Drawing back the shower curtain: Voyeurism in Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ (1960)

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“I’ll bet you that nine out of ten people, if they see a woman across the courtyard undressing for bed, or even a man puttering around in his room, will stay and look; no one turns away and says, “It’s none of my business.” They could pull down their blinds, but they never do; they stand there and look out.” (Hitchcock: A Definitive Study of Alfred Hitchcock, 1985)

At the time of making and releasing Psycho, the restrictive codes of Hollywood cinema were beginning to dissipate, and the move from an age of ‘cinema-goers’ to ‘television-viewers’ was starting to worry the establishment of ‘Old Hollywood’. In Raymond Durgnat’s book ‘A Long Hard Look at Psycho’ (2002) Durgnat describes how Psycho and its characters were intended to appeal to the evermore powerful teenage market and the more mature audience who were used to his previous successes:

“Norman…geared to the increasing interest in psychology. Though pushing 30, he’s an arrested teenager; still mother-bound and Anthony Perkins was popular with teenage girls. As for Marion and Sam, they are too socially unsettled, lonely, and to that extent psychologically ‘marginal’, and so have strong appeal for niche-market teenagers, but still interest without alienating mature spectators.”

This increased “interest in psychology” also gives much credence to the film’s critical psychoanalysis which has surrounded the film since its release. It’s almost as if the film intended to strike up debate as much as it intended to shock. Of course, the subject matter of the film itself was not entirely new to the American public. Adapted from Robert Bloch’s novel by Joseph Stefano, Psycho was inspired by the serial killer Ed Gein (1904-84) whose capture and discovery of his horrific crimes began a media frenzy. The story is recognisable and influenced such other films as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).  Bloch explained the creation of the killer Norman Bates in David Thomson’s book ‘The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder’ (2009) saying:

“…the character would be equivalent of a Rod Steiger type at the time, who lived alone- a recluse more or less, who didn’t have a lot of friends. How would he select his victims? I came up with his being a motel-keeper because of easy access to strangers.”

This decision to switch from the forty-something, ogre-like Bates to the obvious good looks of Anthony Perkins’ Bates appears to be a conscious effort to take into the account the viewer’s expectation (or lack of, as the case seems to be) of the characters deeper mental state by being portrayed with someone who can ‘appear’ likeable and trustworthy and unlikely to be a serial killer. By doing this, the film can explore how a killer can exist within the unlikeliest of people and how mental illness is a universal concern.

The film begins with the opening credits created by Saul Bass, a graphic designer who worked with Hitchcock on a number of films, such as Vertigo (1958) (another film which deals heavily with voyeurism). Combined with Bernard Hermann’s staccato violin score, the titles immediately place the viewer on edge and consist of moving lines which move along the screen to reveal names of cast and production members. This linear effect perhaps alludes to window blinds, rather fitting since immediately after, the camera zooms to a seedy hotel room window partially covered by a Venetian blind- a blind which hides from the outside world Marion Crane and her boyfriend Sam Loomis engaging in a lunchtime affair. Known for being a particularly difficult sequence to shoot, according to Durgnat in ‘A Long Hard Look at Psycho’ (2002) it would “bid for the longest continuous distance travelled by a camera” and was another example of Hitchcock striking out to challenge normal shooting practice, just as he did in Rope (1941) eleven years earlier.

Throughout the first half of the narrative, Marion Crane is the subject of a number of gazes, from the leering Mr Cassidy in the office, to the suspicious Police Officer and ultimately by Norman Bates. These gazes are represented both technically (camera angles, point of shot) and by the script and the representation of the characters. In the office scene, Mr Cassidy sits on Marion Crane’s desk placing the camera to view her from a slightly senior position of the client. Furthermore, the lifting of her head at his words “My sweet little girl” and his response: “Not you- my daughter!” also suggests that Marion is aware of male attention or is often flattered by clients with whom she encounters. Her understanding of her position in the male gaze is possibly what made her good at her job in the first place and appears to coolly deal with Mr Cassidy’s attentions. In contrast, upon encountering the Police Officer on the highway and again at the used car garage, Marion is viewed as a potential deviant from the law. Marion’s unease at being questioned shows how easily guilt has manifested itself in the way she relates to others. Perhaps the officer was showing natural concern and vigilance for a woman parked on a quiet freeway? But as a viewer who knows of Marion’s activities, we too feel he is being overly invasive and therefore implicates us in the crime also. The dark, opaque sunglasses the officer wears seem intrusive, aggressive and block the viewer (and Marion) a chance to interpret his character via his eyes.

