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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?

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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.

Feature: Norman Bates Reimagined

The writer and director behind 2010’s Peacock did not start out with a story that had heavy shades of Psycho, but what ultimately resulted is a retelling of the life of Norman Bates, possibly before owning that roadside hotel.

Cillian Murphy skillfully plays both John and Emma Skillpa, two parts of one man’s personality. John is an awkward sort who works in a bank in the town of Peacock during an era that looks much like the 1960s or 1970s. He interacts poorly with others and prefers to be left to himself. Emma, who is John dressed as a woman complete with wig and makeup, hides herself from the world as she quickly removes laundry from the clothes line, peers through the curtains at the neighbor’s kid, and prepares John’s breakfast and sack lunch. She then returns to the bedroom where she removes her wig and makeup and changes into the clothes she has laid out for John.

Peacock (2010)

Thus is our introduction to the dissociative identity disorder –also known as multiple personality disorder– John is taxed by. There is no grand reveal as we discover that Murphy is in fact not a woman, so the story instead leaves us thinking we will now deal with the man’s struggle to keep his secret in this small town. What disrupts the two personas’ way of life is the crashing of a train through the property fence as Emma is removing the wash from the line. The neighbors rush to her aid and wonder who she is, ultimately deciding the woman is John’s wife. Next, a local politician wants to use the train wreck as a site for a political rally because the caboose had a banner for his opponent’s re-election. The once-timid Emma begins to leave her shell as she accepts that the town now knows she exists, while John tries to backtrack on his feminine side’s decisions and keep the secret in the dark.

Like Norman Bates, the psycho who dressed in his dead mother’s clothes, donned a wig and killed young women of whom his matriarch would have disapproved, John too has a twisted history with his mother. We learn she had died one year prior –and he “met” Emma the next day– and also discover the woman mentally abused the boy by not only coddling him, but in one instance paying a young woman to have sex with him in the mother’s bed, while the mother watched, in addition to forcing him to do “horrible” sexual things. John also tells another character that Emma is not his wife, which leads one to deduce she is instead his manifestation of mother. Director and Co-Author Michael Lander said in his research into dissociative disorder, which included the study of murderer Ed Gein on which Norman Bates was based, he found that the condition is not hereditary but environmentally induced, requiring mental trauma and poor childhood nurturing with many patients reporting child abuse.

When John, becoming angry at Emma for interfering and inviting guests to his home, donates the woman’s clothes to a shelter, Emma is forced to enter the mysterious room at the end of the hall –the mother’s room. Here she finds photos of John as a child, hears the squeak of the bed springs where the man was forced to have sex with the young woman, and discovers some of the mother’s clothes. When Emma next reappears in a blue dress described by the hired woman as what the mother wore on that dreadful day, we are assured that this personality is in fact not a wife role.

SPOILER Murder is not a regular activity for John or Emma as it is for Norman, at least not at this point in his life. Emma, however, does seduce a man and takes him to a motel where she hits him with a crowbar and sets the room ablaze. Another character has been invited to the location to discover the scene and deduce that it is John who has died in the flames, thus allowing Emma to permanently take over the body. She has also by this point shaved off the man’s eyebrows and penciled in feminine ones, which also forced John to remain detached from the body. One must also wonder if, now that John is unable to reappear, Emma/John will leave town and perhaps purchase that same motel where the plot of Psycho might unfold. END SPOILER

John vs. Emma

Peacock could not have been what it was without Murphy’s involvement. The man proved himself in 2005’s Breakfast on Pluto to make quite a beautiful cross-dresser and he does that here again. Makeup, hair and clothing designers for the film also perfectly created Emma as a woman rather than a man in drag. But the two personalities really are made distinct by Murphy’s acting. His facial expressions and carriage are much different as John than as Emma, something we see at the film’s start as soon as the man removes his dress and transitions into the male personality.

Tragically, Peacock was a straight-to-DVD release despite having the star power of Murphy, Susan Sarandon,  Ellen Page, Josh Lucas and Bill Pullman. I had no expectations of the story when I went in, so it surely took me for a ride and not in the direction I expected. It has characteristics of a psychological thriller, artful drama and horror film rolled into one. I can truly say I loved this movie as an homage/reinterpretation of everyone’s favorite psycho, whether the writer-director intended that or not.

