Saturday, 25 December 2010

The Saturday Screen Shot #17

Merry Christmas! Tis the season and all that, so this screenshot comes from my favourite non-traditional Christmas movie.

Shot from the Screen: Die Hard

Screenshot: Tony (Karl's brother)'s body propped up on a chair in the elevator

Shot from the Scene: After John McClane kills Tony in a struggle, he decides to send his body down in the elevator. Riding on the roof, he is able to hear some pieces of information, while showing the bad guys that there is someone loose in the building who they don't want to mess with. The Santa hat placed on Tony's head, and the writing on his shirt (Now I have a machine gun. Ho Ho Ho) send a lovely Christmassy message. Mince pie Hans?

Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas from SYD!

Hope you all have a great Christmas; get lots of great presents, eats lots of tasty food and watch lots of festive movies with family and friends.

Here's a Christmassy montage to get you in the mood...

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

My 5 favourite... Movie t-shirt websites

So, it's the festive season, and one of my favourite gifts to receive is definitely a movie-inspired t-shirt. There are some great ones about at the moment and I seem to be building up quite a collection. Here are my 5 favourite websites that sell awesome movie t-shirts;
 
Last Exit To Nowhere (http://www.lastexittonowhere.com/) This website creates "unique T-shirts that pay homage to the most memorable places, companies and corporations in cinema history." My current favourite is this Weyland-Yutani design, which goes very nicely with my new Alien Anthology on blu-ray.



Dark Bunny Tees (http://www.darkbunnytees.com/index.html) This guy does some amazing limited edition movie t-shirts. His mission is "to find something in my favourite movies that I could put my own spin on." I'm really looking forward to this Inception design, due out in January.



Wake Up Time To Die (http://www.wakeuptimetodie.co.uk/index.asp) These guys win the best name competition with a Blade Runner quote. Their t-shirts are "based on fictional companies, corporations, places, people, and events, all from some of your favourite movies of days gone by." I absolutely love this Die Hard-inspired t-shirt.


 
8ball (http://www.8ball.co.uk/) This website has a vast array of music, tv and movie-related merchandise. You'll be spoilt for choice! I really like this Off-World Colonies t-shirt inspired by Blade Runner.



Nerdoh (http://www.nerdoh.co.uk/) Nerdoh boasts a great range of movie t-shirts and "creeps into the fictional realms of movie corporations, places and subtle references only the avid fan will know." This Zombieland t-shirt with the list of rules printed on the back is my favourite of theirs at the moment.


So those are my 5 favourite. There are many more to browse too, just do a google search of some of your favourite movies and chances are there'll be an awesome t-shirt relating to them.

What are your favourites? Have you discovered any cool t-shirt designs you'd like to share? Drop me a comment.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Short Story / Movie comparison: Second Variety / Screamers (Philip K. Dick blogathon)

Whereas Screamers (the film adaptation based on the Philip K. Dick short story Second Variety) takes place on another planet, the story itself is set on Earth, a world that has been destroyed and ravaged by war. Instead of the two sides fighting because of a dispute over mining resources, it is Americans vs Russians, an idea which would have seemed a lot more relevant at the time of writing than it is today. A nuclear war between the two nations has transformed the surface into an almost uninhabitable wasteland. For the film this was changed and updated, it was set on a different planet (Sirius 6B) where scientists and miners working for the N.E.B. Corporation refuse to continue work after they discover the mineral gives off radiation during the mining process. War breaks out between the workers and the N.E.B. who want them to keep mining.


One of the main characters in the film, the young soldier Jefferson, does not appear in the story. Instead, Hendricks (as he is known in the story, changed to Hendricksson for Screamers) as commanding officer, sets out on his own with the hope of bringing an end to the war.

Philip K. Dick said of this story, "My grand theme: ‘who is human and who only appears (masquerading) as human? ‘ emerges most fully. Unless we can individually and collectively be certain of the answer to this question, we face what is, in my view, the most serious problem possible. Without answering it adequately, we cannot even be certain of our own selves. I cannot even know myself, let alone you. So I keep working on this theme; to me nothing is as important a question. And the answer comes very hard."

The film has essentially kept the same themes and ideas that are present in Second Variety, it has just placed events in outer space on another planet instead of on Earth, added a couple of extra characters and changed the end of the film. Most of these additions are welcome, except maybe for the final moments of Screamers, where too many alternative endings are all used at once. This gives the impression that the film is trying too hard to include lots of twists to boggle the minds of the audience, when just one twist (as in the short story) would probably have had a greater, subtler effect. All in all though, both the short story and the film are successful works which can be appreciated separately but also complement each other.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The Saturday Screen Shot #16

Shot from the Screen: Edward Scissorhands

Screenshot: Edward creating an ice sculpture and Kim dancing in the snow

Shot from the Scene: Kim notices the snow outside and heads out into the garden where she finds Edward making an angel out of a huge block of ice. As he chips away, she twirls and dances slowly, reaching out and catching the falling white flakes. A beautiful scene and a great film to watch this holiday season

