Feature film opening

I am the one who discovered the existence of her book. For the ordinary person, it stands for little other than a black mark. But for her, me and others like me, it generates the kind of notoriety that only the likes of …



Mirtle Mysticons

We were laughing until Anita’s tumble-led shriek caused a near fall. She reacted to my trying to take a closer look at the sparkling diamonds scattered across the coal black pavement.  Fortunately our strong Roman soldiers in drag formation maintained our upright positions. Close up, fractured glass remnants replaced the diamonds, the edges infected by the red hues emanating from the necklace. I was no longer angry with Michelle for striking the street light. A garuaesque fog held me back from inspecting further.  He’d tied the cord too tightly around my neck but at least the pentagram did not move.

Goose pimples followed our every step and pavements proved to be problematic. We parted. Anita’s grey huddled heap contrasted Michelle’s limestone stature. She saw me stare, glanced at the necklace before turning to watch the swift moving clouds drift above us. I looked up at the flat. “Look, I’ve lit the way home Toto” I laughed. “Not very eco” retorted Anita sharply. Michelle laughed at my discomfort. Anita always had to strike me down with curt comebacks. My laughter had faded into the night.

I opened mum’s red before I told Michelle that I’d found the flat. I got zilch about the sacrificed good wine but much about my commercial consumerist competitiveness. She then expressed the need to see the place for herself. Michelle now asked about the flat all over again. I explained about the agency. The place wasn’t right for everyone the man said. I told Michelle the price had been right. I did not say by how much. But this was not the only reason I went for the flat. Difference was the key. It’s odd uneven walls and the strange stone embedded inside the brick walls.  The place was different like me. I could not explain to Michelle that the reason I felt so close when we first met was because she was different. Anita became so ordinary then. Not so now, I had let Anita down badly and she had not forgiven me. I needed Michelle but she didn’t need me. She did not care about anything even herself. She was free to do whatever she wanted. Not like me or Anita. We had to care because no one else did. I always felt forced to fit in with both of them. One day I thought but these things never happen in the way you imagine.

Michelle deserved Anita’s strikes not me. The contradiction of meek and demanding. A throwback from when her mother used to beg me to come keep her fragile angry daughter company. Anita worked hard to fit in after the illness. She could not help herself. Normality was her perpetual identity crisis. Her strong caring side abused by her desire to challenge wrongdoing dispensed critical strikes usually aimed at me. A primeval attack against my many weaknesses. Still, at least Anita cared, she cared about everything and everyone. Anita had not wanted to go out that evening. Maybe she still felt resentful. She dressed to go out before announcing one of her funny feelings. I took Anita’s funny feelings seriously but Michelle laughed at her and pushed her fearful face out the door. I followed suit. They had come to stay with me but they never joined me. Not like I wanted.

I had left the door unlocked. Anita was worried the flat had been burgled. Not me I might add. I had inside information. There was nothing worth stealing. The lights flickered on and off as Michelle pushed the door wide open. I could not help myself. “Wouldn’t it be weird if someone was in the flat?” I said. Anita’s fear took hold. “Why did you have to say that? she demanded. I turned around and stared at her. “Look Anita, I don’t know why I said it.” I screamed “Rrraaaah” right into her face. Anita’s hair blew back. I fell back on humour otherwise I would have screamed at her uptightness. Besides I had new neighbours. “You’re weird Jess, even Michelle thinks so. Let me in, I need to go” Anita said. “As the resident weirdo, I invite you to enter the threshold”.  I stroked the pentagram necklace for effect and bowed for her to enter. Anita let out an exasperated tut before charging in wobbling in her heels.

Michelle tugged on my arm. “Wait” she said. “Let’s go inside” I said, weary of a scene. She pushed passed me and stumbled into the kitchen. She did not sit  down. “How come he gave you the necklace?” she asked. I had no idea but was suddenly desperate to make everything alright with Michelle. “He wanted to help us get into that place – the cheapskate wants it back” I said. Michelle asked me if I liked him when Anita shouted out for toilet roll.  “Sorting out shit is a big part of my life” I said. I was relieved by Anita’s intervention and laughed nervously. Michelle sniggered and slumped into the nearest chair in satisfaction.

