Archive for June, 2012


 For week 5 of my year of Hitchcock I watched the marvel which is Champagne… a light and bubbly comedy.

WHAT HAPPENED?

The basic story is reasonably simple. A millionaire’s heiress elopes to Paris with a lover whom her father is convinced to be a gold-digger. The millionaire decides to teach his daughter a lesson and convinces her he has lost all his money on the stock-market. This reality shock means she is forced to get a job working at the bar which she used to visit as a guest. There are some delightful comic moments throughout but not enough to hide the lack of substance within the story.

THE GOOD

The best part of this film has to be the sets and costumes, which show the upper-class world of the time, exactly how I would imagine it. The women’s extravagant dresses just fit perfectly as do the men’s dinner suits. These costumes are highlighted all the more by having several jokes based around them including a rather good one involving flowers. There is also a glorious tilting set of the boat, which tilts regularly so as to trick the audience into believing it is really moving.

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Other good points include lead actress’s Betty Balfour’s performance and mesmerizing on-screen presence. She pulls of the ditsy rich girl performance spectacularly and is quite incredible, also her petty arguments with her lover make for some fine comedy. 

In terms of Hitchcockian techniques this film is not particularly auteuristic. There are a few moments in which we see the best of Hitchcock, namely the fact that the film opens and closes with a point-of-view shot through a champagne glass, this is voyeurism at its foremost; it is just a shame just like in his earliest film The Pleasure Garden, Hitch has not yet figured out how to use this point-of-view to its full effectiveness.

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There is also an interesting scene in which the girl gets mugged, the entire sequence is a single shot of just her legs which I found to be quite interesting and original as well as probably the most tense moment within the film.

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THE BAD

The bad sides of this film are that for long periods it is dull and tiresome with not much going on other than winging and worrying about having no money or being caught. The story has no real tension and is all rather predictable; I think it was supposed to be a shocking twist that her father had pulled a trick on her however I found it too obvious. 

The lack of tension is the major issue which I have with this film as that is what Hitchcock is most famous for it is sad to see him fail with no opportunity within the script. There are also lots of title-card something I was surprised by after my recent viewings in which Hitchcock tried to keep them minimal. In this film I guess Hitchcock couldn’t find a way to tell the story visually so decided to interrupt the action every ten seconds with a title card which frankly ruined the flow and pacing of the entire film. 

CAMEO O’CLOCK

There is no Hitchcock cameo in this movie.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Champagne is a tough film to rate; it is probably the least Hitchcockian film I have seen so far and at moments the most boring; however there are several scenes, which stand out to me as more memorable than the entirety of some of the other films. I therefore conclude this film to be awarded two Hitch’s (it would have been three but lack of auteuristic qualities make it hard to identify as a Hitchcock film).

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After recently re-watching Gone With The Wind I can honestly say that it is in many senses an incredible movie and even though it is an old film, I do not believe that any film since has quite had the same impact as this film and highly doubt there ever will be.

To start this discussion it is important to determine some criteria that affect whether a film can be classed as a ‘Blockbuster’. The most obvious factor is of-course income and Gone With The Wind had an incredible box-office gross. Apparently it sold enough tickets that every person in America saw it twice at the time it was released, a fact I find simply astounding. Not only this but Box Office Mojo has it pegged as the best grossing film of all time (when adjusted for inflation) so in terms of money-making ability it is obviously a ‘Blockbuster’.

The next item would be the story. Most films which are classed as a Blockbuster are normally be based on something pre-existing be that a comic book (Avengers Assemble) or an historical event (Titanic). In terms of this film again it meets this criteria, not only was it based on a best selling novel of the same title, it also has the historical setting of the American Civil War with many key events from that being mentioned throughout. 

A third reason that a ‘Blockbuster’ is so titled is because of the enormously high budget it is given for production, again this was the case… it was believed that Gone With The Wind had a high budget of around four million dollars which at the time was the third largest ever, big budget allows a film to market it to mass audiences and that again is something which was done with this film. Thousands of girls where auditioned for the part of Scarlett O’Hara when supposedly Vivien Leigh was cast all along, the purpose of this was advertising and making an audience want to see the film. 

