November 08, 2008

... in my giddyup


It speaks somehow to what I suspect is an interesting sea change in my life here as, in revisiting a few of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, I’m finding that I like them now in a way that I didn’t used to before. It’s not that I knew that I was more respecting a picture like Rear Window for instance, than liking it, it’s that now, freed of feeling like I had to respond to it in a certain way, I discovered that I responded to it like a motherfucker. Curious about that, I popped in his remake of his own The Man Who Knew Too Much to discover, to my delight, that a film I’d always sort of disdained was, in fact, tight as the proverbial kettle drum and, more, with a few years under my belt, emotionally affecting as well. My fave Hitch is still 1943’s Shadow of a Doubt, Hitch’s first truly “American” film, his only collaboration with Thornton Wilder, and starring faves Joe Cotten and Theresa Wright – but I’m coming around to the idea that what I’d always considered to be “light” late pictures in the Master’s oeuvre are not so easily dismissed. No wonder Truffaut sounds like a fawning sycophant in that interview he did with him.

Lists being what they are, I’d still like to offer up my top ten Hitchs:

Shadow of a Doubt
Vertigo
The Birds
Marnie
Strangers on a Train
Notorious
Rear Window
Psycho
Rebecca
The Lady Vanishes


Oh dear – that leaves off a great many, doesn’t it? Frenzy and North by Northwest and The Wrong Man and I Confess and The Lodger… where do they fit?

It’s also led to a couple of other skylarks nagging at the back of my head – like what, exactly, the term “Hitchcockian” means outside of specific context?

And which is the Hitch you hate the most to love? Me? Family Plot.

I’m doing a series upcoming at a local library system of “Forgotten Classics” – we’ll be showing, as Saturday Afternoon matinees, Ace in the Hole, Seven Men From Now, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, The Late Show, and Being John Malkovich. Better title might have been “Classics in the Rearview”. Next month, I’ll be doing a Marlene Dietrich series with the Denver Public Library.

Will be doing minor coverage of the Denver Film Festival in the next couple of weeks and catching, I hope, at last a screening of The Wrestler – the last real film I’m interested in seeing this year.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hitchcockian? Wow, good question. I really don't know, since the term's reach is extremely broad. I've always hesitated to use it, most likely 'cause I feel that Hitchcock's best films are the only ones that can be called Hitckcockian -- and calling Hitch's own films Hitchcockian seems a tad redundant, even if the word is so all-encompassing.

And I know this is a cheesy answer, but I don't hate to love any movie; if I love it, I love it. That certainly applies to every Hitchcock movie -- even those considered his lesser ones -- that I've ever loved.

Top Ten Hitchcocks?
Rebecca
Psycho
The Birds
I Confess
The Wrong Man
Vertigo
Frenzy
Strangers on a Train
Shadow of a Doubt
North by Northwest
Mulholland Drive (oops, wait a minute...)

- David H.

Bill C said...

My Top 10 Hitches would go sumpin like:

Shadow of a Doubt
Vertigo
Sabotage
Rear Window
Psycho
The Wrong Man
Strangers on a Train
Marnie
The 39 Steps
Rope

That list would look completely a month ago or a month from now. I must admit a real soft spot for the Gaumont years, though, of which the later The Wrong Man feels like some kind of honorary member.

Ian Pugh said...

I would do well to perform a little Hitch re-evaluation myself. It's been too long since I've seen Notorious.

Here in Boston, we had a weeklong "'50s Hitchcock" program at the Brattle a few weeks ago--and I'm kicking myself because I could only make time for North by Northwest, which has always been my favorite Hitchcock for its manic sense of fatigue. Imagine my surprise when I find a perfect companion piece for the film during a certain series of themed reviews for the site...

Anonymous said...

Quick question: why have none of Walter's reviews been posted on Rotten Tomatoes recently? The last one is Shotgun Stories.

-Ryan

Lee said...

