Saturday, May 26, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Crypt Scene in Dracula (1931)

Notice that the vampires don't exit their coffins by simpy pushing the lid open with the palm of their hands. Rather, they stick their hand out first, contorted and menacing, almost as if, in a friendly manner, they're warning anyone present, "I'm coming out now."

They have pets, kind of. How awesome that there's a possum. There could be bats or a feral cat or a wolf or a snake or some massive spiders.  Instead, a possum and a bee. And the bee get its own coffin. Is the bee undead? Possibly, there's no evidence of a hive and it's waking at the same time as the other vampires.  I have no idea what the implications of an undead bee are.

I want to know more about her. She seems interesting, vampire-wise. I wish Browning had done just a little more with the vamps.

She scares our little possum friend back into this coffin. I like that there's a dead vampire here. It signals that Dracula has had some close calls before but he got them before they got him, but not before they got one of his vamps. It also shows Dracula isn't much into disposing of bodies.

And then there's this: One of the greatest entrances in all of movie history, still. And the movies weren't even 50 years old yet when this was done. Damn.

One final thing. I've always loved that bat logo behind the credits but there's no place where it is free of said credits. They fade into each other. I took several credit screens, including the last which merely has the directing credit, and isolated it. Why? Why not?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I Have Nothing New To Say About Alfred Hitchcock

I can think of nothing to say about Alfred Hitchcock that several million fans, critics, directors and writers haven't already said. Nothing. Not a goddamn thing. He's Alfred Hitchcock. It's like coming up with a completely new and original take on Casablanca and not some limping, half-clever, grasping-at-straws take, which this post is clearly headed for in a screaming spiral of despair but, rather, a fresh analysis that prior to this moment in time was undiscovered, undetected. Who comes up with that for Casablanca? Nobody. Don't misunderstand, I've read some excellent stuff on Casablanca, just nothing I didn't already know because... you know... Casablanca.

So Hitchcock. Yeah. Hitch.

It goes like this: There are very few human beings in world history who achieve so much in their chosen field in such an utterly magnificent and glorious way that a mere 30 plus years removed from their death the whole world is already saying, "What, him again? Jesus, okay, cut it out, will ya?" I assure you that most of us will saunter into an old age where our greatest achievement remains that time our Facebook status update got 27 "likes." ("Did you see that?! Did you? 27!")

But I digress.

So... Hitchcock.

It's an achievement on an extraordinary level to become so inundated with third-party analysis that even before your career ends another director who was formerly a film critic has already written a book about you. Alfred Hitchcock achieved all of this while never winning an Oscar for Best Director and having far too many of his greatest achievements not nominated for Best Picture. Go ahead and think of all the films that Hitchcock made in the fifties. There are some really great ones in there, right? Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest. Not a one was even nominated for the top award. Aha, ha, haaaaaaaa. Sometimes, it really is too easy to answer the challenge, "Okay, smartass, prove to me the Academy is full of morons!"

Why spoil that kind of achievement by rehashing the same old, same old? What new is there to even say? I suppose there's Hitch's foot fetish but that doesn't really get to the heart of anything, does it? Except to say that if you have a favorite actress and you want to see her stockinged legs and feet and never have and she's in a Hitchcock movie, you're in luck! Madeleine Carrol, Tallulah Bankhead, Carole Lombard, Janet Leigh, Tippi Hedren... hell, the only time I've ever seen Marlene Dietrich perform a number without shoes on was... oh yeah, Stage Fright. Christ, if he had to get the foot of a corpse in there by way of a potato truck, he'd find a way. And even make it kick the killer's face. Barbara Harris stepping on Bruce Dern's face? Give him a minute, he'll figure it out. But again, what's that tell us? Damned if I know.

I do know this: On the David Cavett show, he talked about the jokes he liked to play on people. They were gentle, victimless jokes but got to the soul of Hitchcock in a very strange but, for me, perfectly understandable way. He described one in which he was meeting a large group of people for a film wrap or perhaps a meet and greet for the start of a shoot. I can't remember, it's not important. What is important is this: He hired an actress in her fifties to show up dressed to the nines and sit at the head of the table. She began to talk to people like she was a duchess or something and everyone starting asking Hitch who she was to which he responded, "Oh, I don't know. She seems very nice and perhaps a bit delusional. Let's be kind and just let her stay and enjoy the attention." Damn I love this guy! There was no payoff! At no point did he tell anyone about her or reveal the joke in any way. The whole joke was merely for him to enjoy. I do that all the time.

I do enjoy the way Hitchcock knew that fans and critics had pigeonholed him into some nebulous genre grouping of, what, suspense? Thrillers? Something anyway and because they had crammed his talents into that hole he was pretty much free to do as he pleased. As a result, he could go from one experiment to the next, from a Rope and a Rear Window to a Vertigo and a Psycho without anyone ever thinking, "Wait a minute. The guy who did Notorious also did The Birds?!" Seriously. It's like the same director doing Star Wars and Hannah and her Sisters. I mean, they have nothing in common. Notorious and The Birds? Nothing. Well, except for the exit out the door at the end and the hero leading the distressed and physically beaten heroine to safety as the car drives off. And both cars drive off from catastrophe and imminent death to freedom, perhaps? And what's left behind is a horrifying mess of violence and brutality with no sense of remorse or empathy. Just pure, cold-blooded survival instincts. Okay, maybe they are alike and maybe, in the end, that was Hitchcock's genius. He could take a story and reexamine it in such a way that you'd think he never made this movie before, not once, not ever. But he did.