A well-known cast and or production team is something else which appears in nearly every blockbuster and this film certainly had this. Clark Gable was incredibly famous at the time of production from his Oscar win a few years earlier in It Happened One Night. In terms of production team it was produced by David O Selznick, who although not yet at the height of his fame (he would later produce several Hitchcock films) had a fairly decent standing. In terms of direction the original director (who was replaced mid-production) was George Cukor who at the time was fairly established after working on films such as Romeo and Juliet, his replacement a Victor Fleming (who somehow also replaced Cukor as director of Wizard of Oz) was also well established meaning their star power would bring in some audience once the film was released.

In terms of performance by the entire cast it is hard to find better. Vivien Leigh pulls off the ‘kind of bitchy but nice deep down’ with expertise as the audience is forced to both hate her and pity her. Then you have Clark Gable being as arrogant as ever and delivering every line with the fluidity he is still remember for. Add to that a fantastic supporting cast and you have a brilliant film and one that can be defined as a ‘Blockbuster’.

‘Blockbusters’ pride themselves on their award winning ability (apart from Avatar :-P) and Gone With The Wind once more succeeded in nearly every category – being nominated for 13 OSCARS and winning eight – a feat unheard of at the time. These awards not only included Best Picture and Best Screenplay but also a win for Hattie McDaniel as best supporting actress, fittingly considering the context of the film she was the first African-American to be nominated and win an OSCAR.

A final test over a film Blockbuster ability is the test of time. Does it stand up when viewed years after its release. Most Blockbusters do and again so does Gone With The Wind. Sure you can tell it’s an old film but everything about it is just so well crafted, designed and thought out that it is just a wonderful experience, the four hours pass in next to no time. It is still considered one of the greatest films created being listed in IMDB’s Top 250 and having a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 95% show that two generations after its production people are still watching and appreciated its awesome genius. 

So in conclusion I think it is hard to dispute that Gone With The Wind is the perfect blockbuster and it is unlikely that there will ever be a better mass-audience film ever made. Don’t agree? Well frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

 

Week four of my Hitchcock challenge brings me to The Ring. A kind of typical boxing movie and the only film in his career for which Hitchcock received sole writing credit.

WHAT HAPPENED?

The film narrative is rather simple; the protagonist ‘One-Round Jack’ is a carnival boxer whose job is to beat the stupid punters in one round or less. He’s good at the job as he is a fairly talented boxer and a majority of the people he is forced to face are drunk, idiotic or both. However unbeknownst to him world champion ‘Bob Corby’ has fallen in love with his fiancée (a pretty girl who works at the carnival ticket counter). Bob goes undercover and fights One-Round Jack, beating him thus ruining his reputation and act. Bob then continues to steal the girl from Jack. Jack annoyed by this sets out for revenge and begins training before becoming a professional boxer and ultimately gaining a chance for revenge in a World Championship fight against Bob. After taking a severe beating early on Jack defies odds and goes on to win the fight and his girl.

THE GOOD

The good moments in this film are brief as it is clear from the outset that the story is not a good one. There are some good moments of visual storytelling with a fade showing ticket stubs depleting and moments when Jack goes crazy.

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There is also a drunk blurry shot which is kind of cool but doesn’t really add anything to the story.

The only scene worth any note within in the film is the climatic boxing scene. It is amazing how well this scene is put together and how little boxing films have changed throughout the years. The shot used within the boxing scene are almost the same as seen in Rocky or even The Fighter with a mixture of close-ups, long shots and then reactions shot of the crowd showing both people involved with the character and those not. Also the idea of the underdog coming through a battering and ultimately winning the fight is something which apparently Hitchcock invented himself which is quite amazing really.

