Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vertigo (1958) at the Capitol Theatre

The Capitol Theatre is my local movie house. It is literally a few blocks away from my apartment building, yet I almost never go. It's proximity to my home makes me take it for granted because I know it's convenient and that's its always there for me. The last time I went to the Capitol was also the first time I went and that in October of 2008 when I saw the remake of The Women (1939) with Kevin.
A return visit has been long overdue.

Walking home one day, I saw this signage on the door of the Capitol. Hitchcock? On the big screen? Just a few blocks from my apartment? And I don't even have to worry about parking? Huzzah!

It's been years since I've seen Vertigo (1958) and while visually it's stunning, at that time I didn't much care for the story. I thought I'd give it another try. Initially, I had planned to go by myself but Carlos begged me to take him with me. He loves Hitchcock as much as I do, so date night was set. We had dinner then walked to the Capitol. We were a bit early so we stopped in on there ice cream shop and had a few pre-movie treats. While we were indulging in Maine Black Bear (raspberry ice cream with chocolate pieces) and Purple Cow (blackberry ice cream with white chocolate chips), Carlos asked me a question completely out of the blue...
What if Alfred Hitchcock directed Dr. Strangelove (1964)?

At first I brushed off the question but then I took a moment to think about it. Hitchcock would have never directed Dr. Strangelove because there are no no prominent female characters in it. Hitchcock REALLY loved his women. And he had a particular appetite for blondes.
In Hitchcock films, the camera is constantly making love to the female lead. Our eye is drawn to her instinctively. It's as though we are borrowing Hitchcocks POV for a few moments. However, it's always the female lead and never the other actresses. For example, in Rear Window (1954), the viewer is in a state of constant adoration for Grace Kelly but our eyes do not rest for very long on Thelma Ritter.

So when we watched Vertigo on the big screen, I kept an eye out for this detail (tee hee). And sure enough, Kim Novak is lovingly adored by Hitchcock's camera.

I must not have paid much attention the first couple of times I had watched the movie because there were a lot of great plot points I was missing. Watching it on the big screen, forced me to pay closer attention. Vertigo has everything. Great actors, stunning visuals, a plot that keeps you guessing, action, drama and romance. Plus a Jimmy Stewart with an excessive amount of make-up on.

I love how Hitchcock uses structures to represent different things. Brassieres and bridges hold things up and represent stability. Windows and door frame paint idyllic pictures but are often misleading. Ledges, rooftops and towers (heights) mean danger. The museum, cemetery, church and hotel are all purgatories for people in the present who are stuck in the past. There is enough meat in this film for an English major like me to feast on.

Watching Vertigo this once on the big screen is not enough. I need to own this film, watch it several times at home, take notes and break it apart. I need to watch it to analyze and watch it for fun.

Have you watched a Hitchcock film on the big screen? If so, which one? Did it change the way you watched the film or what you thought of it? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Charlie Chan's Chance

Bob over at the excellent blog Allure, sent me this advertisement for the lost Charlie Chan film Charlie Chan's Chance. It's one of the Fox/Warner Oland Chans. Bob tells me that the film is lost but the script and a few stills from the film still exist.

With just a quick Google search, I found an illustrated script for Charlie Chan's Chance (1932) (script and those few stills) online on The Charlie Chan Family website. They have the scripts of a few other lost Fox/Warner Oland Charlie Chans including Charlie Chan's Courage (1934)Charlie Chan's Greatest Case (1933) and Charlie Chan Carries On (1931).

Here are is a review of the film when it was first released: Variety January 1st, 1932

The story of Charlie Chan's Chance was based off Earl Derr Brigger's novel Behind That Curtain which also inspired Behind That Curtain (1929) with E.L. Park and Murder Over New York (1940) with Roland Winters. The novel was published serially in The Saturday Evening Post between March 31st to May 5, of 1928. It's still in print today thanks to the good folks at Academy Chicago Publishers.

It's also interesting to note that this film is the only one in which the author and creator of Charlie Chan, Earl Derr Briggers, was involved. He edited some of the script.

Several Charlie Chans were considered lost at one time but were then discovered so there is still hope for this film. So if you have a moment, please check your attic or basement. Who knows, maybe you have the only surviving copy of Charlie Chan's Case!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Night of the Hunter - A Biography of a Film

The Night of the Hunter: A Biography of a Film
by Jeffrey Couchman
Northwestern University Press

Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter (1954), an adaptation of Davis Grubb's 1953 novel, is many things: a fractured fairy tale, an American gothic story, a twisted song, an homage to silent films, a 20th century re-envisioning of William Blake's Songs of Experience and Songs of Innocence and a pseudo-noir.

Couchman's book is not just a love letter to the film and its creators, nor is it a personal perspective on the film. However, if you think NOTH is a masterpiece, the book will only justify your thoughts by laying out the many reasons why it is so. Couchman's book is a soup-to-nuts look at all of the elements that went into creating this classic. He takes us through every phase of the process including the writing of the novel, Laughton's vision of the movie, Grubb's drawings and James Agee's screen adaptation.

Grubb's novel, the source of the story, is spoken about constantly throughout the text  but you don't have to be familiar with the novel to follow along. A general understanding of the film is all you really need.

I'm sure this book is better suited to the serious film student but what a treat it would be to a classic movie lover too? The rich information provided by the book makes the movie experience into a four-course meal instead of just a dessert. I would recommend this book to three different kinds of people. 1) A Film Student 2) Fan of The Night of the Hunter 3) Serious Classic Film Buff who wants to advance his or her knowledge of film.

Couchman delivers wonderful observations and this book is chockful of great information. Here are a few tidbits I'd like to share:

On the infamous scene of Willa (Shelley Winters or at least a wax dummy of her), floating underwater, with her throat slit. "The cinematic fakery resulted in images that no one who has seen the film is likely to froget. A slow pan along waving reeds picks up Willa, bound in the car, her hair flowing as though with a life of its own. In many ways, the scene defines The Night of the Hunter. It is at once realistic and surreal, grim and poetic. Everything about it is a contradiction. The car alone is a shocking, industrial intrusion in a natural realm. The greater intrustion, though, is Willa's body, a serene picture of violent death, a floating apparition weighted to the river bottom." pg 111
Novel versus Film: "[Grubb's novel] satisfies readers expectations. The film thwarts expectations at every turn." - pg 206
On the differing acting styles of Mitchum and Gish: "The choices Laughton made reveal how consciously he sought a stylized, exaggerated performance from Mitchum and a naturalistic unadorned performance from Gish. Each style of acting becomes a code in itself" Mitchum's affected manner signals Preacher's deceitful nature, and Gish's straightforward approach identifies Rachel as direct and honest" - pg 174

If you are a wimpy classic film fan who just likes to watch movies but not use your preicous brain cells to actually think about the films you've seen, then you are not tough enough to handle this book. For all other classic movie buffs, I throw down the gauntlet and challenge you to read this. What will separate the weak from the strong is the desire and ability amongst classic film fans to acquire knowledge, to analyze and think and to earnestly put this knowledge to good use. Are you up for it?
Thank you to Northwestern University Press for sending me this book to review! And so sorry it took me so long to get to it. :-)

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