedness that’s beautifully portrayed when later, we see Phillip carry his young sister Flo (Clara Möller) on his back as he navigates his way upstream in an idyllic forest; there is so much tenderness in this one scene that needs no explanation. Regardless that he stumbles a bit on the rocks, you know that they will be just fine. This small film is well deserving of its 2019 Berlin Silver Bear.


Phillip (Jakob Lassalle) with his sister
Flo (Clara Möller) on his back 


It’s impossible to see Maren Eggert ‘acting’, she is transparent, her body is simply the vessel in which the characters of Astrid and  Alma (from I’m Your Man) embody; their existence comes only from Maren’s withdrawal of her selfhood from the world in order to inspire life into theirs.

Dan Stevens and Maren Eggert as Tom
and Alma, I'm Your Man

 

Eggert is Alma, a successful anthropologist working with her team on the idea of poesis in early cuneiforms at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. She was on the cusp of publishing her research when her boss Roger asks her to review a personalised AI male companion in the beta stages of development. She was unsure at the beginning, being a self-sufficient professional who is happily (or rather, resolved to be unhappily) single; she hated the intrusion. 

 

The opening scene where the couple first meet, in a glitzy throw-back club of the 30s, where a band is playing Putting on the Ritz and couples ballroom dancing - this hidden den decked out in a plush red velvet interior and a back-lit bar was of the hyperreal. Enter Tom, played impeccably by a very funny and gracious Dan Stevens (many will know him as Matthew Crawley of Downton Abbey fame)and yes, he speaks fluent German and French; as the ‘man of her dreams’. Tom created uniquely for Alma, his algorithms are finely tuned to serve her every whim and desire. A hilarious dance sequence follows. Stevens has great comical timing and sense - his gestures and expressions depict and exaggerate android-like motions; and he is perfectly cast in this role for Maria Schrader’s take on a modern screwball comedy. The subsequent ‘malfunction’ in the same scene paves the way for many laugh-out-loud moments in the film.


Puttin' on the Ritz - Alma and Tom getting to know
 each other by dancing,  I'm Your Man


The script is finely tuned, a clever balance of the screwball comedy hijinks, and witty dialogue that highlights the difference between the human and the machine. But the heart of this story reminds me of another recent film on a similar subject; Her (2013) directed by Spike Jonze, and also the recent new novel Klara and the Sun by master writer Kazuo Ishiguro. It speaks to us of the very human but abstract ideas of love and happiness. 

 

Whilst the exploration of human vs AI is nothing new, (think Bladerunner, Terminator, Ex Machina, the Alien franchise etc etc etc), and on the surface, Schrader utilises this film to explore similar ideas (could machines think, do they have feelings); but this is also where her film takes its departure; she asks of her viewers to consider broader concepts: is our experience of life in this particular epoch very different from a millennia ago? Our need to ‘stitch’ ourselves to our past when we are guided every day by data and machines, our lives ultimately enhanced by technology. What does it mean to be moved by lines of poetry in cuneiform tablets? Or, for the viewer (and Tom) to be in awe at the sight of the Pergamon Altar, built in 2nd century BC; with the ‘love story’ backdrop asks of us these age-old essential questions: what does it mean to fall in love; and what does it mean to be human. 


Dan Stevens contemplating the Pergamon Altar, I'm Your Man

Schrader’s I’m Your Man is such a stylish and entertaining film which takes you through its thought-provoking centre charmingly and effortlessly and you literally come out of the cinema feeling elated.

 

*******

 

#mubicurrently has five Angela Schanelec films showing in Australia. click here for an earlier review of an Angela Schanalec film on Film Alert 101

 

#germanfilmfestival is currently playing at selected Palace cinemas around Australia, finishing on the 13th June in Sydney and Canberra; 20th June in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth; and then coming to Melbourne a little later in the month from the 17th June to 4th July.

 

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Streaming on MUBI - Janice Tong twice views MALMKROG (Cristi Puiu, Romania, 2020)

Cristi Puiu directing the drawing room scene

How does one approach the problem of evil? 

Cristi Puiu’s Malmkrog  is a filmic meditation on the Russian philosophical text Three Conversations by Vladimir Solovyov, published at the turn of the nineteenth century. I haven’t read the text in full. I didn’t mind the archaic language, it’s formal to a lovely degree, but without a good enough knowledge of Russian history and understanding of Christianity, or politics at that time, I found it tough to give it my full attention.

