Tag Archives: Alfred Hitchcock

Rear Window

The first time I saw Rear Window, I was in high school, still living with my mother out in the suburb of a small town. We had neighbours, but each ensconced in their own acre-sized lot, with no windows that could be seen from my windows except in the vaguest way possible. I didn’t even know anyone who lived in an apartment.

It’s a sweltering New York summer, and Jeff (James Stewart), a photographer, is cooped up in his West Village apartment, his broken leg in a cast. He spends his days gazing out his window at the apartment building opposite him, and thanks to the heat wave, tumblr_ogehf50Yis1rfd7lko1_500everyone’s got their windows open and their business on display. It’s a lesson in voyeurism that probably also comments upon the movie going experience, our own gaze from within a darkened theatre into the secret lives of others. “We’ve become a nation of peeping toms,” complains Stella (Thelma Ritter), Jeff’s nurse, and she’s not wrong. But immobilized in a wheel chair, Jeff is spellbound by the people across the courtyard, and becomes convinced that one of them has committed murder. Soon the skeptical nurse gets pulled into his nonsense as well, as does Stewart’s love interest Lisa, played by Grace Kelly.

Now, of course Jeff is watching his neighbours with murder on his mind, but it’s impossible not to note that there’s another big M being observed: marriage. Remember that Lisa, kind, wonderful, thoughtful, beautiful Lisa, is doing most of the pursuing in her relationship with Jeff, and he’s doing most of the resisting. Marriage, to him, is a bigger trap than the cast he’s saddled with on his leg. The other apartment building has all sorts of marriage on display from newlyweds pulling down their blind for “alone time” to the old married couple always bickering. And perhaps the couple so fed up with each other they may resort to murder.

Incredibly, the entire set was built on a Paramount sound studio over two months, the set measuring 98 feet wide, 185 long and 40 high. The courtyard is about 20 to 30 feet below stage level, so they actually tore up the stage and built the courtyard in the basement, which used to be a storage area. That way when you look down from Jeff’s apartment, tumblr_ok3uz6DlfI1qa3aq2o1_500the perspective is just right. The set’s buildings consisted of 31 apartments wired for electricity and plumbed for water; a dozen of them were completely furnished. Georgine Darcy, who played Miss Toros (the dancer), lived in the apartment all day long, resting there between takes as if it were really her home. There were 1000 large lights and 1000 smaller ones to simulate sunlight; once it got so hot on set that it set off the sprinklers. Hitchcock directed the whole thing from Jeff’s apartment. The actors in the building across the courtyard wore flesh-coloured ear pieces and took direction that way.

Rear Window is one of my favourite Hitchcock films. When Sean and I rewatched it recently we delighted in one-upping each other with our running commentary about James Stewart relationships with women in this movie. They’re worse than just dated. But the truth is, the film has held up well and is just as entertaining now as ever. It’s definitely One To Watch.

 

 

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1976 in Film (Happy 40th Sean)

Sean and I are cruising around the Hawaiian islands to celebrate his milestone birthday, which is why you’ll find a common theme in the movie reviews here  for the next week and a half.

1976 was a noteworthy year in film. Rocky was the highest grossing movie, and it won the Oscar – for best picture AND best director (John G. Avildsen). It was p5214_p_v8_aaNetwork though that all but cleaned up in the acting categories – Peter Finch for best actor (he was the first actor to win posthumously); Faye Dunaway for best actress, and Beatrice Straight for best supporting actress. The fly in their soup was Jason Robards for All the President’s Men – poor Ned Beatty was shut out. In an upset, Barbra Streisand’s Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born) won best original song over Gonna Fly Now from the Rocky soundtrack but I don’t need to tell you which has had the more lasting impact culturally.

George Lucas began filming Star Wars in 1976, perhaps sensing that little Sean would definitely need to grow up playing light sabers. In a stroke of genius, Lucas waived the half-million-dollar director’s fee in order to maintain complete ownership on merchandising and sequels, which means that today he’s a mother fucking billionaire.

