Champagne

Gasser

Champagne (1928)

Champagne (1928)

The bubbly, golden fluid that is champagne is a standard analogy for all things tied to wealth. It is symbolic of all the glittery things afforded by those people who can in turn afford to order the high-ticket beverage. That is all you need know of the meaning of the title for Alfred Hitchcock‘s 1928 silent flick Champagne.

But to further draw the connection to the title, Hitchcock opens and closes the picture using an innovative technique by which he photographs the scenes through a champagne glass. Taking the view point of a person drinking the champagne, a bubble of glass at the base of the coupe captures dancers aboard a trans-Atlantic ship and the kissing couple at the film’s close. The master of suspense would later use a similar technique to capture the strangling scene in Strangers on a Train, which is depicted as reflected by the victim’s glasses.glass

Unlike his later films, Hitchcock made many non-thrillers in his early years, and Champagne is one of them. A comedy, the story tells of a frivolous millionairess who regularly angers her father by squandering their wealth and running around with a man whom the patriarch believes is only interested in the family fortune. To start the film, a ship headed from America to England makes a swift rescue of two passengers of a small aircraft that has crashed into the ocean. The pilot and the woman aboard are safely escorted to the vessel but not before The Girl (Betty Balfour) powders her nose and sheds the flight jacket, goggles and headgear she wears.

The Girl’s fashionable entrance on the boat was arranged just so she could catch up with her beau, The Boy (Jean Bradin). But when the young woman informs her love that she will arrange for the captain to marry them, The Boy is offended by her take-charge approach and the two part ways. Still on board the watercraft, The Girl finds a companion in a shady looking man that had been making eyes at her since her grand entrance. The two share a rocky meal upon the rough high seas, with The Boy unable to intervene because of sea sickness.

Once in Europe, The Girl carries on her absurdly wasteful lifestyle while her father frowns at the headlines she has made. He interrupts his daughter during a party involving the purchase of several new gowns and informs her he is now broke. The Girl weeps but offers to sell her jewelry.

Jumping forward, the father-daughter couple are living together in a small flat where The Girl tends to the home and endeavors to cook. In the next scene The Father (Gordon Harker), having left the home without breakfast, dines at a fancy bistro. It seems he has not actually been separated from his money but is instead attempting to teach his daughter a lesson.

The Boy eventually finds The Girl again and is still interested in being with her, but she repeatedly spurns him while yet again crossing paths with The Man (Theodore Van Alten) who took a shine to her on the boat. She garners a job distributing flowers to gentlemen at a night club, where she is only mildly successful. The Boy brings The Father to see what lifestyle his daughter has taken up, and he is disappointed to see his trick has resulted in a blow to her dignity. He reveals to her his ruse, and she reacts by being infuriated with both The Father and The Boy for the humiliation she has suffered.

She runs to The Man and convinces him to take her along on a ship-ride back to America, her home country. It just so happens The Boy is aboard as well, bringing us full circle to the film’s start. There the couple reunites and with The Father’s blessing. The Father also reveals The Man was his friend, who was sent on the original cruise to prevent by any means the marriage of our leading lady and man.

One of the most innovative scenes in Champagne is towards the film’s start when The Girl and The Man dine aboard the boat. The rollicking seas are conveyed by a swinging camera motion and the staggering and leaning of the people aboard the boat. The effect is so convincing it started to make me seasick.

Champagne is full of comical moments and has a decent story to tell. It is superficial and full of back and forth moments for the couple, and it is predictable. Still, any chance to see an early Hitchcock movie should not be passed up, and this one has some visual effects worth enjoying.

View the full film on YouTube:

Event: The Hitchcock 9

Blackmail (1929)

The Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, is gearing up to show some rare Hitchcock treats on the big screen. Nine silent pictures from the director’s repertoire will be showcased in October, and I gleefully report will allow me to view several of the master’s flicks I have yet to lay my hands on.