THE BAD

There are many bad points to this film, firstly casual racism, (I understand that at the time things like this happened but its still shocking) at the start of the film we see random shots of a carnival going on followed by a black man performing and being pelted with eggs and such. This was mind-boggling to watch and rather shocking.

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Next was the writing of the piece. There was basically no tension in the film until the final boxing scene and no character I really wanted to root for. Jack was ok but he did nothing that made me want him to succeed. This led to a long-winded and pointless experience with lots of filler scenes that has no real significance apart from perhaps a small amount of comic relief (there is one scene in which a pair of Siamese twins can’t decide where to sit). 

CAMEO O’CLOCK

Hitchcock did not make a cameo in this film! It was before it became his trademark. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

In conclusion The Ring to me was a backward step in directed by Hitchcock, the story was uninteresting and the visuals only slightly more so. It is clear from this film why Hitchcock decided not to write any of his films latter than this. The negatives outweigh the few positive moments in this film so I therefore award it… 2 Hitch’s 

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Week 3 of my year of Hitchcock leads me to watch The Lodger (A Story of the London Fog). As mentioned last week I am unsure if it was the third film Hitchcock directed but it is definitely an early one.

WHAT HAPPENED?

The basic storyline of this film is much simpler than the other two films which I watched. In essence it is a simple murder mystery… Blonde girls are being murdered by a man known as ‘The Avenger’ and whilst the hunt for him goes on a Lodger (played by Ivor Novello) moves into a house situated central to the where the murders are taking place. This Lodger is a strange creepy gentleman who although kind has a seeming fear of blonde woman. Ultimately the Lodger and the house-owners daughter fall in love causing her to reject her fiancée (who happens to be the policeman in charge of investigating the Avenger). As the film moves forward it becomes increasingly obvious that the Lodger is the murderer until a twist ending changes everything.

THE GOOD

The story of this film is an intriguing one that kept me on my toes and inrtugued throughout. It is perfectly paced with very tense moments and a perfect balance of title cards and visual story-telling.

Although not as experimental as last weeks Downhill there are a few features used that Hitchcock will adopt later most notably point-of-view shots from the murderer as he kills people and beginning the film with a close-up of a woman being murdered. This shot is something Hitchcock used in every film I have seen which involves a murder and is almost the same as the opening shot of Rope. The entire film is fantastic mix of tension and is so typically Hitchcock that it is the first film in which his auteuristic skills are honed.

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Other good points are the performances of the characters particularly that of Ivor Novello. As discussed last week Novello was sub-standard in his earlier collaboration with Hitchcock; however in this film he is perfectly suited to the part of a creepy gentleman; his appearance and nervous mannerisms are truly haunting and something which I will always remember from this film.

Perhaps the most Hitchcockian moment in this film comes from the mix of comedy and drama throughout to increase the tension. An example of such comes from the very slapstick moment of a man falling off a chair and not being able to stand up; this is shortly followed by a moment a great drama.

THE BAD

In terms of the bad sides of this film there are a few. For starters the film with all its pacing lacks a real protagonist, until the last half hour there was no-one that I cared for or wanted to succeed. This is probably due to the Lodger was the only character with personality and the main attribute of said personality was sinisterism.

Another point would be that every time a murder happened a title card would flash up reading ‘Tonight Golden Curls’ at regular intervals; this was strange and made out to be advertising some sort of theatre show as this is where we generally go but seems kind of contextless. I believe at the time it seemed like a great idea to move location and also emphasise that the Avenger is killing blonde woman but it just appeared nonsical and distracting.

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There is also an awful blue cast put on all the exterior which I presume is there to represent to the fog in a visual sense; at the time of release this was probably very effective as colour cinema was not yet popularised however to a modern day viewer such as myself it looked like cheap and terrible.

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CAMEO O’CLOCK

This film contains Hitchcock’s first Cameo and is the first time to which I can comment on him. As I do with every film I kept my eyes peeled for him but was unable to spot him so sadly resorted to a Google search! It appears his cameo is not as obvious as it would be in some later films. He sits in a newsroom near the beginning with his back to the camera as seen in the screenshot. Not the greatest cameo but the first of many to come!

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FINAL THOUGHTS

This film was good, enjoyable and tense, it was very structured and it is fairly obvious why it is known as Hitchcock’s first Hitchcock film – not sure if that make sense. Basically it was his first film which contains many stylistic features that he would become famous for. The film has many great moments and whilst more Hitchcockian than Downhill and The Pleasure Garden I do not think it has as many memorable moments especially when compared to the former. I therefore I award this film 3 Hitch’s.

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 Firstly I would like to say that Downhill the second Hitchcock film I watched may not technically be his second film. After looking at several different sources I found that each lists his early films in a different order (namely because he released 3 films in 1927). I therefore chose to watch Downhill because it is the next film I had available; however I will endeavour to watch them in as close to the order they where made as possible.

Downhill is a very different film to last weeks The Pleasure Garden, still silent this film does not rely on Title-Cards as much as Hitchcock’s previous film; minimising their usage extensively and relying on visual storytelling techniques. This leads to several experimental shots some of which are effective and others, which are not. It is obvious from the outset that this is a film to be enjoyed for its technical and creative camerawork over story and performance.

 

“WHAT HAPPENED?”

The film is divided into three acts each centred around an event that effects the protagonists (Roddy played by Ivor Novello) life in drastic ways. The first Act is called ‘World of Youth’ and in it we are introduced to Roddy who is essence a perfect student at a private school – with a rich father, he is a top rugby player and captain of the school. Roddy’s best friend and dorm-mate it Tim who is at the school in opposite circumstances to Roddy earning a scholarship and barely being able to afford his tuition fee. When the two young chaps meet a lady friend and go round her house it is obvious something is going to go wrong for one or both. As it turns out it is for Roddy; the girl becomes pregnant from Tim but decides to tell the school the baby is Roddy’s! Leading to his expulsion; Roddy covers for his friend and is expelled causing his father to reject him and banish him from his home leading onto Act 2. 

Act 2 titled ‘World of Make-Believe’ meets up with Roddy at some point in the future. He has found work as actor and manages to seduce the leading lady of his show after he inherits some money from a passing family member. Before long they are married and all seems good for Roddy, however it soon becomes clear the woman is a gold-digger and is having an affair with the leading man. Once Roddy runs out of money his wife leaves him and kicks him from his home once more penniless, thus ending the second Act.

‘World of Lost Illusions’ is the title of Act 3 and it shows Roddy working as gigolo in Paris. After lots of dancing he has a conversation with a woman who convinces him the work is demeaning leading him to quit and become a drunk. Drunk in a bar in Marseilles two men discover him and decide to ship him home to London in hope of a reward. On the boat Roddy goes insane and has crazy nightmares before somehow ending up at his home where his father apologises and all is forgiven.

 

THE GOOD

The best parts of this film is the experimental aspects of the way it is created, although some parts are confusing much of what Hitchcock tried to achieve comes off in a rather effective manner using techniques I doubt had been seen in cinema before (I may be wrong on this point).

Firstly there is a part where the woman is telling the story of how she became pregnant from Roddy. We see a close-up of her face as she begins to talk (however you cannot hear what she is saying), this is jarring at first but as she speaks we see fade in in front her face images of what happened earlier and it is clear instantly what she is saying, this is fantastic visual storytelling and much more dramatic than cutting away to a title-card as most silent films would.

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Probably the most experimental (and in my opinion the greatest section of the film) comes towards the end when Roddy is on the boat and goes insane. This sequence does insanity in a way which is truly inspirational (I would be surprised if David Lynch hasn’t seen this as a few things he would later do are used here); in essence it is loads of unconnected shots linked together because they are from Roddy’s point of view; we see an old man suddenly become Roddy’s father; all of the women from the story playing cards before turning and jeering at Roddy, a beautifully crafted shot with three layers of film showing Roddy trapped within the boat’s machninery and a record player; before extended point-of-view shots of Roddy wandering London; a focus pull on a Policeman and a noddy shot of Roddy; all of this with lots of spinning and shaking camerawork leads to a very haunting experience and is quite frankly an incredible 5 minutes of cinema.

