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North by Northwest to Psycho: The Breakdown of Moral Order on the Edge of the Sixties…

In the space of three years, Hitchcock produced Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho.

Each of those three films is (rightly) regarded as a classic, and it is astounding that a single director could produce three such films back-to-back with only a year between each. Each of those films is massively influential, each of those films is loved by critics and audiences alike, and each of those films is radically different than the other two. Hitchcock remains one of the most influential and respected film directors of all time, and these three consecutive classics demonstrate his remarkable control of the form.

The road to nowhere.

It is important to separate the modern perception of these films from the reaction to them upon release. Very few classics are accurately identified as such by contemporary critics, often settling into that role over time. Vertigo was originally met with a somewhat muted critical response by critics and struggled to break even on release. Pyscho was largely dismissed by critics as the time as something crass and inelegant. In contrast, the contemporary critical reception of North by Northwest was a lot warmer.

However, time has arguably been kinder to Vertigo and Psycho than to North by Northwest. Vertigo is frequently identified as one of (if not the) best films ever made. Psycho is frequently cited as one of the most formative (and perhaps the best) horror films ever made. In contrast, North by Northwest can feel overshadowed by the films that flank it, even if it is hard to feel too sorry for a film that have been described by both Martin Scorsese and Peter Bogdanovich as “perfect.”

A shady deal…

Still, there is a sense that the lightness of North by Northwest has been held against it. Ben Oliver has stated that North by Northwest is “not typical film-school fodder.” Nathan Rabin explains that North by Northwest is a “glorious trifle of an adventure film” placed “between two of Hitchcock’s heaviest and most tormented films.” David Shariatmadari has speculated that “perhaps the lack of Freudian handwaving leads people to rate it poorly in comparison.” There is a sense that North by Northwest is somehow lesser than the heavier films around it.

Of course, this speaks to broader trends in how critics talk about art. There is a tendency to prioritise drama over comedy, to dismiss superficially lighter material in favour of weightier content. (Genre fare faces a similar bias, although it seems that science-fiction and horror are more likely receive a revaluation in the medium- to long-term.) North by Northwest is a lighter and fluffier film than either Vertigo or Psycho, but does that make it inherently lesser than either of them. More to the point, there is a surprising amount of Psycho to be found in North by Northwest.

The final curtain.

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Non-Review Review: Throw Momma From the Train

Throw Momma From the Train feels like something of a dry run for Danny DeVito. The actor had previously directed a cable television movie, The Ratings Game, but Throw Momma From the Train represented his theatrical directorial début. While not nearly as effective as his follow-up, the classic War of the Roses, Throw Momma From the Train sustains itself with an interesting premise and two charming lead performances that help cover for a script that isn’t anywhere near as darkly comic as it would like to think that it is.

Snatching DeVito from the jaws of victory...

Snatching DeVito from the jaws of victory…

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Alfred Hitchcock at the Space!

Hitchcock is released in the UK and Ireland this week. I actually quite enjoyed it, but – then again – I am a big fan of the director and his work. I was notified this week that The Space, Britain’s on-line cultural hub run by the BBC and by the Arts Council, is celebrating the director’s legacy and has collected a host of Hitchcock-related materials from its archives, all of which are available via their website. It’s a great service, and I’m remarkably fond of it. It’s also nice to see a celebration of Hitchcock, and the sharing of material from the archives, free to the public at large. You can find the website here or click the picture below.

thespace

Non-Review Review: Hitchcock

As a bit of a film fan (and a bit of a Hitchcock fan), Hitchcock had me interested. After all, Hitchcock’s Psycho is arguably among the most important films ever made, both creating an entire subgenre (“the slasher”) and imbuing it with artistic credibility at the same time. The production of Psycho was not only a huge gambit for Hitchcock, but it was also an incredibly difficult task for the auteur to accomplish. Hitchcock was sixty when Psycho was eventually released. It’s easy to imagine a director at that age resting on his laurels, and Hitchcock really works when it explores the drives of the talented film maker, willing to look at the implications of those drives and how the same things that made him one of the world’s greatest directors may also have made him a less-than-nice person.

Hitchcock occasionally gets a bit too cluttered with domestic drama, but it features two strong performances and a fascinating true story. It might not be as exceptional as it could have been, but it’s still a damn fine exploration of movie history.

Alma matters?

Alma matters?

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Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain: Ignorance, Bliss and Entertainment…

Occasionally, I like to do a bit of research. That might shock some of my more regular readers. If I’m covering a particularly topic, I like to have a bit of background knowledge that will allow me to offer some nuanced or informed commentary. Hopefully, I might be able to tell you something you didn’t know – after all, hopefully the time spent reading my review isn’t wasted if I can tell you something you didn’t already know, regardless of whether our opinions agree or disagree. Also, it’s just nice to know these things because they can help my understanding of a particular film.

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Watch! Alfred Hitchcock Presents a PSA About Texting At the Movies

I’m quite looking forward to Hitchcock, the trailer of which premiered last week. The marketing team have sent around this lovely PSA, in which Anthony-Hopkins-as-Hitchcock lets us know his stance on texting in the cinema. It’s written in the dry punning style of Hitchcock, and I like Hopkin’s deliver – it’s not really an accent, just an attempt to emulate Hitchcock’s rhythm of speech.

As for the video itself, it looks – ironically enough – like it was shot on a mobile phone. But, considering the fact that it’s being pushed so widely, I assume that’s the intent. (Indeed, it would have been interesting for the trailer to end with a smash cut of somebody turning off the mobile.

Still, it’s a light and fun piece of marketing, and one I can easily get behind. Although I wish I could say that texting in a theatre was the worst thing I’ve had to put up with.

Watch! Hitchcock Trailer!

I must have missed it, but the screen adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock & The Making of Psycho has now been officially titled the much blander (but more accessible) Hitchcock. It doesn’t really matter, though, as the new trailer has arrived and it’s really quite wonderful. I’m a massive Hitchcock fan, so recruiting Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren to headline a film about the making of one of his most high-profile works is certainly fascinating. Looking forward to this one. It’ll start a limited release in the States in late November, but we’ll be waiting until February to see it over here.

Ah well. At least they can’t spoil they ending.