Carrie came out in 1976. So did Family Plot, Alfred Hitchcock’s final film taxi-driver-movie-1976starring Bruce Dern. And Freaky Friday with Jodie Foster. And Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. And To Fly!, a documentary about the history of flight produced by the National Air and Space Museum that was the second-highest grossing film the of the year and was the highest grossing documentary of all time until Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004.

Kelly Macdonald, voice of Merida, the heroine from Disney’s Brave, known for roles in Trainspotting, Gosford Park, No Country for Old Men, and Boardwalk Empire was born in 1976 (the bitch. She’s married to my favourite bassist ever, Dougie Payne). So was fellow redhead Isla Fisher.

Rashida Jones turned 40 this year too. She’s currently working on the script to Toy Story 4. Reese Witherspoon turned 40. David Oyelowo turned 40. Cillian 3t0kxqbttyjlMurphy. Benedict Cumberbatch. Audrey Tautou. Colin Farrell. Happy 40th to all.

Ryan Reynolds has been making 40 look good for nearly 2 months now, paving the way for the likes of Sean to do the same.

Albert Brooks made his film debut in 1976 in a little movie called Taxi Driver. Jessica Lange made hers in King Kong and Brooke Shields first appeared in Alice, Sweet Alice.

1976 was kind of cool outside of film too: the Steelers won the Super Bowl. The first commercial Concorde flight took off. Innsbruck, Austria hosted with Winter Olympics (and Montreal the Summer). The Toronto Blue Jays were ramones-ramones1born. Apple was founded by a couple of punks you might have heard of, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The Ramones released their first album and the Sex Pistols play their first shows, but it’s (Peter) Frampton Comes Alive! that tops the charts. The Boston Celtics defeated the Phoenix Suns in triple overtime in Game 5 of the NBA Finals – still considered the greatest game of the NBA’s first 50 years. The CN tower, then the world’s tallest free-standing structure on land, opened to the public. Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford. Megamouth sharks are discovered off Oahu, Hawaii 4c33c725f6feaf2ce254254f6f1201fc(nothing to be concerned about Sean, I’m sure it’s just coincidence you’re both turning 40 in the same place). Bob Marley survived an assassination attempt. California repealed their sodomy law. Peyton Manning was born. And Ronaldo. And Mark Duplass, just a day after Sean. And as much as I love me some Duplass, Sean is still my favourite thing from 1976, and I’m so glad I get to spend the day looking for megamouth sharks on a submarine ride on the ocean’s floor with him.

 

 

 

 

The 39 Steps

I love how old this movie is – Canadians are measuring distance in miles, and are actually slicing bread. You know the saying “the best thing since sliced bread?” – well safe to say this movie came before it!

The 39 Steps is technically “early Hitchcock,” early in terms of success anyway, but is his 19th film or so. It was his follow-up to the 1934 quasi-39steps_3142653bsuccessful (at the time) The Man Who Knew Too Much and used “imported” American actors who were supposed to help him break into that coveted American movie-going market.

Richard (Robert Donat) goes to the theatre to see “Mr. Memory” perform, and while there, meets a mysterious woman who claims to be in dire straights, evading secret agents. He agrees to hide her in his apartment, but in the night she is murdered. Richard takes off running, in part because he’s a suspect in her death, but also because now it falls to him to break up the elusive spy ring. He’s got few clues to work with, but “the 39 steps” is one of them, if only we knew what that meant. Along the way he becomes encumbered with an unwilling but fetching participant, Pamela (Madeleine Carroll).

Carroll’s Pamela is a quintessentially Hitchcockian female character, perhaps the template for those to come: she was blonde. She was icy and remote. She was mesmerizing. And she’s not the only familiar element you’ll find here. There’s the suspense. Hostility in every day objects (a ringing telephone did it for me). The dizzying plot twists. The innocent man on the run. The witty dialogue. The unrelenting pace. And of course, the infamous Hitchcock cameo. He pops up early on in the movie – can

you spot him?

The 39 Steps successfully made Hitchcock an international name, solidifying his reputation as a master story-teller and a thrilling director. This is considered his first major oeuvre, and Hitchcock always counted it among his favourites.  His stars proved worth the extra £20,000 he spent on their salaries. Donat’s suave, smiling, smoking son-of-a-bitch puts the swagger back into leading-man territory.

The 39 Steps is essential Alfred Hitchcock filmography and can be seen on the big screen this Saturday July 16 at TIFF.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halloween Thursdays: Alfred Hitchcock Movies

TMP

Wandering Through the Shelves has us celebrating Halloween all month, representing a bit of a blindspot for me since I have a pretty low tolerance for being scared. So, when paying tribute to the Master of Suspense, I have selected three of my favourite (but not necessarily the scariest) of his films.

lifeboat

Lifeboat (1944)– I watched Lifeboat last night in a Greyhound bus station. It was the first time I’d seen it in over a decade and I couldn’t believe how well it holds up. Set entirely in a lifeboat, it’s staged and written like a play with some of the best dialogue in Hitchcock history.

Rear Window

Rear Window (1954)– I’ve already written a full post about my weakness for characters that share my love of voyeurism. James Stewart and Grace Kelly find themselves wrapped up in a murder investigation when eavesdropping on their neighbors.

Vertigo-465

Vertigo (1958)– I’ve watched Vertigo several times but almost always skip the last scene. It just gets to me. Most of you will know this classic well but, if you haven’t seen it, the less you know going in the better so I will avoid giving much away. Just see it.

Blow Out

Two college students are riding the bus together in Ottawa. One says to the other “I had to read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in French class this week and I was so bored because I couldn’t understand a single word. The only word I understood was ‘narcotique’ and I was like ‘Oh, that’s cool at least. They’re doing drugs'”. Her friend replies “Are you sure it wasn’t ‘narcotic’? Like ‘You’re so narcotic’?”

This is one of many conversations I couldn’t help overhearing between strangers that I’ll probably always remember. I’ve got a million of ’em. I like watching people, listening to them, and speculating about them. Like that guy who used to mysteriously sit and wait in our office’s reception area every morning an hour before we actually opened. What his deal was we’ll now never know but Jay and I sure did toss around a lot of ideas.

Rear Window

I’m coming off as a little creepy I’m sure but I really don’t think I’m alone here. Don’t you ever wonder about the people you see ride the bus with you every day or the girl who serves you your Starbucks every morning? It can’t just be me and Rachel, the obsessive alcoholic who carefully observes the young couple living in a house that her train passes every morning in Girl on a Train, one of my favourite books lately. She starts to think of them as the perfect couple and even makes up names for them. Eventually, of course, she starts looking too closely and, after seeing something she shouldn’t have, winds up badly beaten up and in way over her head.girl on the train

I thought of this when watching Blow Out today, Brian De Palma’s 1981 thriller that this post started out as a review of. In the film, John Travolta plays a sound effects guy who goes to the park in the middle of the night to record some wind. He can’t help taking advantage of his powerful recording equipment to listen in on a conversation between two lovers. Before he knows it, he’s witnessed himself a murder. A lot of De Palma’s style hasn’t aged well and it would be hard to get away with making Nancy Allen’s female lead so insultingly dumb if it were made today but I realized, while watching it, that I like movies about people watching people (Coppola’s The Conversation, for instance, or The Lives of Others). They’re a useful reminder that if you keep watching you may Blow Outsee something you wish you hadn’t.

That’s why Rear Window is quite possibly my favourite Hitchcock. James Stewart is in his apartment recovering from a leg injury with little to do but stare out his window and observe his neighbors from across the street. He too thinks he’s witnessed himself a murder, putting himself in some jeopardy. Of course the cops don’t believe him, nor did they believe Travolta or Rachel. Because people who watch people are weird and are unreliable witnesses.

This is what the movies are there for. To remind people like me that eavesdropping- like skinny dipping, ripping off the mob, getting inolved with a woman who you can’t take your eyes off of but who smells like trouble, asking “what could go wrong?”, investigating a suspiscious noise, and showering in a motel room- can be a lot of fun but it can also get you killed.

10 Movie Moments That Took My Breath Away

Andrew’s Fistful of Moments blogathon stumped me at first. He has challenged us to name some movie scenes and moments that took our breath away. I have seen a lot of movies and have had many kinds of emotional reactions but here are 10 that come to mind almost immediately. The rest of this post will be filled with spoilers so read on at your own risk.

jurassic park

Jurassic Park- (1993) I think this is where I started to love movies. I was 11. I’d like to think I would know if a Tyrannosaurus was getting close but Steven Spielberg was generous enough to give us a hint: a close-up of a puddle in the mud as the ground shakes. Despite lacking the gift of stealth, this dinosaur scared the shit out of me. It wsa the first time I remember being stressed at a movie and liking how it felt. My mom told me later that I was literally on the edge of my seat throughout the last half of the movie.

Face/Off- (1997)  I was 16. I’ve been excited about movie my whole life but this was the first time I ever thought about how they were made and the first time I became a fan of a director. The face offwhole movie worked for me but the scene that did it was a mostly slow-motion shootout with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” playing on a young boy’s headphones. The ironic use of the song, the lighting, the cinematography of Nicolas Cage flying through the air firing two automatic weapsons. Nobody but nobody could film mayhem like John Woo did. It was violent but nice.

American Beauty- (1999) I was 18 and couldn’t believe what I ws watching. “And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea wamerican beautyhat I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry, you will”. Cue an Elliott Smith cover of The Beatles’ Because. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this movie where someobody doesn’t join in reciting along with Kevin Spacey’s final monologue. It’s usually me that chimes in but not always.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1947)- I wasn’t born yet. When I was just finishing high school though I it's a wonderful lifewent through a mad rush of trying to catch up on all the classics that I had missed out on account of not existing yet. It’s a Wonderful Life may to this day still be my sentimental favourite. George Bailey really did have a wonderful life and he finally comes to appreciate it on Christmas Eve, stumbling home through the snow yelling “Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls!”. I watch it every Christmas and start crying every time at some point in the last five minutes. If I’ve managed to stay strong though the part that gets me is “Attaboy, Clarence”.

The Sixth Sense (1999)-  Someone had already ruined the ending for me but my favourite part sixth senseisn’t the twist anyway. Haley Joel Osment has seen dead people all along but finally comes clean to his mom at the end while stuck in traffic.At first, she’s furious with him for wasting her time with such a story but she’s won over by his intimate knowledge of her conversation’s with her mother’s grave. “She said you asked her a question and the answer is: ‘Every day’. What did you ask her?” Toni Collette cries as she struggles to say “I asked if I made her proud” and I always cry along with her. Her performance is far better than the film’s notoriously hammy writer-director deserved.

one flew over the cookoo's nestOne Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest- (1975)- Billy (Bard Dourif) is so pleased with himself about last night’s partying that he can finally stand up to Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) and isn’t even stuttering anymore. He resists her attempts to burst his bubble until she hits a nerve. “What would your mother have to say about this?”. And the stutter’s back. Nurse Ratched makes me so mad.

Vertigo- (1958)- I spent a long time trying to get Kim Nvertigoovak’s scream in the final scene out of my head and I will not go through it again. I’ve rewatched the movie several times but stop it before the end.

wall-eWall-E- (2008) Three words: “Computer: Define “dancing”.

Memento- (2000) My friends and I watched it on DVD and enjoyed the experience so much we kept pausing it so we could work together trying to piece the whole thing together. Then comes the ending. We had never considered that maybe our trusted mementonarrator was lying to us and to himself. How many lies have I cleverly planted in my own memory and how many lies have we left behind in our writings for future generations to believe. Christopher Nolan’s best film.

eternal sunshine of the spotless mindEternal SSunshine of the Spotless Mind- (2004) After spending so much time reliving painful and ugly moments between Clementine and Joel, I was quite disarmament whend we stumble upon a beautiful and tender one. It seems to catch Joel off guard too as he finds himself pleading with the guys erasing his memory to just let him keep this one. Now I often call this my favourite movie but the first time I saw it, I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. This scene is the exact moment where I realized I was loving it.

Grapes of Wrath- (1940)  This is probababy my favourite book adaptation of all time. It’s made grapes of wrath 2of so many tragic and hopeful moments, most of them almost directly from the novel. Director John Ford knew better than to mess with Steinbeck. If I had to pick just one scene,it would be the Joad  family piling into a truck leaving the only hope ththey know after Ma Joad burns the family souvenirs they didn’t have room for.