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In terms of other good points there is a moment of pure Hitchcockianess which also appears when the pregnant girl is asked whether the baby is Roddy or Tims. There is shots of all three characters looking questionably and waiting for a response and the audience knows that the girl has the power to ruin one of their lives. The way in which this sequence is shot with the mix of close-up reaction shot, two-shots and over-the-shoulder shots creates an enormous amount of tension and is something Hitchcock will use inevitably throughout his career.

The final point that has to be mentioned is the narrative of the film which is completed unexpected in Acts 2 and 3. After act 1 in which Roddy falls from grace I was expecting the standard narrative of the film following his rise back to the top again; however this doesn’t happen. In Act 2 he reaches the top but is almost instantly knocked down again; this lead to an intriguing film experience where I truly did not know what would happen next.

 

THE BAD

In terms of the bad parts of this film there are a few which whilst they did not ruin my enjoyment would probably ruin others. As discussed there are minimal uses of title cards which does lead to come confusion over what is happening. For example in the scene where he girl becomes pregnant Roddy has some sort of argument with some young boys which I truly didn’t understand and didn’t seem to impact the rest of the film.

I think perhaps a few more title-cards could have been used particularly in scenes such as the above or when characters where arguing just to clear up some confusion.

Also in an attempt to get around cutting to title-cards another thing that was done was to cut to writing placed within the scene i.e. notes, signs etc. However I found this to be tiresome and too coincidental at points particularly when Roddy goes to the Underground and the sign reads what must obviously be his thoughts; this seemed a bit jarring, as I was not yet invested enough in Roddy’s character to enter his mind. 

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CAMEO O’CLOCK

As discussed last week whenever Hitchcock makes one of his famous cameo’s I will screenshot it and place it in this section. However no such cameo exists in Downhill so maybe next week.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

To sum up I think that Downhill was much better than The Pleasure Garden however it was a tad overly experimental and didn’t quite flow even though it was thoroughly entertaining. I therefore award it a Hitch-Factor of 3.

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With Jaws being re-released in cinema next week I think its time to explain why it is my favourite Spielberg film and why it is unparalleled in terms of style and content compared to everything else he has created and probably everything he is yet to create. I will explain below my ten reasons why Jaws will never be forgotten and deserves acclaim as one of the masterpieces of cinema.

 

NUMBER 1 – GENRE PICK’n’MIX

Firstly to define Jaws as a single genre piece is near impossible. It combines areas from so many genres from moments of pure horror (young boy gets eaten) alongside drama, comedy and swashbuckling adventure. All these elements are brought to the forefront in the scenes on the boat where Quint, Hooper and Brody get drunk leading to some great comic moments before the perfectly delivered and famous ‘Indianapolis monologue’, it sends shivers down my spine every time. This mix of genres is hard to create in film and something Spielberg has often attempted within his other films such as Jurassic Park but doesn’t quite manage it as it just ends up becoming a kind of typical family adventure (not that this is a bad thing).

 

NUMBER 2 – OPENING SCENE

The opening scene is a perfect example of tension and horror within cinema, it begins with drunken fun; a girl running away from a guy in a playful manner before entering the water and ultimately being killed by the shark. Her screams resonate throughout the film and of-course it is the first opportunity for John Williams to showcase the famous piece of music discussed later in this post. I strongly believe this is Speilberg’s greatest opening as it sets up the film fantastically. I know this opinion will be frowned on by many who says the best opening must be the entering and escaping from the tomb in Raiders of The Lost Ark however this does not compare in terms of the tension and drama the opening from Jaws sets up for the rest of the film.

