Even in this online age, and its forgiveness of self-indulgence being such as it is, I feel a little sheepish talking about Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest, whose New York premiere occurred a mere two days before I myself was born.
Because I feel that this is, really, the film that I grew up with. Although the family myth runs a little differently. The family myth has me sitting, as a 35-pound, gurgling one-year-old, sitting between my 21-year-old father and my 20-year-old mother at a drive in, watching Hitchcock's Psycho. My mother is about eight months pregnant with my sister. The trauma of Psycho's shower scene is held to account for not just my own persistent emotional problems but also my cinephilia. As for its effect on my as-yet-unborn sister, well, it has been discussed. It should be noted that my younger sister has successfully raised three delightful children, while I have yet to be tested in that department.
But that's hardly even the point. Because the family myth is just that, a myth, and to be completely frank, the first film I have any actual real memory of seeing is North By Northwest. And I didn't quite understand why until I read the perfunctorily informative booklet of its new Blu-ray edition (streeting on November 3),that alludes to a 1965 re-release of the picture. And, yes; that's when my five-or-six-year-old self, peering from the rear compartment of my family's Ford Country Squire station wagon, first saw the harrowing images of a drunk Cary Grant trying so hard not to drive off a cliff in Glen Cove Long Island, for those were, in fact the images that still greet me in their drive-in big-screen glory when I recollect the viewing. Psycho, in my consciousness, came later, via my mother's own horrified recollections, and various late-night screenings on WWOR Channel Nine in the later '60s.
And as I grew older, and taller, if not exactly "up," Hitchcock became/remained a sort of Masonic handshake among the cinephiles I met and made companions of, some of them, like Ron G. and Joe M. and Joe F., good friends to this very day. Guys with whom were shared not just amusing tidbits of knowledge (the actual age difference between Jessie Royce Landis and Cary Grant, how terrible!) but significant bits of dialogue, such as the hilarious "maybe he has his suits mended by invisible weavers" bit. North by Northwest didn't even have to be spoken of as a touchstone text, because we had already been there with it; we all already knew that it was.
And this was even before we had started digging into the critical literature on Hitchcock beyond the Truffaut book. But once we did start that excavation, the exhilaration of knowing we were right. And the exhilaration of understanding what our literature teachers had told us a few years prior: that understanding the mechanisms of a great work of art does not spoil one's appreciation of that work, but actually enriches it.
The new Blu-ray of NXNW enriches in a welcome way. Jeff Wells blogged about it a couple of days back, exulting in little details he hadn't noticed before, such as the wood grain of the phone booths in the Chicago station.
Yes. In a sense, that is it, exactly. There have been a good many very fine home video renderings of this film in the past, but what this wonderful Blu-ray does is pop certain details so that you are there, in the action, or in the audience in 1959, in a way that was never quite true before. I guess that's one reason why watching this disc, the sense of time, for me, dissolves, and I find myself immersed in something like a Platonic ideal of cinema, a place I might be content to rest in for many hours beyond the film's own running time.