Romancing the Stone [1984)

This movie was very dear to me as a kid.

It’s one of those which came on TV all the time.

And it always pulled me in.

For me, nothing in this film beats the scene in which Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas huddle ’round a marijuana campfire in the fuselage of a crashed plane.

Taking strong belts of Jose Cuervo tequila.

Basically sitting in a giant bong ūüôā

But the best part–the cutest part…is KT eating olives.

An old jar.  To be sure.

But they last awhile.

And liquor kills all germs, right?

Who cares if the dead pilot took a few swigs long ago ūüôā

It’s such a cozy scene.

Perhaps it’s what the Danish mean by¬†hygge.

And it’s an ambiance I’ve only seen approached in¬†Vertigo¬†(Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart by the fireplace in his apartment…after he rescues her from the waters of San Francisco Bay) and, surprisingly,¬†The Pink Panther¬†(David Niven and Claudia Cardinale by the fireplace…Claudia on the tiger-skin rug).

But Romancing the Stone, unlike those two films, is a full-on romcom.

Sure, there’s¬†action…to entice the leery men ūüôā

But there’s no denying that this is a romantic comedy.

And so I’m glad to join the ranks of romcom lovers.

Glad to christen a new category on my site with this fine film.

Some of it hasn’t aged so well (like Alan Silvestri’s sequenced electro-samba soundtrack), but most of it has…so kudos to director Robert Zemeckis.

Zach Norman plays a gay villain in such a way that one cannot help thinking of John Podesta.

Danny DeVito, who plays Norman’s cousin, is definitely the funniest thing in this film.

Neither Turner nor Douglas are particularly funny, but they are graceful and charming (respectively).

I would even add that Michael Douglas encapsulates a sort of masculinity which has been on the wane since the 1980s in America…UNTIL DONALD TRUMP WON THE FUCKING PRESIDENCY!

Yeah ūüôā

It is trippy.

To watch this movie late at night.

To relive childhood memories.

And then to rouse oneself to one’s feet and think, “Is Donald Trump really the President? Is this not some kind of dream???” ūüôā

I know for many it is a nightmare.

So I will just leave that train of thought there.  For now.

Actually, there is a more serious villain in this film:  Manuel Ojeda.

He is certainly a BAD HOMBRE ūüôā

[sorry, can’t help it]

So yeah…

The bulk of the action takes place in Colombia.

It’s like William S. Burroughs, in search of yage, writing back to Allen Ginsberg.

Though the narrative becomes evermore-farfetched as it unfurls, it’s so much fun that we don’t much care ūüôā

Buried treasure?  Check.

Wrestling crocodiles?  Check.

Mr. Dundee and¬†The Goonies¬†were from this same era ūüôā

Alfonso Arau is here too…with his little “mule” ūüôā

[I guess, on second thought, that is a drug-smuggling joke]

This was the performance which preceded Mr. Arau’s all-world turn as El Guapo in¬†Three Amigos.

Yeah…the plot really gets ridiculous right after the waterfall ūüôā

But this is a feel-good movie!

And we need this kind of stuff.

Sitting down to ENJOY a movie ūüôā

What a concept!

 

-PD

The Man Who Knew Too Much [1956)

Netflix seems to be down tonight.

I tried several times.  Several movies.  Several fixes.

And so it is only fitting that history should trump the ephemeral stages of technological development.

Yes, time for a good old VHS tape.

And not a film about which I’ve previously written.

While I have surveyed many of the early Hitchcock films, I never wrote about the original version of this film.

1934.

To my knowledge, this is the only film of Alfred Hitchcock’s early career which he chose to remake.

Just on this fact alone, it would seem that the story was either very dear to the¬†auteur or that he couldn’t resist something about the plot.

Granted, the two films are considerably different.

Even on a surface level, the 1934 version was (of course) in black and white.

But this was a VistaVision, Technicolor production.

1956.

22 years later.

For better or worse, I was familiar first with the earlier version.

