François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock, Helen Scott during the interviews that created the book.
F.T. Would you say that Psycho is an experimental film?
A.H. Possibly. My main satisfaction is that the film had an effect on the audiences, and I consider that very important. I don't care about the subject matter; I don't care about the acting; but I do care about the piece of film and the photography and the sound track and all of the technical ingredients that made the audience scream. I feel it's tremendously satisfying for us to be able to use the cinematic are to acheive something of a mass emotion. And with Psycho we most definitely acheived this. it wasn't a message that stirred the audiences, nor was it a great performance or their enjoyment of the novel. They were aroused by pure film.
F.T. Yes, that's true.
A.H. That's why I take pride in the fact that Psycho, more than any of my other pictures, is a film that belongs to film-makers, to you and me. I can't get a real appreciation of the picture in the terms we're using now. People will say, "It's a terrible film to make. The subject was horrible, the people were small, there were no characters in it. " I know all of this, but I also know that the construction of the story and the way in which it was told caused audiences all over the world to react and become emotional.
In England, the Beatles make their debut television appearance, on the Sid-Bernstein-founded Granada TV, a northwest-servicing commercial television franchise. They perform the songs "Some Other Guy" and "Love Me Do."
In Osaka, Japan, American modernist composer John Cage gives a concert at Mido-Kaikan, for which he is joined by artist Yoko Ono for the piece 26'55.988" for 2 Pianists & a String Player. Ono served as Cage's interpreter for much of the artist's 1962 tour of Japan, and participated in several other performances, including the one pictured above, featuring Cage, David Tudor and Toshiro Mayuzumi.
If you're of the opinion that they don't make 'em like they used to, you are absolutely correct. If you're peeved that it's more and more difficult to see the ones they used to make on a big screen, that's absolutely correct too. So I would suggest you carve out some time and put your money where your complaints are this coming Thursday, October 4, when David Lean's still-remarkable, relentlessly thrilling 1962 picture Lawrence of Arabia plays in a 4K digital restoration for one showing only (at 7 p.m.) in theaters across the country, including one near you, I would expect. You can find out more at the Fathom Events website here. I can't imagine it'll be anything less than thrilling. I saw a prior restoration of the movie at the Ziegfeld some years back and it was one of my favorite moviegoing experiences ever. So don't wait for the upcoming Blu-ray; see it big, if you can. The presentation will also feature some nice extras, including introductions from Omar Sharif and Martin Scorsese.
In 2007 I had the great privilege of doing a telephone interview with Alain Resnais. It was a very genial conversation that alighted ona variety of topics, one of which, no surprise, was his still-contentious 1961 collaboration with the late writer/filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet, Last Year At Marienbad. The movie still tends to be viewed by some through critic Pauline Kael's rather stubbornly dense reading of it—the gist of it being that it's one of the pictures that inspired her mot about "come dressed as the sick soul of Europe" costume parties—so I discussed it with Resnais with an emphasis on its more formally playful aspects, which include the appearance of a cardboard cutout of Alfred HItchcock and a pastiche of the Hollywood classic Gilda. He was not unreceptive to my perspective, but also gently cautioned against the notion of characterizing the whole thing as some kind of meta romp. As his interpreter put it, "Yes, there are some very funny jokes in Marienbad. But [...Resnais] hopes it doesn't take away from the tragedy."
And so. Resnais' latest picture, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet, opens with some good jokes, beginning with its title, which heralds back to a different technological turning point in the history of film. The design of the title sequence, which does not but might as well incorporate the image of a flying unicorn, evokes a particular faux-grandiose Euro-cheesiness that's also quite amusing. Then there's the conceit of the movie itself. A flatbed-truck-load of great French actors, from Amalric to Wilson and with Arditi, Azema, Consigny, Girardot, and Piccoli and many others in between, are seen being summoned by phone to the chateau of a dear friend, a playwright named Antoine d'Anthac. Antoine's gone and died, and he wanted these friends to attend the reading of his will and testament. And so this amazing cast hies to an ornate CGI-rendered mountain retreat, where they are greeted by an unusually cheery Antoine via posthumous video. Turns out he wants to go over old times, particularly his play Eurydice, which various members of this cast, we learn, portrayed in various productions over the years. There's another theater company working up a version, Antoine tells the renowned thespians, and he wants their feedback on their version of the play. Which then begins on the big-screen display in Antoine's home theater. And the cast assembled for the reading of Antoine's will begins to interact with what's on screen, creating a mashup, if you will, wherein most of the entirety of Eurydice, a 20th-century gloss on the Orpheus myth, plays out for the viewer—that's you, and/or me.
If you're somewhat familiar with 20th-century European drama, and/or have paid attention to the movie's opening credits, you'll comprehend that this Eurydice is a real thing—it's a play by Jean Anouilh that predated Jean Cocteau's cinematic gloss on the Orpheus myth by several years. The two have little in common, as it happens, aside from the ancient-to-modern transposition. The actors-called-to-a-playwright's-will-reading conceit is ALSO adopted from an Anouilh play: a later, and altogether more obscure work entitled Dear Antoine, or, Failed Love. So there's another set of mashup parentheses bracketing the opposition of the Resnais rep company and the lesser-known actors in the fictional theatrical company that they're running competing versions of Eurydice with.
All this sounds rather remarkably impenetrably knotty and maybe impossibly French, and there's a sense in which cultural specificity seems kind of crucial to "getting" what's going on here. (Because I'm a horrible person, I was highly amused to read a writeup by a VERY know-somethingish whippersnapper in which he cited Antoine D'Anthac as a real playwright, and Jean Anouilh as a fictional one. It's like you've never seen Waltz of the Toreadors or Becket or something!) However. Once the conceit is successfully realized and the Eurydice action moves forward while toggling in different modes, the movie's exploration of the art of acting and the fungible nature of what we call "tragedy" takes on a remarkable immediacy that's rendered more than slightly phantasmagorical by the 90-year-old Resnais' delight in the play of digital space. Most, if not all, of the setting inhabited by the actors transporting themselves (and the audience) in D'Anthac's lair are digital simulations, from great halls that look like video-game foyers to ratty pension bedrooms wherein various iterations of Orpheus and Eurydice enact their passion and domestic disputes.
And while the viewer is taking in all of the various filters through which what is finally a very old and simple-as-Death story is being processed—and just to think, we ain't seen nothin' yet!—that story, its elemental themes of passion and mortality, comes through in a very direct way, via the performances and the way Resnais' camera views them. The formal innovations and sense of play aren't distractions from the emotion, rather, Resnais suggests, it is only through the rigorous exercise of the imagination that art is able to communicate anything even suggesting the Real. There'll be more to say when the picture gets a proper release and the rest of you are able to see it; I'm happy to report that Kino Lorber was not at all intimidated by its French-ness and will be releasing the film early next year.
There has been an awful lot of...stuff written pertaining to the "Greatest Films Poll" sponsored by the British Film Institute and Sight & Sound magazine (which I was fortunate enough to have been invited to vote in); I am not inclined to contribute to any of the polemecizing per se but would like to note that the top picks in both the final poll result itself and the individual ballots is giving me an incentive to revisit some pictures I haven't seen in some time or perhaps maybe not at all. Mizoguchi's haunting ghost story, which I myself threw under the bus in favor of Sansho Dayu, and then threw Sansho Dayu under the bus and PUT NO JAPANESE FILMS AT ALL ON MY BALLOT (like many have said, in more polite ways, doing these ballots is completely fucking impossible), is now available, like Sansho, in a wonderful high-def edition from Eureka!/Masters of Cinema if you are fortunate enough to own an all-region Blu-ray player. On my coffee table right now: Arrow Cinema's U.K. Blu-ray of Wajda's Ashes And Diamonds (Martin Scorsese's ballot; also Francis Ford Coppola's ballot; it would be lovely to think they maybe hashed it out in a phone conversation but probably not, and in a sense it's sweeter to think of this affinity as having long gone un-reiterated); Tartan DVD's U.K. standard-def edition of Ingmar Bergman's 1949 Prison (Abel Ferrara's ballot; a reading of the synopsis for the film suggests an inspiration for Ferrara's own very underrated Snake Eyes/Dangerous Game); and Kino Video's Avant Garde: Experimental Cinema Of The 1920s And '30s, which features Joris Ivens' 1929 Regen, which is on Apichatpong Weerasethukal's ballot.
I was quite honored, this spring, to receive an invitation to participate in the British Film Institute/Sight & Sound "Greatest Films Of All Time" poll. Now that the results of that poll are being unveiled online, I figure it would not be improper for me to put up my own ballot, along with the note I attached to it.
1) Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941) 2) Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960) 3) Anatomy of a Murder (Preminger, 1959) 4) Céline et Julie vent en bateau (Rivette, 1974) 5) Stalker (Tarkovsky, 1979) 6) Belle de jour (Buñuel, 1967) 7) Boudu sauvé des eaux (Renoir, 1932) 8) Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (Lang, 1922) 9) Singin' in the Rain (Donen & Kelly, 1952) 10)The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
Thanks so much for the invitation to participate in the poll. It's true; the task is not an easy one at all. I arrived at this particular list, one out of perhaps dozens of other entirely different ones, by splitting he difference between honoring convention and saying to hell with it. As it happens, the four films on the list which might conceivably be seen as "consensus" picks—Kane, Psycho, Singin' in the Rain, Searchers—are also ones close to "my heart" or at least the formation of my sensibility. The other six films came to me after a lot of debate with myself over whether I was being different for the sake of being different, or whether these were not in fact truly GREAT films that, when the time came for surveys along the lines of this one, did not get the proper recognition for being the imaginatively prodigious, paradigm-shifting, galvanic works that I believe they in fact are. OF COURSE I regret that my list cannot be longer, because surely Sansho Dayu, The General (not to mention Sherlock Jr.), The Last Temptation of Christ, and a lot more ought to have a place, and the more I think about the films and filmmakers I am leaving off (Yang! Naruse!...and, yep, Godard; what am I thinking?) the more I can twist a long knife inside both my guts and brain. And for all that this is a list that in its way satisfies me. If anybody asks me "What IS cinema," yeah, I can show them any one of these pictures and say "This is."
Herewith, my humble contribution to a wonderful cinephilia-friendly cause, the third For The Love Of Film Blogathon, proceeds from which will help finance a restoration of a worthy film in which the maestro had an early-career involvement. Please see the bloggers cited in the logo below, and/or look at today's piece by my friend Self Styled Siren. And click here to make what will be a much appreciated and worthwhile donation.
I cannot find the exact citation, unfortunately, but I recall reading back in the '90s a magazine story chronicling the making of director Gus Van Sant's ostensibly shot-by-shot recreation of Psycho, and said piece containing many quotes from the participating actors in which they justified/rationalized their participation in the project, which, depending on who you were talking to was either a senseless kockamamie scheme or some kind of conceptual coup. And I remember William H. Macy, who was playing the part of Arbogast that had been originated by Martin Balsam, opining that one good reason, for him, to get on board with what many might consider a desecration was to get some kind of payback with respect to Hitchcock, because Macy didn't like that thing Hitchcock said about actors, that they were "cattle." And I read this, and I sighed. Because Macy is a soulful and not unintelligent man, and his misbegotten notion that Hitchcock was somehow the enemy of actors is unfortunate. And, I guess, very hard to kill.
The Hitchcock of 1939, anticipating a trip from Great Britain to Hollywood, in an interview in Film Weekly (reprinted in the invaluable Sidney Gottlieb-edited compilation Hitchcock on Hitchcock), revealed not just a great enthusiasm for American stars, but (and this shouldn't really come as a surprise) an acute sensitivity with respect to both particular abilities and potential. On Gary Cooper: "[He] has that rare faculty of being able to rivet the attention of an audience while he does nothing." Andre De Toth saw this in Cooper too, although he did not articulate it in quite the same way. On Carole Lombard: "I should like to cast [her] not in the type of superficial comedy which she so often plays but in a much more meaty comedy-drama,giving her plenty of scope for characterization." Once in Hollywood, Hitchcock and Lombard became friends. And they collaborated, on Mr. And Mrs. Smith, a 1941 divorce comedy that Hitchcock, in one of his legendary interviews with François Truffaut, kind of pooh-poohed: "That picture was done as a friendly gesture to [...] Lombard...I didn't really understand the type of people portrayed in the film, all I did was photograph the scenes as written." It was on the set of this picture that Lombard played the famous practical joke in which she built a mini-corral on the set and stocked it with three pieces of livestock tagged with the names of the film's three principal players.