I exchanged with Anita. I needed air and the toilet would have to serve as the sanctuary in what was supposed to my new flat. Michelle could move in but it would never work. I listened hard. Michelle was focused on Anita now. “What did you think of that club?” she asked. “Weirder than that place you found”. I heard Michelle shout, “I meant the guys?” . “They all looked the same to me” said Anita. I laughed. Random thoughts overtook my mind. Later, it became heated and Anita accused Michelle of something and a nutter or something like that was mentioned. I did not want to come out. I was tense all over again.

I returned bearing a blanket. I threw it at Anita and turned east to do some stretch yoga.

“It’s all in the spine…” I said. Anita now wanted more from me. “Jess, can I have a shower…a BATH?” I muttered that she should go for it under my breath. “Anything at Hotel anything for you?”. Michelle looked jealous so I took back the blanket from Anita and flung it at her telling her to do what she did best. The laughter returned even though I was now in prayer position. But then my stomach almost popped out. Three loud knocks punctured my position. I looked up from the floor where I had collapsed. Anita glared at a wide-eyed Michelle. It was 2.30am. “It’s the neighbours” I said convinced. Three more loud knocks. Michelle shouted, “LET THEM IN. LET THEM IN”. I shouted for her to stop but she had left the room. The bangs came a third time. I rushed to the door and listened. Nothing.

I slowly opened the door. The good-looking pentagram necklace guy from the club. He carried two bulges in his leather jacket. I had a funny thought but then all I said was “RUFUS what are you doing here?” He asked me if I was “Inviting me in or…?”. I could see Michelle in my room, her compact light was on and the lippy was out. The door slightly ajar so she could listen. In the kitchen, I felt awkward when Rufus asked after Michelle. Would I have to give up my room for him and her in my own flat? Michelle emerged and Rufus held out a chair for her. He took off his jacket and hung it on the back of her chair.

I nearly left but Rufus asked me for four glasses and even asked after Anita. Maybe he’d come to be social or was it the necklace? I would have returned it. He took out a bottle which he rightly held at arms length. The crimson coloured the sides. Michelle ventured for home-made port but I thought it looked blood like. I could hear Anita groan at my suggestion before she turned up the music in the bathroom. “Count Drac?” laughed Michelle. “It’s an elixir, think Mirto” he said. “Chemical, definitely artificial” I said. “Wrong, completely natural, MIRTO’s made of myrtle, juniper and arbutus” he said.

We clinked glasses. It was pretty disgusting even for Michelle but we were not rude for some reason. We drank the first glass and somehow the bottle fell empty. Forgetful drunks must be forgiven. Rufus leaned back masterfully. He exchanged meaningful looks with Michelle who announced she was off to her bedroom. Her bedroom? I wanted to scream at her but instead I heard her scream. I was confused and looked at Rufus to confirm that I was not projecting thoughts. I shouted out to Michelle. I felt slightly out of sync. I got out of the chair and nearly fell as I stumbled to the bedroom. I steadied myself. I called out and began to tug at the handle of the door but it was locked.  Michelle did not respond. She was so quiet. Perhaps she wanted attention but it was just not like her to go about it in this way. Rufus suddenly appeared and began to quietly ask Michelle if something was wrong. It was as if I did not exist.

I looked away then down. Water was coming from the bathroom. I shouted to Anita. I had to be sober. This was my place. They could do what they like but I had to sort things out even when I was drunk. I shouted to ask if Anita realised she had overrun the bath and why was the water brown. She was silent too so I yelled over the music. At last, she responded. She could not see any water. I asked her to open the door. She finally got out of the bath. Anita rattled the handle but did not bother to open the door. She stopped the music and then accused me of locking her in. “I locked you in like I leaked water, like I locked Michelle in”. I explained that she had to have locked it from the inside.  I tried to tell her about Michelle. She refused to listen and instructed me to “just do something” about Michelle and commented about my “slurred speech”. An indication that I was unreliable drunk and therefore unworthy of her precious attention.

I suddenly remembered that I had been given the number of the landlord in case of emergencies. “I’m ringing the landlord”. Rufus snatched my phone. “It’s gone past 3am”. I snatched the mobile back but there was no signal.

