Scott Ellington's Blog

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Alfred Hitchcock’s first film as an independent producer in 1948 was based on a play that was based on a book that was based on the infamous crime of Leopold and Loeb.  It’s a remarkable film for several reasons, and frequently cited for the unusual experiment it undertook; to photograph the action without the use of conventional edits. 

There’s also no insinuating musical score and (except for the early and later intervals, surrounding titles and credits) all of the music that appears in the film is explicitly made by an actor at the piano or the turn of a nob on a radio. 

Less explict is the very-similar tonal pitch of all the actors’ voices.  Even the three women in the film are resonably-deep contraltos, and their voices interact and blend with those of the men (including the upper register of the booming Cedric Hardwick) in an almost-continuous patchwork (foreground/background/multichannel) of dialogue that very rarely ceases (except conspicuously) and culminates at the end of the film in some  electrifying crescendos; vocal, philosophical, kinetic and emotional.

Rope, Smith and Mad Men are three very different entertainments that happen to have in common absolutely zero characters that appeal to me, no characters with whom I sympathize/identify and automatically like.  And yet, despite that formulaic “oversight”, in sticking with those stories I was led to appreciate the use of other elements/devices that justified the investment of my attention.

Rope‘s nine characters range (in my opinion) from the purely-loathesome to the merely-avoidable kinds of people I might meet at a party; elitist, classist, privileged, and fundamentally contemptible…but by the middle of the second act, the vapid conversations and self-important posturing began to peel away — revealing fascinating, human complications that are tucked inside of all of us.

The most-notable thing about Rope is the considerable number of conventional cinematic devices and cheats (filmmaker priviliges) it doesn’t utilize in telling a story about bullshitting.  (Hitchcock also cheats.)  On the other hand, the 1948 Technicolor camera was an enormous machine that could not move without drawing attention to itself in wobbles and bobbles and various conceits that the viewer isn’t meant to notice.  And the camera’s point of view in Rope (as usual) belongs to nobody.  I  tried pretending (on my third pass through the film) that it belonged to David, the guy Brandon and Phillip killed, but that very clearly wasn’t the (pure cinema) story Alfred meant to tell.

Rope is a fascinating film on many levels, and riveting for many reasons that culminate in a ripping of scabs off the fundamental socio-philosophical question that emerges quite pointedly through the telling — How should superior wealth and privilege get along with the rest of us?  I think Hitchcock’s hero in this tale is Mrs. Wilson, and his answer is that the elite had best behave with redoubled efforts at compassion and civility. 

I think think superior wealth and privilege purchased mainstream media along about 1945 and have beaten us senseless with it, ever since, complicitly. 

The film ends with an interesting, implict comparison between Old Testament capital punishment and Nazi euthanasia, mediated by civilized government’s  willingness, readiness and aptitude to kill.  That’s a bone of contention that doesn’t quite fit in the film.

Hollywood’s late-40s experiments in visual storytelling (Rope, The Lady in the Lake, Dark Passage…) might have been provoked by studio-anxiety over the embryonic giant of television.  I think that notion gives undue credit to the presience of studio executives — whose eventual solution would be to buy (or be bought by) broadcast networks; they joined what they couldn’t beat.  I think it’s high time I studied Hitchcock as a means to understanding the history (and future) of mainstream media as Alfred Hitchcock Presents…it.

The primary byproduct of all systems is irony.

(SIDEBAR:  Generation Kill is a fascinating miniseries without insinuated score.  All the music is made by characters onscreen, with layers of vocal communication set behind the brilliant foreground conversations, rants and diatribes in an alpha-male environment dedicated to constant contention which is reminiscent of some notable functions of communication exhibited in Deadwood and Stage Door, the 1937 chickflick with the deepest all-star bench and the wittiest conversations since Eve slew Lilith with (and Edna Ferber spurned) false immodesty.  I love Generation Kill, partly because it elaborates on American lore/myth broached in The Killer Angels about heroism, patriotism, sacrifice, blood and privilege.  And I’m steeply and steadily warming to Nathan Fick’s One Bullet Away, for very similar reasons.)

20 Sep 10 - Posted by | Uncategorized


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