Malmkrog is a filmic response to the text. Puiu makes these conversations not only palatable, but completely absorbing. His aim (outlined in a press pack) was to render Solovyov’s text into cinematic form by paying due diligence to the tone and mood of the turn of the century; so the setting, the clothes and mise-en-scène had to be pitched just right to ‘house’ the narrators of this conversation. Puiu also said that he made decisions during the shoot that were ‘prophetic’, thereby paying respects to Solovyov, whose text was always regarded to have a prophetic nature - but the latter, is in the context of the text’s arc of the imminent arrival of evil. I think for me, what Puiu is saying is that he makes room for the fluidity of the moment, as every gesture, laughter, listening face, or gaze in the film has deep resonances and meaning - to choose one over another would be to invariably change our reading of the film.

The film shows many approaches to the problem of evil. They are oft conflicting and, problematically, they all seem to carry a natural truth with each argument. Tied to a belief system, the arguments presented here only go to show that morality isn’t an easy subject to foreground, on or off screen. But one that must be sought, discussed, argued for at the dinner table.

If you’ve read critics who called this film a ‘talkie’ or a ‘yakfest’, please don’t be put off. Very few times has cinema been so formally presented, and yet succeeds in delivering ideas that are so poignant and urgent for our times. And to achieve this through conversations- all the while, gracefully and skillfully acted, the players’ unstudied deliverance of these complex ideas lifts the film from its theatrical setting. Think about this, a Romanian film from a director who is well-known for initiating the Romanian New Wave movement in film, who writes and directs a 200 mins film based on a Russian philosophical/spiritual text from the 1900 whose dialogue is in French. The result is nothing short of spectacular.

I am envious of these actors who were able to immerse themselves in the dialogue - to really understand the meaning of these conversations so as to be able to present it convincingly on screen. The atmosphere is that of a theatre piece, but as it is cinema, we are also rewarded with the close-ups of their faces, the clever use of mirrors to glimpse others in another room, off-screen laughter and sounds, and non-diegetic inserts; all that plays to the cinematic form. 


Meet your interlocutors (L to R) Olga, Ingrida, 
Nikolai, Madeleine,' Edouard (absent Istvan)

The film starts with a snow-laden scene (above), with contrasting black trees and a person dressed in black (soon to be recognized as a young child) in the distance, walking. Perhaps the introduction of this child (whom we only get one other glimpse of throughout the entire film) is to signify innocence, but we do not know this for a fact. As we follow her back to the house (beckoned by a maidservant or her mother, again we don’t possess that knowledge) the camera pans with her to reveal a manor house, eerily painted in a kind of pale pink, the pallor perhaps of the human realm, flesh flushed with blood, before a herd of sheep enter the frame from the left and lumber across the screen, an amassing of nature filling up the blank canvas.

We are brought inside in mid-conversation. There is much colour and plushness all around, so much so that your eyes feast on the textures and fabrics of the costumes of the two figures in the foreground. We can hear others but they’re in the next room, these two draw your attention. As you are continuously in the act of deciphering and decoding the cinematic language presented in the mise-en-scène- you immediately think ‘aristocrats’. We are trained to use our eyes in cinema, before we tune in to the conversation, which by then, you realise that much has already been missed. Your ears need to be trained for this film, to be as skillful as your gaze in order to decipher and decode its language.

Here is the premise in a nutshell: Nikolai is a wealthy landowner, he has a number of guests staying at his large manor house from which these conversations are drawn. The conversations range from war and politics to Christianity, from death to good vs evil and the Antichrist - all hinging on society’s need for progress and its impact on morality - more specifically the moral decisions that individuals are forced to make on a daily basis. The problem being that we make these decisions implicitly based on our conditioning, social rank and belief systems.


Dinner table conversations (from left) Olga, maid,
Madeleine,' servant, nurse, Istvan, Edouard,
Ingrida and Nikolai


Puiu directs us through the expanse of a day, condensed here to a three hours 20 mins screen time. The scenes are little vignettes with the fade in of chapter names which are in turn based on each of the characters - Ingrida (the General’s wife), Edouard (a politician), Olga (the young Countess), István (the man-servant), Nikolai (the host and landowner), Madeleine (an aristocratic intellectual?). We are not given their ‘place’ or background so we have to work this out when we are watching. Puiu assumes we are interested and have the intellect and investedness to work it out. I must admit, I had to immediately watch the film a second time (for me, this film occupied 6 hours 40 mins) to be fully immersed in its ideas (unlike books when you are able to linger on a page and drift off into thought).