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Review: Screamers (Philip K. Dick blogathon)


In the year 2078, the distant planet Sirius 6B has become a vast wasteland, devastated by war. What was once a mining planet, controlled by the N.E.B. Corporation, became a warzone. The miners and scientists discovered operations were causing deadly radiation and refused to continue. The N.E.B. sent forces to change their minds. Autonomous robots called ‘Screamers’ were developed for the miners by an alliance on Earth to help neutralize the war. However, after they dumped them on the planet and left, these robots began multiplying and have now developed new, modified versions, which hunt down any living creature with only one aim: to kill.

World-weary commander Hendricksson (Peter Weller), leader of the small force left on the planet, receives peace terms delivered by an N.E.B. messenger, who is unfortunately torn to shreds by Screamers just outside their base. A military transport ship then crashes nearby, a ship which had claimed to be a civilian vessel and had asked for permission to land. There is only one survivor of the crash, a young soldier called Jefferson, who tells them their war on Sirius 6B has been forgotten about on Earth. The N.E.B. Corporation has discovered ore on another planet and has set out to claim it, leaving Hendricksson and the other survivors here to grow old. They certainly wouldn’t want them returning to Earth where they could tell all about how they have been treated. Hendricksson decides there is no point in fighting anymore and sets out with Jefferson to the N.E.B. headquarters to make peace with the other people on the planet. The only thing standing in his way is the Screamers that were created to help his side. And he discovers the modifications they have made are far superior to what he could have imagined, there are even some that seem almost...human.


Screamers has an interesting, multi-layered plot, with lots of twists and turns. The screenplay was co-written by Dan O’Bannen, who also co-wrote Alien and Total Recall. The paranoia and ambiguity of not knowing who to trust are effective, if a little over-played in the final scenes. Peter Weller is well-suited to the worn and heroic figure of Hendricksson, a man forgotten about on a distant planet. The dialogue is also note-worthy, his dry wit and sarcasm fit the character perfectly. When Becker (one of the N.E.B. soldiers, with a penchant for Shakespeare) quotes: “When he's best, he's a little worse than a man, and when he's worst, he's little better than a beast." Hendricksson replies: “Oh, that's real good, Becker. I never knew they put Shakespeare in comic books.”

Overall, the film shows us a great vision of a futuristic dystopia, where big corporations travel the solar system in search of resources and riches. The deceit and betrayal suffered by our protagonist provide a sense of despair and isolation. And the Screamers add threat, uncertainty and fear. All of these elements combine to make this an intriguing film about one man’s fight for survival when all hope seems lost.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Review: The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

The final part in the trilogy of Swedish film adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium novels, starring Noomi Rapace as ‘the girl’ of the title and Michael Nyqvist as the journalist who tries to help her. Although not as enthralling as the first film, it is an improvement on the second instalment. What is notable is the change in genre as the series progresses. ‘Dragon Tattoo’ was more of a crime thriller, with twists and turns, mystery and intrigue. ‘Played with Fire’ had lots of action scenes with our heroine on the run. ‘Hornet’s Nest’ is a slower paced film, a courtroom drama.

There is less interaction between the two main characters, which were enjoyable moments in the first film. Here, Mikael is working hard to make sure Lisbeth doesn’t go to prison, they hardly meet and when they do, you wish more would happen. Saying that, the ending is satisfactorily anti-Hollywood, which stays true to the characters’ personalities and feels natural.

Lisbeth Salander spends much of the film recovering in hospital. A conspiracy against her leads to her being accused of crimes she hasn’t committed and threatened with detention in a mental institution. Mikael’s sister offers to represent her in court. Mikael and his team at the magazine ‘Millennium’ plan a special issue to reveal the conspiracy and bring those behind it to justice. He hopes to clear Lisbeth’s name so she can be a free woman and finally start to overcome the terrible torments she has suffered in her life.


As if to accentuate the fact that Lisbeth is at times morally ambiguous, the other characters in these films seem to be either extremely righteous or completely evil. Mikael, his sister, and the doctor who looks after Lisbeth in hospital are contrasted with the psychiatrist Dr Teleborian, Niedermann and Zalachenko. Lisbeth, our central character in the story, is placed at the centre with totally good and totally bad people surrounding her. This makes her highly complex and conflicting nature all the more fascinating.

Lisbeth and Mikael seem to be given a lot less to do in this final film, than in the previous ones. There are less memorable, stand-out moments where they really impress. Although there are many, more subtle occasions; when Lisbeth glances at Mikael in the courtroom, when a wry smile crosses her lips, and these stay with you too. After growing to care for and understand these characters, you can read every small expression and obtain something significant from it.

