Friday, December 7, 2012

Gab Evening...

Werth: Hi there, Wise.  

Wise: Ho, ho, ho, Werth.  Will you help me unpack all these decorations?  

Werth: What is all this stuff?  I don't see any lights or tinsel, just fat suits and rubber masks.  

Wise: You're forgetting that it's the most important month on the Hollywood calendarBioPic Season—when well-regarded actors ornament themselves with fake noses, false teeth, crazy accents or even a signature walk in an attempt to win Oscar gold.  And this year, no one is going flashier than Sir Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock.  

Werth: Hopkins has pretty big pants to fill playing the iconic film director. Not only was Alfred Hitchcock a masterful director, but he was also an expert at marketing himself. Whether doing blink-and-you-miss-it cameos in his films or introducing his 1955-1961 television show, Hitchcock was as recognizable to his audience as his movies were. 

Wise: It also helps to have a profile that looks like a ham hock. 

Werth: One of my favorite Hitchcock flicks is the voyeuristic thriller, Rear Window (1954). Through a long, dialogue-free tracking shot Hitchcock sets up that Jeff Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) is a photographer who has gotten the shot of a car wreck at a racetrack, but has also wound-up confined to a wheelchair in his apartment with a broken leg.

Wise: Jimmy always seems to get hurt with Hitchcock.

Werth: Jeff is in the catbird seat, though, when it comes to looking out his window which faces a courtyard ringed by the backsides of several apartment buildings. Like a wall of televisions, Jeff is able to see the goings on in his neighbors' New York apartments like the single, middle-aged Miss Lonelyhearts; the exercise-prone Miss Torso; and the piano-banging ladies' man Songwriter.

Wise: Add a Brazillian drum corps and you've got my neighborhood.

Werth: Jeff's girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly in her second of three memorable Hitchcock outings), initially chastises Jeff for nosing in on his neighbors, but soon she too can't help but be drawn into the livesreal or imagined that they see through Jeff's window. The biggest draw is the apartment of Lars Thorwald (a grumpy Raymond Burr) where first Jeff and then Lisa begin to believe that a murder may have occurred.

Wise: I wish I could have murdered that Brazillian drum corps.

Werth: Hitchcock's camerawork for Rear Window is nothing short of miraculous. Using POV shots, the mobile camera seems trapped with Jeff and us in this apartment giving us equal parts peeping tom kick and frustration at not being able to get another vantage point. 
The camera in this film only shows us what we can see from Jeff's apartment—and allows us as well as Jeff and Lisa to imagine what could have happened behind the pulled down shade of the Thorwald bedroom. 
The old saw of not seeing being more suspenseful than seeing is given an ingenious twist that makes this film one of Hitchcock's best, earning him the fourth of his five Oscar noms. That, and it has Thelma Ritter in it, which is always a plus in my book.

Wise: In Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Joseph Cotten plays a man on the lam who turns up at his sister's home in idyllic suburban California where his adoring teenage niece (Teresa Wright) begins to suspect his unsavory past.  When two men show up pretending to take a survey of the average American family, one of them takes Wright's Young Charlie aside and tells her that they are detectives and suspect that her uncle is the notorious Merry Widow serial killerCharlie goes from idolizing her uncle to fearing him as a series of small accidents begins to make her think he is trying to kill her.  

Werth: She should be fine as long as she's not a Merry Widow, right?

Wise: The film has all of Hitchcock's signature themes—paranoia, moral ambiguity, black humor—but it also features something unusual for the Master of Suspense: children.  Co-screenwriter Sally Benson was the author of the memoir upon which Meet Me in St. Louis was based, making her an attractive collaborator for a film about an adolescent girl's anxieties.  But in addition to creating Esther Smith's romantic dilemmas, she also birthed Tootie's obsession with killing and burying her dolls in the backyard.  
Charlie's younger sister Ann is bookish and condescending toward their father's (Henry Travers) habit of plotting out fictitious murders with the neighbor (an hilarious Hume Cronyn), while her little brother Roger is too obsessed with numbers to care much about the adults around him

Werth: Only the Pop O Matic Bubble can keep this family together!

Wise: The film also plays with identity in a clever way.  Young Charlie shares a name with her uncle and throughout Hitchcock photographs them in similar positions and attitudes to heighten the similarities between the two.  As Young Charlie begins to suspect her uncle's perfidy, she is also beginning to doubt herself, fearing that the connection they share is actually evil.

Werth: Judging from her dresses, she may share Joseph Cotten's shoulders.

Wise: Shadow cleverly merges small town nostalgia with film noir, upending platitudes about neighborliness and good will with murky morals and staircases that suddenly give way.  Hometown life transforms from a haven into trap.  

Werth: I look forward to seeing if Anthony Hopkins can avoid the trap of hamming up his performance as the Master of Suspense.

Wise: I just hope they play the theme song. See you next week Film Gabbers!


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