It is a film I should revisit.

But it was not what I would call a “home run”.

The one aspect of the original which one might miss in the remake is the presence of Peter Lorre.

But we must move on to the future.  The present.

1956.

Jimmy Stewart plays the leading male role.  A doctor from Indianapolis.

Doris Day plays his wife.

The action is set for a good bit in Morocco.

Specifically, Marrakesh.

Indeed, the beginning of the film is a sort of travelogue.

In other words, its a good excuse to show off the exotic locale in North Africa.

Camels. ¬†Veils. ¬†[that one’s important] ¬†The social tradition of eating with the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand. ¬†While leaving the left hand in the lap.

All very edifying and exciting.

But Doris Day is suspicious from the start.

If we knew nothing of Hitchcock, we’d say her paranoia was unfounded.

But, in fact, it’s Jimmy Stewart’s ease which is the fateful misstep early on.

And so this movie is about suspicion.

Who can we trust?

In this age of anxiety (thank you W.H. Auden), everyone and everything is suspect.

The only true bliss is ignorance.

[and perhaps my only wisdom is that of paraphrase]

One thing which escaped me the first time I saw this version of¬†The Man Who Knew Too Much¬†(in the theater…lucky me) was a funny detail about Brenda de Banzie.

Yes, dear readers (and fans of Peter Sellers), Ms. de Banzie would later appear as the annoying, flamboyant Angela Dunning in The Pink Panther (1963).

Indeed, her role as the terror of Cortina (d’Ampezzo) was her second-to-last film.

But here she is a much more mysterious character.

I will leave it at that.

We get some interesting things in this film.

“Arabs” in disguise.

Which is to say, certain personages of the spook variety in brown makeup (and native garb).

One need not look very far back in history to find a poignant parallel.

Consider, for instance, the “Basra prison incident” of 2005.

I’m guessing that T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) would provide another example, though I am no expert on this matter.

As are almost all Hitchcock films, this one is a tense affair.

Doris Day, in particular, does a surprising job of portraying the personal terror of her character.

Perhaps most notable about this film is the musical component.

As an accomplished percussionist in my own right, I heartily appreciate Hitchcock’s attention to the intricacies of an orchestral percussion section.

Indeed, the film begins with a close-up of this little-featured “choir” (in addition to the three trumpets and three trombones at the bottom of the frame).

What is most remarkable is Hitchcock’s use of the musical score (in various permutations) to tell this unique story.

Funniest is the shot of the cymbalist’s sheet music.

It is nearly a complete¬†tacit…save for one fateful crash.

I fondly remember (with some measure of anxiety) a time when I manned the cymbals for the overture of Verdi’s¬†La forza del¬†destino.

It was a similar affair.

Interminable waiting.

And if you miss your one crash?  Even in rehearsal?

Well, you are screwed!

The judging stares of oboists are enough to melt a man…

But the musical score appears elsewhere.

In the private box.

Perhaps a page-turner for an assassin.

Most vividly, Hitchcock makes the score come alive in a fascinating series of extreme close-ups.

It is like a very erudite version of “follow the bouncing ball”.

So yes…some of our action happens at the Royal Albert Hall.

In an interesting twist of fate, usual Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann garners copious screen time as the conductor…OF ANOTHER COMPOSER’S WORK!

Were it Beethoven, I’d understand.

But the piece is Storm Clouds Cantata by Arthur Benjamin (who?) and D.B. Wyndham-Lewis (not to be confused with [Percy] Wyndham Lewis).

And yet it is a moving piece.

The London Symphony Orchestra sounds lovely (really magical!) in their on-screen segments.

But the real¬†Leitmotiv¬†of our film is “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)”.

Speaking of magic…it is always a gossamer thing to hear Doris Day sing this song in¬†The Man Who Knew Too Much.

I remember a time when I didn’t know this song at all.

Being in a studio with Corinne Bailey Rae and hearing a playback of her wonderful band own this song.

And my discovery of Sly and the Family Stone’s inimitable version (sung by Rose Stone).

But few movie music moments equal Doris Day in her Marrakesh hotel room singing “Que Sera, Sera…” with little¬†desafinado Christopher Olson.

The only ones which come close are Rita Hayworth (actually Jo Ann Greer?) singing the Rodgers and Hart masterpiece “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” the next year (1957) in¬†Pal Joey¬†and Ms. Hayworth “singing” (actually Anita Kert Ellis) “Put the Blame on Mame” in¬†Gilda¬†(1946).

An interesting note about this version of¬†The Man¬†Who Knew Too Much…

It seems to be a sort of forgotten classic, wedged as it is between the first of my Hitchcock “holy trinity” (Rear Window,¬†1954) and the other two perfect films (Vertigo,¬†1958, and¬†North by Northwest,¬†1959).

Actually, this was a period of experimentation for Hitchcock.

Our film most precisely follows the odd comedy (!) The Trouble with Harry (1955) and precedes the black and white hand-wringer The Wrong Man (released later in 1956).

But The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) should not be forgotten!

It is such a beautifully-shot film!

Robert Burks’ cinematography is divine.

And George Tomasini’s editing is artfully deft.

Like To Catch a Thief (which is actually on Netflix in the U.S. [last time I checked]), The Man Who Knew Too Much is a film which perhaps needs multiple viewings to be truly appreciated.

-PD

Sudden Impact [1983)

This is not a popular time to have sympathy for cops.¬† That’s too bad.

This is not a popular time to have sympathy for the FBI.¬† That’s unfortunate.

Not a popular time to champion the CIA.  Pity that.

No love for the NSA.¬† Shame…

We get one version of events.  So much so that we chase after an alternative version.  Which is credible?

Police have a very sacred trust.¬† Once upon a time it was phrased as “to protect and serve.”

Abuse of power disgusts us.  The pendulum swings to the other end.

Jingoism breeds contempt.

détournement

There are several wars on in the world.  The U.S. is involved widely.

It’s not a popular time to say something kind about the military.¬† Bummer.

What is at issue in all of these parallel phrases?  Justice and compassion.

Efficacy.  Human rights.

Right and left.  Conservative and liberal.  Even the widely disparaged neoconservative movement.

I have been quick to find fault with the so-called neocons.  But there is an interesting fundamental point about them that perhaps few know:  they used to be liberals.

I am reminded of Realpolitik.  Kissinger.

The tendency creeps in to apologize for the shameless.

An apologist, after all, works in myriad ways.

It is good that all of these thoughts come to the surface upon viewing what many “serious” film critics would consider to be sub-par pulp.

Let me start (continue) by saying that Sudden Impact is a brilliant film.

There are moments when the balance between directing and starring (acting) seem to be too much for Eastwood, but those few moments are mostly on the front end of this picture.

Though it be, perhaps, sacrilege to suggest such, this is probably the best Dirty Harry movie.

The reason is directly attributable to Eastwood’s auteurish guidance.

Though the setting of San Paulo somewhat mirrors Bodega Bay from Hitchcock’s The Birds, it is mostly the same director’s Vertigo which provides a wellspring from which Eastwood draws liberally for the symbol-laden mood of this affair.

Sondra Locke is formidable as the Kim Novak character.¬† Though Callahan himself never succumbs to catatonia, Locke’s sister in the film does.¬† It reminds us of Jimmy Stewart’s incapacitation after seeing Madeleine “die” the first time (again with the Vertigo references).¬† Of particular note is the camera work which follows Locke’s first killing in Sudden Impact.¬† The circular, woozy pattern makes us think of Novak’s plunge into San Francisco Bay.

And that’s just it:¬† Eastwood had the balls and brains to drag Hitchcock into the Dirty Harry series (itself set in San Francisco).

