“Hitchcock/Truffaut” – An Homage to the Master

14 12 2015

Today’s top film directors – including Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, tumblr_no6ty0GSHi1r6ivyno1_1280David Fincher and many others – pay tribute to the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, in the very engaging new documentary “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” directed by Kent Jones.

The film uses the historic 1962 weeklong interview sessions between Hitchcock and French film director Francois Truffaut as its starting point. The two men were on the same page from the beginning when it comes to the language of film: Both saw its potential as an art form, and as a medium for self expression; Truffaut may have been the first film theorist to recognize Hitchcock as more than a genre specialist.

The modern day directors featured in the film sing Hitchcock’s praises too, pointing out his skills as a visual storyteller, frame composer and planner of shots, using some of Hitchcock’s best movies, like “Vertigo,” “Psycho,” “Sabotage” and others to make their cases. At the same time, they trace Hitchcock’s use (and reuse) of thematic elements: Falling, imprisonment and obsession; fetishized objects like keys and doorways; and meaningful camerawork that reveals things even someone on the scene might miss.

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Left to right: Francois Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock and translator Helen Scott

The film also contains a run of rarely seen home movie footage of Hitchcock, bringing his energy and playfulness to life in a  way one rarely sees, particularly in some of the recent films that have illuminated certain times in his life.

For anyone interested in Hitchcock’s work, this is a master class, and the directors are the guest lecturers who explain just what the Master of Suspense was really doing in his best films.

Here’s the trailer to “Hitchcock/Truffaut.”

 

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“Night Will Fall” Uncovers the Grim Realities of Concentration Camps

28 04 2015

HBO and the British Film Institute delve into the grim realities of German atrocities during World War II in the recent documentary “Night Will Fall,” directed by André Singer. The film tells the tale of the British Government’s efforts, under the direction of Sidney Bernstein, to capture for posterity what happened in the German death camps, so that the deeds carried out by the Germans would not be forgotten.

Bernstein took on the overwhelming job of filming the scenes at the camps using Allied cameramen. Both the cameramen and the soldiers who captured the camps were unprepared for what they found: dead bodies of the Germans’ victims piled like cordwood, the gaunt figures of surviving prisoners, the defeated but unbowed officers who ran the camps, and, perhaps worst of all, the ordinary townspeople who lived outside the camps and ignored the overwhelming stench of death that filled the air. The survivors greeted their rescuers with joyful tears, but these same rescuers made the shocking decision to punish the Germans, soldiers and civilians alike, by forcing them to dig mass graves and bury the bodies of the dead.

As the Allied forces moved further into German territory in the days after the war, more camps were discovered and more reels of film were exposed – so many that Bernstein’s job grew to be completely unmanageable, presenting far more footage than could ever be used. Bernstein, an original member of the Film Society of London, called in his friend Alfred Hitchcock for help. They had last worked together in 1944, when Hitchcock directed the short propaganda films “Aventure Malgache” and “Bon Voyage.” Although Hitchcock was only available for a brief consultation, he made a few valuable suggestions about how to approach the project so that future generations would not be able to doubt the film’s veracity. Unfortunately, the project dragged on so long that it had to be shelved. In the early days of the Cold War, the Allies put their efforts into rebuilding Germany as an ally against the Soviet Union; a lengthy documentary reminding the world of the Nazis’ crimes against humanity was no longer considered useful. Some of the footage wound up in other, shorter films that were shown in the United States, but for the most part it was lost to history; some of it went on to be presented in the 1985 as the PBS film “Frontline: Memories of the Camps.” 

“Night Will Fall” reassembles much of that film, and presents it with tearful testimony from both concentration camp survivors and the former soldiers who freed the camps. For Hitchcock fans, it presents a look at a lost chapter in the life of the Master of Suspense, but most importantly, it is a stunning, clear-eyed look at one of humanity’s darkest hours, one that must never be forgotten.





Cougar Town Plays Host to Tippi Hedren

18 04 2013

Tippi Hedren, star of “The Birds” and “Marnie,” and the subject of last fall’s HBO film “The Girl,” made a guest appearance on the season finale of “Cougar Town” last Tuesday, April 9.