 

NUMBER 3 – UNDERWATER CAMERAWORK

All the cinematography in this film is fantastic however the most noteworthy shots come from below the water; the underwater camera is used in a way, which had never been seen prior to create great effect with shots from the sharks point-of-view particularly daunting. It was far from the first use of underwater camerawork with the James Bond’s underwater battle in Thunderball and obviously Dustin Hoffman losing his mind in obviously Dustin Hoffman losing his mind in The Graduate are both noteworthy attempts at this format but what Spielberg and his cinematographer did was re-invent this in a unique way and create stunning visuals that create real anxiety; everyone remembers the shots from underwater of the young boys legs kicking just before he is brutally murdered. The beautiful underwater shots are one of the reasons the film is remembered because they are simply incredible.

 

NUMBER 4 – BLOOD AND DEATH

One thing that never fails to surprise me when I re-watch Jaws is the amount of blood and gore actually seen. There are several scenes which are incredibly gory for example when the young boy is eaten by the shark, blood sprays everywhere above water and all the children are seen running away from the bloody water. There’s also the death of Quint and the floating head sends a chill down ones spine whenever the film is watched.

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NUMBER 5 – Da-Dun, Da-Dun, Da-dun-da-dun-da-dun-da-dun da da da

It is widely agreed that John Williams is one of the best music conductor around in Hollywood and that his musical scores have had a massive impact on the success of every Speilberg film. With Jaws he truly outdid himself and made one of the most iconic pieces of music in cinema history. Ok you could argue that the Imperial March from the Star Wars franchise s equally iconic and obviously he composed the magical music for the entire Harry Potter series; but his music in Jaws is so simplistic and perfectly fits the piece. It has been recreated countless times in both comedy and horror and is beautiful match in the context of the film with its bass echoing adding an underwater effect.

 

NUMBER 6 – EVERYONE KNOWS ‘JAWS’

This point may seem fairly obvious but Jaws is a film which nearly everyone has seen. This point may seem invalid as Speilberg has created many films that fit that criteria (ET, Indiana Jones, Schindler’s List). Despite this I think Jaws is arguably his most popular film and has a loveable feel to it that both adults and children can enjoy (and not in the nostalgic sense that occurs when older people watch ET).

 

NUMBER 7 – FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN

OK, so this is fairly obvious and one of the things mentioned most when people praise the film but that doesn’t make it any less invalid. In most horror films fear is created from the unknown, if the audience don’t know what it is they can’t be criticize the bad special-effects or CGI. This is what Jaws does perfectly even if this is not what Speilberg intended. All the rumors around the film are that when faced with an edit, editor a Ms. Verna Fields removed much of the shark footage that was shot because it looked simply terrible; this was against Spielberg’s plan but I’m sure he’s happy with the results. Also because CGI obviously didn’t exist all the effects where done physically meaning the film has not particularly aged badly as with some of the early CG effects.

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NUMBER 8 – INSPIRARTION, INSPIRATION, INSPIRATION

Without the existence of Jaws, modern films would be a very different place. The only reason Alien received a budget was because it was pitched to the studio as ‘Jaws in Space’. Alien would become Ridley Scott’s breakout film and allow him to go on and make classics such as Blade Runner and Thelma and Louise. All three of these films inspirational in different ways. Jaws of-course also inspired several terrible sequels as well as many low-budget spoofs (Piranahas, Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus etc.) which are highly enjoyable and receive a rather large cult following.

 

NUMBER 9 – THE FIRST BLOCKBUSTER

Jaws was the first film to successfully across America on the same day after a huge advertising campaign, it was an event movie that saw it make millions and would ultimately class it as the first proper summer blockbuster.

 

NUMBER 10 – SHARK….. GIANT SHARK!!!

 

That is all

 

CONCLUSION

So to sum up if you have time to see Jaws at the cinema do so and enjoy what is a true masterpiece of multiple genres and a film which deserves all its acclaim and is by far Steven Spielberg’s greatest directorial effort.