What this film achieves is imparting humility to armchair DCIs (like myself) who think we have it all figured out.¬† Sometimes distance is good…for planning.¬† Sometimes you need to hear a few bullets buzz past your ears to realize that a hot war is on.¬† It’s not always easy to know who’s shooting…and from where.

There are multiple fronts.¬† I often ponder my own mental weakness.¬† Ultimately, no one has died in vain.¬† The challenge is for us as a nation and a world to get better…quickly.¬† It ends up sounding meaningless, but it’s about all one can say about this spinning globe of chaos on which we live.

-PD

Magnum Force [1973)

It begins like Vertigo…like Vivre sa vie…that barely noticed, unnecessary action of a person more or less staying still.¬† Blinking perhaps.¬† It is not quite corpsing.¬† More subtle.¬† It is a bold statement from director¬†Ted Post.¬† By the end of the credits we feel like those early audiences of The Great Train Robbery:¬† staring down the barrel of a gun.

Post does a remarkable job of continuing the suspense of the previous film in this series (Dirty Harry) while working with an even more complex (and germane to our present times) plot.  Inside job.

Over the course of the film we are made to suspect several different people…all of these essentially variations on the inside job trope.¬† Almost like a continuum of LIHOP and MIHOP.

It begins with the strange rookie cops…taking some target practice in the middle of the night.¬† Traffic cops.¬† Kinda like those strange power-downs and repairs at the WTC leading up to 9/11/01.¬† Something weird going on…

Eastwood smells it like the late John O’Neill of the FBI.¬† But let’s back up to Briggs:¬† Hal Holbrook.¬† Reminds us of another “Lieutenant”…Richard Holbrooke.¬† Should we be surprised that Richard’s original name was Goldbrajch?¬† Of course not.¬† Should we be surprised that he attended Brown University?¬† Of course not.¬† [see:¬† Victoria Nuland, Roberta Jacobson, etc.]

Holbrooke served with “diplomats” like John Negroponte and Frank Wisner.¬† Negroponte attended Yale…specifically Davenport College.¬† Ah, Davenport…the alumni of this residential college include both Bush presidents, William F. Buckley Jr. (we’re really racking up the CIA/Skull & Bones points so far), Samantha Power, etc.¬† It should be noted the physical proximity of the Skull & Bones “Tomb” to this residential college:¬† literally a stone’s throw (right around the corner).

Wisner established the Operation Mockingbird propaganda program on behalf of the CIA.¬† He also established “stay-behind” networks in Europe post-WWII.¬† One can’t help wonder if these were the same (the Italian one at least) which were (was) activated for the false-flag terror in Italy as part of the “strategy of tension” (Operation Gladio).¬† We won’t even get into Mossadegh and √Ārbenz.¬† We will, however, point out the very interesting word found within the Iranian PM’s name depending on transliteration:¬† Mossadegh vs. Mosaddegh.¬† It seems Wikipedia is going with the latter spelling (interesting considering the recent admission [finally!] by the CIA that they overthrew the democratically-elected leader of Iran in 1953).

Back to Holbrooke…managing editor of Foreign Affairs (the official CFR publication) from 1972-1976.¬† Holbrooke, like all good spooks, eventually ended up on Wall Street (Lehman Bros.)¬† Ugh…¬† Did you know the American Academy in Berlin has a Henry Kissinger Award???¬† …and that it was awarded to George H.W. Bush in 2008?!?¬† Talk about a double whammy!!¬† This “cultural exchange” was the brainchild of Holbrooke.

Chalk up for Holbrooke membership in the Trilateral Commission.¬† He was also on the steering committee of the Bilderberg Group (I refuse to capitalize).¬† All of this is a long set up to say that Hal Holbrook’s character Briggs couldn’t be more like Richard Holbrooke in terms of apparent philosophy.

When people like Briggs and Holbrooke have former Airborne Rangers and Special Forces at their disposal, things will end very badly for all involved.¬† Unfortunately, the four rookie cops are some sick fucks!¬† They’ve bought into the twisted philosophy of their ringleader Briggs.¬† The Lieutenant must have been an early pioneer in the militarization of American police.

But the fuckers in charge forgot to check the titty bank (and the snatch bank).  Enter Clint Eastwood.

The super-death in Technicolor and Panavision is not enough to shake the monk Harry Callahan from his herringbone duty.  A can of Schlitz and a cold burger:  Harry gets the job done.

Yeah, Davis is a little too prompt to the crime scene…kinda like FEMA on 9/11 with their Tripod II drill which so serendipitously helped Rudy Giuliani establish a new base after his bunker was brought down by controlled demolition (WTC 7).¬† It’s splitting hairs to fixate on the date (September 10th, 12th, either way).¬† They were there at Pier 29.¬† Strange, don’t you think?

Bless you Ted Post, John Milius, and Michael Cimino for bringing us this death squad wake up in 1973.¬† Rogue elements.¬† It’s what people like Alex Jones have been saying all along.¬† It’s not the whole police force.¬† It’s not the whole CIA.¬† It’s not the whole military. ¬†The criminal segments are elements (with high-level moles).

Enter Jade Helm.  We hope Steve Quayle is wrong, but the idea is not outlandish (knowing what we do about our government).

May God make me misjudged.¬† Like Callahan.¬† The death squads can’t persuade him.¬† Not like this.

Ruppert’s ghost lives on in cached posts.
It’s who you least suspect.¬† No, not quite.¬† Open your eyes.

We hate the goddamn system, but rough justice works both ways.  Abide by nothing, expect the same.  Dirty Harry is the cleanest of the bunch.

May God help us to survive the outgunned moment.¬† Maybe it’s the USS Forrestal.¬† James was right about Palestine.¬† And now Wayne Madsen has strangely dispensed with the Drew Pearson citation.

Here be monsters!

-PD

2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle [1967)

I am at a loss for words.¬† But through your peripheral vision you can tell that I didn’t stop writing after that statement.¬† No, in fact…you can tell that I conversely became quite verbose.¬† So therefore the figure of speech was misleading.¬† Perhaps that is why Godard came to distrust language.¬† Who is Jean-Luc Godard?

And what does it matter?  This rhetorical device propels my analysis, yet the reader is more or less free to comment at the end of the article.  More or less.  Derrida.  Deconstruct at the weakest link in the logical chain.  Find where the text contradicts itself.  It is like a pivot chord in a musical modulation.  Napoleon would charge with all of his forces.  More or less.

The reason I express myself in this way is because, for me, film criticism is akin to ekphrasis.  Therefore, poetry.  As much as we want to be historians or scholars or social scientists, we must accept that we are really just poets.  Just.

Finally a title which meshes with my theme.¬† It’s not my theme, yet I have chosen it.¬† Vertigo.¬† It rejects diacritical marks…just as Shirley cards rejected the negro.¬† Godard realized this in Africa.¬† Filming.¬† The film had been optimized for white actors.

With all of these tangents it is a wonder that anyone makes it to the end of these ekphrastic rants.  Rambling rants.  Off-topic.  Hot topic.  Napalm.  Curtis LeMay.  Stone Age.

It occurs to me that I could very well play the reactionary, yet conscience intercedes.¬† Pax Americana.¬† No.¬† I cannot justify it.¬† I will leave it to the Navy…”a global force for good.”

It was wise that they finally discarded such a ridiculous motto.  Perhaps no one was buying it.  Sell war.  Buy war.

It is easy to get caught up in all of the James Bond gadgetry and thereby forget Vietnam..  Forget Iraq.  Forget Afghanistan.  Libya.  Syria.

For me there is no difference between the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute.  Pepsi and Coke.  Perhaps one is a little worse than the other.  They fundamentally define one another.  A dialectic.  Hegel.  Kant.  Fichte.

