Monday, February 25, 2013
Anne: “What would you say if no one came to your funeral?”
Georges: “Nothing, presumably.
Congratulations to Michael Haneke for taking home a 2013 Oscar for Amour in the Best Foreign Film category.
Posted by Joel Gunz at 12:50 PM
Friday, February 1, 2013
By Elisabeth Karlin
When I set out to write my play Bodega Bay I was Hitchcockful of ideas. I knew I wanted to send my protagonist off on an adventurous cross-country journey that would actually be a trip to self-knowledge. I knew I wanted to touch on themes of appearance vs. reality, the fragility of our ordered world and how the dead affect the living. I knew I would use the sea as a place of emotional confrontation. I knew I would deal in images of birds, bathrooms and eyeglasses and that my script would be peppered with allusions and in-jokes for the Hitchophiles. And I knew that I wanted to do all this in the heightened style of German Expressionism that Hitchcock was so rooted in.
Like Hitchcock, I approach story-telling as a character-driven endeavor and in Louise Finch (kudos to those who know right off the bat where I got that name) I created a natural descendant of all the familiar folk in the Hitchcock oeuvre with lives in need of purpose and meaning. Yet even with character and story in place, I still didn't have much more than a cerebral exercise. Determined to avoid a spoofy send-up or a reverential homage, I hoped to create a play that would stand on its own for those oblivious to the the Hitchcock overlay. The best dramas are written from the gut and have to come from the inside out.
Oddly, I discovered the viscera of my Hitch-inspired project in the movie that Hitchcock never made. Mary Rose is a play by J. M. Barrie that Hitchcock saw and loved as a youth. He never let go of the desire to film this fey, romantic ghost story. He wanted to do it with Grace Kelly and then with Tippi Hedren and when that relationship soured he considered unknown Claire Griswold. Because of a clear lack of enthusiasm from MCA/Universal (Hitch joked that the studio would likely have backed any project of his as long as it wasn't Mary Rose) it never happened but he never lost hope.
Mary Rose, the play, is an antique and like most antiques, it is not to everyone's taste. When I read the screenplay that Marnie screenwriter Jay Presson Allen drafted for Hitch, on the Writing With Hitchcock website (thank-you Steven DeRosa!) I wondered how such a moist and misty artifact of fantasy about a girl who disappears on "the island that likes to be visited," comes back and disappears on it again to return once more as an aching ghost, could hold such an unrelenting fascination for the sophisticated Hitchcock.
And yet, something about the script's final scene spoke to me in a strange way. It made me delve further and I came across a review of a revival of the play by critic John Lahr in the New Yorker. About the background of J. M. Barrie and Mary Rose Lahr wrote:
"He [Barrie] knew from experience that a mother could be both alive and dead. In 1867, when he was six, his thirteen year old brother David was killed in a skating accident. Barrie's mother, Margaret, took to her bed and became a ghostly presence who was both there and not there for her little boy...In life, Barrie could not heal his haunted mother or reclaim her. In Mary Rose written when Barrie was almost sixty, he does both."
I typed this quote and put it over my desk. I taped it to the inside cover of my notebook. I looked at it every time I needed to remind myself why I was writing this play. And every time I looked at it, the words "could not heal his haunted mother" blazed back at me, evoking my own mother who in her life was always both there and not there, shielded from me and the world by her dark glasses and an opaque haze of cigarette smoke and depression. I rode those words all the way to the last draft of Bodega Bay.
His failure to film Mary Rose is considered to be the great creative disappointment of Hitchcock's life. He thought it might be his masterpiece. Meanwhile, his acknowledged masterpiece, Vertigo, waded into many of the same themes and moods--how the dead affect the living and how a ghostly figure of desire can be there and not there.
In his interview with Francois Truffaut, Hitch is characteristically flip about the whole Mary Rose thing. "You should make the picture," he told the French director. "You would do it better. It's not really Hitchcock material," he said as if covering his broken heart. For more than Grace Kelly, more than Tippi Hedren, it seems that it is the spectral Mary Rose who was really the girl that got away.
A young man saw a play that stayed with him the whole of his life. And in some slightly phantasmagorical Mary Rose way, I wrote my own play while basking in his presence on our shadowy astral plane of an island that likes to be visited. I came back with the liberating lesson that what is cinematic or theatrical need not be sensible and logical, only truthful. But it was not the great maestro of anxiety who I found on that island. It was not the majestically monumental Hitchcock. It was only the watchful and yearning Alfred--a boy who liked to go to the theatre.