He made the same movies, over and over, because he never found the answers. The second an artist finds the answer, the art is dead. They didn't all work. Some were good, some bad. Some great, some pretty dull. Some of the later ones even felt like warmed over ABC Movies of the Week. But by God, when he did it right nobody did it better. I have nothing new to say about Alfred Hitchcock because his movies made everyone want to talk about him and them and by the time we reached the tenth anniversary of his death, it felt like we'd already talked him out. But we hadn't and we haven't and I'm wrong because, hell, it wasn't until a couple of weeks ago when I mentioned The Birds online elsewhere that I even thought about the ending of Notorious in connection with it.

Son of a bitch.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

History and the Movies: The Hindenburg

When making a movie about a historical disaster, the disaster remains the focus.  There can be plenty of fictionalized plot around it, but the disaster itself is in the forefront.  With the Titanic, most movies based on it (the notable exception being A Night to Remember) create mini-melodramas around fictionalized characters that make up the story (the lovers in the 1997 version, the divorcing couple in the 1953 version, etc) while the audience awaits disaster to strike.  The Titanic makes it even easier by the historically valid fact that the ship, in fact, took three hours to sink.  The airship Hindenburg, on the other hand, went from mint condition to burning rubble in less than a minute, 75 years ago today.  That means any theatrical movie needs to fill roughly 99 percent of its running time with fictional characters engaged in fictional melodramas.

Of course, for any other fictional narrative, this isn't a problem but when the event the movie is based upon is what people are coming to see, it's a huge problem.  Unfortunately, the movie The Hindenburg (d. Robert Wise, 1975) doesn't counter the problem by giving the audience a very compelling story.  George C. Scott, Anne Bancroft and William Atherton (among many others) all do admirable work in the service of a tepid plot about spies and sabotage, none of which ever seems very urgent given the fact that we know the outcome.  That sounds like the same problem as any other historically based disaster movie but actually, it's not.

With the story of the Titanic, we know it's going to sink but we don't know the outcome of the fictional narrative.  Will Julia (Barbara Stanwyck) and Richard (Clifton Webb) reconcile and make it to the lifeboats together with their children?  Will Jack (Leonardo DiCiprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) drown in the bowels of the ship or will they make it off safely?  And so on.  Their story is not tied directly to the ship hitting an iceberg.  In The Hindenburg, that is indeed what happens.

The story concerns possible sabotage of the ship with a bomb that the SS and George C. Scott are investigating.  William Atherton, as it turns out, is planting the bomb because he hates the Nazis and, well, who doesn't.  But, as you can see, the direct lines of the plot are tied to the ship exploding so while we may not know if Jack and Rose are going to survive together, only to have Jack die later (because from the flashback structure we certainly know Rose survives to the present day), we do know the bomb will go off.  It would be like making the story of the Titanic into a spy thriller in which one saboteur was determined to steer the ship into an iceberg.  Will he succeed?  Well, yes, obviously.  It's a stupid thing to tie your plot to.

Nonetheless, The Hindenburg ultimately fails due to a pacing that mimics the casual, lackadaisical air speed of the zeppelin itself.  The movie, despite some stunning visuals achieved with superb model making and optical printing and matte work, never achieves the kind of lift necessary to keep it aloft (sorry, couldn't help it).  The history of the Hindenburg and the mystery of what truly happened that day is better left to the documentary form where the short but tragic event can be rehashed and analysed all while giving a brief history of airships along the way.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Make Me Wanna Holler!

Look at this guy.  This guy right here, below.

"I've got one hand in my pocket and the other one's clenching my throbbing gin-soaked head."
He's sleeping on the side of the road.  Know why?  Because he was going to a picnic and the campgrounds were packed and the traffic was backing up and he was like, "Screw this, we're having our picnic here.  After I nap!" and he pulled over to the side of the road and he collapsed on the grass and if you look ahead, other cars are starting to follow his lead.  They're looking in the rear view and they're like, "Yeah, you know, fuck it."

Or how about these two?
"Except for the suffocating stench of this filthy camisole, this is really comfortable."
There's a fashion show going on and they can't turn off the light and there's no place to sleep because of the hustle and the bustle and the shucking and the jiving and they're like, "Man, fuck this noise!" and they put some blouses over their heads and they pass out.

I take inspiration from these free spirits except in kind of the reverse way in which I should wake up but at the same time put to rest some old notions I have about this blog.

"Curiouser and curiouser." "The suspense is killing me.  Not really."
You know why I don't post here as much anymore?  Because I keep thinking I'll have time to put together some extraordinary goddamn piece of Pulitzer Prize winning analysis on... well, shit, I don't even know.  I keep thinking, "No, don't post that little observation, put it on Facebook."  Then I get to Facebook and I think, "No this is too long for Facebook but too short for Cinema Styles." [cue laugh track] Jesus, sometimes the ridiculousness of my brain makes me want to fling shit at it or, at least, an effigy of it because, you know, shit.

Same thing goes for If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger.  I find a picture.  It's unique.  I think, "There's no series for this so I'll to create one but what if I never find another picture to go in that series?  Then what?"  Then the overthinking begins, the youtube cat videos start rolling while I collect my thoughts and before I know it, it's one in the morning and I've spent another day hilariously accomplishing nothing.  Only it's the kind of hilarious where you down a shot of bourbon and start to cry.  L.O... ah, fuck it.

So I'm just going to pull over to the side of the road, take a nap, regain some strength and chill the fuck out.  I miss Cinema Styles and The Gunslinger.   Time to get back on track.  See you soon.  [cue befuddled silence.  Audience member overheard: "Who is this again?"]