78/52 Hitchcock’s Shower Scene (2017)

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The movie is about fragmentation. It IS fragmentation.  Seventy-eight camera setups and fifty-two cuts. Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary about the most famous scene of all time in movies is a crowdpleaser – its subject is familiar to everyone. Starting with a ‘remake’ of Janet Leigh’s rainy drive to the infamous Bates Motel it settles into a series of interviews with a diverse range of commentators – from Eli Wood to Eli Roth, Walter Murch to Peter Bogdanovich, Danny Elfman to Guillermo del Toro, Stephen Rebello to Marli Renfro, Leigh’s body double, who offers intriguing insights into the week-long filming process.  The archive footage includes other Hitchcock films as well as TV interviews and excerpts from The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.  The contemporary interviews place the film in the vanguard of the culture and as part of a lifelong battle Hitchcock had with the censors – it’s pointed out that his previous film, North By Northwest, concludes in a phallic train entering a tunnel;  Psycho commences with a post-coital look between Leigh and John Gavin. It is also part of a disorienting cinematic process about space invasion and lack of safety, a film that literally changed how we watched films, and not just because by showing a toilet flush for the first time on the Hollywood screen Hitchcock wanted to remind us how our lives can just randomly go down the drain. Providing deft visual analysis (with great insights into the use of the jump cut), production information and ideas about the score, this is intensely interesting for the buff, the geek, the movie freak and even the seven year old daughter of one of the interviewees who has never seen the film but likes to make the knife action while imitating Bernard Hermann’s shrieking violins. That’s how influential this is. It’s obvious that Janet Leigh has to survive!

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Donnie Darko (2001)

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This came out right after 9/11 which was its misfortune. It has a rather extraordinary plane crash and it wasn’t that that made me relate to it entirely but it was a factor – one of my most vivid and disturbing dreams concerned a crash in my neighbourhood but that was in the aftermath of the Avianca crash on Long Island in 1990 and I remember afterwards reading in a column that nobody should eat bluefish for rather obvious reasons…. I digress. This begins with one of two songs by two of my favourite bands because there are two versions of the edit. So you see Jake Gyllenhaal cycling through his suburban neighbourhood either to Echo and the Bunnymen’s Killing Moon or INXS’s Never Tear Us Apart:  both forever songs, in my book. He’s a teen who’s off his meds and talks to Frank, a man dressed as a  giant rabbit in the bathroom mirror. Problem is, the rabbit can control him and as he searches for the meaning of life and his big sister (Maggie Gyllenhaal) bugs him and his little sister pursues her dancing ambition and everyone quarrels about voting for Michael Dukakis (because it’s 1988), he starts tampering with the water main flooding his school, a plane crashes into their house and he resents the motivational speaker (Patrick Swayze) who enters the students’ lives while the inspiring Graham Greene story The Destructors is being censored by the PTA.  He burns down the man’s house and the police find a stash of kiddie porn and arrest him. Donnie’s interest in time travel leads him to the former science teacher (Patience Cleveland) aka Grandma Death but his friendship with her leads the school bullies to follow him and she is run down – by Frank. Donnie shoots him.  When he returns to his house a vortex is forming and a plane is overhead and things go into reverse … and Donnie is in bed, just as he was 28 days earlier, when the story starts … Extraordinary, complex, nostalgic, blackly funny and startlingly true to teenage behaviour and perception and life in the burbs, I know there are websites dedicated to explaining this but I don’t care about that. Just watch it. And wonder how Richard Kelly could possibly make anything this good again. Stunning.

Psycho (1998)

