January 16th, 2005

Random Notes On Hitchcock

I used to think Hitchcock was heartless, but I've been watching a lot of his movies recently and now I think different.

When Babs is murdered in Frenzy it happens behind closed doors with the camera gliding back down the stairs and out into the street. Pure cinema. Very restrained. Very moving.

Actors loved him. And he loved them. But he expected them to know their job. So long as they hit their marks and stayed in frame he'd let them improvise business and change their lines. Anna Massey says, "he hired actors like he hired carpenters."

He gets compared to Dickens, but he's utterly without Dickens's sentimentality.

His heroes are frequently unpleasant. Thornhill in North By North West is a shallow, arrogant advertising exec. Scotty in Vertigo is a bullying obsessive. The unpleasantness is disguised because they're being played by the supernaturally charming Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart.

These films are about guilt. OK, the hero's innocent of murder/theft/treason but he is guilty of being a jerk. Hitchcock doesn't wear it on his sleeve, but he's essentially a Catholic artist.

Someone said his films should be experienced as if they were dreams. I find this helpful.

All the films are one film.

It's received dogma that he lost the plot in old age. Not at all. Frenzy is easily as good as Strangers On A Train and Family Plot is a lovely, low-key, little movie with great suspense and winning performances.

I even like Topaz. Actually I like it a lot. Apart from a weak ending (there are three weak endings- pick the one you dislike least) it's a work of sustained brilliance- an elegant dance of death- and a whole lot better than any of the Bond movies with which it gets compared.

Things to look out for: trains, stairs, gays.

Images Of War

I’ve been looking at art of the First World War. Nothing changes. The artists tried to show things as they really were and officialdom tried to stop them.

C.W.R Nevinson put a little picture of dead Tommies into an exhibition in 1918. http://www.art-ww1.com/trame/090text.html. He was told to remove it. Instead he covered it over with brown paper and wrote "censored" across it. The War Office issued him with a reprimand. Not only was it forbidden to show pictures of dead bodies, it was also forbidden to draw attention to the rules that forbade it.

Nerves were very raw. When Frank Brangwyn was commissioned to paint murals in Westminster Palace in the mid 20s one of his offerings was this boys own image of tanks going into action. http://www.art-ww1.com/trame/022text.html. It was rejected as too morbid.

William Orpen painted this picture as a comment on The Peace of Versailles. http://www.art-ww1.com/trame/097text2.html. The nation refused to buy it, so he painted out the ghostly soldiers. http://www.art-ww1.com/trame/097text2.html. Actually I think the second version is an improvement, but it's nice to know that with the process of time and the thinning of the paint the two spooks are now beginning to show through.