I will reveal (this is your spoiler alert) that there is one scene that I keep thinking about, it’s just after the group take tea in the drawing room. There was a lot of noise from another part of the house. Slightly concerned, and perhaps a little embarrassed, Nikolai rings for the servants to come - the counterpoint created by the tiny ringing sound of the small bell held by thumb and forefinger against the din and shouting in the background is comical. The guests move into the dining room to see maids and the cook running towards them before they are all shot and collapse to the floor. 

I don’t normally read other reviews before writing my own, but I did for this film, and found no mention of this (barring one review that raised it as an odd unresolved moment and pondered its significance). I found this intriguing as many of the critics did not recommend this film, complaining that it there was not enough action, with nothing to sustain our interest, when I thought the opposite was true. I thought about this scene and the one that followed - back in that snowscape, where the black dots of people are now paired and they walk arm in arm, in conversations still inaudible to us, away from us. I wondered whether perhaps they were black souls on a landscape, and like Sisyphus doomed to repeat his act for an eternity; for the guests, perhaps they were doomed to repeat these conversations, if so, then we need to look at Camus’ take on the Sisyphus myth - to break the cycle, we need revolution.

This single scene haunted me throughout the second part of the film. And perhaps my thoughts around that second part of the film, (where the conversations get more intense at the dinner table on the idea of impending evil) should be viewed with caution. I think if you take into context that the Antichrist announces itself as the face of the gentil, as the face of the wealthy, as the face of he who talks most convincingly; then of he who reveals himself in that way, we should be very wary. 

I found each character to be intriguing, their gestures and stance. A lot of the time they had their backs towards the camera. It’s important to note that Puiu chose to work with mostly theatrical actors for this film, and that is perhaps why you couldn’t recognise many of their faces, and yet, they’re unforgettable - they exuded a presence. 


Contemplating the world

István the man servant is played by a Romanian theatre actor István Téglás, who also participated in dance-theatre - his gestures are trained, sharp and precise; you are drawn to him even when he’s only in the background. Madeleine, the aristocratic intellectual (actually the press kit does not tell us who she is) is also brilliantly played by another theatre actor, the French actor Agathe Bosch, whom Puiu met more than ten years ago and asked her to make this film with him. Edouard (the politician) played by Ugo Broussot is a French actor who started his career in theatre. Frédéric Schulz-Richard plays Nikolai and was born in the South of France and studied philosophy before joining a Marseille theatre troupe. As he is bi-lingual, he also performed experimental work by von Stroheim in German in Berlin. Diana Sakalauskaitė is a Lithuanian actress who has lived in Paris for over 20 years and worked in theatres there. She met Puiu when she applied to attend one of his acting workshops in Paris and developed a great connection immediately; she plays Ingrida. And lastly Marina Palii as Olga, a native Romanian who speaks Polish and French is probably the one actor in this film who wasn’t strictly from a theatrical background. 

Nikolai walking away from the main group


Whilst it is not possible to repeat the conversations in Malmkrog here, I would like to end by borrowing French president Emmanuel Macron’s words (and the interpretation by an Australian economist Henri Ergas AO). This article that I’m borrowing from talks about the relevance of Macron’s speech, given on the bicentennial commemoration of Napoleon Bonaparte’s death, to what we’re experiencing today. Macron spoke at the Institut de France in Paris, the place where Napoleon was elected in 1797, addressing students of all ages. 

Macron said “To concede nothing to those who would erase the past because it does not suit their image of the present.” And I think - cancel culture erases and cleanses, the abyss of evil swallows up what is inconvenient, that which needs to be forgotten. Macron says: “You are not responsible for France’s past, or are you its guardians. It comes to you as an inheritance, without a testament attached. You may choose to love it; and so too you may choose to criticise it. But first of all, you must learnit. Facing it directly and as a whole...with a love of knowledge… resisting the temptation to judge yesterday by today.” Ergas comments, weaving in Macron’s (in single quotation marks) words this, which I quote in full: “This is the foremost duty ‘a free people’ owes its ancestors who secured the freedoms it enjoys - but it is also a free people’s greatest privilege, because it is only by ‘understanding its past’ that it can freely ‘forge its future’. And just as those who shred their map are condemned to lose their way, so those who abandon historical truth are condemned to forsake their liberty.”