Hitchcock's retrospective disconnection from Mr. And Mrs. Smith, juxtaposed with his previously stated eagerness to push Carole Lombard's performance envelope, suggests several questions, the most obvious being "What happened?" Well, it's entirely possible that nothing happened. That while Hitchcock's observations concerning the various actors were sharp and truly meant, his stated desire to remold them in certain ways was little more than public-relations bluster/diplomacy.On the other hand, the fact is that Hitchcock did approach Gary Cooper for the lead in Foreign Correspondent, and Cooper turned it down, which he (Cooper) later regretted. But whether or not Hitchcock's creative struggles with David O. Selznick during the making of Rebecca made the director subsequently dig in his heels harder with respect to hermetically sealing his creative process in the future, it's difficult to argue against the notion that the actor had a very specific and kind of immovable secondary place in Hitchcock's creative process. But it's also incorrect to translate this into an attitude of actual hostility. In his autobiography, Elia Kazan goes over the ways that different directors handle/respond to actors. His view: "Hitchcock told his screen stories as much as possible without help from his actors' performances. When Cary Grant, going into a film, asked him how he should play his part, Hitchcock answered, 'Just do what you always do.' Hitchcock relied on his camera angles and his montage [...] to do what on stage we relied on the actors for." Note the neutrality of Kazan's description; recall also Hitchcock's observation on Gary Cooper's ability to resonate while doing "nothing;" juxtapose with the theory behind the Kuleshov effect; and there's all the more reason to regret that Cooper and Hitchcock never got together.
Of course, Hitchcock made no bones or apologies for the fact that he considered shooting to be the most boring part of making a film. His pre-production work was the process by which he developed the movie in his head and assembled the means by which it could be materialized. So the actual shooting became a mechanical process, not unlike stuffing sausage casings. You could understand why an actor who was savvy to this attitude might build a resentment toward this. You can also understand how one actor might take "Just do what you always do" as a compliment and sign of respect, or as an insult. Until the period when he was getting all weird with his leading ladies, Hitchcock's expectation of a performer was that he or she would bring their best abilities and have whatever homework they felt they needed to do, done. Various acting methods and the work of directors like, well, Kazan, brought a notion of a more active collaboration between actor and director to the fore. The actor would not be playing a role in someone else's motion picture but creating a character/characterization, and hence the actor's notion of what was proper for the picture was to be taken rather seriously. This kind of idea, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say, was anathema to Hitchcock, who was only concerned with filming what HE saw. Here's how he describes (to Truffaut) his difficulty with Paul Newman during the filming of 1966's Torn Curtain, discussing a scene that was ultimately cut from the film: "As you know, he's a 'method' actor, and he found it hard to just give me one of those neutral looks I needed to cut from his point of view. Instead of looking toward Gromek's brother, toward the knife or the sausage, he played the scene in the 'method' style, with emotion, and he was always turning away." If we look at the camera as a pen, then here we can see Newman as runny ink. Martin Scorsese can be seen as having, in some ways, synthesizing Kazan's sympathy for actors with Hitchcock's plastic storytelling style. Talking about working with Newman some twenty years after Hitchcock's Torn Curtain, for 1986's The Color of Money, he recalls (in the Faber and Faber book Scorsese on Scorsese): "Paul [is the] kind of actor who doesn't like to improvise that much on the set, so [...] everything was rehearsed beforehand. We did it the way he suggested, which was to take two complete weeks and just work out with the actors in a loft. I was really nervous, because it was like the theater [...] So when he said, 'What you do is take a tape and mark out an area for a chair; then you tape out an area for a bed,' I could foresee those terrible theater things when people pretend a door is there, which I hate. I said, 'What if we use a real chair?' 'A chair is good,' he said, to my relief."
While we cannot imagine Hitchcock in such a situation getting anywhere near to, let alone beyond "just work out with the actors in a loft," we shouldn't, by the same token, beat his ghost or his films over the head with some conception that he, and they, are anti-human-performer. That's a rap more applicable to, say, Michael Bay.