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The Hitchcock film is so ingrained in the collective psyche it was some kind of madness to remake it shot for shot (almost – there are some surreal inserts.) When Gus Van Sant’s name was attached it didn’t even make lunatic sense. Nor the fact that some cast members (I mean you, Anne Heche) didn’t even seem to know the original. The cinematographer (Chris Doyle) didn’t even understand the point of some shots, it appears. If you can get past the fact that this is sacrilege; that paradoxically Pat Hitchcock O’Connell, the keeper of her father’s flame, approved it; and that huge dead-eyed Vince Vaughn was selected to play the delicate bird-like Norman Bates (okay, Vaughn is truer to Bloch’s image, but who but the indelible Anthony Perkins is Norman?!), this can be viewed as an interesting homage to the most important film in (some people’s) living memory. It is about identity and its negation;  the camera articulates vision and perception (just look! A crane shot introduces Marion Crane! And the final shot of her eye is the single most important image in cinema); and Anne Heche’s underwear is kinda wonderful – the whole first section of the film is all about the colour orange. It’s about a man in a dress pretending to be his dead mother, whose rotting corpse is in the fruit cellar. The original film was censor-bait – when Janet Leigh flushed her calculations down the toilet censorship was literally flushed away in American cinema: that doesn’t even register nowadays. It is a reverie about a kingdom of death, as Donald Spoto has it. Joseph Stefano’s screenplay (he had a lot of help from Mrs Hitchcock) is shot word for word;  and Bernard Herrmann’s score is reworked by Danny Elfman. So this is an empty act of nostalgia and avant-gardism inasmuch as it is doing a Warhol to something that effectively belongs to everyone. But it is Hitchcock. Not to be reproduced. Like I said, sacrilege.

9 1/2 Weeks (1986)

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Yes, I’m going there. It’s Friday after all. This was the secret shame of myself and several of my college mates courtesy of a guy who had it on VHS back in the day. We watched it regularly in a darkened room, as you do. Lunchtimes have never been the same since. I think this is how cults begin, isn’t it?! It was a notorious bomb on release and it’s not difficult to see why – how to explain an S&M memoir on date night?! 960 people stormed out of the preview audience of 1,000! One can only hazard a guess at what the remainers were doing. Really, it’s a home movie in every sense!  Ingeborg Day nee Seiler (daughter of an Austrian SS officer) wrote for feminist mag Ms. as Ingeborg Bachmann in the Seventies and documented this stage of her life pseudonymously in 1978 as ‘Elizabeth McNeill’. She had a breakdown afterwards. Gallerist Elizabeth embarks on an intense affair with Wall Street broker John who takes her places she’s never been … in her own body. The fact that she is played by the stunning Kim Basinger and he is the then-beautiful Mickey Rourke just makes it all the more, uh, pleasurable. In fact it’s their characterisation that makes this erotica work. Screenwriters Zalman King and Patricia Louisanna Knop (and Sarah Kernochan) turned soft porn into their avocation, while underrated director Adrian Lyne just makes everything appear lovely and astonishing as you’d expect from someone who helped change the look of cinema:  you’ll never look at the contents of your refrigerator the same way again. Seriously sexy and the soundtrack is great!

Andrzej Wajda 03/06/26-10/09/16

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The death has taken place of the great and prolific Polish director Andrzej Wajda, whose films formed a constant stream of correspondence between those living behind the Iron Curtain and those of us fortunate enough not to be downtrodden (at least not by the Communists.) From Ashes and Diamonds through Man of Iron and beyond, we learned how vibrant and innovative and subversive those brave men and women from the film school at Lodz were under the cosh of the Soviet regime. Thanks for all the films. RIP.

The Party’s Over (1965)

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In the week that has seen the loss of fabulously stylish British director Guy Hamilton, it is interesting to look at a curio in his body of work. However it was so heavily censored that Hamilton got his name removed from the credits. This originated with a screenplay by Marc Behm (Charade, Help!) and is an attempt to understand the sordid backdrop to what became known as the Swinging era in London. The thing is – it was filmed in 1963 so necessarily pre-dates that year (65-66) and in ways was already outdated by the time of its release in a seriously modified version. An American girl Melina (Louise Sorel) in London gets involved with what might be called beatniks dedicated to partying and prone to a spot of necrophilia. The most engaging of these characters, Moise, is played by Oliver Reed. When the girl disappears her fiance Carson sends for her father (Eddie Albert) who is distraught when they discover her at a morgue: and there’s one good shot here, a POV from the body drawer… Apparently there were two major narrative changes, including the addition of Reed’s voice-over and a happy-ish ending between Melina’s friend Nina and her fiance. The music was by John Barry but one can only ponder at what might have been. This is certainly not how Hamilton would want to be remembered and since Swinging London was really only 200 socialites, actors and musicians having sex with each other perhaps it’s best forgotten.