The full piece can be found in The Australian newspaper 14th May 2021 in the Commentary section.

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

The Current Cinema - Highly recommended - MY NAME IS GULPILIL (Molly Reynolds, Australia, 2021)


Molly Reynolds documentary on the life and near to death of Indigenous actor David Gulpilil seems to be a surprise hit. It’s also probably a certainty for any best documentary awards going round this year, an ironic situation for the fact that recognising Reynolds’ work as a documentary film-maker should have happened several years ago when she released her previous film Another Country. Still, bye the bye…

 

My Name is Gulpilil starts from a massive residue of affection for an actor who has been at it now for fifty plus years, beginning all the way back when the Brit Nicholas Roeg brought himself out here to make Walkabout. Gulpilil’s presence was basically the only human Australian element in the movie.

 

But now he’s sick, living away from his homeland, cared for by a truly saintly woman named Mary and he has been encouraged by Reynolds to give one last performance. On the way we are taken through his key roles and learn a little more about his life including the addiction and drinking problems and the occasional descent into complete poverty. 

 

A couple of things shine through. It took Gulpilil some thirty years before, thanks to Rolf de Heer, he was cast as the lead in a movie. That was The Tracker  made in 2002 and which won a host of awards including a sweep for Gulpilil in the AFI, FCCA and IF Awards for Best Actor.

 

What comes through from Molly Reynolds’ gentle probing is how all of Gulpilil’s key roles derive from some lived experience. He has no need of method acting to know about being an outsider, a criminal, a wanted man, an addict, an Indigenous man affected by casual and systemic racism in his own country. He’s lived it all. 

 

Molly Reynolds has captured it all too. Engrossing film-making. 

...and, it having been unearthed presumably from the NFSA's holdings, surely Gulpilil's  one man cabaret show, excerpts from which are included throughout the new film, crudely filmed as it apparently was, deserves another run somewhere maybe like NITV. It seems to already be an extraordinarily precious bit of the national heritage that should be screened much more.

‘Too perfect’? Ken Mogg takes a look at Alfred Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW (1954)


‘Lisa, it’s perfect!  As always!’ 

-      Jeff (James Stewart) in Rear Window

That Hitchcock specifically meant Lisa to be a businesswoman, in addition to being a model, is evidenced by a 1974 deposition in which he testified in court that he patterned Lisa on Anita Colby (1914-1992).

-      Elise Lemire(1)

The chain of little habits that were their lives unreeled themselves.  They were all bound in them tighter than the tightest straightjacket ever devised, though they all thought themselves free.

-      Cornell Woolrich, “It Had to be Murder”/“Rear Window”

 

 

SO WHAT’S WRONG WITH perfection?!  Very little, although it’s worth remembering that SO WHAT’S WRONG WITH perfection?!  Very little, although it’s worth remembering that Russia’s famous Bolshoi Ballet were considered so accomplished that when, one evening, one of the ballerinas momentarily mis-stepped, the whole audience cheered and applauded with delight.  Jeff in Hitchcock’s film has become a bit like that audience: spoilt and a little bit cynical.  But he is about to be taught a life-lesson. The plot of Rear Window may be traced back to E.T.A. Hoffmann’s cautionary tale, ‘Der Sandmann’ (1816)(2), the basis of the ballet Coppelia (1870) by Léo Delibes, in which the naïve youth Franz spies on a Dr Coppélius and narrowly avoids an untimely fate at his hands.  Meanwhile, Franz’s girlfriend, Swanilda, has risked her own life to placate Coppélius and smooth a path towards her marriage to Franz.

Variants on, or complements to, the original Hoffmann tale will be found in the short story “Through a Window” (1894) by H.G. Wells – another favourite author of Alfred Hitchcock – and in the official source of Rear Window, Cornell Woolrich’s own short story “It Had To Be Murder” (1942), although neither contains the rich set of sub-plots detailing the lives of Jeff’s various neighbours that were invented for the film.(3)  The neighbours were dreamt up by Hitchcock and screenwriter John Michael Hayes.  Each is given a little story of his/her own (e.g., the Composer, seen making slow progress on his composition – which, though, finally earns him love), somehow reflecting on Jeff’s relation with Lisa (Grace Kelly). 

 

Lisa (Grace Kelly), Jeff (James Stewart)

‘Impotence’ and ‘Emptiness’

Jeff’s ordeal sees him confined to his apartment for several weeks, in a wheelchair because of a broken leg in a cast which mustn’t be jarred.  Sadly, Lisa’s potentially seductive visits seem to remind him of his present ‘impotence’, although a turning-point occurs when she risks her life for his sake to gather evidence against the murderous Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) who lives in the opposite apartment, and whom Jeff quickly suspects of killing his wife.  Note: when last seen, Thorwald’s wife was herself confined to bed, and given to nagging her husband for his extra-marital affairs. Implicit in such plot-construction involving overlapping characters is something not sufficiently noted of Hitchcock’s stories: their showing our ‘common humanity’, and even how ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I’!  Hitchcock was a humanist.

In fact, he told François Truffaut that the film’s apartments show an assorted cross-section of people, and that the film ‘would have been very dull’ without it.  All of the people live around an empty courtyard, which only somehow highlights their ‘liveliness’.  Among them is the Sculptress, whose current piece of work has its own ‘emptiness’ in the middle, no doubt an allusion to the sculpture of Henry Moore (1898-1986), already internationally known by the time Rear Windowcame out.  She calls it “Hunger”.  That may be Hitchcock and Hayes’ little joke directed at those who always want an artwork to carry a literal meaning – and who, if they can’t find one, rank the work lower!  (When Truffaut obligingly asked Hitchcock what was the deepest logic of his films, he simply said: ‘To put the audience through it!’)  


The sculptress with 'Hunger'

Actually, emptiness was a device that Hitchcock used more than once.  His masterly film a few years later, North by Northwest (1959), has a literally pivotal scene at Prairie Stop – which is surrounded by a vastness that nonetheless soon spells trouble for hero Roger Thornhill.  Think, too, of the Gabriel Valley scene in Spellbound (1945), featuring a long sloping snowfield ending at a precipice which nearly proves to be the undoing of John Ballantyne and Constance Petersen when they ski down it.  Woolrich’s “It Had to Be Murder”/“Rear Window” speaks of its cast-ridden hero ‘stewing in a vacuum of total idleness’, again suggesting that his condition is one that will attract trouble!  Jeff in Hitchcock’s film picturesquely refers to ‘this swamp of boredom’.(4)

‘Pure Cinema’

From the start, Rear Window shows itself to be a model of concise exposition and ‘pure cinema’.  Its first four minutes or so, including the credits (behind which we see three window-blinds slowly rising, one after the other) tells us everything needful about the beginning of a new day in the apartment block.  First off, we see the Paramount logo with its familiar mountain surrounded by a circle of stars – Hitchcock would have been pleased with this contrast to the urban setting of the film itself.  On the soundtrack, by Franz Waxman, there’s an urgent, jazzy rhythm (all the better for not being your expected Hitchcock music perhaps).  We hear a small metallic cymbal struck several times in rapid succession, presumably by a drumstick.  However, this prelude quickly takes on board several other jazz instruments, including woodwinds.  The three rising blinds suggest the presence of a mysterious, invisible ‘force’, an effect that Hitchcock clearly liked: think, too, of the credits sequence of North by Northwest with its surreal green background and encroaching lines that intersect, accompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s musical ‘growl’ (this being an MGM film …), or of Marnie (1964) which begins with a sedate-enough set of credits except for a startling musical ‘cry in the night’, again of Herrmann’s doing.  Next, slowly, the camera moves out the window to show the whole courtyard (or as much thereof as it can accommodate, short of employing a fisheye lens), then tilts down. Cut to a shot of a cat crossing one side of the courtyard; Hitchcock needed the moving cat to ‘motivate’ the cut downwards; in addition, the shot  immediately affirms that animate life will be found here (and not just passing in a distant street).  Soon we lose the cat and, with an upwards tilt, the camera begins to climb up one side of the courtyard, then back to the left.