Walter-

Are you not looking forward to David Fincher's Curious Case of Benjamin Button?

Anonymous said...

Ditto Quantum of Solace?

Walter_Chaw said...

Yeah - not really so much I guess, "Button" and "Solace" - the former because I never seem to look forward to Finchers (just backwards) and the latter because Marc Forster directed it. I'm willing to be knocked out of my socks, though.

Keith Uhlich said...

I'd definitely recommend revisiting Hitch's Under Capricorn, an extension of Rope's single-take aesthetic (this one shot by the great Jack Cardiff) and a personal favorite of New Waver Eric Rohmer. Contains one of Hitch's best scenes: Ingrid Bergman's 10-minute confessional (nothing quite like it).

Best Hitch, for me, at the moment: The Birds.

Alex Jackson said...

Hope I'm just the first to say this and not the last, but unfortunately, I have only SEEN ten Hitchcock films!

For whatever it's worth, I would rank them as thus:

Psycho (loved it)
Rear Window (loved it)
The Birds (loved it)
Strangers on a Train (loved it)
Shadow of a Doubt (liked it)
North by Northwest (liked it)
Frenzy (mixed)
Vertigo (disliked it, may possibly promote it to mixed on reviewing)
Rope (disliked)
Notorious (disliked)

My problem with Hitch, when I do have a problem, is just that his movies sometimes date poorly in the way they veer away from the dark corners even when it seems to be organic to the story. Grant doesn't disown Bergman at the end of Notorious, both the Kim Novaks in Vertigo are actually the same person (though that's probably too revisionist a complaint for such an acclaimed film), and there's that awful anti-fascist speech at the end of Rope. Rear Window worked for me as it's essentially a kind of light thriller, but still, Hitchcock didn't kill off Grace Kelly in front of Jimmy Stewart. And it bugs me about Shadow of a Doubt that we are told from the very beginning that the uncle is a serial killer instead of discovering it along with the niece. I know this is attributable to Hitchcock's beliefs about suspence, but that seems to be the safer choice than, you know, being more purely subjective and not really knowing if our family members are secretly monsters.

But anyway, I think that this is the reason I seem to respond most favorably to his 60s work. Have a whole bunch of his films on the Netflix viewer and I am especially looking forward to Marnie.

(Hoping to put a blog post up on the Netflix viewer when I get a round 'tuit).

Si said...

Walter -

Quantum Of Solace got released early in the UK, and all I can say is I was very disappointed, especially after Casino Royale - you know Royale's actually my 3rd favourite Bond film, after FRW Love and OHMSS? I guess Forster did have a lot to leave up to but I'll reserve further discussion until after you've seen it.

Si

Jefferson said...

I'm not sure where there is for Bond to go after Casino Royale, frankly -- after the character gets so expertly rebooted, the long slide back into fiendish masterminds, plot-specific gadgets and girls named after mixed drinks seems inexorable. But then, I thought the same about Batman Begins, and we got TDK.

Ryland Walker Knight said...

I don't know how to rank Hitch. I can try, but, really, I'm a nut for the two with Tippi and all of 'em with Cary. The biggest dilemma in ranking them for me comes down to this: yes, _Vertigo_ is ostensibly perfect, but the messiness of _Marnie_ calls out to me louder. Then a lot of others are just a lot more, well, fun than that brutal spiraling. Fuggit, I'll try. Here's nine "faves", at least, which are not those that I think are "the best" --

The Birds
North by Northwest
Marnie
Shadow of a Doubt
Notorious
Strangers on a Train
Vertigo
Psycho
Rear Window
--I'm leaving 10 open because I totally don't know his UK stuff well enuff.

Also, re: movies to look forward to: _Waltz With Bashir_? _A Christmas Tale_? _Happy-Go-Lucky_? What about that "definitive" _Lola Montes_ print that's touring? I want to read that essay, WC. What about that recent Ophuls Criterion set, BC? Got any plans for that?