The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is a very fitting end to the trilogy. Although it isn’t as impressive as the first (which works as a brilliant stand-alone film), it is definitely recommended for fans and those wishing to see the story through to its conclusion. The outcome of the trial provides this courtroom drama, and the trilogy as a whole, with a pleasing sense of closure as all secrets are revealed and all loose ends are neatly tied up.

Review: Skeletons

A skeleton in the closet is a “secret source of shame, potentially ruinous if exposed, which a person or family makes efforts to conceal”. Mr Davis and Mr Bennett are men who are hired to reveal these skeletons to people. They enter your home and, after a fastidious ritual of filling out the paperwork, use a device to find the right cupboard and then, with some magic stones, a fire extinguisher and a pair of goggles, they step inside. This transports them back into the past, viewing moments that these people wanted to be kept secret, from prostitutes to salsa lessons. They then disclose what they have learnt to the clients, and then leave them with their secrets out in the open.

The opening sequence of the film is especially good. Two men trudging through the picturesque countryside to their next port of call, a hand-drawn picture showing the house they need to visit, an entertaining argument involving Rasputin, Lord Lucan the Queen and Freddie Mercury, and the jaunty music perfectly fitting the mood.


After a few routine procedures, Davis and Bennett meet with their boss, who is referred to as ‘The Colonel’ (played brilliantly by Jason Isaacs, who at one point stands to attention and puts his cap on straight before even waking up). He offers them the opportunity to prove themselves and move on to jobs of more importance – e.g. politicians and nobility – whose secrets are especially juicy. But Davis’s glow-chasing (becoming addicted to viewing moments from the past) and Bennett’s tendency to care about hurting the feelings of their clients, threatens to damage their chances as they investigate the disappearance of a man who left his wife and two children years before.

This film was a surprise gem and defies clear labelling. It has supernatural aspects, is often darkly comic but touches on grief and loss, and it has elements of mystery and intrigue. The central characters are both wonderful. Andrew Buckley (Bennett) and Ed Gaughan (Davis) are a comedy double act who have written and performed together for the past ten years. Together with their friend Nick Whitfield, who directed and wrote the screenplay, they first came up with a short, which was essentially the first ten minutes of the feature film. This was only meant as something to be shown to a few friends and family members, but after receiving lots of well-deserved praise they decided to develop it into a full-length feature. Made with a small budget, the film took three years to write and two months to shoot, and enticed more well-known actors Jason Isaacs and Danish actress Paprika Steen.


Further proving its success, Skeletons was awarded the title of Best New British Film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010. The jury, headed by Sir Patrick Stewart, voted unanimously and commented “The Michael Powell Award goes to writer/director Nick Whitfield whose debut feature Skeletons best exemplifies the spirit of Michael Powell in its original vision and dark humour”.

Skeletons is definitely one to watch. It’s a film that proves you don’t need a massive budget, amazing special effects or an all-star cast to make something really entertaining and memorable.

Review: Another Year

With a title that seems to leave itself open for people to say ‘Another Year is another Mike Leigh film’ suggesting you’ll know exactly what you’re going to get from it, Another Year has surprised many by offering something more. Rather than being just another Mike Leigh film, his emotionally-charged latest effort is his most affecting and effective to date.

The film chronicles the major events that take place during a year for married couple Tom and Gerri (Yes, they’ve learned to live with the whole Tom and Jerry thing), and their friends and family. As we follow the ups and downs through the four seasons, 'Spring’, ‘Summer’, ‘Autumn’, and ‘Winter’ flash up on screen to show the changes and handily indicate how far along the film is. This gives a sense of structure to proceedings and each season includes different events and themes. Spring introduces us to the main characters, shows them at work and their interactions with each other, most are light-hearted and hopeful. Summer of course means a BBQ, which brings the characters together at Tom and Gerri’s. Autumn is the start of a new relationship for one of the characters, and the cause of a rift. Winter takes Tom and Gerri up north for a funeral, a family member comes to stay and it is hoped old wounds will at last start to heal.


Tom and Gerri are the heart and soul of Another Year. Although they are nearing old age, they haven’t lost the love and affection that has kept them together for most of their lives and they are very kind and compassionate towards each other. They seem to be the lucky ones in this film full of unlucky people. They have a great relationship with their son, Joe, who is a good-humoured and warm character. As all Mothers do, Gerri often questions him about marriage. At the beginning of the year he reveals that another of his friends is getting married and he seems worried that he won’t find anyone. But he brings bubbly Katie home in the Autumn to meet his parents and they seem to get on really well.