Elisabeth Karlin's play BODEGA BAY plays at The Abingdon Theatre in New York City through February 17th. For information go to www.abingdontheatre.org.
Posted by Elisabeth Karlin at 12:46 PM
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
By Elisabeth Karlin
The epithet "Master of Suspense" that clings to Alfred Hitchcock like moss on a rock has always rung feebly for me. "Master of Dark Psychological Undertones, Chaos in an Ordered Universe and Moral Ambiguities" is more like it. I admit that it's a bit too wordy. That's why I stick simply with "The Master." This is the account of our collaboration, even though we never met.
Hitchcock has been on my mind quite a lot these past couple of years. As adjutant to Joel Gunz on the Alfred Hitchcock Geek Facebook Page and contributor to this blog, I have a daily dedication to saying something about the man. When fellows respond to what I put out there with their own thoughts I think about him some more. And of course I read Hitchcock savants like Gunz, Stephen Rebello, Steven DeRosa and Dan Auiler, and soon I feel like the composer in Rear Window, with Hitch in my apartment, adjusting my clock. You see, the more you think about Hitchcock, the more intrusive he becomes in your life. The more you look deeply into his work, the more you see. And the more you see, the more you want to say about it.
There was no fighting it. With Hitchcock a fixture in my consciousness, I had to dream up my own drama dealing in his deepest and most compelling themes. For me, the lure of Hitchcock has never been the spilling and splattering of blood. Rather, it is the question of what runs in our blood that gets me going back to the films. It is the way Hitchcock has of guiding his audience to disturbing discoveries about what makes us who we are that I see as the crux of his craft.
The result of this divine hookup with Hitch is Bodega Bay, a play about Louise Finch, the mousy sister of a meth addict, who leaves Staten Island for a cross-country odyssey to find the mother who mysteriously walked away years ago. Now, meth addicts on Staten Island might not sound like standard Hitchcock fare while transcontinental journeys and missing mothers might, and in upcoming posts I will elucidate and elaborate on the particular points of this creative embrace between The Master and me.
Elisabeth Karlin's play BODEGA BAY opens at The Abingdon Theatre in New York City on January 25th. For information go to www.abingdontheatre.org.
Posted by Elisabeth Karlin at 10:29 AM
Monday, January 7, 2013
“Ladies and gentlemen, the picture you are about to see is called “The Naked City.” My name is Mark Hallinger. I was in charge of its production. I might as well tell you directly that it’s a bit different from anything you’ve ever seen. It was not photographed in a studio. Quite to the contrary, the… actors played out their roles on the streets, in the apartment houses, on the skyscrapers of New York itself.”
“This is Alfred Hitchcock speaking. In the past, I have given you many kinds of suspense pictures. But this time, I would like you to see a different one. The difference lies in the fact that this is a true story, every word of it. And yet it contains elements that are stranger than all the fiction that has gone into many of the thrillers that I've made before.”
- Introduce himself by name and deliver a prologue.
- Take the audience out of the cinematic experience by reminding it that it is watching a movie.
- Draw attention to their movies’ realism.
- Make claims that this movie is unlike any the audience has yet seen.
The Naked City
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
“Like all great artists, Alfred Hitchcock is impossible to live with, but well worth the effort.” So says one of the characters in the eagerly anticipated Hitchcock (Fox/Searchlight), which both sums up the main point of the film and explains why I recently found my bags packed and on the porch. Apparently, I’m not the artist I thought I was.
That was a maudlin thought. Then again, Hitchcock is rife with maudlin humor and asides--along with enough Easter egg-like in-jokes to keep Hitchcock fans and re-watching the film for years. For instance, in a line borrowed from one of the final scenes in Vertigo, Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) invites Alma to join him for “one of those big juicy steaks we love so much.”
The first-ever legitimate biopic (or is it docudrama?) about the director, Hitchcock prudently avoids a career-spanning flyover of his half century in movies and focuses instead on the obstacles he faced just to make one film: Psycho. But don’t let that limited scope fool you. Restricting the story to just a few months between 1959 and 1960 allowed director Sacha Gervasi and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin ample room to explore the complicated relationships that existed between Hitch and Alma and Hitch and his leading ladies, while also comparing the dark corners of his psyche with the entertainments he brought to generations of audiences. History was provided by Stephen Rebello's excellent and readable book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.