The Farmer’s Wife

Ring a Ding Ding 

     Alfred Hitchcock entered the movie business essentially as soon as it started. He rose quickly in the British ranks to the director status and so it goes without saying he has a few silent movies under his belt. The Farmer’s Wife is among those early Hitchcock films that are essentially forgotten because it does not fall under the typical style we have come to associate with the master. This movie, one of many Hitchcock pieces that would be drawn from a stage play, is a comedy, nothing more. No suspense here, but that is not to say Hitchcock did not illustrate early on his adroit approach to this lighter genre.

     Farmer Sam Sweetland’s (Jameson Thomas) wife dies at the start of our picture and her final words are to the housemaid Minta (Lillian Hall-Davis) to remember to air out her master’s pants. Our next scene is of Minta helping Sam and his daughter prepare for the young girl’s wedding. We are introduced to a host of characters at the ensuing party and we hear the handyman Churdles (Gordon Harker) remark that with the daughter out of the house, Mr. Sweetland will be looking to remarry. From the film’s inception we see Minta as the perfect new wife for the man as she runs the household and takes care of his every whim already. It will, however, take the rest of the film for Sweetland to come to that conclusion.

     Sitting down with Minta, Sam crafts a list of four women he can picture sitting in his wife’s chair opposite him by the fireplace. First up is a widow, but she says she is too independent for the man, which leads Sweetland to curse her and forbid her visit his home again. The next is a virginal spinster to whom he proposes just before she is to host a party –at which Minta and Churldes are helping out– and the woman shivers and quakes from the shock. Again fuming, Sweetland lulls outside while the rest of the party guests arrive and Churdles struggles with some trousers that have no button to keep them on.

     While still at the party, Sweetland makes his move on a young, fat gal who insists he is to old for her. This leads him to spew a number of insults resulting in the woman screaming and flailing her limbs while the rest of the partygoers try to figure out her hysterics. Finally, Sweetland makes one last effort with a barmaid, but we do not see how that results before the man returns home. He has given up, but when Minta sits down in his wife’s chair, the chemistry finally clicks and the two happily agree to wed. Adding to the hilarity, however, are the middle two women to whom Sweetland had proposed –the virgin and the hysterical one– who upon arguing with each other about the proposals change their minds just to spite the other. They show up at the Sweetland home and the young one says she is willing to accept the proposal, to which Sweetland says he will announce his bride shortly, fooling her into thinking she has won. When Minta re-enters the scene in fine dress, that crazy one again screams and flails about.

     The Farmer’s Wife is really full of fine performances. The middle two potential mates Sweetland approaches are the source of much laughter, but Churdles as a baboon-like man is really essential to this movie’s comedic success. The only struggle I faced was in thinking that I would actually like the hotheaded Sweetland to end up with sweet Minta. He proves himself a royal ass in his reactions to rejection, but his manner of treating Minta at the close is endearing enough to make it work.

     Hitchcock was reluctant to take credit for early films like The Farmer’s Wife because he essentially just filmed a play. The script for this one was nearly word-for-word the successful stage production of the same name, and so Hitch even once said, “It was a routine job. A stage play with lots of titles instead of dialogue.” Those intertitles were in fact how Hitchcock got his start in films. He was an “captioneer” in 1920 and 1921 and would design the intertitles and embellish them with drawings. From there he moved up to “art director” in mid-1921. He would meet future wife Alma Reville during this early studio work, although she was more advanced than he at the time. She entered the profession in 1915 as an “assistant continuity girl” working on cutting the pieces of film together. She can often be found on the credits of Hitchcock’s earlier films as the person responsible for “continuity” and she was always listed by her maiden name. Alma was “floor secretary” or a first assistant director by the time Alfred entered the trade. It would be several years of seeing each other around the studios before they would begin to date.

Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

Feature: Guess that Poster

cropped-rear-window1.jpg

MacGuffin Movies has been alive for more than six months now, so I thought it was time to change up the site’s header above. I am sure you regular readers recognized the original movie poster cross-section as Gone with the Wind, but I’ve transitioned to a slightly more challenging poster excerpt. Can you guess what it is?

I have reviewed this movie, although that post does not feature this particular version of the movie poster. The image that is the basis for the header is actually a foreign advertisement for the flick, but I think the two individuals depicted should be hint enough to deduce the movie.

If you care to wager a guess, please do so by clicking “comments” below or by filling in the box.

THE ANSWER: Well, I guess I made the inquiry too easy as all three who wagered a guess got it correct. The poster featured in the new banner above is a section of a Rear Window poster. That’s Jimmy Stewart, holding binoculars you cannot see, and Grace Kelly in the background.

Rear Window

Rear Window

Frenzy

Frenzy (1972)

Ring a Ding Ding

      Ryan and I caught Alfred Hitchcock‘s Frenzy on the big screen this week as part of  Columbus’ annual CAPA Summer Movie Series, allegedly the longest running classic movie series nationally. This was the one film on this year’s lineup that I was dead set on seeing because watching it a couple years ago, I walked away feeling scarred for life and absolutely hating the picture. After some reading on the subject, however, I knew I needed to give it another shot. As you can tell from the rating, I’m glad I did.

     Made in 1972, Frenzy was filmed entirely in England and earned Hitch his first “R” rating. Make note, however, that the  Motion Picture Association of America did not establish the rating system we know today until 1968, so this was only his second film to be subject to the system (the other being 1969’s Topaz). That is not to say Frenzy in any way compares to Hitchcock’s other films as far as violence and horror goes. With the rating system came a freedom from the Production Code that outright forbid nudity and certain displays of sexual engagement. At last, Hitchcock was freed to go to the extent he surely always wanted to with his prior films. Frenzy contains both nudity and rape and because of that, I think, makes it distinctly different from prior films that relied more on suspense than visual impact.

     I left my first viewing of Frenzy feeling dreadful because of one particular scene: the nude rape/strangling of a woman. The moment is quite grotesque, but going in this second time prepared for that moment, I made it through, although not without gripping the armrest quite vigorously. What I found left over once surviving that scene is that Hitchcock really had perfected his craft by the time he made this, his second-to-last film. The editing, tracking shots, use or lack of sound and fantastic plot development prove what a pro he was.

     The film opens on a crowd of people listening to a speaker before someone notices a woman’s nude body floating in the river, a tie around her neck. She is the latest of the Necktie Murderer victims, crimes modeled after real-life Neville Heath, a sort of modern-day Jack the Ripper, who sexually assaulted his victims as part of the crime. The shot following that of the floating body is of Jon Finch playing Richard Blaney, who is adjusting a tie in his room, looking into the mirror. Blaney next gets fired from his job at the bar where he also resides. He bids farewell to his barmaid girlfriend and next stops to see fruit monger Bob Rusk (Barry Foster). Rusk gives his cashless pal a tip on a horse race and offers him money, but Blaney lies and says he has just been paid. After getting tight at a bar where he stands next to two men discussing the murders and describing the killer as a social misfit with sociopathic qualities, Blaney learns the horse he could not afford to back won at 20-1 stakes and violently curses and destroys a bunch of grapes Rusk had given him.

     Blaney’s next stop is his ex-wife’s dating agency. When the two start to quarrel, Brenda Blaney (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) asks her secretary to leave for the day. Ultimately, the two get dinner and Brenda slips some cash into the man’s coat, which he does not discover until after he has engaged the Salvation Army as his lodging for the night.

     At this point, Hitchcock has thoroughly set up Blaney as the likely Necktie Murderer. Our first encounter with the man was juxtaposed against the body in the river and focused on the his tie. We learn from two strangers the likely characteristics of the murder, such as violent outbursts, which we see from Blaney after missing out on the horse. His fight with Brenda also is suggestive of the fact. Mr. Blaney, however –and this is no spoiler– is not the murderer, thus setting up a typical Hitchcock wrong-man, run-for-cover plot.