The British Film Institute’s restoration of The Hitchcock 9 is the largest restoration project the BFI has ever undertaken and was made possible by new digital technology, according to the Wex. The films are being made available to venues around the world and have been touring the U.S. since June. They are/were slated to hit Washington, DC, Berkeley, Chicago, Seattle, Houston, and Boston, among others.

As much as Hitchcock is known for his work in the thriller genre, he spent a good amount of his early British career dabbling in dramas and romantic comedies. One nevertheless can see the early genius of the master of suspense in The Lodger and others.

For those in the vicinity or who would travel to see such rare screenings, the schedule follows. And another gem for you from BFI, the press book for 1928′s The Farmer’s Wife and ones for The Manxman and Champagne. I fully intend to witness Blackmail, Downhill, Champagne and The Pleasure Garden because I have not seen them before.

  • Oct. 10 at 4 p.m. | Film Studies Lecture Tania Modleski: Representations of Women in Hitchcock’s Blackmail
  • Oct . 10 at  7 p.m.  & Oct. 12  at 7 p.m. | Blackmail (1929) Live musical accompaniment by Derek DiCenzo
  • Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. & Oct. 12 at 4 p.m. | The Lodger (1926)
  • Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. | Downhill (1927)
  • Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. | The Ring (1927) Accompaniment by Larry Marotta
  • Oct. 17 at 9:10 p.m. | The Manxman (1929) Accompaniment by Larry Marotta
  • Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. | The Farmer’s Wife (1928) Accompaniment by Sue Harshe
  • Oct. 23 at 9:10 p.m. | Champagne (1928) Accompaniment by Sue Harshe
  • Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. | The Pleasure Garden (1926) Accompaniment by Derek DiCenzo
  • Oct. 25 at 8:45 p.m. | Easy Virtue (1927) Accompaniment by Derek DiCenzo

2013 CAPA Summer Movie Series (Columbus, OH)

It’s my favorite time of year in central Ohio, or nearly. CAPA, our local arts organizing group, has announced its lineup for the 2013 Summer Movie Series held in Downtown Columbus’ historic Ohio Theatre. For those of you unfamiliar with this seasonal gem, the June 28 through Aug. 25 series features a plethora of classic movies shown in the theater that was originally built as a movie house and is now used for concerts, ballets, etc.

Among this year’s offerings are two Hitchcock movies, which you know delights me. The wonderfully amusing The Trouble with Harry, To Catch a Thief and the Jimmy Stewart rendition of The Man Who Knew Too Much will certainly be on my schedule.

Other prize showings include An American in Paris, Grand Hotel, Citizen Kane, Bonnie and Clyde, The Thin Man, 1974′s The Great Gatsby, and Touch of Evil.

I have been notoriously bad about achieving all the CAPA Summer Movie Attendance goals I have set in years past, and I won’t pretend this year will be any better. I do hope to at least catch the Hitchcock flicks, but I’ll admit The Man Who Knew Too Much won’t be at the top of my list.

Feature: Hitchcock’s Recipe

I discovered this brilliant video on the ModCloth blog. It was apparently created by students at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hannover and is wildly entertaining and insightful, for those who are well versed in the ways of Alfred Hitchcock. Seeing as my blog is named after a technique of the great director, I thought it only fitting to share it with you. It’s certainly worth watching more than once to enjoy all the details contained therein. Enjoy!

Feature: A Movie Through Its Posters — Psycho

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Psycho is one of those movies that is known worldwide and still revered as a great piece of horror history. In no way is that more evident than by the sheer extent of foreign movie posters for the flick.

Hitchcock was the “master of suspense” but his movies did not really fall into the horror category before Psycho. The movie was controversial and met with a lot of pushback from the Hayes Office but Hitchcock managed to make compromises –giving up one scandalous aspect to allow another to stay in. The movie nevertheless is well known for Janet Leigh‘s undergarment outfits at separate instances in the film’s start. This part of the film certainly did not escape notice to those individuals who create movie posters worldwide. Six of the posters above feature the scantily clad Leigh, which probably proved a selling point for the flick.