If I know one thing, it’s…a thesis.¬† If you knew better, you’d…antithesis.¬† Bon.¬† C’est tout.¬† …ou 3:¬† synthesis.

Jean-Luc Godard dropped out of the University of Paris.  It is credited as his alma mater on Wikipedia.  The Sorbonne.

This was before Hanne Karin Bayer became Anna Karina:¬† Godard’s first wife and leading lady.¬† But now we have Marina Vlady.¬† Made in Russia.

I get a text.  Putin missing.  I had seen.  DEBKAfile.  Approximately one million spots lower than my website on Alexa.

No, they will never give up on trying to impose order on the chaos of Finnegans Wake.  It is sheer egotism.  And I am the antithesis:  no plot, no characters.

And what of the synthesis?¬† Yes, you must reread and rewatch to uncover the nuances.¬† Godard’s oeuvre is one long statement.¬† Miss a film and you’ve missed a chapter of his life–a phrase in his grand statement.¬† Certainly.¬† Certainly.¬† Maybe.

“The comic book and me, just us, we caught the bus.”¬† From the basement Bob Dylan nailed it:¬† modern life as comic book.¬† Obverse and reverse.¬† Godard and Dylan.

All I have is cat food.  You have seven minutes left.  Three left.

Anny Duperey looks perfect…perfectly empty…staring off into space…smoking the ubiquitous cigarette.¬† The Shirley card loves her.¬† She shines.¬† She is radiance.¬† Might she be the next! big! thing?

It is with a heavy heart…that I relate that no, indeed, rather, Juliet Berto…for some time.

And thus our grand unstated theme:¬† cancer.¬† Like the hideous sound of jungle helicopters–desert jets.¬† Division.¬† Long division.

Juliet Berto won’t be reading this in any traditional manner.¬† She passed away in 1990 at the age of 42.

In 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle, she made her screen debut.

Tristesse.¬† Sadness.¬† Yes, Godard was right.¬† It is undeniable.¬† Things have not gone well for capitalism.¬† He says neo-capitalism, but I say neoconservatism.¬† It is not quite antithesis.¬† It is already synthesis.¬† Beginning, middle, end.¬† [Not necessarily in that order…]

-PD

The Big Sleep [1946)

If you’ve seen Mulholland Drive, you know the pleasure which being confused can bring.¬† Where is that confounded plot?¬† Yes, that is exactly what can happen here if you are not paying strict attention.¬† This film is notorious for being convoluted.¬† Perhaps the assertion is unfair.¬† Unlike Finnegans Wake, there is actually a plot (complete with characters) here, yet you must hold on tight to come out with any specific sense of what has just transpired.

In some ways The Big Sleep is similar to Hitchcock’s Vertigo in that both films seem to be buoyed along primarily by their mood and tone.¬† Whether it was specifically the doing of Faulkner (one of three screenwriters here) or not, the dialogue is perhaps the best ever written.¬† Inextricable from the razor-sharp repartee are the talents of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.¬† An underappreciated addition to this grand concoction of Howard Hawks is the contribution of Martha Vickers.¬† This was perhaps the only significant film role of her acting career (which also included television), but it is one for the ages!

Bogart, for his part, is stellar in his versatility.¬† His “undercover” stint at Geiger’s book shop is hilarious!¬† Dorothy Malone has a short-yet-incendiary part as the proprietress of Acme Bookstore.¬† She would go on to win an Oscar for best supporting actress by way of Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind (1956).¬† Even as late as 1992 she was making an impact on the film world (in Basic Instinct).

But it is Bogart who gives one of his greatest performances as the truth-seeking, street-smart Philip Marlowe.¬† Passion drives Marlowe to “soldier on” just as much as justice.¬† Bogart is the supreme example of insubordination gone right.¬† His fierce independence is infused into the character of Marlowe to stunning effect.¬† Bogart won’t quit.¬† Howard Hawks makes the whole thing seem real by having Marlowe shake with fear near the climax.¬† All we needed was a glimpse of his humanity to truly appreciate the insouciant superman we’ve been following.

-PD

The Manxman [1929)

The Isle of Man has two movie theaters as of 2014.¬† Alfred Hitchcock’s last silent film was set on this little island between Great Britain and Ireland (though it was actually filmed in Cornwall).¬† It’s amazing how much a director can improve in one year.¬† The previous year had seen the release of Hitchcock’s dull “rom-com” The Farmer’s Wife.¬† Truth be told:¬† The Manxman is just a much better story.

In simplest terms, it is the drama of two men (best friends) in love with the same girl.¬† She’s in love with one of them, but unfortunately not the one she ends up marrying.¬† The whole thing bears a striking resemblance in tone to Ingmar Bergman’s Summer with Monika (1953).¬† In fact, the more general mood of the film might be successfully compared to Bergman and Dreyer (a Swede and Dane respectively).¬† This is not going against the history of The Isle of Man.¬† The Norse began settling on the isle in the 9th century.¬† The island’s history is tied not only to Norway, but also the Hebrides civilization.

More importantly, the dramatic material is simply much more suited to what would become Hitchcock’s signature style.¬† The girl (played by Anny Ondra) throws herself off the quayside in a suicide attempt.¬† She is not successful.¬† The viewer familiar with Vertigo might rightly snap to Kim Novak plunging into San Francisco Bay (and warming herself in Jimmy Stewart’s apartment after failing to drown herself).

The d√©nouement comes when Ondra stands before a deemster (name for judge on Isle of Man) for the crime of attempted suicide.¬† The judge just so happens to be the man she loves (and it’s his first day on the job!).¬† The courtroom drama nicely anticipates an underappreciated Hitchcock gem starring Alida Valli called The Paradine Case (1947).¬† Our film ends up in a bizarre admission by the deemster that he is not fit for the bench owing to his surreptitious dealings with Ondra.

The Manxman in question (played by Carl Brisson) is left to deal with the heartbreak of having been tricked from marriage to fatherhood and beyond.¬† We end up feeling pity for him, but for most of the film we sympathize with the star-crossed lovers (Ondra and Malcolm Keen).¬† Keen’s surname in the film is Christian (Philip Christian) and we see him struggle with his situation in a way that today might be termed quaint.¬† Max Weber might call it the Protestant love ethic.

In closing, this film is definitely worth watching.¬† There is particular anguish and tension (artfully conveyed) in the child custody scene.¬† Hitchcock’s ingenuity starts coming to the fore in¬†his final¬†experiment with silence.

-PD

Vertigo [1958)

Lovesick.¬† To know love is to know vertigo.¬† The great French composer Olivier Messiaen described love as a dizzy feeling (I paraphrase).¬†¬† To quote the great Bob Dylan from his best album (1997’s Time Out of Mind), “I’m sick of love.”

When I first saw Vertigo I didn’t particularly like it.¬† I was a neophyte cineaste and I suppose it went over my head.¬† Indeed, the film did not really click for me until I saw a 70mm restored print as part of the Paramount Theater’s summer film series in Austin, Texas some years back.¬† I finally began to appreciate the cinematography of Robert Burks…the way the city of San Francisco comes to life in front of the lens he shared with Hitchcock.¬† As a rather na√Įve film lover I had once seen Life Is Beautiful several times in the theater upon its release and there was something in the mise-en-sc√®ne which gave me a wonderful, cozy, rich feeling…an ambiance which I drank in with each successive viewing.¬† It is this aspect of film (mood) which really makes Vertigo go.

Bernard Herrmann’s music was never more important to a Hitchcock film than to the one at hand.¬† The whole production almost becomes a music video during Scottie’s initial trailing of Madeleine.¬† There is not a word of dialogue from the flower shop to the cemetery to the art museum.¬† I will not regale you with scholarly milliseconds, but I’m willing to guess that approximately five whole minutes go by completely buoyed by the photography of Burks and the music of Herrmann (all, of course, framed by the voyeuristic passage in our story…and all, likewise, under the watchful eye-of-eyes:¬† Hitch).

Suffice it to say that I now recognize this to be one of Hitchcock’s best films (if not the best) and therefore one of the best films ever made by any director.¬† Alfred Hitchcock seems to me as the Beethoven of cinema, but he might just as well be the Bach.¬† Of other analogies he might be considered our Rembrandt…and almost certainly our Shakespeare.

And so it is that the main protagonist in Vertigo is mood.¬† What mood?¬† Which?¬† Not just any, is it?¬† It is the mood of¬†Tristan und Isolde…Wagner…that painful longing for love.¬† Bernard Herrmann borrowed nicely from old Richard in the rich, autumnal, self-consuming harmonies.¬† Other times, by the sea for instance, we are brought into the sphere of¬†La mer by Debussy.¬† Whether at Fort Point or floating down endless San Francisco automobile inclines, the weightlessness is also reminiscent of the same composer’s Pell√©as et M√©lisande.¬† Herrmann even seems to reference Ravel in the pensive motif which seems like Carlotta’s Iberian clock (ticking to bolero snaps of the second hand).

Yes, Vertigo is a film which will send critics into an orgiastic dither from now till the end of time (I suppose).  My contribution is simple.  Watch it.  Then watch it again.  And then watch it yet again.  There are secrets in this tapestry.  It is pure mystery.

-PD

To Catch A Thief [1955)

The first time I saw To Catch A Thief I was not overly impressed.¬† Seemed like simply a 106 minute postcard, but oh how wrong I was.¬† This is another Hitchcock masterpiece and, if not Vertigo-caliber, it should at least be considered in the same league as Alfred’s own excellent remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956).

The whole gang’s here…¬† Cinematography by Robert Burks, editing by George Tomasini, music by…ok, not the whole gang…but most of them.

Grace Kelly is simply stunning.¬† When she first kisses Cary Grant, it is almost a heart-stopping moment–bursting with elegant sexuality.¬† Grant, for his part, was never better for Hitchcock (outside of North by Northwest).¬† And if the colors of mourning (to paraphrase Godard) made Notorious (1946) a less-than-vivid depiction of Rio de Janeiro, all sins are forgiven in this VistaVision take (breathtaking) on the French Riviera.¬† I can’t let those poseurs at Cannes have all the fun this week ūüôā¬† I am home studying.¬† This is your dossier.¬† And there was only one film worth seeing this year anyway:¬† Adieu au langage.

Brigitte Auber gives a nice performance as the snotty enfant terrible and, though she herself is a pretty sight, Grace Kelly never looked better on film than in the “fireworks and diamonds” section of our film. ¬†Indeed, Hitch knew the power of the Kuleshov effect as well as anyone and the cinematic intercutting of this scene places him with the greats of film editing like Eisenstein (though let’s not forget Tomasini…the credited editor).

Perhaps there is no stronger tie among Hitchcock films to la Nouvelle Vague than this panoramic view dans le Midi–especially to Truffaut (considering his book on Hitchcock…though it didn’t appear till 1967).¬† The fact that this¬†film contains so much spoken French (sans subtitles) makes it unique in the director’s canon.¬† Grace Kelly herself would marry Prince Rainier III of Monaco not but eight months after the premiere and retire from filmmaking in her new role as the Mon√©gasque Princess Grace.

Edith Head’s costumes were never more perfectly worn than by Miss Kelly (especially the white gown against her honeyed skin in the fireworks scene).

Most of all, this film should be considered among the essential Hitchcock along with the three perfect films (Rear Window, Vertigo and North by Northwest) [not forgetting the parallel perfection of Psycho].¬† Most, if not all, the secrets of filmmaking are contained in the work of cinema’s Beethoven:¬† Alfred Hitchcock.

 

-PD