I asked Michelle if she was doing this for attention but then Rufus accused me of orchestrating the whole thing. “You wanted to be alone with me” he insisted. Delusional. I was the only sane person. “I’ll need the necklace” he said as he went off to the kitchen, he grabbed his jacket and came back. “Necklace?” he demanded. I tugged at Anita’s door handle angrily. Rufus waited. “Just go, you useless shit…” I could see more brown water leaking and I rushed up to the kitchen window and began to shout out into the street for attention. Where were my neighbours? “You don’t know the landlord do you?” He said.

“What’s that got to do with it?” I asked.

Rufus grabbed a chair from the kitchen and smashed it against the bedroom door. Michelle lay unconscious on the floor. She was breathing. Rufus and I put her on the bed. She shivered back to life losing much of her shine.

Later in the kitchen, a shamefaced Anita held Michelle’s hand as she explained how she had heard a knock and then felt a shock. She felt different she said.

“This place gives me the creeps” announced Anita.

Rufus called out “girls” as if he was some harem leader. “Here. A leak, anyone touching these switches, would’ve got a shock.” We could be dead I thought. Michelle laughed it off. “Just tell us next time you don’t want us to stay.” Now I was going to call this landlord. I went to grab my phone when Rufus snatched it again. “It’s 4am, you’re drunk and do not forget the door.” He was right but I was going to do it anyway when he and Michelle started up with their secret messaging. I stared at Rufus then Michelle and the necklace slipped off of its own accord. It managed to leave a sharp scratch on the table. It was not my night, a door and now the table. Michelle was right. I was not fit to have a flat. My independence  was becoming a long distance road trip. Rufus pulled out an extra bottle. I mustered a smile. Alcohol was the only answer. “I’d like several” I said. “Hallelujah” said Michelle as she moved over to Rufus. Still playing games. She wanted to be alone she said except that meant being alone with Rufus. He followed her into the spare room. Anita refused to drink and listened instead. She heard the words necklace and Jess. It figured.

Rufus took Michelle’s hands. She went to move away but he pricked her pointedly and precisely in the neck with one edge of the pentagram necklace. Blood oozed out. Rufus pulled back. He filled an empty bottle. Anita said she expected Michelle wanted to sleep with Rufus. He tried to say something about Michelle and I immediately stopped him saying I was going to bed. He had the nerve to say “what a great idea?” Anita took the cue and left us alone. I made small talk about the necklace. He said it was a special heirloom and then like Michelle, he asked me what made me move to this flat? I could not start to tell him about difference. Too difficult to explain. So I mentioned it being newly decorated and said I was going to rent the other two rooms so I could live rent free. Rufus lay the pentagram on the table. I picked the pentagram pendant and pricked my finger. I held it up. Rufus looked intensely into my eyes reflecting my bleeding finger. I could see him almost melt. “Bloody beautiful” he said. “Thanks” I muttered as I wrapped my finger in the spare toilet paper lying on the table.

He asked if he could stay. I did not plan this and I was all mixed up. I walked to my room and Rufus grabbed the pentagram and followed. I did not stop him. Anita gave me one of her looks on the way back to the kitchen.

In the bedroom, I asked, “What did she say about me?”. He said Michelle talked about me the whole time and wanted me to have the necklace. I felt guilt. Rufus held out the pentagram but then he lunged towards me. I reacted involuntarily because I felt sick and did not want to be kissed. But a strange disembodied thought occurred. He was trying to attack me with the necklace.  I was certain the second time round when he tried to do it again. I shouted out to “MICHELLE” and ran into the bathroom. I began to hyperventilate in the bathroom. Blood poured out of my grazed neck after I mistakenly swung round into him. He rushed back to Anita who heard me shout something but clearly not enough for her to get up.

“Jess stuck in the bathroom?” she asked. Rufus put his hand on her shoulder. Anita agreed to give Rufus a chance for my sake. Rufus suggested a drink as a truce. Anita wanted water but Rufus insisted there was no other way. Finally, he stood in her way as she tried to feign tiredness. She capitulated “One won’t hurt, then I’m going to bed.” He instructed her to swallow in one gulp. Anita did so and stared in disbelief when she saw the bottle was empty. Anita could not work out how. She then asked, “Did Jess scream?” Anita walked off slightly disorientated as Rufus called after her.