Also prominent in the posters is the horror-stricken face of Anthony Perkins upon discovering a body in his hotel’s bathroom. The lead-up scene also was a source of controversy with the short takes assembled to give the impression we are seeing nudity. Including Perkins on the posters in this manner certainly would have lulled the audience into believing his character’s innocence, fueling one of the movie’s twists.

My favorite of these posters is the German one. It is simple and striking with its bold teal color and large Perkins facade. I love that shot of Perkins, and I think this poster uses it to its greatest effect. Which do you like best?

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Wowza!

Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)

Alfred Hitchcock is most popularly known today as the “master of suspense”, and rightfully so. Most people remember him for the drama of his thrillers and some find his pictures terrifying. What is perhaps ignored by the average viewer, however, is the man’s astute sense of humor.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith was the only movie Hitchcock made in America that was strictly a comedy with no suspense whatever. This was not his only venture into the genre, however, as many of his early English films were suspense-free. In all Hitchcock flicks, however, the viewer can find evidence of “Hitchcockian humor”, many times slipped in under the nose of the Hayes Office. Much of the master’s humor related to sexual innuendo, and the director was constantly pushing the envelope to see what he could get away with under the Production Code. Mr. and Mrs. Smith is one movie that is all about what consists of proper behavior for an unmarried couple, even if they’ve been married before.

Perfectly paired are Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard as Ann and David Smith. The flick opens with the servants wondering what is going on in the couple’s bedroom, where they have been holed up for three days. The duo has a policy of never leaving their bedroom until an argument has been resolved, David’s job as a lawyer be damned. We come in just in time to see the couple rekindle their affection, but over breakfast, Ann insists on another of their traditions: asking a question to which David must give a totally honest answer. The question is: If you could do it over again, would you marry me. The answer: no.

This answer becomes particularly important when later that day David learns that his marriage to Ann is not legal because of a mix up with the way the county and state in which they were married provided the paperwork. The man who delivers the news, Mr. Deever (Charles Halton), knew Ann when she was a girl and so drops by the home to give her the information. Ann is convinced David will marry her right away, but in trying to make a big surprise of the situation, he does not. That leads to Ann furiously throwing her non-husband out of their apartment and returning to her maiden name and life.

The remainder of the story involves David fighting to get Ann back while each tries to make the other jealous. Ann does this by dating David’s law practice partner (Gene Raymond). Both are too stubborn and too conniving to relinquish control until finally their games land each in the other’s arms.

The fun in Mr. and Mrs. Smith is not just the almost screwball-style of acting our stars bring to the screen –I’ll get to that momentarily– but the moral questions it raises. Hitchcock loved to create circumstances in his movies when an unmarried couple find themselves forced to share a bedroom (see The 39 Steps and Spellbound). In this case the viewer cannot help but wonder about just how wrong it was that the two have been sharing a bed for three years and whether they can continue to do so without redoing their vows. This movie could obviously never be made today and make any sort of sense.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith is pure gold for me. With my two favorite actors in the lead paired with my favorite director, the movie cannot go wrong. Lombard is as zany as she is in My Man Godfrey, although, her character is more on the sane side in this case. Montgomery really brings out his comedic side as well, both in dialogue and physically. The lines are so well written with such subtle humor and innuendo that the more you pay attention the funnier the movie is. I could watch it everyday.

The Best Hitchcock Movie (That Hitchcock Never Made)

Wowza!

Tell No One (2006)

    There’s a reason Alfred Hitchcock remains probably the best remembered director in movie history. His unique style of both filming and storytelling have inspired directors for generations and continues today. A few years ago I caught the French film Tell No One (Ne le Dis a Personne) in the theater and it today is still one of the best movies I have ever seen.

