Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Single set films: LIFEBOAT, DIAL M FOR MURDER, etc.

I sense that with Alfred Hitchcock's single-set films (Lifeboat, Dial M, Rope), in order to keep them visually interesting, H divided them into smaller areas or quadrants, each with its own personality. With Lifeboat, for instance, he divided the boat into the prow, midship and stern. The prow tended to be where the "officers" of the boat (e.g. Constance Porter, Kovac, Rittenhouse and Willi) resided, and it was framed -- naturally enough -- from a low angle, with a low horizon and lots of sky in the background. Midship was reserved for "passengers" (Mrs. Iggley and Smith), and the stern, with its rudder, was reserved for the ship's work crew, and it was often framed from a higher angle, with a watery background. This kept it visually intetesting, but it also supported the movie's dramatic and thematic purposes.

The set of Dial M, I think, was also envisioned by H in a similar way. For example, the somewhat formal and austere area around the writing desk contrasts with the warm, inviting living room area just a footstep away.

It seems to me that H viewed these quadrants as sets-within-a-set, each with its own personality, experiential "feel" and emotional context.

For that reason, I can't buy into the notion that the bed's proximity to the corpse -- even if it WAS a mere three feet away -- indicates any affinity between them. The case would be easier to make if the bed had been placed directly above the site of the corpse, with the bed's head facing toward the audience, as the corpse's was. Otherwise, the bed may just as well have been miles
away.

For hyperbole's sake, I think that if H had wanted to, he could have filmed North by Northwest entirely inside a studio apartment!

Joel Gunz

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