Anita walked in on Michelle. She screamed and tried to lock the door but the lock wouldn’t work. Rufus pushed the door open. “You should be more like your friends” he said. “Not Jess’’ she screamed.

“Try on the necklace for me” he said.

“JESS, JESS?” she screamed. Rufus grabbed her but she struggled free. He again insisted she try on the necklace.

“You try it on” she said. Anita asked him to hand the necklace to her. He moved forward with glee only she pushed him out-of-the-way and ran to the front door. It was locked. He came out holding a set of keys. She ran to Jess’s room. It was dark. Anita fell back. Subdued She saw blood spray everywhere. Shocked. She saw me appear. I could not understand how Rufus could be alive. His blood fed my red-lit Visigoth dressed self.

“Oh my God, Jess what did he make you wear?” mumbled a shocked Anita.

A bit of me could still laugh at the loss of black but not the one who was communicating.

“He was the landlord” I said.

“Him? He killed Michelle” she informed me.

“You’re with me” I assured her but she continued to talk about Michelle. I had to carry out this strange urge. She had to join me if she wanted to live. Anita sensed something round her neck. She was wearing the pentagram necklace. She instinctively knew. She tried to run I had no choice but to pierce the graceful nape in her neck. “We are the Mysticons” I said. I do not why I kept saying this. I do not even know who the Mysticons are? But maybe someone out there does. It is strange. A bit of me is still here but it’s no longer me.

The bottles refilled with Anita’s blood. I held the pentagram and felt myself scratch names into the stone wall. Names appeared and disappeared with numerous others including Michelle and Anita, even Rufus. A red white light transformed our transparent bodies into a mist which enveloped what we once were. We were together and we were red. I would never see mum again or could I? Would she understand?

…The phone alarm clock struck 8am. Our red light left through the gaps of the front door which opened to let out the pentagram. The door closed behind. Outside a new neighbour was being shown the flat. He was younger than me. He was planning to invite friends. That will be us I thought…

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Innovating narrative cinema – Lessons of Alfred Hitchcock©

Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Alfred Hitchcock in film (Photo credit: twm1340)

Alfred Hitchcock (1920-1980) innovated the film form from the silent era of the 1920s until his death in the 1980s. Early influences in Hitchcock’s career can be broken into four phases. Hitchcock was part of a dynamic emerging English middle class. His talent and can-do-attitude landed him a job at the US studio Famous Players-Lasky in London and support from English producer Michael Balcon. This is where he met his first love, collaborator and wife (editor and screenwriter Alma Reville). Time spent in Germany exposed Hitchcock to the work of film giants F. W. Murnau and Fritz Lang and the  Kammerspielfilm movement, which made intimate films depicting lower middle class life. Hitchcock faced setbacks early in his career including considerable resistance to him becoming a director in Britain. Hitchcock was one of the few film makers to understand the power of publicity but faced criticism for courting journalists. But it was the press attention that took him to Hollywood. Hitchcock’s career flourished because he worked hard to nurture his talents and create his own opportunities.

Alfred Hitchcock’s film career spanned 60 years. This is an exceptional record in itself but his contribution to cinema and enduring advancement of the form is nothing short of remarkable. Hitchcock started out in film as a title designer but enthusiastically volunteered to help out in various departmental crafts before seeking the position of film director.  Hitchcock is often cited for his talents as a film technician in art direction, costumes, props, lighting and camera but he also collaborated with screenwriters and developed screenplays when he started out making silent films. Professor of film Dick Ross says: “A Hitchcock film is defined as much by what he does not choose to show.” Hitchcock films work on an objective and subjective level as he manipulates the audience with information but he also makes room for the viewer to engage and use their own imagination. Hitchcock is credited for exposing the techniques of police and international espionage in his murder and spy thrillers. Hitchcock turned his use of blonde actresses into a signature trademark. He popularised the term MacGuffin, the motivation for the story, an idea invented by his screenwriter Angus McPhail. Hitchcock motifs include using doors, stairs etc signifiers often leaving the anxious viewer to share the character perilous experience. A full exploration of Hitchcock’s motifs are explored by Michael Hayes at http://tinyurl.com/bh25bra.

This article will detail the four phases and also show Hitchcock’s commitment to cinema particularly his inventiveness with the form, mastering of techniques and crafts, development of film scripts to engage better with his audience. Hitchcock’s career is a lesson for all film makers including the writer of this blog.

Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born on 13 August 1899, Leytonstone in East London. He was Roman Catholic, a group that was marginalised in England during this period. Like many young English boys, he had an interest in maps and all things transport. Hitchcock read, went to the cinema and the theatre. He also found the time for evening classes in navigation, mechanics and draughtsmanship at the University of London. His first job was as an estimator at the Henley Telegraph and Cable Company after working at the family greengrocery following his father’s death when he was 15. He was influenced by the American writer Edgar Allan Poe. Hitchcock continued night classes and moved on to art history, economics, political science, drawing especially illustration. The Henley Telegraph company recognised Hitchcock’s talents and transferred him to the advertising department. He had an interest in this area and no doubt developed skills which would later help promote his films. Hitchcock was also able to print his first short story called ‘Gas’ in the staff magazine.

Hitchcock’s interest in US film trade journals alerted him to the opening of a US studio branch in London in 1920. He took the opportunity to present samples of his work to the studio Famous Players-Lasky. As a result of his efforts, he secured a job as a title designer. It was here Hitchcock met his future wife and collaborator Alma Reville. She was senior to him and worked as a screenwriter and editor. Famous Players-Lasky gave Hitchcock experience in designing drawings and lettering styles, working on sets, costumes, props and scripts. His set designs became more and more ambitious and his volunteering efforts on sets introduced him to the entire film process.

Hitchcock took a keen interest in narrative storytelling but also participated in “art” cinema and wrote for a journal called Close Up. He participated in attempts to shake up British film much like his admirer François Truffaut and the French New Wave would do in later years. Hitchcock understood the power of publicity but more importantly how to apply himself to generate the right kind of publicity for his films. Hitchcock focused on the audience impact of his work and developed press contacts to garner interest outside of industry norms. In 1930, he even created a publicity company called the Hitchcock Baker Productions Limited to publicise news about his work and films.

Hitchcock’s mentor and supporter Michael Balcon sent Hitchcock to Germany to undertake assignments at the UFA Studios. Hitchcock was able to observe the work of German expressionist film maker F. W. Murnau on the set of The Last Laugh. The film starts inside a descending lift which open onto a lobby where a revolving door represents the changing fortunes of a doorman who is visible working on a dark rainy evening. The script by Carl Mayer and F. W. Murnau’s silent film was a lesson in economical visual storytelling. F. W. Murnau himself was heavily influenced by William Shakespeare, Henrik Ibsen, Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer.

The Last Laugh was part of a German movement called Kammerspielfilm, German films showing an intimate cinematic portrait of lower middle class life. These films were noted for their character psychology and lack of or limited use of intertitles. Kammerspielfilm itself was a reference to the Kammerspiele theatre created by the influential stage director Max Reinhardt who was friends with F. W. Murnau. Popular films with ordinary people were championed by Hitchcock as a result of his own background, interests and appreciation of the German Kammerspielfilm movement. Hitchcock would later say his movies were about ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. Like Mozart, Hitchcock understood the power of popular literature which he adapted for his own art form – cinema. Hitchcock later said he was also influenced by the work of Fritz Lang, who in addition to his many innovations of modern cinema used light and shadow in what would later become film noir. These avant garde film makers had a profound impact on Hitchcock’s work especially their use of light, lack of verbal exposition, visual storytelling and intimate portraits of ordinary people. The Last Laugh is not short of irony itself given the title and the lead himself is a portly man with changing fortunes.