     Although most of Hitchcock’s films were adapted from plays or books, they were always given a thorough rewriting, often by multiple scribes. The end result was always something Hitchcockian. When viewing his body of work, certain plot themes arise, primarily the “wrong man” scenario and the chase. Besides the movie The Wrong Manthat was based on a real-life incident that resembled a Hitchcock plot, the master of suspense used this approach in many others including The Man Who Knew Too Much The 39 Steps, To Catch a Thief, North by Northwest and Frenzy, among others.  A story centered on a chase is also used repeatedly in Hitchcock’s repertoire, whether that chase happens around a city or across the country culminating at Mount Rushmore.

     Tell No One has both these elements on top of a fantastic mystery. But the movie does not just draw from Hitchcock in its structure; it also has the characteristic of many detective stories of the past –such as the Thin Man and Pink Panther movies– that become so complex that a character must explain at the film’s close just what has transpired and what motivated the crime.

     In Tell No One, Alex Beck (François Cluzet) and his wife Margot (Marie-Josée Croze) are visiting their home town where they grew up together and go for a dip at the secluded lake they have visited every year. After a minor disagreement, Margot leaves the wooden raft they are lying on in the darkness and returns to shore. When Alex hear’s her call out, he panics and swims to the dock where he is promptly knocked out with a bat and falls unconscious into the water.

     Eight years later and Dr. Beck receives an anonymous email at his office telling him to click on a link at a specific time coinciding with he anniversary of his wife’s death. The link reveals a surveillance camera of a public area, and moments later Margot appears and looks straight into it. An email that follows instructs him to tell no one because “they are watching.”

     Unlike many Hitchcock films that have the wronged man working as a loner to solve the crime for which he is accused, Alex brings in his sister’s partner Helene (Kristin Scott Thomas) who is willing to believe that Margot is alive. Alex starts to ask questions, first of his cop father in law (André Dussollier) about the appearance of Margot’s beaten face when he identified her (Alex was in the hospital and in a three-day coma after being knocked out into the lake but somehow left on the dock where police found him). The woman had been tortured and left with dead animals therefore appearing to be the victim of a serial killer with that M.O. The story had many holes in it, however, and police had suspected Alex was the killer.

     Next, Alex inquires with Margot’s best friend Charlotte (Florence Thomassin) about new photos police have presented from Margot’s post office box (held under a fake name) that depict her severely bruised. Charlotte says the injuries were not a result of a car accident as she had been instructed to say, but she does not know their origin. Charlotte, however, is soon visited by some mysterious observers who torture her to discover where Margot is and ultimately kill her. As Alex was the last to see the woman alive, he is the police’s main suspect.

     Alex is informed the police are on their way to arrest him, but he has received another message instructing him to meet at a park and concluding with “I love you,” thus confirming to him that it is his wife he will find there. Unwilling to miss the date, Alex flees and leads a heated chase across the city before eluding the cops. From here Alex does some additional investigating and the police chief starts to think the man is innocent of all crimes.

     The mystery is difficult to follow; the individuals who are after Alex and Margot and the where and why of Margot’s absence are impossible to determine based on the information we are given. The truth has traces of conspiracy in it but not to the extent the viewer might think at certain junctures through the film.

     Tell No One has the additional Hitchcock theme of worthless law enforcement. Hitch was not a fan of police, but the extent to which his aversion manifested can be debated between truth and myth. As a boy, his father had him locked up in a jail cell for an afternoon because of some digression, and he allegedly from that point on feared police. He refused to drive, always having someone else take the wheel, because of that dislike. Most of his movies have police sniffing up the wrong tree and mis-accusing the wrong man. The same is true here where the plot not only involves Alex as suspect in his wife’s murder but the events are prompted by their new accusal when the bodies of two men are found buried at Margot’s murder site. It is because of police ineptitude in this and Hitchcock flicks that our everyday man finds himself in the role of detective, making the adventure more relatable for we everymen.