There are a number of supporting characters in Another Year who offer a contrast to Tom and Gerri’s happily married family life. Most notable of these is Mary (played by Lesley Manville), Gerri’s friend from work. She lives alone in a flat, drinks and smokes too much and often makes a fool of herself. She has clearly had a miserable life and is scared of a future filled with loneliness. Manville does a great job expressing her character’s sadness and desperation. Imelda Staunton’s short appearance in this film is also very memorable. She plays Janet, a depressed insomniac who doesn’t want to talk about her problems. A tragic and upsetting character, she visits Gerri for counselling and then is forgotten about, leaving the audience with many unanswered questions about her well-being and her purpose.

With performances that stay with you long after you’ve finished watching, Mike Leigh’s Another Year isn’t exactly an enjoyable film, but his clever observations and the emotional resonance he creates have a profound effect, making this one of his most successful achievements.

Pictures from CFF 2010

OK, so I'm finally getting around to posting reviews of some of the films I saw at the Cornwall Film Festival earlier this month. I had a great time in Falmouth, really enjoyed my first film festival, and I hope to go to many more in the future! Here's a few pictures of where it took place:









Sunday, 21 November 2010

Book / Movie comparison: A Scanner Darkly (Philip K. Dick blogathon)

A Scanner Darkly is the most accurate film adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story that I have seen so far. Many of the scenes have seemingly been copied straight from the book. However, in creating a more faithful adaptation, director Richard Linklater has distanced his film from mainstream audiences. Unlike other directors who have transformed Dick’s works into movies, like Ridley Scott (Blade Runner) and Steven Spielberg (Minority Report), who modified his stories to fit their personal vision, created their own worlds and made his material more accessible to a wider audience, Linklater hasn’t altered the story at all.

“Any given man sees only a tiny portion of the total truth, and very often, in fact almost perpetually, he deliberately deceives himself about that little precious fragment as well. A portion of him turns against him and acts like another person, defeating him from inside. A man inside a man. Which is no man at all.” (Page 147).

There are a number of extra moments in the book, which the film obviously didn’t have enough time to add in. Barris researches mushrooms and tries to sell some as hallucinogens, which may be fatally toxic. During the road trip, Arctor pays a visit to Kimberley Hawkins, an individual he hasn’t seen in a while, to check up on her. These aren’t in the film but aren’t vitally important and have no real bearing on the story.

An interesting device used in the novel is interspersing events with other unrelated facts, dialogue or moments from the past. When Fred meets with the two medical deputies, the dialogue is combined with memories they remind him of and medical articles about the mind. This shows the muddled up nature of his brain, affected by drug use and paranoia. There are also moments in the book when the text is interspersed with lines of German that aren’t explained and seem completely random. When Fred views some of these moments back on one of the Holo-Scanners he uses for surveillance on his house, he hears Arctor reciting, partly in German. This is a very remarkable method used by the author. At first it is quite baffling, as we witness events from Arctor’s point of view and there is no explanation for the lines of German that seem totally out of place. Then when we are with Fred viewing the events back, we realise what they signified. It represents how strange and incomprehensible things are, the mindset of the characters, and why we can’t even believe that what we are reading is what truly happened. It makes reading A Scanner Darkly a very interesting and unique experience.


The fact that it is very successful as an adaptation seems to have caused it to be unsuccessful in terms of attracting a large audience. This suggests that Philip K. Dick’s works are not readily welcomed by mainstream viewers in their pure, undiluted form.

Review: A Scanner Darkly (Philip K. Dick blogathon)

Fred (Keanu Reeves) is an undercover narcotics agent. He is also Bob Arctor, who lives with his drug-addled friends, all under the influence of Substance D - a highly addictive and dangerous drug, also known as ‘Death’. This film explores the implications of drug taking and portrays events in a wonderfully hypnotic and hallucinatory way.


Underneath his scramble suit (an outfit that allows his identity to remain secret because it projects millions of different images of various people’s body parts so that he never looks like the same person) Fred carries out his work unnoticed. Things get very confusing and difficult for him when he is asked to spy on Arctor and his friends in the hope of finding out the identity of a big drug supplier. He is ordered to run surveillance on his house, which he shares with Jim Barris (Robert Downey Jr) and Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson). There is also the matter of the dodgy corporation ‘New Path’, which promotes Fred’s work and sponsors the conference he addresses. It has an exclusive, lucrative contract with the government to supply detox and rehabilitation services. But its real involvement with Substance D is not all too clear.

On top of a very complicated relationship with drug dealer Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder) and Barris turning informant on Arctor, there is also suspicion that Arctor has become too addicted to Substance D, causing his brain to be impaired. We’re viewing most of these events from his point of view, but are we seeing a true account, or is this all the creation of an unravelling mind?


Undoubtedly one of the main selling points is the unique ‘look’ of the film. Director Richard Linklater utilized the talents of animator Bob Sabiston, who also worked on his previous film Waking Life. Sabiston used the visually striking technique called ‘rotoscoping’ whereby live action performances are transformed into animated ones by tracing each frame of film. Linklater is the first director to use digital rotoscoping to create an entire feature film. This technique is a great visual metaphor for the paranoia and detachment prevalent in the film. The cartoon-like veneer is very relevant for characters questioning reality and gives us a view into their drug-addled, hazy outlook on life.

If in doubt, poke it with a stick
One downside to the remarkable animation is that it is sometimes too eye-catching for its own good. Occasionally you may find yourself distracted by the visuals and realise that you haven’t been fully focused on following the complex narrative of the film, which might leave you a little lost.

All in all, A Scanner Darkly is a funny, intriguing film, full of twists and turns. Due to its complicated nature, it may not be appreciated by mainstream audiences looking for a bit of light relief. At times, it isn’t involving enough and fails to fully capture the viewer’s emotions. But its themes of identity, of what is real and what is not, and the film’s mesmerising graphics ensure a memorable experience.

 


Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Saturday Screen Shot #15

Shot from the Screen: Hard Target

Screenshot: Boudreaux (Van Damme) punching a snake!

Shot from the Scene: Grabbing a rattlesnake just as it is about to bite his female companion, Boudreaux punches it in the head, rendering it unconscious. He then bites off its tail and leaves it as a booby trap for the hunters on their trail. One triggers the trap and the very angry snake is launched at him, striking with its deadly poisonous fangs. A unique and classic Van Damme moment. You may have seen him kickboxing on many occasions, but you don't often see him PUNCHING A SNAKE!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Saturday Screen Shot #14

Shot from the Screen: The Mummy

Screenshot: Librarian Evelyn Carnahan assesses the damage she has caused

Shot from the Scene: At the start of The Mummy, it's hard to believe Evelyn will transform into a strong, sexy, confident action woman. Trying to replace a book on a high shelf, she wobbles on her ladder before falling into one of the bookcases. This then causes a domino effect and they fall into each other, knocking over all of the bookcases in the entire library...oops! I love this dishevelled look as she stands in shock at what has just happened

Sunday, 31 October 2010

The 9th Annual Cornwall Film Festival

There will be a short break from the Philip K. Dick marathon, what with the Hitchcock Director's Chair this weekend (if you haven't done so already, check it out here) and the Cornwall film festival next weekend.

Speaking of the festival, which starts on Friday, there are some great films and documentaries on offer which I'm really looking forward to. Here is a selection:
  • The Arbor tells the true story of Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar (writer of Rita, Sue and Bob Too!) who tragically died at the age of 29.
  • Another Year is Mike Leigh's new film, which shows the relationship of a couple nearing old age and their two friends.
  • Catfish is a documentary about the consequences of social networking.
  • Countdown to Zero is a documentary that takes a stark look at the history of the nuclear arms race and the threat of present-day nuclear war.
  • The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is the final part in the trilogy of Swedish film adaptations of Steig Larsson's novels.
  • Red Hill is a western-genre tale from Australia about the first day of a young police officer, an action-packed thriller shot on location in the outback.
  • Restrepo is a documentary that follows the men stationed at an outpost in Afghanistan's Korangal Valley, looking at daily life on the battlefield.
  • Skeletons is a dark British comedy about two 'mystic detectives' who literally exorcise skeletons from people's closets.
...plus more!


Not long to go now and I'm getting very excited. Be sure to visit my page at flickfeast.co.uk for reviews of all the films I get to see. And I'll also be tweeting throughout the weekend so follow me on Twitter.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Saturday Screen Shot #13

Aptly, this Halloween special is also my 13th screenshot. Here's an image from the film I watch every October 31st.

Shot from the Screen: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Screenshot: The citizens of Halloween Town celebrate in style

Shot from the Scene: The film kicks off with a rendition of 'This is Halloween' with everyone in town joining in the festivities. Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, engulfs his costume in flames and leaps into the fountain. He emerges in his iconic black and white to cheers and clapping. The annual celebrations have been a success! This scene sets the film up really strongly and showcases the brilliant job Henry Selick and his team have done with the stop-motion animations  

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Review: The Birds

Based on the story by Daphne Du Maurier, The Birds introduces Tippi Hedren as another of Hitchcock’s blond leading ladies. She plays Melanie Daniels, a rich, confident young woman who starts the film in a pet shop buying a bird and ends it never wanting to see a bird again, after a traumatizing series of events.

The bird shop is where she meets Mitch Brenner, who comes in under the pretence of looking for a pair of love birds for his sister’s birthday. But it is Melanie he is really interested in. And he makes quite the impression on her. After he leaves, she calls in a favour and finds out his address from his car licence plate. She buys the love birds for his sister Cathy and heads north of San Francisco to the small fishing town of Bodega Bay. She leaves the birds inside the family home as a surprise and makes her way back across the bay in a small rented boat. As she finishes her return journey, she is suddenly swooped upon and attacked by a seagull.


There follows a series of bird attacks in the town; at Cathy’s party, at a farm, outside a school, and several people are killed. The Master of Suspense sure knows how to raise the tension and there are a number of thrilling moments in this movie, including the scene where Melanie sits on a bench outside the school. Birds gather on the playground behind her without her knowledge, growing in number every time. She spots one flying, follows its flight, and watches it come to rest with the others, suddenly seeing how many there are of them. A very clever idea to show the audience something our protagonist cannot see and then slowly reveal it to them while we watch their reaction. Another great scene finds our leading lady trapped in a phone box, with birds swooping and crashing all around her. There is carnage and mayhem out on the street and a sense of isolation and terror inside the claustrophobic phone box.

The attacks by the birds are still quite nasty to watch today, which means audiences back when it was released must have been horrified! Hitchcock’s rapid editing techniques evoke shock and terror, accelerating cutting so that the shots move at a fast pace, leaving viewer’s little time to reflect on what they see, just experiencing the raw emotion of the scenes.

Sound is used to great effect in The Birds. The lack of a musical score makes way for composer Bernard Herrmann to create a soundtrack made up of elements such as electronic bird cries and wing-flaps. A lot of the film is eerily silent, raising the tension as we wait for the next attack, trying to listen for even the faintest sound, which could indicate an imminent attack.


A number of Hitchcock’s recurring themes appear in this film. The most obvious one of course is birds, also used in Psycho, Vertigo, and Sabotage. There is also the MacGuffin, the domineering mother, the blond woman, and the Hitchcock cameo (he appears at the beginning, walking two dogs past the pet shop).

Hitchcock described the message of The Birds as “too much complacency in the world: that people are unaware that catastrophe surrounds us all”. Its everyday scenario scared audiences then and is still effective today. The interactions between the characters, the moments of tension and terror, the ominous atmosphere and the threat of something ordinary suddenly becoming something sinister, all add up to make this a classic film.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

An essay on the visual style, narrative and themes of two Hitchcock films

The following is an edited version of an essay I wrote for my Film Studies degree.

'Examine the visual style, narrative form and thematic concerns of two of Hitchcock’s British thrillers (1927-38)'

During the period of 1927 – 1938, Alfred Hitchcock made a number of films in Britain including The Thirty Nine Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) which are part of his classic thriller sextet. Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol believe the sextet constitute a new cinematic genre; “This new genre – ‘le feuilleton d’espionage intelligent’ – produces a type of film characterisable in terms of an abundance of action, chases and journeys, a variety of locales, gloomy and macabre plots.”

The visual style of Hitchcock’s British thrillers is very realistic. Everyday locales such as the crofter’s cabin in The Thirty Nine Steps; a detailed depiction of a lower middle class setting, and the inn in The Lady Vanishes, are very authentic. Tom Ryall states that “Hitchcock’s early training as a set designer undoubtedly contributes to such a detailed use of the mise en scene to achieve surface realism.”


Hitchcock also uses innovative sound and editing techniques to add to the effect of the visuals. In The Thirty Nine Steps, there is a shot of the landlady’s screaming face and the sound of a train whistle, then the scene cuts to an actual train: the source of the whistle. Bordwell and Thomson believe this nonfaithful sound has a serious function; “Though the whistle is not a faithful sound for an image of a screaming person, it provides a dramatic transition. Fidelity of sound to source is a strong convention of classical cinema and here Hitchcock deviates from it in order to provide a ‘striking transition’ between two disparate images.”

There are also memorable visuals from the film The Lady Vanishes. The ‘stain’ – a type of Hitchcockian prop where everything is proceeding normally until someone notices something that isn’t right – is present here. In this film it is the packaging of Miss Froy’s herbal tea, which is thrown out from the train with the rubbish and blows against the window in front of Gilbert for a few seconds, before blowing away. This convinces Gilbert that Iris was telling the truth about Miss Froy. Another clever visual used is the word ‘FROY’ written on the window, it is visible throughout the scene where Iris sits with Gilbert until she notices it, and then it disappears.


Both The Thirty Nine Steps and The Lady Vanishes are full of Hitchcock motifs; the long knife used in the fight sequence with the illusionist, the birds that are let loose in the luggage compartment and cause chaos, the long corridors, trains, public buildings like the music hall and the London Palladium, etc. Elisabeth Weis discusses the links between the images and sounds in Hitchcock’s films; “his soundtrack is also distinctively contrapuntal to the visuals. That is to say, the sounds and images rarely duplicate and often contrast with each other. During a Hitchcock film we are typically looking at one thing or person while listening to another.” There is an example of this in The Thirty Nine Steps where we hear the crofter saying a blessing before supper but what we see is his wife anxiously looking at the newspaper headline and then at Hannay.

In Hitchcock’s films, elements of the mise en scene are often used to great effect in order to further the narrative. In The Thirty Nine Steps, the crofter’s wife gives Hannay her husband’s coat to wear to disguise himself when he runs away from the police. This saves his life later in the film when he is shot by the professor at the country house. He is saved by the Bible the crofter kept in the coat’s breast pocket. In The Lady Vanishes it is the herbal tea packet that convinces Gilbert that Iris is telling the truth about Miss Froy.

A difference in the narrative form is the episodic structure of The Thirty Nine Steps which has lots of different locations; the music hall, Hannay’s apartment, the train, the Scottish Highlands, the crofter’s cabin, the country house, the town hall, the sheriff’s office, the inn, the London Palladium. In The Lady Vanishes there are much fewer locations, there is a clear divide between the beginning of the film, the middle, and the end; these are set in the inn, the train, and the government offices.


Tom Ryall notes another difference between these two films; “In The Thirty Nine Steps, the initial emphasis is on the male character (Hannay) with the woman (Pamela) a sceptical and unwilling partner in the adventures until the later stages of the film. The Lady Vanishes reverses this pattern with the woman (Iris Henderson) in the central position to begin with and the man (Gilbert) playing the sceptical and unwilling partner for part of the film.”

Although some of the films in Hitchcock’s classic sextet deviated from the spy thriller genre, the final film in the sextet, The Lady Vanishes saw a return to it. The Thirty Nine Steps and The Lady Vanishes have similar themes in that they are both espionage films with some comic and romantic elements, and they both deal with a conspiracy.

In both of the films, the role of the ‘hero’ is occupied by individuals who have been involved in the espionage situation by accident. Both of the protagonists are ‘ordinary people’ who have been drawn into the world of espionage by accident and they are somewhat forced to occupy these heroic roles because the real spies are unable to do so.


A major theme in The Thirty Nine Steps is that of the falsely accused hero. Hannay is an innocent man who has been accused of murdering a young woman and has gone on the run from the police. This theme is also present in The Lady Vanishes as Iris is accused of lying or possible madness by many of the passengers on the train as they don’t believe she’s telling the truth about Miss Froy. The hero’s purpose in both of the films is to try to prove they are telling the truth.

Overall, Hitchcock’s classic British thrillers of this period all offer the spectator an adventurous and intriguing story. The films provide an innovative visual style, an interesting narrative and a number of themes that became indicative of Hitchcock’s work. Audiences flocked to see ‘the new Hitchcock movie’ because they knew they wouldn’t be disappointed.


Bibliography

  • Bordwell, D. and Thompson, K., Film Art: An Introduction, 6th ed., New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001
  • Rohmer, E. and Chabrol, C., Hitchcock, Frederick Ungar Publishing, New York, 1979
  • Ryall, T., Alfred Hitchcock and the British Cinema, The Athlone Press Ltd, London, 1996
  • Weis, E., ‘The Sound of One Wing Flapping’, Film Comment, vol. 14, no. 5, 1978

Filmography

  • The Lady Vanishes (1938) Alfred Hitchcock
  • The Thirty Nine Steps (1935) Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock is the subject of Director's Chair #11 over at The LAMB

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

An essay on the homophobia and misogyny present in Alfred Hitchcock's films

The following is an edited version of an essay I wrote during my Film Studies degree course.

'It has been argued that Hitchcock’s films imply male spectatorship and a worldview which is both homophobic and misogynistic. Discuss this statement applying theoretical models studied on the module to specific examples of Hitchcock films.'
 
Alfred Hitchcock’s films often tend to divide audiences in terms of their message concerning the treatment of women and homosexuals. Many feminist critics believe that his films include misogynism; for example, Laura Mulvey says that “Hitchcock is seen as a director who turned women into passive objects of male voyeurism and sadistic impulses.”

In her essay, entitled ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, Mulvey presents her theory on it. She suggests there are two distinct pleasures that we as spectators experience when we watch films at the cinema. One is scopophilia; where we sit in the dark and look in on someone else’s world, the other is narcissism; where we identify with what is on the screen. Mulvey believes that women are presented as the image and men as the bearer of the look, that pleasure in looking is male dominated. She also believes that males are active because they further the narrative through their POV shots and looks. However, females are passive because they are arranged as an icon to be looked at and they don’t tend to further the narrative.

Hitchcock’s films often include examples of the mistreatment of women, with them either being killed, or controlled by men; like in Marnie, Vertigo, North by Northwest, etc.


In Vertigo, when the spectator sees Madeleine for the first time, it is through the eyes of James Stewart’s character, Scottie. The camera repeatedly cuts between shots of him and his POV shots of Madeleine as he sits and watches her. According to Mulvey’s theory, Scottie is controlling events, the audience sees everything through his eyes, and Madeleine is the object of his and our gaze. Mulvey states that “we, the audience, vicariously enjoy the pleasure in looking through scopophilia and identifying with the male gaze”.

Scottie treatment of Judy later in the film is also questionable. He controls Judy; even though she doesn’t want the suit he picks out for her, he forces her into it. She caves in under his pressure, saying: “I’ll wear the darned clothes if you want me to...if you’ll just like me.”
Scottie still isn’t satisfied though, he says to her: “The colour of your hair.” Then: “Judy, please. It can’t matter to you.” His choice of words suggests Judy doesn’t care about her appearance, that he can just choose to change everything about her and she won’t mind. Judy passively says to him: “If I let you change me, will that do it? If I do what you tell me...will you love me?”

There are also examples of male voyeurism and misogyny in Psycho. The policeman who walks up to Marion’s car is a menacing-looking authority figure whose watchful eyes are disguised behind his large, dark sunglasses. As he peers in through the window a POV shot shows Marion asleep on the front seat. This is very voyeuristic as sleeping is considered private and he, a stranger, is looking in on her without her knowing.

Later, when Norman is in his parlour, there is a shot of him looking through a small hole in the wall. His room is in darkness, the light through the hole illuminates just his eye as he peers through it. There is a cut to his POV shot; he is watching Marion in her room undressing. A cut to an extreme close-up of Norman’s eye as he spies on Marion is very voyeuristic. Marion is unknowingly the object of his and the spectator’s gaze.

Along with criticism from feminist critics for being misogynistic, Hitchcock’s films have also been accused of being homophobic. Gay criticism focuses on the covert gay representation of characters and the fact that these characters are seen as deviant.

In Rope it is Brandon and Philip’s relationship which is coded as gay. When asked where the telephone is, Brandon says it is in the bedroom. The woman then replies “how cosy”. This implies there is only one bedroom, which the two men share. Philip relies on Brandon a lot throughout the film. Brandon seems to be the one who is more in control. They are both deviant characters, Brandon more so than Philip as he seems to become mentally unstable towards the end of the film.


In North by Northwest, there are suggestions that sinister right-hand man Leonard may be gay. When he is first introduced, Vandamm says to him “Ah Leonard, have you met our distinguished guest?” to which Leonard replies “He’s a well-tailored one, isn’t he?” It’s strange that when Vandamm asks Leonard’s opinion of Roger Thornhill, all he remarks upon is his fashionable wardrobe. Later in the scene, Leonard doesn’t get involved in the struggle with Thornhill, he leaves that to the two other men, who seem more ‘macho’.

In a conversation together, Leonard says to Vandamm: “Call it my ‘woman’s intuition’ if you will, but I’ve never trusted neatness.” This suggests a feminine side to his personality. Vandamm then says to him: “You know what I think? I think you’re jealous. No, I mean it. I’m very touched.” He never wanted Vandamm to get involved with Eve; throughout the film he seems to dislike their relationship, which backs up a theory of jealousy.

Although there is evidence that supports the idea that Hitchcock’s films are homophobic and misogynistic, there is also some evidence to the contrary. It is true that women are mistreated in some of Hitchcock’s films (in The Birds, Marnie, and Vertigo, amongst others) but that isn’t to say that the men get off easily. There are male deaths and men are mistreated in films such as Rear Window (broken leg) and Vertigo (acrophobic).


Hitchcock has many supporters who challenge the criticism he receives. In Robin Wood’s book, Hitchcock films revisited, he attempts to minimise the misogyny in them and to analyze both Rear Window and Vertigo as exposes of the twisted logic of patriarchy, relatively untroubled by ambivalence or contradiction.

David Spoto attempted to link Hitchcock’s representation of gays with his own life and his ambivalence towards homosexuality but suggested that it was not undertaken in a particularly obvious way. This shows that Hitchcock wasn’t personally homophobic, which suggests his films wouldn’t purposefully imply that homosexuals were deviant.

Tania Modleski writes: “what I want to argue is neither that Hitchcock is utterly misogynistic nor that he is largely sympathetic to women and their plight in patriarchy.” I tend to agree with this, because even though the women in Hitchcock’s films seem to get a raw deal on occasions, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes they are the heroines of the film, like in The Lady Vanishes. Sometimes they are strong-willed and confident, like in The Birds. Whilst some of Hitchcock’s films do seem to imply a homophobic and misogynistic worldview, I don’t believe these implications are intentional as there are also many instances to the contrary.


Bibliography
  • Modleski, Tania, The Women Who Knew Too Much, London, Methuen, 1988
  • Mulvey, Laura, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ in Screen, vol 16 no 3, 1975
  • Spoto, David, The Life of Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius, London, Collins, 1983
  • Wood, Robin, Hitchcock films revisited, London, Tantivy press, 1985

Filmography
  • North by Northwest (1959) Alfred Hitchcock
  • Psycho (1960) Alfred Hitchcock
  • Rope (1948) Alfred Hitchcock
  • Vertigo (1958) Alfred Hitchcock

Head over to The LAMB for Director's Chair #11 for more on Alfred Hitchcock
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