I happen to like “Cougar Town” quite a lot, so I was pleased to see Tippi appear in this touching episode. In the previous episode (which aired the same night) we learned that the father of series star Jules Cobb (played by Courteney Cox) is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. In this episode, Jules and her Cul de Sac Crew decide to reroute their planned Bahamas vacation to head to Hollywood so they can help her dad, Chick (Ken Jenkins), have his dream of meeting Tippi Hedren come true.

Along the way, much silliness ensues. Jules, who seems to be getting dopier by the minute (maybe she should lay off the vino?) thinks the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame are gravemakers; Laurie (Busy Philipps) tries to divert a security guard’s attention at Hedren’s house by kidnapping her cat, Tabby Hedren; Travis and Tom hire a one-man band to serenade Chick and Tippi.

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We don’t get to see Jules try to talk Hedren into her scheme, but apparently it works, as Hedren shows up to meet Chick and dance with him like they were old friends.

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If you want to see what Tippi Hedren looks like these days—and yes, she’s just as good and actor as she ever was—or just catch a sweet episode of a series I really like, you can watch this episode, called “Have Love, Will Travel” on the TBS website here.

tippi and ken





Petra Haden’s New CD Pays Tribute to Alfred Hitchcock and the Movies

17 12 2012

I’ve been a fan of singer/violinist Petra Haden since I first heard her 2005 album “Petra Haden Sings The Who Sells Out.” On that amazing disc, Haden recreates the Who’s classic 1967 album in its entirety, solo and a capella, layering her vocals to simulate the sounds of the guitars, drums and bass from one of the best records of that decade.

Petra Haden Goes to the MoviesNow, Haden is back with a new CD, “Petra Haden Goes to the Movies.” The album features her interpretations of cuts from the soundtracks of classic movies like “Rebel Without a Cause” to “The Social Network,” with stops along the way “Taxi Driver,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “Goldfinger,” “A Fistful of Dollars” and more.

Bernard Herrmann’s theme for “Psycho,” directed by one A. Hitchcock, also gets the Haden treatment, and you can have a listen for yourself here…

“Petra Haden Goes to the Movies” will be released on January 22, and you can preorder it here.





Spotlight on Hitch and Alma in the New Film “Hitchcock”

28 11 2012

Anthony Hopkins portrays Alfred Hitchcock in his own way in the new film “Hitchcock,” which opened last week in limited release. The movie looks at Hitchcock’s difficulties in making the movie “Psycho,” while also delving into his relationships with actors, writers, studio executives and, most importantly, his wife, Alma.

Without creating a slavish recreation of Hitchcock’s drawl or picture-perfect likeness, Hopkins breathes life into the Master of Suspense, whether he is being charming or petulant, commanding or obsessive. Helen Mirren’s portrays Alma as every bit Hitchcock’s equal, returning his cool remarks with her own withering sarcasm. And yet there is a real affection behind their barbs.

Alma stands by Hitchcock throughout the arduous task of making “Psycho.” When he selects the project; she gets on board despite her distaste for the subject matter, and later she lends her expertise to sharpening up the final product after a screening goes badly. Despite his suspicions about her work with another former collaborator, writer Whitfield Cook, Hitchcock implicity trusts her, both as a soulmate and filmmaker.

“Hitchcock” is very enjoyable look at the creative process; one wonders, however, if it could have been sharper. The flirtation between Alma and Cook feels almost trite, and the specter of serial killer Ed Gein overstays his welcome. Also, this Hitchcock seems far more open with his feelings than the real one was; he acts explicitly where the real McCoy would likely not have. And as much as Hitchcock liked to say that he played his audience like an orchestra, it’s hard to believe that he would have acted that out so literally as he does in one scene here.

James D’Arcy and Ralph Macchio each have one great scene as Anthony Perkins and Joseph Stefano, respectively; each gives viewers a chance to see the voyeuristic component of Hitchcock’s personality, as he perks up at their mentions of their own neuroses. Scarlet Johannson and Jessica Biel, too, as Janet Leigh and Vera Miles (also respectively) serve to illuminate aspects of Hitchcock’s way of dealing with others. While Hitchcock has all but dismissed Miles for having dared to get pregnant when she was slated to star in “Vertigo,” he dotes on Leigh, his blond of the moment. There are glimpses, too, of composer Bernard Herrmann and designer Saul Bass, as well as censor Geoffrey Shurlock, and even Hitchcock’s beloved dogs, Geoffrey and Stanley.

