Matthias Sundberg!

Heck of a nice guy! (also, grumpy)

No. 9 - Hitchcock

Row House Cinema is a single screen movie theater in Pittsburgh PA. They do theme weeks of films. Sometimes classics, sometimes foreign, sometimes foreign classics, a couple rare occasions they get first runs. It is my favorite place to watch a movie here. I even have a seat that I prefer to sit in. Second level. Third row back. Against the railing. Best seat in the house.

But now that I've revealed that, DO NOT TAKE THAT SEAT IF YOU SEE ME THERE!!!

Hannah was in London for work and I needed something to do, so I went to see a series of Hitchcock films that they were showing. Psycho, Dial M, Rope and Rebecca. I ended up only seeing two of them, but I saw one of them twice.

Rope is one of my absolute favorite films. Alfred Hitchcock attempts to make a feature film in one single uncut strip of celluloid. There are obvious cuts when the camera slips behind a person's back (holds about a frame too long), but it's about as seamless as you can get. The big trick that solves the entire problem of the edits are the audio edits. The people in the room talk over the cut, which distracts you from the fact that there's been a cut. 

There's a film theory that Walter Murch states that how often we blink indicates how we are processing information. The less we blink, the more we're trying to absorb. In editing, it's also common knowledge that a cut is a blink. It is permission from the film to take a second and process, because the next thing is going to be important, too (watch children's television to see this in action. Good programs hold on the action longer so kids have a chance to process what they're seeing; I did this a lot on Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood. This one is a good example of that:

In Rope, Hitchcock hides the cuts so you don't have a chance to take a breath. You don't have a chance to gather your thoughts as you move to the next thing. He tricks you, heightening your anxiety into a fury. You are complicit in the crime. You were there from the outset. You might get caught too. The psychopathic Brandon (John Dall, performing as close to a Jimmy Stewart impression as he could get without doing the voice, which suits him as the apostle of Stewart's character) and the hanger-on Phillip (Farley Granger) take different tactics to get to the end of the film and we aren't allowed to stop looking at their self destruction. We don't get to take a break. And where there are significant cuts (roughly 2 or 3), you physically feel relief. You relax in your seat.

I went back a second time to see the cuts in action and to track them. Because after my fist viewing I tweeted this:


Which is wrong. I took a notebook the second time and ticked off the cuts in the dark. It's 9. There might even be a cut on a locked down wide of the front door. Three of those cuts are cuts you'll notice. Two of them are within the story. You get to relax roughly twice in this film.

I think Jimmy Stewart's performance here as philosopher/publisher Rupert Cadell is one of his finest performances. It's an understated Holmes, subtle and smart, snarky and serious, and all the while, you know he's going to figure it out, but he plays dumb in the best ways all great fictional sleuths do. None of this takes away f rom his performances in Vertigo or Rear Window or any of the other brilliant things he did, including his tight poetry readings on Carson's Tonight Show.

The other big thing that we forget with Hitchcock is his brilliance at blocking. In this film, we rarely leave the room where the main action takes place. Each time we leave, we're conflicted, we're worried, then we run right back to the room. Hitchcock blocks not only the actors in this film, but the camera - you. He's forcing you to make these moves, to leave the body for a second, but still you remember it's back there. So back you go. 

The power that he distributes in his blocking is also fascinating. Brandon almost never sits. The only time he does is when Rupert does, and given that Rupert is the only person he respects in the whole world, he's supplicating himself. He never ever does it with any other character. In fact, he stays very close to almost everyone, invading their space with his superiority. Phillip sits numerous times, playing the piano. He is always under someone else's power. When Rupert returns at the end of the film, he sits in a chair and has a drink (in the same glass that David drank from, btw), both killers loom over him, giving you the impression that he's next.

It's an intense film.

Rebecca, the other film I was able to see, is Hitchcock's widely lauded first American masterpiece, based on the Daphne DuMaurier novel of the same name. This is not my favorite film. At all. By a long shot.

Looking at the film from a post-Me Too, post-feminist awareness, this is a horrible movie. The main character, a woman (Joan Fontaine) who has no name, marries a man (Laurence Olivier) whose wife, Rebecca (nobody at all), died tragically, years ago. The husband informs his new bride that SHE is his love and she shouldn't compare herself to Rebecca. He should have made this proclamation to everyone else in the movie though, because that's what they do.

There are brilliant moments of cinematography and the nameless bride is beautiful and everything, but I mean...ugh.

I almost walked out of the movie 78 years after its arrival on screen. Big tough guy.

I think my biggest problem with Rebecca is that our heroine gets no agency. None. She's the mistress of a huge house, the second in command and yet, the ruler of the film is a woman who isn't even there. There's no sense that our nameless bride can leave whenever she wants or can fire the duplicitous Mrs. Danvers, or literally anything to make her life easier. There's nothing that respects her at all. 

It's one thing to make a character anxious or unlikeable or sad or any other thing. My opposition to the treatment of Mrs. De Winters is that we're watching a woman watching her life play out. She doesn't get a part in her life. And that makes the film sad, not thrilling or intense.

That's not to say you shouldn't see it. Go. Please. Leave a comment and tell me what you thought/think. I think I'm just very Post #MeToo and can't see past that at the moment.