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Hitchcock 101: Alfred Hitchcock on how to make movies

Alfred Hitchcock thought the invention of “talkies” was unfortunate as movies assumed a theatrical form overnight. Films, he told Francois Truffaut, stopped being cinematic and became “photographs of people talking.”

When we tell a story in cinema, we should resort to dialogue only when it’s impossible to do otherwise. I always try to tell a story in a cinematic way, through a succession of shots and bits of film in between.

In writing a screenplay, it is essential to separate clearly the dialogue from the visual elements and, whenever possible, to rely more on the visual than on the dialogue. Whichever way you choose to stage the action, your main concern is to hold the audience’s fullest attention.

Summing it up, one might say that the screen rectangle must be charged with emotion.

Hitchcock developed this theme in an interview with director Bryan Forbes at London’s National Film Theatre in 1969, where he explained how work on a movie “starts” for him:

Well, for me, it all starts with the basic material first. Now, the question of when you have the basic material… you may have a novel, a play, an original idea, a couple of sentences and from that the film begins. I work very closely with the writer and begin to construct the film on paper, from the very beginning. We roughly sketch in the whole shape of the film and then begin from the beginning. You end up with around 100 pages, or perhaps even more, of narrative, which is very bad reading for a litterateur. There are no descriptions of any kind—no ‘he wondered’, because you can’t photograph ‘he wondered.’

No ‘camera pans right’, for example

Not at that stage, no. It’s as though you were looking at the film on the screen and the sound was turned off. And therefore, to me, this is the first stage. The reason for it is this—it is to urge one to, to drive one, to make one work purely in the visual and not rely upon words at all. I am still a purist and I do believe that film is a series of images projected on a screen. This succession of images create ideas, which in turn create emotion, just as much as in literature words put together form sentences.

This is is what Hitchcock called “pure film”

The point is that pure film is montage, which is the assembly of pieces of film, which in their turn must create an emotion in the audience. That is the whole art of the cinema—the montage of the pieces. It is merely a matter of design, subject matter and so forth. You can’t generalise about it. You can only hope to produce ideas, expressed in montage terms that create an emotion in an audience.

Hitchcock was a cinematic purist—which ultimately made him a control freak. Everything was planned and worked out long before the actors rehearsed their lines or the first shot was taken. “Actors,” Hitchcock once said in his famously quoted line, “should be treated like cattle.” They were there to collaborate and serve his vision. That’s why he preferred working with actors like James Stewart or Cary Grant rather than “method” actors like Montgomery Clift or Paul Newman. Indeed, during the making of Torn Curtain, Hitchcock became so fed up with Newman continually asking about his motivation that he eventually told him, “Your motivation is your salary.”

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Jamaican Kung-Fu Street Videos: Ridiculous & Sublime

The fact that Jamaicans are posting up hilarious little tributes to kung fu film online should come as no surprise. As in most countries, Jamaica always had its share of young men enthralled by martial arts cinema, which crested in terms of both prolificacy and popularity during the mid-’60s, soon after the rugged island nation became independent. Reggae producers like Lee Perry, Keith Hudson, Augustus Pablo, and Prince Jammy folded martial arts influence into their music, sometimes in the lyrics, and in other instances by simply titling their dubs “Exit The Dragon” or “Shaolin Temple.”

The global digi-video age now opens up possibilities for Jamaica to explode the kung-fu spoof genre. Below you’ll find the possible first bamboo shoots, starting with Prezzi909’s footage from November of some brilliantly awkward kung-fu kombat street theatre, replete with the sound of cackling and screaming onlookers. But wait til a pro gets a hold of the concept…

After the jump: watch the kung-fu kraze refined with actual scripting and wicked effects!

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
Au Revoir Claude Chabrol, pioneer of the French New Wave

Our knowledge of French New Wave cinema of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s is generally limited to the names of innovators and auteurs like Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Goddard.

But although less well-known outside of France, director Claude Chabrol—who died earlier today at age 80—started the movement with Goddard and Truffaut, and became one of the most prolific filmmakers of his time, averaging a film per year until his death.

A Hitchcock acolyte like his compatriot Truffaut, Chabrol played a key part in mainstreaming La Nouvelle Vague. Although he smoothed out some of the genre’s signature styles—improvisation, quick cuts and scene changes, characters stepping out of roles or addressing the camera—Chabrol retained the sense of alienation that imbued Paris as the Algerian War was coming to its pathetic end.

Dealing in class, desire, and compulsion, Chabrol brought a new view of film to the masses. Check out this scene from his fourth feature, Les Bonnes Femmes (The Good Time Girls, 1960), which follows the travails of four angst-ridden shop girls, each dealing with their drab existences in order to follow their obsessions, whether it’s the city’s nightlife or that mysterious motorcycle man.

Get: Les Bonnes Femmes by Claude Chabrol (1960) [DVD]

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
Psycho at 50: Zizek’s Three Floors of the Mind

Today marks the half-century anniversary of the premiere of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which—along with Fellini’s La Dolce Vita opening earlier the same year—used the artform of cinema to hold up the cracked mirror of compulsive desire to Western civilization.

Movies, of course, would never be the same. Who better to drive the point home than our friendly neighborhood Lacanian critical theorist from Slovenia, Slavoj Žižek, from his excellent 2006 documentary, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema?

Get: The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema Pt. 1-3 [DVD]


Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
Dennis Hopper: American Dreamer (NSFW)

In 2006, the late Dennis Hopper confessed to Charlie Rose on 60 Minutes that he thought his career was a failure. This despite revolutionizing American cinema by directing Easy Rider, and becoming an icon via characters like the lost American photojournalist in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and the sinister Frank Booth in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. He likely wasn’t otherwise convinced by the star he received on the Hollywood Walk of Fame a couple of months before he died.
These clips from Lawrence Schiller-directed 1971 documentary The American Dreamer find the Dodge City, KS-born Hopper in a reflective and quietly desperate place. Shot while he completed post-production on The Last Movie—Hopper’s convoluted, Peruvian-filmed follow-up to Easy RiderDreamer follows the scraggly and bearded director as he wanders,  parties and babbles around his Taos, NM ranch.
You’d think that triumph of Easy Rider would somewhat make up for Hopper’s emotionally damaged childhood, career troubles, two divorces, and the trauma of his good friend James Dean’s death. But Hopper here is deep inside his alcoholism, musing on his alienation, and treating the filming as a sort of therapy. As you’ll find in the second clip below, part of that therapy involves what he termed a “sensitivity encounter” with about a dozen variously undressed groupies who the mad director harangues with some group-psych babble before disrobing himself. Hopper would eventually hit bottom, wandering literally naked in a South American jungle, before being hospitalized, rehabilitated, and eventually redeemed in the later phase of an enviable “failure” of a career.



Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment