HITCHCOCKED: “Vertigo” (1958)

22 08 2011

I’m fully prepared to take a lot of heat for what I’m about to say.  In fact, as I ponder making this statement in my head, I myself wonder if I’m a humongous hypocrite.  What I’m about to suggest could spark some serious outrage, perhaps on the level of suggesting “Citizen Kane” isn’t all that great (which I have gone on the record as saying is false).

I’d like to see “Vertigo,” with the same script, comparable actors, and the same Hitchcock penchant for filmmaking, be remade in the present day.

There, I said it.  It’s out there, I can’t take it back.  But while watching “Vertigo,” I was struck by the powerful and affecting portrait of a mentally disturbed policeman played by James Stewart.  I found Kim Novak’s work as the woman who claims to be possessed by the spirit of a dead woman to be frightening.  I felt Hitchcock’s masterful storytelling with the camera to be totally present.  I was totally engaged by the smart writing, which harkens to a mystery of almost mythical proportions.

Yet the visuals just felt so … outdated.  Yes, this is obvious given that the movie is over half a century old.  Obviously, it was about as good as it got back then.  But this is 2011, and when the camera is stuck in the past while the story remains timeless, it can’t help but be distracting.  In fact, it goes beyond that – it detracts.  The movie’s style now alienates us from the movie, pulling us out to remind us, “Oh, this is a movie, and this is how they could visually represent the fear of heights back then.”

So to maintain that pervasive sense of acrophobia, why not remake “Vertigo” with modern technology that would make this classic story work so much better for the audiences of today?  Isn’t that why we should be remaking movies?  Not just to be lazy or to sloppily “update” it to market to younger crowds, a remake of “Vertigo” that preserved the timeless integrity of the acting and storytelling would be perfect.  Because, perhaps with the exception of historic visual achievements, the look of a movie is something that should hold power no matter if it’s being shown in 1958 or 2011.  I’m convinced that it would have rocked me to my core had my eyes been borrowed from that era.

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HITCHCOCKED: Rear Window (1954)

16 07 2011

Now I’m getting into Hitchcock’s most revered films, and I’m getting more and more excited to watch the movies.  While I had to trudge through some of his lesser known movies to get acquainted with his style so I didn’t fly blindly into the classics, now I’m starting to see why he has become such an iconic director.  “Rear Window” is definitely one that shows his unique knack for suspense.  It’s a slow (and sometimes a little tedious) build towards a frightening conclusion, told with an Old Hollywood sensibility yet still a thrill.

“We’ve become a race of Peeping Toms,” says Thelma Ritter’s nurse, Stella, to James Stewart’s wheelchair-bound Jeff, a photojournalist whose daring in the field has left him immobile in his apartment.  Left largely to his own devices while his socialite girlfriend, appropriately played by future princess Grace Kelly, he turns to voyeurism while looking out the titular aperture.  From afar, he watches his neighbors, imagining what their actions say about their lives and making up stories based on what he sees.  Hitchcock’s clever camerawork mimics Jeff’s eyeballs, jumping from place to place based on what’s interesting.

But one day, his intuitions tell him that by connecting some mental dots, his neighbor Thorwald has committed murder.  With nothing else to do but observe, he sneakily begins building a case against him despite the insistence of his friends and caretakers.  Hitchcock keeps the suspense held back until the very end, not giving us anything but Jeff’s hunches to be suspicious of Thorwald.

Perhaps the biggest thing I took from “Rear Window,” though, was how very seldom Hollywood makes movies like Hitchcock’s anymore.  His movies were all about using the artistic capabilities of cinema to manufacture suspense, thrills, and chills; now, filmmakers just through blood and gore at the screen, play some booming tune in the background, and call it a thriller.  While I loved “Disturbia,” the self-proclaimed modern take on this Hitchcock classic, it certainly lacks Hitchcock’s artistic flair.  I’m certainly more primed to like the Shia LaBeouf vehicle over the James Stewart starrer because of generational differences, but I recognize why one is a classic and the other is just a wannabe trying to cash in on the wizardry of one of cinema’s greatest icons.





HITCHCOCKED: “Dial M For Murder” (1954)

26 06 2011

The perfect murder is always the perfect scenario for a Hitchcock movie.  “Dial M for Murder” is then by definition a quintessential Hitchcock, and watching it would give anyone a taste of the director’s style and methods.  In fact, all it’s missing is some Jimmy Stewart.

The perfect murder here is planned by former tennis player Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), who hires the perfect stranger – or old friend – to execute it for him.  Through blackmail and clever thinking, Tony coerces a Cambridge acquaintance, C.A. Swann (Anthony Dawson), to murder his cheating wife Margot (Princess Grace Kelly).  He has the perfect alibi to save him from any suspicion; while Swann commits the murder, he will be at the gentleman’s club.  Yet things go haywire thanks to a pair of scissors, and Tony has to cover his tracks to avoid being discovered.

Hitchcock makes this single-room thriller compelling and suspensful, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has seen “Rope.”  The only real complaint I could lodge against this one is that at times it feels a little too theatrical (the movie is based on a play) and less cinematic, almost as if he filmed it a live performance on a Broadway stage.  But I have no problem with live theater, nor do I have a problem with Hitchcock, and this elaborately plotted murder mystery ranks up there with the best of them.





HITCHCOCKED: “The 39 Steps” (1935)

31 01 2011

NOTE: The name of this 12-part series reviewing some of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest features has been changed from “Hallowed Hitchcock” to “Hitchcocked” for the sake of compactness.

Can you believe I’ve gone 18 years of living and 18 months of blogging without seeing a single movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock?  Of course I’ve heard of his mastery and know of his influence over the craft of filmmaking as we know it, but as a New Year’s resolution, I decided to stop knowing about him and finally experience him.

So here we are, at the first of a monthly series running through 2011 hitting 12 high points in the filmmaking career of Alfred Hitchcock.  Where to start?  Before he came to America and made the films that made him an icon, I decided to start with one of his smaller British movies, “The 39 Steps,” to see if I noticed him returning to his roots.

While I didn’t watch this movie and instantly proclaim Hitchcock a men among boys and a god among men, what I did see was good, precise filmmaking that sure did entertain and engage.  It’s less of a thriller, the genre most fans associate Hitchcock with, and more of a captivating mystery with none of the ridiculous bells and whistles Hollywood movies add on nowadays.

Over the course of four days, Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) runs all over England and Scotland trying to escape the police after being wrongfully accused of murder and a league of spies who believe he holds dangerous knowledge about them.  The innocent Richard winds up assuming multiple identities to keep himself safe from his pursuers.  It’s an well-plotted adventure that keeps the audience on its toes for the duration of the movie.

I don’t really have any context to put “The 39 Steps” into, but it sure does make me look forward to exploring some of Hitchcock’s more famous filmography.  If something this good isn’t one of his most popular directorial ventures, then I’m expecting some real winners coming up.