The courtyard 

Among several notable details, we see white doves perching on a low side roof.  The camera continues to the left.  Down a narrow side alley we glimpse the street.  By now, the camera is swiveling to re-enter the apartment where we started. Next to the window is the sleeping figure of Jeff, and his face and brow are sweating heavily.  This is another of Hitchcock’s impressive details – how did they get such realistic-looking perspiration?!  It can’t have been easy.

Another cut follows logically – it shows the reason for Jeff’s sweating.  A wall-thermometer states the temperature to be 94° Fahrenheit.  The camera moves away, and we see that the angle has changed again: now we can see into the apartment adjoining Jeff’s where a man is shaving while listening to the radio.  (All these early details are suggestive of morning activities.)  A voice on the radio is asking, ‘Men, when you awake in the morning do you feel tired and rundown?’  Annoyed, the man moves to switch the station to one playing music. Hitchcock cleverly uses this moment to make a sound-cut (as well as a visual one) to a fire-escape balcony opposite, on which we can see a middle-aged man sleeping – but who, next moment, is awoken by his alarm clock ringing.  Then we see that he is not alone.  His wife raises her head, and she is sleeping alongside him, but in the opposite direction.  (Could this symbolise Hitchcock’s cynical view of marriage?!  Cf the newly-weds’ relationship later.)  

The camera continues off them and now tilts down to the window of the photogenic Miss Torso.  Barely decent, she does her limbering-up exercises as she prepares to boil some coffee.  Again the camera moves on, briefly taking in the side alley – now children are to be heard and seen playing in the street – then back inside Jeff’s window, where he is still sleeping.  (His face seems to have lost its sweat.  Continuity error, or perhaps to avoid over-emphasis?)  The camera continues on down Jeff’s sleeping form, showing it in a wheelchair (specified in the script as an Everest and Jennings), and his leg in a cast on which someone has written, ‘Here lie the bones of L.B. Jefferies’.  (A suggestion of back-story, this.  Who wrote that cheery inscription? …)  But the omniscient camera has more to show us.  It pulls back and pans left so that we see a smashed-up Speed Graphic camera (also specified in the script, with the comment, ‘the kind used by fast-action news photographers’), then up to photos on the wall (taken by Jeff, we infer), including one of a careening, up-ended racing car and a wheel hurtling towards the lens.  


Miss Torso (Georgine Darcy) 

‘And now we know everything!’

 

After offering brief glimpses of other ‘action’ photos (one of them of an atomic-bomb test – did Jeff cover that?), it moves downwards again and now we see an intact camera with its flash gun (we guess it’s the replacement camera) and, nearby, a framed negative-image of a smiling woman (very arty!).(5) Alongside it is a pile of what looks like ‘Life’ magazines.  One of them features on its cover the same woman, but the image is positive.  Fade to black.  Fade-in to Jeff, sitting up and running an electric shaver over his stubble. Reader, it’s very tempting to summarise all of the above by saying, ‘And now we know everything!’ 

Notice how much work Hitchcock asks of viewers, no doubt because he understood that this draws us inside the film. It’s something he had always practiced. When Lisa turns on a trio of lamps to introduce herself and her three names (‘Lisa … Carol … Freemont’), one might recall the insouciant Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) in The Lady Vanishes (1938) slinging his belongings in quick succession over the bedposts of Iris (Margaret Lockwood) in a Ruritanian inn lacking vacant rooms.  (Their relationship thus begins in a state of tension not dissimilar to the apparent impasse which Jeff and Lisa’s relationship has reached early in Rear Window.)  The Lisa character appears to have three ‘sources’.  The first is obviously Anita Colby.  Elise Lemire (p. 71) quotes modelling expert Michael Gross who called Colby ‘the world’s first supermodel’.  Lemire continues: ‘At the height of her modelling career, [Colby] appeared on fifteen magazine covers in one month.’  With Grace Kelly playing Lisa, Hitchcock would have known that he had a sure-fire winner!  Second, John Michael Hayes told me - and others - that he based Lisa on his wife! More than once in the script there’s an almost gratuitous remark about Lisa to the effect, ‘She is a vision of loveliness!’  


Grace Kelly

After she emerges from Jeff’s kitchen (it looks like) where she has donned the flimsy nightdress she brought with her in her Mark Cross case, the script notes breathlessly: ‘She is an ethereal beauty, in sheer pale peach night gown, covered by a gossamer matching kimono.’  (Lucky Jeff, but also lucky John Michael Hayes, I dare say!)  And third, it seems likely that Lisa is modelled, to some extent, on Ingrid Bergman, reputedly one of photographer Robert Capa’s many ‘girlfriends’ – I recall reading that Hitchcock met Capa when Bergman introduced him on the set of Spellbound (1945).  For a while, it seems that Capa had lady friends wherever his travels as a photographer took him.  Interestingly, on Jeff’s wall hangs a decorative shield that might easily be interpreted as a female genital symbol, or trophy.  Scholars have commented on it!(6)


Stewart, Kelly ('in sheer pale peach night gown') 

‘Rainbirds’ 

 

Rear Window teems with marvelous things in all departments.  The first of its marvels is the set and what it could ‘do’. Hitchcock even asked for ‘rainbirds’ to be installed above it so that when a summer shower descends in the early hours of the morning, he could control it like everything else.  The white doves that seem quite at home here turn the set into a virtual aviary.  The whole set feels lived-in.  Equally, it is full of sensuous touches (including the summer shower) such as the many reminders of the heat.  We see an iceman delivering a large block of ice for someone’s ice-box (in 1954 not everyone had refrigerators); the air itself seems to waft sounds across the courtyard, which has been stilled of undue activity by the heat. At the same time, the sounds really do seem to be arriving from a distance.(7)  A woman singer and a siffleuse – possibly the same person – can clearly be heard practising scales or giving a professional clarion-like penetration to her whistling. (Note.  The script identifies the siffleuse as the woman we had seen sleeping on the fire escape.  Even when she whistles her little dog – which meets a sad end – the sound is impressively powerful.  Hitchcock’s love of music halls and their variety acts may be felt paying off for him here and throughout.)  


Multiple radios emit frequent musical ‘punctuation’ to the film’s story, enabling clever commentary or counterpoint for dramatic moments.  Somehow the radios never seem to be turned on at the same time, though!  So there is no jarring cacophony, only pleasing ‘effects’. At least one academic article is devoted to the Rear Window soundtrack.  On the web, Roger Crane claims that he has detected 39 different songs or musical excerpts in Hitchcock’s film, many of them cleverly or wittily chosen.  Example: a song, “Lady Killer”, directly contradicts the detective Doyle (Wendell Corey) when he asserts to Jeff and Lisa that nothing untoward has happened in Lars Thorwald’s apartment.  If Lisa during the film provides us with a virtual fashion parade of her several outfits, the soundtrack constitutes a ‘hit parade’ of popular music of the 1950s. Example: the 1953 Dean Martin hit “That’s Amore”.  


Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr)

However, it isn’t Jeff and Lisa’s theme tune exactly.  Equally close to being that is, first, Nat King Cole singing “Mona Lisa” from 1950, and then, finally, the Composer’s own song on which he has being working throughout the film, called simply “Lisa” – and which with a triumphant flourish he reveals to an enthralled Miss Lonely Hearts that it’s now on disc.  (We hear the words ‘Lisa … with your starry eyes’. Cf the lyrics of “Mona Lisa”: ‘Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa/ Or just a cold and lonely, lovely work of art?’ That certainly fits Jeff’s initial prejudice against his ‘too perfect’ Lisa!)                                                          


Jeff’s seeming prejudice against Lisa gives his nurse/masseuse Stella (Thelma Ritter) plenty of material to taunt him with. For example, we hear her ask: ‘Is what you want something you can discuss?’  (Being gay used to be considered not discussable in polite society!  Jeff reacts to Stella’s question with shock!)  Stella is the film’s comedian – and possibly its warmest character.  She is all pro-marriage, telling Jeff: ‘When I married Myles, we were both maladjusted misfits.  We are still maladjusted misfits.  And we’ve loved every minute of it.’  (Note that Hitchcock has managed to acknowledge marriage as the ‘preferable’ way to go, while accommodating the fact that there are other ways!  Working in the film industry from its silent days, he regularly found himself collaborating with gay men and women.  He is even on record as saying, ‘If I hadn’t married Alma I might have gone gay!’)

Stella (Thelma Ritter) and Jeff 

‘Hostility’

Hitchcock, then, was a master at not willingly alienating potential members of his audience.  Again Stella is important here.  John Michael Hayes was explicit to me that when a film begins – and particularly a Hitchcock film – many viewers  bring with them a certain ‘hostility’, both to each other and to Hitchcock.  They feel challenged, and instinctively reciprocate by saying in effect, ‘All right Hitch, show us.  Do your stuff!’  That’s why, at the outset, Hayes gave Stella the gag-line about diarrhoea: ‘When [a director of] General Motors has to go to the bathroom ten times a day, the whole country’s ready to let go!’  (She claims that she was thereby able to predict the stock market crash in 1929!)  Hayes fed Hitchcock’s ‘humanism’ – his sense of ‘our common humanity’ –as expertly as any screenwriter ever did.  And few people come away from Rear Window without having succumbed to its charm.  In other words, once you find yourself hooked, you won’t easily tear yourself away.  

Hitchcock made what are totally integrated films. You feel yourself part of a special world, not unlike the everyday one except that Hitchcock’s omits the boring bits, and which has its own special logic.  Call it the logic of suspense.  For example, Hitchcock would have admired the climax of Wells’s “Through a Window” in which the ailing protagonist, surrounded by medicine bottles, uses them as weapons against his attacker.  Similarly, but even better, the ingenious Hitchcock has Jeff use one of his principal tools of trade, his flashgun, to baffle Thorwald just long enough to defeat his designs on Jeff’s life, and to summon help.  (Even then, it’s a near thing!)  An additional satisfaction: the triumph of brains over brawn … 



              

‘Virtuoso’ 

Woolrich’s determinism is surely trumped by Hitchcock’s humanism.  So is Rear Windowa profound film?  I would say ‘yes’ – provided that you don’t ask for a literary kind of profundity, one of themes and ‘deep’ characterisations.  No single character or story in Rear Window offers that, exactly.  Rather, I suggest that its profundity is of a ‘virtuoso’ kind, as much of skills and dexterity as of wise thoughts!  With plentiful Hitchcockian wit in evidence, of course, from the screenplay by the invaluable John Michael Hayes.

       

Notes

1.  Lemire’s excellent essay, “Voyeurism and the Postwar Crisis of Maculinity in Rear Window”, may be found in John Belton (ed.), Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (2000).

2.  Hitchcock’s personal library contained Hoffman’s complete works - in both German and English, I think.

3.  Woolrich’s and Wells’s stories are sufficiently alike to suggest that Woolrich may have plagiarised from Wells!

4.  John Bunyan’s morality tale Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) led the way with its ‘slough of despond’ …

5.  If Robert Capa was in the filmmakers’ minds as a model for the Jeff character – see text – it should be remembered that he was both war photographer and portraitist.

6.  I think, too, of film director David Lean who reputedly had a girl in every major port, from Ireland to India and even New Zealand where he nearly made a version of Mutiny on the Bounty.                

7.  Similarly, in Psycho (1960), the voice of ‘Mother’ berating Norman comes wafting from the house up the hill and is heard by a startled Marion.  The rain that was falling when Marion first arrived has passed, and so the air is now clean and fresh, and the sound is exceptionally clear (an observant touch by Hitchcock).  Also, the fact that Rear Window takes place during a heat wave is explanation enough for why so many of the apartment dwellers have their windows open - and serves as a suitable metaphor for the tensions that surface during the film.  (Cf Ted Tatzlaff’s The Window, 1949.)

***************************

Editor's Note: This is the ninth essay by Hitchcock scholar Ken Mogg to have been published on Film Alert 101.

The other essays can be found if you click on these links.

Under Capricorn 

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Vertigo

Vertigo's Cinema Sources

Hitchcock's Methods

I Confess


About the author


Ken Mogg has published widely on Hitchcock; his The Alfred Hitchcock Story(1999, revised 2008) covers every film 'in loving detail'  (Bill Krohn, Cahiers du Cinéma). His recent writing includes a chapter on Topaz and (the script of) The Short Night in Hitchcock and the Cold War (Pace University Press, 2018), a chapter on Alfred Hitchcock Presents in Children, Youth, and American Television (Routledge, 2018), a chapter on "Hitchcock's Literary Influences" for A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock(Wiley Blackwell 2011, pb 2014), and an essay on "The Cutting Room" in 39 Steps to the Genius of Alfred Hitchcock (BFI, 2012). Ken has also written "Psycho Considerations" (2020), on the hitchcockmaster website if you click here    


Ken Mogg's email address is muffin@labyrinth.net.au.