Gervasi pulls out a variety of tricks to get those ideas across without resorting to dry exposition. In a series of imaginary sequences, real-life serial killer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) and inspiration behind novelist Robert Bloch’s Norman Bates, plays Hitch’s muse, confidant, psychotherapist and Jungian shadow. Such fantasy scenes (fantascenes?) were a bit fresher when Tony Soprano first engaged in them, but here they show us what we suspected all along--that Hitch, ever the good Catholic, loved his murderers as he did himself.
Hitchcock isn't a term paper, it's a movie. The creators don't shy away from creative license in order to get the all-too-true story across. For example, Hitchcock was always famously cool on the set, and for the filming of the shower scene in particular, Janet Leigh recalled, “it went very professionally and very quickly.” Suffice it to say that in this movie, Hitch steps in and proves to be a real cut-up. What we lose in historical accuracy, we gain in further insight into Hitch's creative rage.
In a later scene, at Psycho's premier, Hitch pretends to direct the audience as if it were an orchestra. Untethered from historical facts, the scene reveals what the real payoff was for Hitch, who spent 50 years hiding in the dark behind a camera. Moments like this were what Hitch lived for.
When you realize that Anthony Hopkins himself played Hannibal Lechter, the screen’s second-most beloved serial killer, it follows that he was an inspired choice to play Hitch. (Hell, Hopkins could have played Alma if he’d wanted to.) And he brought a sense of Hitch’s troubled nature to the role. But I do have a beef. Like Toby Jones’ portrayal of Hitch in The Girl, Hopkins’ Hitchcock is based on Hitchcock’s public persona, with all the black humor and droll imperiousness unwaveringly in place. (At least in HBO's bio-waste The Girl, we get to hear a few of Hitch's classic, filthy limericks. I took notes.) In this new film, Hopkins' Hitch is either the Buddha of Deadpan or he’s a ravenous, knife-wielding glutton.
In preparation for the role, Hopkins admitted the he “watched a lot of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" episodes. That was his first mistake. And that prosthetic fat-man makeup didn't make his job easier. But the real Alfred Hitchcock, the one I’d hoped to glimpse, at least in the scenes he shares in private with his closest confidants, was in fact a spirited raconteur, quick with a smile, whose eyes—as with those of his characters—revealed everything, as this interview shows.
For me, the show-stopper was Helen Mirren, who serves up an Alma Hitchcock who’s cunning, resolute and funny—and who knew the score all too well as the loyal wife who lived in the shadow of her famous husband’s fantasy mistresses, without losing herself along the way. If Hitchcock gets a Best Picture Oscar where the master’s films always came up short, in order to complete the symmetry, Mirren ought to receive a Best Supporting Role where Alma never did.
Alfred Hitchcock lived to make movies. The story of his films cannot be separated from his life—and the converse is true as well. For film lovers in general along with casual fans and hard core Hitchcock Geeks, Hitchcock has a little something for everyone.
The film also stars Scarlett Johansson, who plays herself dressed up to look like Janet Leigh and Michael Stuhlbarg as Hitch’s smooth-as-scotch yet ravenous-as-a-vampire superagent, Lew Wasserman. James D’Arcy reincarnates Anthony Perkins and Jessica Biel keeps her chin up as Hitch's spurned muse, Vera Miles. Opens Friday in select theaters.
Posted by Joel Gunz at 7:32 PM
Saturday, November 3, 2012
I am thrilled to announce Cinema 21's "First Annual" (only an oxymoron to the most pessimistic) Hitchcock Film Festival, which started last night and runs through Wednesday. So you know where I'll be camping this week! And, just to show that fresh prints isn't just a rap star, that's how you'll be seeing these movies! Here are the deets:
DATES: Runs Friday November 2 thru Wednesday November 7
TICKETS: $6 each; $9 per DOUBLE FEATURE; $40 per Festival pass
ADDRESS: Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Ave
FORMAT: ALL IN GLORIOUS, FRESH 35MM!!
Showtimes follow this fascinating interview with festival creator and curator, Ian Berry:
Who are you and what's your association with cinema 21?
"I've been a projectionist at Cinema 21 for 5 years now -- a projectionist in general since 1998. But I was a weekly fixture at Cinema 21 long before I worked there. It's always been my favorite movie theater. It's more than my home away from home; it's my church.