     A compliment I can give to Tell No One that does not find its way into my considerations of Hitchcock flicks is that it is far more emotional than any of the master’s classics. Cluzet gives a wonderful performance through his raw emotions as he discovers what he thinks is his living wife and fights his way to get to her. Although all Hitch movies had an element of romance to them, none created the connection between characters we have in Tell No One. Margot is painted as the perfect wife from the opening sequence, and the childhood romance and lifelong relationship she shared with Alex makes their separation all the more profound. You won’t see me crying during any Hitchcock films, but I’ll admit to some mistiness at multiple moments here.

  • A special thanks to Dorian at Tales of the Easily Distracted for hosting such a creative blogathon about the Hitchcock movies the master never made. See what else fits the bill on her site.

Feature: Hitchcock Movie Posters from Italy

I put up a post a while ago comparing U.S. movie posters for American movies to the versions that were released for the same pictures in Italy. As I continue to roam the web, and particularly the newly discovered MoviePostersDB.com, I continue to find that foreign, particularly Italian, posters are far more artistic/intriguing/seductive than the American ones. This time I have focused specifically on Hitchcock movies, films that in and of themselves embody artistry, intrigue and seduction. These movies, because they were so well publicized, have multiple posters per country to their name, but here I have grabbed what appear to be the most common versions.

ITALY VS. AMERICA

I think there is no arguing that the American version of what would advertise Hitchcock’s first American film looks pretty bland compared the foreign one. I also concede, however, that the former looks a bit like a romance novel cover. And who is the gorgeous woman in the backdrop? Certainly not Judith Anderson’s Mrs. Danvers. It could be the artist’s manifestation of the deceased Rebecca, but she is never shown in the picture, which is sort of the point. Nevertheless, I would rather see the Rebecca advertised by the image on the left than the one on the right.

 Notorious is possibly my favorite Hitchcock movie and one that is certainly darker than the American poster would suggest. Although the key depicted is of significance, the romance between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman is not as light-hearted as the advertisement would suggest. The Italian poster is a bit vague in its meaning and with the title perhaps suggests merely a story of an illicit affair, but it is by far the edgier version and one that better suits the tone of the actual movie.

Although I have always enjoyed the Dial M for Murder American poster, the Italian version is a bit more striking, and bloody. Because the Italian title translates as “Perfect Crime”, choosing to focus on the weapon rather than the phone that justifies the American title makes sense. It also notes other intricacies of the film, such as the scissors and the time. I can see the favorite of these two being a toss up for some people. Your thoughts?

I am not in love with either of these posters, but the foreign version is much more eye-catching. It highlights the one setting in which the entire film takes place while highlighting its star, who is perhaps not as mean as the poster suggests. The U.S. ad is just bland. We get it: it’s called Rope and there’s a rope.

In this instance, the Italian poster borrows from the American one but manages to give us a much different feel for the movie. The use of unnatural color and the red tone suggestive of blood makes The Birds a more frightening looking picture. The birds themselves also look more threatening in the overseas ad, which allows it to trump the domestic version.

I’m not sure I can entirely pass judgement and declare the Italian Vertigo poster better than the U.S. version. Although the foreign advertisement has many seductive and creepy elements, the simplicity of the American poster and its emphasis on the vertigo effect invented by Hitchcock in making that movie is difficult to rival. Again, the Italian movie title is not the same as the American, so “The Woman Who Lived Twice” likely inspired a different poster.

What do you think?

Feature: The Long-Take Movie

Unless you are a movie-as-an-artform type of fan, the editing in a movie often escapes us. In most cases, all of those cuts are meant to be invisible, at times subliminally conveying a message without us realizing it. And although cameramen might painstakingly struggle to film a scene in one long take, many audience members will fail to recognize the accomplishment.