Hitchcock is one of the few directors who worked uncredited with writers. Hitchcock had an interest in the art of visual storytelling and continued to develop this talent. He collaborated with writers including his wife Alma who was also a screenwriter. Hitchcock had a coterie of writers but he did cultivate some special relationships. The English screenwriter Eliot Stannard wrote eight screenplays directed by Hitchcock at the beginning of his career. The films include The Pleasure Garden (1925), The Mountain Eagle (1926), The Lodger (1927), Downhill (1927), Champagne (1928), The Farmer’s Wife (1928), Easy Virtue (1928), The Manxman (1929). Stannard was an experienced screenwriter who wrote 88 screenplays during his lifetime. Throughout his career, Hitchcock collaborated with screenwriters and developed the drafts right up until the final script. He did this to ensure the narrative possibilities had been fully explored so he could fully realise the cinematic potential of the story. Hitchcock meticulously planned his shoots only after this process had been exhausted. The script had to be ready to be turned into a film. Hitchcock’s recognition as an auteur is precisely because he applied his numerous talents to manifest his ideas into narrative films that offered visceral cinematic experiences for his audiences.  Hitchcock would later say: “A lot of people embrace the auteur theory but it’s difficult to know what someone means by it. I suppose they mean that the responsibility for the film rests solely on the shoulders of the director. But very often the director is no better than his script.”  William C Martell analyses the richness of Charles Bennett’s script for Hitchcock’s film The 39 Steps (1935) on his scriptsecrets.net website at http://tinyurl.com/bx4hbw8.

Hitchcock is credited as a director on two films made whilst he was in Germany called The The Pleasure Garden and The Mountain Eagle. Hitchcock tried to raise the standard of films but his efforts to mix highbrow and lowbrow were not well received by many quarters in Britain. His attempts to direct were further thwarted by the head of film distribution CM Woolf and many peers with the exception of Michael Balcon. His first film The Pleasure Garden was described as “too sophisticated” by Woolf.  Similarly to Mozart’s “too many notes” no doubt. The Lodger which was made in London and completed in 1926, was shelved by Woolf who later forced Hitchcock to accept a streamlined version. The film which had been seen as a source of embarrassment was suddenly a popular and critical success. Hitchcock said: “…there you see the thin red line between failure and success”. The Lodger was well received by the press that Hitchcock had cultivated. Hitchcock himself said: The Lodger was shelved for several months, and then they decided to show it after all. They had an investment, and wanted their money back. It was shown, and acclaimed as the greatest British picture ever made.”  Hitchcock challenged the British film industry to understand “the nouns and verbs” of films in a letter published by the London Evening News in 1927. Following the success of The Lodger, his other two films were released. Hitchcock who was careful with etiquette did not marry Alma Reville until he had achieved a level of success. Alma became his chief collaborator. She was a key decision maker in all his subsequent films. Hitchcock publicly acknowledged his wife’s contribution when he shared his AFI Life Achievement Award with her.

The Lodger was based on a novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes and adapted into a screenplay by Eliot Stannard. The novel was the first book to fictionalise a Jack the Ripper character. The Lodger, which was a silent film, is often described as a thriller but rarely credited for being a forerunner of modern horror.

The Lodger is about a beautiful innocent blonde girl Daisy who attracts the interest of a dark mysterious lodger. Daisy’s mother begins to suspect that the lodger is the serial killer. The opening scene shows a blonde girl screaming, a sign with the words “To-night GOLDEN CURLS” flashing three times before revealing a girl’s body, an upset woman followed by a policeman and journalist taking notes. The audience is one and half a minutes into the film. A description of a man thought to be responsible for the crime is provided for the benefit of the audience as much as the film’s characters. The serial killer only has an interest in blondes. Later, Hitchcock interweaves a happy family scene while the blonde daughter Daisy laughs at the comic antics of her father falling trying to fix a striking clock as her mother opens the door to a dark cloaked stranger seeking lodgings on a stormy night. The lodger who arrives has an aversion to portraits of blondes.  The Lodger contains elements such as terror, fear and suspense, motifs such as stairs and the outside representing portentous threats raising tension and heightening a state of paranoia because of actual or perceived violence in both subject and audience. Feelings are heightened as these states are often contrasted with moments of calm, clarity, innocence, humour and joyfulness. Hitchcock edits the film so we fear for the girl’s safety. This was certainly the start of Hitchcock’s interest in horror. The http://cinemademerde.com website reveals Hitchcock’s thoughts on The Lodger. He says: “I took a pure narrative… and, for the first time, presented ideas in purely visual terms.”

Hitchcock created a set with a see through glass floor to show The Lodger’s impact upstairs on the family below. The viewer is left to use their own imagination to ‘hear’ the pacing footsteps in what is a silent film. It would be wrong of this article to reveal the denouement but suffice to say that the viewer will wonder about the lodger’s innocence and the danger he poses to Daisy. An excellent resource for exploring Hitchcock’s film techniques can be found at http://www.borgus.com/hitch/.

Sound was a further source of inspiration for Hitchcock’s film aspirations when he shot his tenth film Blackmail. The film’s plot has similarities with The Lodger in terms of character choices. Alice is the blonde daughter of a shopkeeper who spurns her boyfriend Frank,  a Scotland Yard detective, to meet an artist who she is forced to stab when he attempts to rape her. The information about Blackmail in this article makes use of François Truffaut’s interview with Hitchcock. The entire series of interviews can be found at http://tinyurl.com/ydje8nu.

Hitchcock made what he called “conscious use of sound” to heighten the cinematic experience. The sound element for the film was short notice as the studio only opted to add sound after the shooting had begun. Hitchcock did not just make a talkie film reliant on the novelty of speaking dialogue but instead chose to use sound inventively. Hitchcock raises the level of certain street sounds to show Alice is unable to think clearly and manage an ordinary walk home as she leaves the scene of the stabbing. Hitchcock used sound to let the audience in on some dialogue and shut the viewer out in other parts.

The morning after the stabbing, the audience sees a panicked Alice and her preoccupation with the word knife (not dialogue). Hitchcock himself says: “The famous use of sound when the girl has committed the murder and there is a scene at the breakfast table with a talkative neighbour downstairs talking about the murder …a terrible thing to stab someone in the back… I would have hit him over the head…the talk becomes less clear and coherent and all you hear is the word knife… suddenly the father says pass the bread knife. It was the contrast of a normal conversation which was my first experiment with sound.” Hitchcock’s innovative use of sound in Blackmail is worthy of full exploration. Please see an excellent resource for this purpose at http://borgus.com/hitch/sound.htm.

Hitchcock innovative use of devices indicate that he did not consider change or the introduction of new developments as a threat to his style of film making. He appears only to consider their value and potential in relation to narrative cinematic expression.

The Man Who Knew Too Much, the first Hitchcock version in 1934, helped reunite Hitchcock with Balcon at the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation. The story was an ordinary British couple on vacation in Switzerland being caught up in international espionage after a friend is killed and their daughter is kidnapped by spies plotting a political assassination. The success of the film helped relaunch his career after a difficult period which he described as “careless”. Hitchcock’s renewed confidence led him to write articles on film and his career. This led him developing fans and achieving fame in the US.

In 1938, celebrated US Hollywood producer David O. Selznick hired Hitchcock to direct Rebecca, a novel by Daphne du Maurier. A tale of a young woman who marries a rich English widower and returns to his estate Manderley where the husband and particularly the housekeeper seem obsessed by his former wife Rebecca. Selznick and Hitchcock clashed because of Selznick’s interference and spying on set. But Hitchcock was committed to the contract. In reality, Hitchcock was treated no better or worse than Selznick’s other hired directors. Hitchcock did benefit from Selznick’s flamboyance. Selznick paid $50,000 to acquire the film rights and spent a total of $1,288,000 on a lavish production.

Hitchcock’s assistant and screenwriter Joan Harrison had written the screenplay for Jamaica Inn (1939). Harrison’s screenplay which was loosely based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier had displeased her. Selznick took no such risks with Rebecca. Harrison was teamed up with Pulitzer prize winning playwright and screenwriter Robert E. Sherwood. The writers wrote a faithful screenplay of the novel from an adaptation by Philip MacDonald‘s and Michael Hogan. Fortunately, unlike some novels, the plot and scenes of Rebecca were ideal for film and allowed Hitchcock to make use of his motifs making the house foreboding and some rooms terrifying. In an interview in Film Weekly Hitchcock reveals: “I shall treat this more or less as a horror film, building up my violent situations from incidents such as one in which the young wife innocently appears at the annual fancy-dress ball given by her husband in a frock identical with the one worn by his first wife a year previously.” Hitchcock clashed with Selznick over many aspects of Rebecca. Selznick wanted to end the film with a smokey ‘R’ rising like a phoenix from the burning house. Hitchcock managed to turn this into a restrained ‘R’ on a monogrammed négligée on a pillow.

Hitchcock could not understand the success of Rebecca but it gave him an insight on how a major producer made highly successful films centred around female characters from a female perspective. Hitchcock simply said the film was faithful to the novel and was liked by women. Hitchcock’s ability to shoot to edit helped limit Selznick’s ability to interfere with the final film. Hitchcock may have viewed some of Selznick’s ideas as clumsy but his later films reveal that he learned valuable lessons about powerful motifs and complex female characters. This would have been important to Hitchcock who in the 1930s realised that female characters “must be fashioned to please women rather than men…most women are idealists and want to see ideals personified in heroines”. His reasoning was based on average cinema audiences being women. This aside, Hitchcock understood early on that women characters must appeal to women first and foremost. David O. Selznick won two Oscars for Gone with the Wind (1939) and Rebecca (1940). Hitchcock may have felt stifled by Selznick’s spying and interference but it introduced him to a man who produced epic Hollywood melodramas. Both films had complex female characters who became iconic film representations albeit of their age.

Note to readers: This article has sought to concentrate on how Alfred Hitchcock’s development of film scripts helped transform the cinematic experience through his constant innovation. I apologise for omitting a significant number of films and may well return to review Hitchcock’s full oeuvre. This article has made full use of Jane E Sloane’s excellent book Alfred Hitchcock: A Filmography and Bibliography. The author of this article is also a grateful beneficiary of the course run by John Wischmeyer but undertook their own research to consider the film from the perspective of a screenwriting and film practitioner. Part 2 of this article will consider Hitchcock’s Hollywood director years. It will include films like Rope and his films with John Michael Hayes and Ernest Lehman. Please expect the next instalment in February.

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How the unexpected can make expected genre films and plays great?

The world of films and plays are always in heavy competition because have the great stories not already been told?

It seems that they have but we all think differently and therefore our story telling is different and some writers go the extra mile to find inventive new ways of telling old stories which continue to advance the form. The original films mentioned below created whole franchises to feed on the original story. The plays continue to be performed and studied today because they still have resonance.

Antigone by Sophocles (A tragedy)

The surprise – The heroine is a strong woman who vows to die to fight for the funeral rights of her brother in defiance of her family, the King and her prospective husband. Context: Women had no rights in ancient Greece.

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen (A tragedy)

The surprise: The heroine is an object, a trophy wife who appears frivolous but hides the sacrifices she makes for a husband until she realises she is the hero not her husband and she must leave to truly become a free and independent woman. Context: The ending of Ibsen’s play caused a furore. The role and rights of women in the public and private sphere were subjugated but change was in the public consciousness

Othello by William Shakespeare (A tragedy)

The surprise: A heroic man whose self doubts as a Moor kills the beautiful and faithful wife he loves through listening to machinations of a faithless and jealous servant.

Alien by Dan O’ Bannon – Story by Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett (A horror)

The surprises:  A horror set in space where a woman heroine is forced to defend herself against and kill an intelligent alien who is born inside a male crew member. The alien comes out at the dinner table.

The Matrix by brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski (Sci-fi)

The surprise: The hero’s double life results in him being targeted by the police and authoritarian forces. Coincidence and symbols save him and the hero discovers that the reality he knows does not actually exist. The surprise is what he believes to be true is not true and vice versa.

Star Wars by George Lucas (Sci-fi)

The surprise: The hero Luke discovers the evil Darth Vader is his father and his sister is the beautiful Princess he felt compelled to save and he can overcome his ego to use the force without resorting to the evil path.

This list of great films and plays is not exhaustive but seeks to illustrate a point.

Coming soon: next auteur Alfred J Hitchcock due 12/01/2013

Director number 2: Alfred Joseph Hitchcock due on 12 January of the new year