Monday, July 11, 2011

Let's talk about Hitchcock

Shall we?

Well, if I really must have a reason to talk about Hitchcock I'm going to have to rewind and fast forward quite a bit...

Too often the excuse for silly, immature, by the numbers cinema is passed on to the audience.

It shouldn't be.

See the argument goes that the audience can't, or won't be bothered, to work out "complex" ideas in a film. And someone who's new to the medium, or who hasn't checked out cinema going back a few decades or more, might be forgiven for thinking as such.

Actually, no. If you're a "movie lover" and haven't checked out at least some "old" movies/films by the likes of Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, François Truffaut and other such masters, then shame on you.

Well... not really shame on you... more like your loss... your serious loss.

Trailer for Akira Kurosawa's 'Rashomon'

So, let's talk about Hitchcock. Still no?

I see.

I might have been a tad vague in my reasoning for talking about Hitchcock. Hmmm... how to put it?

Okay.

You hear about how everyone... well a few people... well... maybe just a few critics are deriding that little film about robots in disguise? I mean it's the most recent picture in a trilogy of sorts... You know... the one with the giant robots and huge explosions and other... you know... explosive situations? Yea. That movie.

A lot of the times that sort of thing, because of the fact that maybe it's taking in boat loads of money, is justified, with "audiences really prefer not to think through a movie" - I'm just paraphrasing here mind. And recent, slightly skewed "research" might lead one to justify that...

Hence my want to talk about Hitchcock. Errr... no? Why? Cos we can talk about all those other guys I mentioned before you say?

Trailer for François Truffaut's 'Les Quatre cents coups' (400 Blows) 

Yea. You should really go check those guys out. Their work is beautiful, evocative and thought provoking - even when they're working with black and white and no explosions. But while they may have had mainstream appeal in their own right I wouldn't go so far as to say they had global appeal in their time... alas, they seem to have trouble with global appeal even in our time.

So.

Really.

Let's talk about Hitchcock.

Yes?

Good. Great!

He proved that you could make money with "high concept" films while not alienating the audience and still garner critical acclaim and global fame... although initially, he may have had a tough time getting some American critics to see the value in his work.

I see you pulling away now... a few more minutes? I promise I'll make it  worth your while.

Trailer for 'Psycho'

Heard of 'Psycho' (1960)? No. Not that 1998 version - which I hear was a travesty... No I really didn't watch it. There was no need to. Go see Hitchcock's original Psycho you'll see what I mean - it was shot in black and white but even with that "handicap" it does so well in eliciting a visceral reaction out of you.

If you've heard somebody describe any story as a "modern, psychological yarn" you will be surprised to see how much of that you see here in a film made in 1960 - and how much faith, unlike most modern mainstream directors, Hitchcock had in his audience.

So you think that Psycho is not that hard to follow compared to "modern" standards?

You should check out 'Vertigo' (1958).

Trailer for 'Vertigo'

Technical innovation aside, the story telling is intense, complicated and riveting. And I would argue that its complexity holds up even by modern "intellectual" standards.

That's all well and good you say? You want a pop-corn movie? One that you can sit back and enjoy? One that takes you through exciting chases, chills, thrills and a few laughs?

You don't mind all that and a little bit of intelligence and humour do you?

Try 'North by Northwest' (1959) on for size. But be warned - it's more than a bit intelligent and it has a brilliant sense of humour. You get chases, mistaken identities, spies, damsels who are decidedly not in distress (Who'd have thunk?!?! In the 50s?!?!), killer crop-duster planes... KILLER CROP-DUSTER PLANES DAMMIT!!!

Trailer for 'North by Northwest'

And those are just some of the highlights of his career.

Some of his work has inspired, and keeps inspiring, some of our greatest filmmakers today.

Take a look at Christopher Nolan's work and I can't help but see a Hitchcockian sense of humour and a sense of the same crisp, lean narrative.

Does 'Memento' (2000) not have a wicked sense of humour while making your mind do summersaults? That's kind of what Hitchcock does with North by Northwest although with a much lesser degree of a mental workout - that he leaves for Vertigo.

You know that thing that David Fincher keeps trying to do ever so often with the long, uninterrupted shots? He tried it a couple of times with 'Fight Club' (1999) and 'Panic Room'(2002)? I'd go so far as to argue that that was pure Hitchcock inspired - see 'Rope' (1948) and you'll get where I'm coming from.

Tailer for 'Rope' - like a few of Hitchcock's trailers
contains little from the actual film.

So yea.

That's why we needed to talk about Hitchcock.

Also, remember the other guys I told you about? Well... Hitchcock was my stepping stone to those guys. No. He's not less important than they are - if anything, for me, he might be slightly more important.

So what it comes down to... what I guess I am saying is...

It's okay if you make "crappy" movies - just don't justify it by saying that the audience won't get it. Yea... what I'm saying is... the audience are intelligent enough to grasp almost anything you can throw at them.

Seriously.

If they weren't David Lynch and a few other directors you might have heard of wouldn't have careers.

Edit; July 12, 2011:

I consider myself not adequately chastised for missing out on naming Ingmar Bergman in my original post - that is one name which should not have been missed. I've attempted to fix this inexcusable oversight by adding a link to the original post - I felt it might be cheating to edit the text afterwards. Thanks to shaari for bringing this to my attention.

4 comments:

shaari said...

I'd add Rear Window to Hitchcock's finest works. Also Ingmar Bergman to the greats of that era whose films bear resemblance to Hitchcock's in their mystery & suspense.

"The audience won't get it" is only an excuse to make a film that'd rake in a lot of money fast. Or they simply lack the creative capacity to produce high art. Nothing really wrong with making mindless escapism material as long as it manages to keep an audience entertained but like you say it shouldn't come with the insulting pretext of dumbing down. Works by top directors like Hitchcock, Bergman, Godard & Lynch constantly challenge our intellect & that's exactly what makes them tick.

This reminds of the famous words by Vittoria De Sica, "All my good films which I financed by myself made nothing. Only my bad films made money. Money has been my ruin.” It'd be stereotyping to say that's how the industry rolls but you can't take away the high degree of truth in it.

Yasir said...

I fear the current production and distribution model is to blame. It may not be in the best interest of cinema - consider the New Hollywood Era and what followed.
The industry giants could do artists & audiences a favor by minimizing creative control on film making and focus on what they do best- marketing.
What remains to be seen is whether alternate models like Kickstarter or OpenIndie will act as game-changers.

Accidental Tourist said...

the audience won't get it excuse is sadly not exclusive to egomaniacal directors like michael bay today who churn out such utter rubbish. It's pretty much the client's standard veto excuse within the advertising world.

aindhy said...

@shaari

I dunno what came over me to NOT include Bergman on the list. Goddard I missed out cos I actually prefer Truffaut to him - we can blame THAT on 'Weekend'.

And yea - I agree that you don't HAVE to make good films... just don't justify your choice to do so by insulting the audience.

@Yasir

While I do agree that there is too much 'creative' input from the executive side I think that's another place where Hitchcock set an example - he didn't just shoot his films, he formulated ways to promote them and I think this is something that Nolan has emulated with his films...

I think that's actually a brilliant approach - the suits want some razzmatazz and Nolan does all these viral marketing stuff and obliges them on his terms in ways to get audiences interested in the film even before they see a trailer!

I don't think it's as easy as laying blame on the suits BUT it would be good to engage them in their turf - especially if they deem it fit to engage you (the director) on your turf.

@Accidental Tourist

I get what you mean... but over here at least, with younger blood getting to have input on communications decisions that is changing a little - although the bosses, more often than not, wind up overruling them...

Also when it comes to filmmakers who churn out rubbish being egomaniacal - well that's not just limited to Hollywood...