Alfred Hitchcock was the first director to bring to fruition a movie done entirely in one long take, sort of. Moviemakers in the 1940s were limited by this thing called “film”, the actual celluloid that ran through the camera and recorded all the images later flashed before our eyes. So in those days it was not possible to capture a 90-minute movie without ever stopping the camera because the actual reel only held a certain amount of film. In the case of Rope, Hitchcock instead gave us the illusion of a cut-less picture by disguising the breaks between reels. He did succeed in never stopping the camera rolling while there was film left, but hid the transition between reels by focusing in on the backs of characters, creating a black screen that would prevent viewers from distinguishing a break in filming.

Fast forward 60 years to the age of digital film photography and the issue of celluloid can no longer hamper a filmmaker’s ability to keep the camera rolling. In 2001, a Russian director developed the idea of making a movie in one, 90-minute take all centered on the Hermitage museum. Although the idea of not having to edit any footage sounded easy to Aleksandr Sokurov at first, bringing about the actual filming of Russian Ark took several years of planning.

The film crew, cast of one main character and more than a thousand extras were given four days access to the museum. Three were used to remove items, insert new ones and prepare the lighting for the shoot. The actual filming had to occur on one day. Told as a dream, the story runs through 300 years of Russian history as significant characters float in an out of the scenes while the French marquis who is guiding the camera criticizes Russia’s lack of artistic culture. The camera itself is the second character, the dreamer, who converses with the marquis and himself through a post-production voice over.

Unlike Rope, which relied on a handful of characters getting their parts correct, Russian Ark protected itself from any on-screen mishaps by giving only one character specific dialogue to deliver. There is a certain lack of synchronicity in the voice over as at times the marquis’ pauses for response do not last long enough and the voice over runs on top of his dialogue. Also, the lack of echo in the voice-over dialogue makes it seem to us as though these thoughts are occurring in the dreamer’s (or our) head, especially because the marquis at times does not seem to hear what is said.

Moving ahead to today, the horror movie Silent House recently hit theaters as yet another 90-minute example of cut-free filming, or so it would seem. Technology has taken us so far forward that directors Chris Kentis, Laura Lau were able to mimic a single-take film while actually filming 10-minute segments and disguising the transitions in post-production. The result is a highly suspenseful picture that relies entirely on practical effects and lots of behind-the-scenes maneuvers.

The story contains one main character the camera follows, two family members and a couple extra appearances. The effect relies on a dark house and mostly up-close shots of the scene, which protects against mistakes that might occur in the background. Also, being a horror movie, the characters’ reactions to the events and dialogue do not have to be perfect, thus giving a more natural feel. The movie avoids the use of CGI to create scary creatures for us and was unable to show the result of one character’s bludgeoning because the application of makeup could not have occurred fast enough to fit within the long-take structure. Silent House instead relies on severe suspense rather than actual terrifying scenes to scare the audience. The long-take approach adds to this and gives the effect of things happening in real time. (Silent House Video Clip)

The use of long takes, and in particular movies that try to use nothing but, is highly demanding on all the collaborators in front of and behind the camera. Extensive rehearsing and extremely long retakes if mistakes are made can mean lengthy, demanding days for all involved. The endeavor is certainly one done more for artistic satisfaction than commercial gain or public popularity as the average theater-goer is blind to this work. I think we can see evidence of this as the technique has failed to gain popularity among film makers. Nevertheless, I have always been intrigued by the long take, and so a movie that does only that will have me at its beck and call time and time again.

Source: “In One Breath: The Making of Russian Ark” documentary; Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

A Different View Through ‘Rear Window’

I came across this fascinating video created by Jeff Desom that pieces together different shots from Hitchcock’s Rear Window and aligns them all together. But this is not just an image of what the courtyard behind L.B. Jeffries’ apartment would look like in panoramic view. It’s an actual moving video of all the action in the film happening at once and in fast succession. I cannot imaging the work it must have taken to assemble this.

Rear Window Timelapse from Jeff Desom on Vimeo.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 508 other followers

%d bloggers like this: