Monday, March 24, 2008

Monday Monologue: Hitchcock

JA from MNPP here. Taking it a bit easy today in between reviews - I'm watching Singin' In The Rain tonight! - to take up something a bit different (and a bit briefer).

This is a bit of a cheat for this series of Nathaniel's as it doesn't come from a film but rather from an interview, but it amused me so I thought I'd share. Roger Ebert interviewed Alfred Hitchcock back in December of 1969, just before his film Topaz came out. Apparently it hadn't screened for critics yet, so Ebert hadn't gotten to see the film before interviewing Hitch; Hitch replied thusly:

"You'll see it soon enough. You'll only like it the second time . . . that's what I think. My pictures become classics, magically, with age. The critics never like them first time around. I remember when 'Psycho' first came out, one of the London critics called it a blot on an honorable career. And Time magazine panned it so badly that I was surprised, a year later, to find them referring to someone else's thriller as being 'in the classic "Psycho" tradition,'

"Still, some of my pictures have never quite been accepted, I'm afraid. To this day I'm disappointed by the reception for 'The Trouble with Harry.' It was an English-type comedy of the macabre, which I made in 1955. All about a body that gets dug up and buried about four times. I shot it in Vermont, during the fall, to get all the autumn colors: yellow, red, there was beauty in the trees. And then a French intellectual asked me why I shot it in the autumn. His theory was that I was using the season of decay as a counterpoint to poor Harry's own decay."

Hitchcock snuffled to show how ridiculous that was. "The only message in the picture," he said, "was that you should never mess about with a dead body - you may be one yourself someday."

As Ebert points out, the "French intellectual" was certainly François Truffaut, whose book of interviews between the two men is must-read for any Hitch fan. And unfortunately Topaz never became the second- or third- or even fourth-viewing classic Hitch thought it might.

I mostly find this tidbit interesting since I only saw The Trouble With Harry a couple months ago for the very first time and, while I found the film charming and light along the lines of, say, To Catch A Thief, it's unquestionably lesser-Hitch... although "lesser-Hitch" is a level of sophistication most filmmakers should aspire to, and most never come near.

Still, the most striking thing about the film, to me, was that Vermont foliage. Hitch's camera (aimed by the great Robert Burks, the man who lensed many of Hitch's greatest films including Vertigo and Rear Window) practically drowns in the swirl of red, oranges and browns - it's why Technicolor why invented.

I also highly recommend you read that original Psycho review from Time that I linked there above - it reads like someone reviewing any of the button-pushing horror films of today. Choice quote:

"With such game afoot, the experienced Hitchcock fan might reasonably expect the unreasonable—a great chase down Thomas Jefferson's forehead, as in North by Northwest, or across the rooftops of Monaco, as in To Catch a Thief. What is offered instead is merely gruesome. The trail leads to a sagging, swamp-view motel and to one of the messiest, most nauseating murders ever filmed. At close range, the camera watches every twitch, gurgle, convulsion and hemorrhage in the process by which a living human becomes a corpse."


Hayden said...

Love, love, love it.

And for a bit of shameless self-promotion, I've tried really hard this week to get a good blog started, and I'd really love it if some of Nathaniel's readers checked it out. I'm really trying to make a serious attempt, and I'd love to get some readers.

So if you have any spare time, I'd love for you to take a glance. And if you're really nice, a little bit of feedback, too.

Thanks! =]

Catherine said...

Haha, that's awesome.

Anonymous said...

Best quote from the Time review: "A blow is dealt to mother love from which that sentiment may not recover."

You can say that again!

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the lack of comments here means:

1) too few of us (including myself) have seen The Trouble with Harry to be able to comment upon it knowledgeably; or

2) I'm not the only person in the world who doesn't "get" Hitchcock (the worshipfulness, I mean. Was he a good, and at times great, filmmaker? Yes. Is he deserving of all the ink spilled in endless praise, the copycatting by other filmmakers, the hosannas, etc etc? Probably not.



i wouldn't prescribe too much meaning to lack of comments. I've been blogging for three years now and I gotta say --it's still mistifying to me why some posts prompt so many and others don't. There doesn't seem to be many foolproof patterns to it.

but I personally don't think Hitchcock is overrated so maybe i'm just hoping you're wrong ;)

Joel Gunz said...

Excellent post! Gotta say, though, that TOPAZ is one of my favorite films. Some wonderful set pieces, such as the luncheon in Paris, the murder of Juanita de Cordoba (Karen Dor) and the Pieta shot. But also lots of rather hastily composed scenes. I guess the sum-up, for me, is that this is a flawed masterpiece. Then again, I'm biased.

Joel Gunz -