The opening and finale may be the two most satisfying moments of the movie; first, Hitchcock introduces the proceedings directly to the camera, in the style of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” And the end hints with great humor at what is come next, acknowledging that “Hitchcock” portrays (and expands upon) just one episode in a tumultous career; indeed, Hitchcock says as much, first by promising that “Psycho” is going to be bigger than “North by Northwest,” and later fretting that it could be another “Vertigo.”

You can read my take on the source material, Stephen Rebello’s “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,” here.





A Tumultuous Partnership Up Close

11 06 2011

Leonard J. Leff gives readers an intimate look at one of Hollywood’s most difficult partnerships in his 1987 book “Hitchcock & Selznick.” Loaded with detail culled from the filmmakers’ archives, the book creates a riveting portrait of the mismatched duo, including copious information on contracts, finances and memos, yet never loses sight of the very real men at the center of the story.

The story begins in the late 1930s, as Alfred Hitchcock struggled to secure a deal that would allow him to relocate to Hollywood. But due to Hitch’s uneven track record and the uncertainty of European markets during wartime, only independent producer David O. Selznick took the bait. Selznick, then neck-deep in work on “Gone with The Wind,” signed Hitchcock to a lengthy contract, beginning with the Academy Award winning “Rebecca.” Selznick, ever the micromanager, insisted that Hitchcock stick to Daphne du Maurier’s original, best-selling novel, resulting in a movie that won acclaim and strong box office appeal but ultimately did not please the director.

The balance of power slowly shifted over several years. As Selznick focused intently on one project at a time, he loaned Hitchcock out to other studios, including RKO, Universal and Twentieth Century Fox. Working for these companies, and for producers like Walter Wanger and Jack Skirball, Hitchcock was able to learn the Hollywood system at his own pace. Selznick turned a tidy profit by loaning Hitchcock to other studios, a fact that Hitch came to resent.

By the time Selznick at last found another project he wished to work on with Hitchcock, the director had gained an enormous amount of confidence, while Selznick had exhausted himself through his obsessive need to control every aspect of his own films – not to mention his use of pills to keep himself going, or his affair with actress Jennifer Jones. Hitchcock’s dislike of direct confrontations led to passive aggressive behavior; when it came time to sign a new contract with Selznick, Hitchcock would agree to the terms and but never sign the papers. By this time, in the late 1940s, Selznick needed Hitchcock more than Hitchcock needed him. Hitch continued to direct for Selznick while working with his new partner, Sidney Bernstein, to create their new endeavor, Transatlantic Films.

The four films Hitchcock made for Selznick are a mixed bag. Certainly “Notorious” is a classic, and “Rebecca” is a great film, if atypical for Hitchcock, but both “Spellbound” and “The Paradine Case” are seriously flawed. Hitchcock’s love of technical challenges clashed with Selznick’s need for character-driven stories, and it is in Hitchcock’s loan-out movies – “Foreign Correspondent,” “Saboteur,” “Life Boat” and “Shadow of a Doubt” among them – that we see Hitch exploring ideas that are of interest to him, not those foisted upon him by his employer.

After a few more missteps in the late 1940s, Hitchcock would go on to his greatest achievements in the following decade; Selznick would make produce only a few more movies. “Hitchcock & Selznick” tells the tale not only of one of Hollywood’s greatest, and most strained, collaborations, but also provides a startling level of detail on the inner workings of a film studio in the 1940s. It’s a compelling read, one that’s worth tracking down for anyone interested in these two titans of film





The Persistence of Hitchcock: Hitch Meets The Crypt Keeper

16 05 2011

Back in the good old 1990s, Alfred Hitchcock made an appearance in the opening to “Tales from The Crypt.” The Crypt Keeper is doing a riff on Forest Gump, which is ironic when you consider that they probably used Gump-style special effects to put Hitch on that park bench next to C.K. Here it is, in all its silly glory:








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