     The next day, Rusk shows up at Brenda’s office while the secretary is at lunch. He has apparently engaged the agency to find him a mate, but because he seeks a woman who enjoys being hurt during sex, the agency has been unsuccessful, as has every other one in town. Rusk, who up to this point has seemed quite charming, becomes increasingly creepy as he tells Brenda she is his “type of woman.” What ensues through this prolonged sequence is the aforementioned rape –depicted as either a thrusting Rusk or a close up on Brenda’s unmoving face as she says the 91st Psalm– during which Rusk chants “lovely” with every motion. Upon completion, he calls the woman a bitch and begins to remove his tie, first transferring a tie pin with his initial to his lapel. Brenda screams and struggles for some time before the gruesome murder consumes her. What follows is the most tragic part of the movie from a filmmaking standpoint: We are given a shot of the now-dead woman, eyes wide, tongue hanging oddly from her mouth, which incited some laughter from the audience with which I sat.

Could have gone without this shot.

     Blaney stops by Brenda’s office after the crime but finds no one there. Unfortunately, the secretary spots him leaving and next finds her boss dead. Using utterly no sound, the camera is fixed on the side of the building and empty street as we wait for the secretary to climb the stairs, enter the office and utter the inevitable scream. This creates so much tension by doing so little. The police next fill the newspapers with a description of Blaney, who by this point has taken girlfriend Babs (Anna Massey) to stay at a nice hotel, using the cash from Brenda. The hotel clerks recognize the man described in the paper and call the police, but Blaney and Babs have fled out the window and sit in a park while the man tries to defend himself to his girl. The couple is next coaxed up to the flat of a friend, aware of the trouble, whose wife is convinced of Blaney’s guilt. Babs goes to work to get her belongings –the two plan to flee town the next morning– and after a row with her boss, is rescued by Rusk and offered a place to stay. Letting the girl into his flat, Rusk mentions she is his “kind of woman”.

     With the close of the apartment door, the camera backs silently and slowly down the stairs and out the building door to the street. Hitchcock deliberately sought to offer this second murder in complete contrast to the gruesome violence of the first and not provide violence for violence’s sake.

      The remainder of the Frenzy follows Rusk, discovering his tie pin missing, stuck in the back of a truck among potato sacks where he has concealed Babs’ body. He comically is kicked in the face by the woman’s leg and breaks his pocket knife trying to pry her stiff hand open. He escapes undiscovered, but the police soon notice a body hanging out of the truck. When Blaney next goes to Rusk for a place to hide, the man stashes him in his apartment and then alerts the brass. Rusk has also stuffed Babs’ clothes in Blaney’s duffle bag, which then allows the wronged man to identify the real murderer, although no one will believe him. Blaney is convicted of the crime, but continues to rant and rave about Rusk, leading the chief detective to investigate further.

      Frenzy contains some of the most blatant Hitchcockian humor. Throughout the movie, Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen) has been dealing with a wife engaged in cooking classes, who continually presents him with bizarre and unappetizing meals. First, she gives him a soup containing fish heads and octopi, which is supplemented with whole quail too small to enjoy. Pig feet is the next entrée we see him stuck with. The audience had many laughs both at these moments and other deliberately humorous times throughout the film.

      Hitchcock was highly influenced by the French New Wave approach to filmmaking with Frenzy, having engaged in screenings of the works of his friend Francois Truffaut among those of Antonioni and Goddard. He took production to his home town of London to film as much on location as possible and used unknown actors to create a feel of realism. As I previously mentioned, Frenzy allowed Hitchcock to create the sort of films he likely always wanted to make. He was an avid reader of true crime stories and his favorite were those featuring necrophilia and strangling. Naturally, finally facing the freedom to feature rape, he leaped on the opportunity. Although I generally contend that Hitchcock’s great work ended with The Birds, Frenzy has generally been considered by critics to be a highly important piece in his career and I do not dispute that now.

The MacGuffin: Unlike most Hitchcock films, Frenzy contains no macguffin.

Where’s Hitch? Among the crowd at the film’s opening listening to the speaker. He wears a black suit and black bowler hat. He is featured again in the same scene as spectators look into the river.

Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

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