Why you? Why a Hitchcock festival?
I've actually been bugging my boss, Tom, for a while to do a Hitchcock festival. I originally wanted to do it on Hitch's birthday in August two years ago. But sometimes these things roll very slowly. With the success of the noir series back in March (another thing I had to pester him into), I think Tom finally saw that we could do a tribute to Hitchcock and he wouldn't lose his shirt. Plus it just seemed like the timing couldn't be better. The Sight & Sound pronouncement, the new movies, Hitchcock is just in the air right now. For personal and sentimental reasons, though, one of the greatest film-going experiences I ever had was seeing Rear Window for the first time as a young adult at Cinema 21. I was so completely blown away I returned the very next night to watch it again, just to be sure it wasn't a one night stand, that the movie was actually THAT GOOD. So I wanted to bring that feeling back to the theater, if only for selfish reasons.
In an era in which projection is increasingly digital, What is involved in putting together a 35mm film festival?
It's fairly difficult. First of all, there's the availability and condition of the existing prints. Film is a delicate medium. Some films are just plain unavailable. (For instance, we couldn't program The Birds because it's currently making the rounds as part of Universal's 100th anniversary tour. I really wanted Lifeboat but we were told there wasn't a print in circulation right now.) Some prints are in poor condition. In fact, when we got our print of Vertigo, we looked at it and very quickly realized that the print had seen better days. We immediately asked Universal if there was a better print available and we dished out the extra money to get it here.
Which leads right into Part Two: it can be very expensive to do a festival of 35mm films. We actually sought out private sponsorship to make this festival possible, mostly for the shipping costs of these prints. But we felt like we had to show these films ON FILM, the way The Master intended.
When we did the noir series, Tom was on the fence about going film or going digital. (Let's make this clear: I was not on the fence. I wanted film very badly.) Tom has to watch the prices of everything, so I don't blame him for being tempted by the lower costs of digital versions, especially where older films are concerned because the shipping costs are drastically reduced. Additionally, he's so busy that he doesn't watch the films in the theater as often as he'd probably like to and therefore is a bit removed sometimes from the power of celluloid. So when we came up with a list of the films we wanted to program, we found prints where we could, but then we compromised on a few titles (the ones we couldn't get 35mm prints) by showing the blu-ray versions. The very first film of the series was The Killers, of which we managed to get a brand new 35mm print. Tom and I watched it and afterwards he turned to me and vowed, right then and there, that we would always get 35mm prints for these types of festivals in the future. He was no longer on the fence. The print looked THAT amazing. He was a believer again!
When judging these prints up against a digital copy (a comparison which I've done on the big screen), I think the difference is unmistakable. Film is most assuredly the superior format. It not only looks better, it actually FEELS better, too. It's a whole other experience. And by the way, for this festival we've managed to get stunning brand new prints of The Lady Vanishes, Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and Marnie.
If the restored Dial M for Murder makes a theatrical run, can we hope to see it at Cinema 21? Will it be digital or (I hope!) a restored film version?
We showed Dial M in 3D the summer before last on film. It was spectacular! Tom and I wanted to program it for this year's festival, but decided it was too soon. So I feel very confident we'll have it in next year's festival. However, I noticed that the Film Forum in New York played the new digital version in 3D over the summer and I wonder how it looked. If it's possible to make the 3D effect better digitally than in the celluloid version, I think we might give it a try. We have a new digital projector and when we showed Pina in 3D, it looked incredible. So... maybe? But, like you, I also hope for a restored film version.
Friday November 2nd
4:30pm - Strangers on a Train
7pm - Vertigo
9:30pm - Rear Window
Saturday November 3rd
Noon - Notorious
2:10pm - Rebecca
4:45pm - The Lady Vanishes
7pm - North by Northwest
9:40pm - Psycho
Sunday November 4th
Noon - Marnie
2:30pm - The 39 Steps
4:30pm - Strangers on a Train
7pm - Notorious
9:10pm - Rebecca
Monday November 5th
4:30pm - Marnie
7pm - North by Northwest
9:40pm - Rear Window
Tuesday November 6th
4:30pm - Strangers on a Train
7pm - Rear Window
9:10pm - The 39 Steps
Wednesday November 7th
5pm - The Lady Vanishes
7pm - Vertigo
9:30pm - Psycho
Posted by Joel Gunz at 12:11 PM