Also, Walter, I saw _Synecdoche_. It sure is "something" -- yes -- and I will admit that in the rearview it appreciates. The best thing about it is its unflagging interest in the muck, in the continued humiliation of the species (not just Caden), which, as a whole, is clearly diseased. The hints of the world outside the WHERE-houses sure are terrifying. I realized today that, as unpleasant and boring some of the themes of mortality are (for me), the film makes me really desire people, desire life. I want to _talk_ to people. And that's a great way to shamefully plug our latest podcast over at VINYL IS HEAVY, too, as I find the conversation we offer pretty thoughtful, if slightly dismissive.

Finally: did I miss it, WC, or did you offer any thoughts on _Burn After Reading_ anywhere? I'd like to hear your brain unspool that one, too. Probably because -- yikes! -- I think it's better than _No Country_.

Anonymous said...

I think Spellbound is the most underrated Hitch. A thriller that invades your dreams, done by Dali no less. Gregory Peck gives one of his best performances, too.

-Genericcactus

jer fairall said...

I also feel to unschooled in Hitch to make a proper list--it's not that I haven't seen much of his stuff, but rather that because he was probably the first "great director" I started watching films by, it's been years since I've seen most of the classics.

For what its worth, my memories of Rear Window, The Birds, North By Northwest, Vertigo and even Dial M For Murder are all strongly positive. Also remember not quite digging Marnie or Rebecca and being weirded out by Frenzy. Most of these are in my rental queue at the moment, and in fact I think I may currently have more films by Hitchcock on there than any other director except maybe Godard.

Psycho is one of the very few I've seen multiple enough times that I can come to some kind of definitive personal stance on it (yeah, it's great).

Noticed the image for this entry is from The Trouble With Harry, which I actually *did* watch recently, but didn't like much. Jonathan Lethem calls the film a "perverse pastoral" and indeed there is just something about the dark humor and the insistently sunny atmosphere that just doesn't mesh. What is the popular opinion on this one over all, I wonder?

rachel said...

Off topic--

Hey, Bill. I was skimming through the archives, and happened on this review of yours, where you damn a film, in part, for its promotion of a talentless actor over a talented one. And I was wondering if you’d done any celebrating since, as the talentless one has resigned herself to being a DJ’s girlfriend professionally, while the talented one is set to star in one of the most anticipated films of the year, in a role that’s at odds with whatever else Hollywood offers young women. Surely this is the proof, if Obama’s win was a hint, that we really are bending towards justice.

Bill C said...

Aw crap. You're gonna get Dave Gibson mad at me again, Rachel.

But yeah, I pretty much feel vindicated by the waning of La Lohan's career, although I still think I KNOW WHO KILLED ME is the perfect marriage of actress and role and get very defensive about that movie. I can't imagine much of a comeback for her in the rebooted America, though, which will hopefully purge itself of Brooke Hogan while it's at it.

Alison Pill really is a well-kept secret. She had a mini-explosion on Broadway last year that I hope translates into a fruitful screen career as an adult. (She's been on Canadian TV forever.)

Bill C said...

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, folks, but we won't have a QUANTUM OF SOLACE review up for tomorrow. Screening boondoggle, to make a long story short.

I highly recommend Ian's ongoing coverage of the early Bond flicks if you're jonesing for a 007 fix.

jer fairall said...

Apparently QUANTUM OF SOLACE kinda sucks anyway. Even Ebert thinks so.

The first two Blu Ray Bond reviews are awesome, btw. Great work, Ian.

And in non-Bond related movie news: LET THE RIGHT ONE IN kicks ass.

Ryan said...

Well, I guess that means I can stop checking every five minutes.

Bill C said...

Dunno if you guys read Nick Davis, but he wrote what I consider to be the best reviews of both QUANTUM and CHANGELING. I more or less have a crush on this guy; every time he publishes something it's like Christmas morning.