The most significant character in terms of the male gaze towards Marion is of course Norman Bates. As a repressed, insular man with little interaction with the outside world and other people, the arrival of Marion at the Bates Motel is a significant moment in the film and also in Norman’s life. It is clear he desires her; he is nervous around her and noticeably excitable. The overheard conversation with Norman’s mother (“I won’t have you bringing strange young girls in for supper. By candlelight, I suppose, in the cheap erotic fashion of young men with cheap erotic minds,”) is an example of Marion’s own temptation to listen in and look where she shouldn’t and is just one of the first instances where Marion appears to step over the line into Norman’s private affairs. The parlour room in which they have lunch is filled with Norman’s stuffed birds, many frozen in full flight indicating perhaps the action of capture and the bird’s all-seeing point of view on its prey. Norman’s declaration to Marion: “You, you eat like a bird” reinforces the interpretation that Norman has an ‘eagle-eye’ view of Marion. In the next scene, Norman spies on Marion through a peep-hole hidden behind a painting. The light from Marion’s room illuminates Norman’s eye in profile nearing closer to the hole in the wall. The camera shifts to Norman’s point of view and instantly implicates the viewer in the voyeurism. We are both shocked at his invasion of her privacy and yet cannot turn away. Spying on Marion getting undressed invites us to witness the cause of Norman’s arousal and the manifestation of his desire from behind a wall- forever kept apart from any possible sexual gratification. Moments later, the famous shower scene occurs.

In ‘The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory’ by Tania Modleski (1988), Modleski outlines how “In Film Studies, Hitchcock is often viewed as the archetypal misogynist, who invites his audience to indulge their most sadistic fantasies against the female.” In this way, the shower scene is perhaps an opportunity for the presumed male audience to see their deep-set sadistic desires played out on screen. This idea is emphasised in Laura Mulvey’s famous article ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (1975). If this scene was in reverse (as in, the camera viewpoint was from Marion’s perspective) the effectiveness of the scene would be lost, as Modleski (in ‘The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory’) concludes that though, “Psycho [is] a film which punishes audiences for their illicit voyeuristic desires…they ignore the fact that within the film not only are women objects of the male gaze, they are also recipients of most of the punishment.”

Many aspects in the shower scene hint at the theme of voyeurism and looking. When Marion enters the shower, she is visibly delighted in its baptismal qualities, relieved in her decision to return the money. The shower head could resemble an eye, looking down, offering her a chance for redemption. After her shocking murder, her blood is left to run down the plughole, the water still running. This then turns into a shot of Marion’s eye (an eye which saw her killer and faced up to her ‘punishment’) with a look of terror still on her face, and the water still running in the background. Hitchcock always drew storyboards before every scene he ever filmed, and so it is not entirely impertinent to presume that all of these allusions to the voyeuristic eye were purposely included. The book-ending of Marion’s lifeless eye and Norman’s peeping Tom eye, and the counter-clockwise flushing toilet (almost) ridding Marion of her sin with the water running counter-clockwise down the plughole, all highlight Hitchcock’s continued focus on the conduct and aspects of a voyeur.

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Furthermore in Laura Mulvey’s article, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, she argued  how the conditions of the cinema theatre practically invite people to objectify women in the anonymity of darkness. Hitchcock understood the workings of the cinema environment and even manipulated them by adopting a famous campaign to prevent cinema-goers from walking into Psycho mid-way through the film (a practice unheard of at this time). In his interviews with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock emphasised how much he worked to manipulate the viewer and see only what he allowed them to: “…the game with the audience is fascinating. I was directing the viewers. You might say I was manipulating them like an organ.” (Hitchcock: A Definitive Study of Hitchcock, 269) For example, Hitchcock knew that many people would be expecting to see a star like Janet Leigh to be present for much of the film. He played on the enticing images of Leigh in a brassiere on the movie posters and punished the viewer by killing her character in the first 47 minutes of the movie.

As well as Psycho, films such as Vertigo (1958), Rear Window (1954) and Notorious (1946) all deal with the notion of looking, both in their plots and in the artistry of the film-making. Since so much of Hitchcock’s films are based in psychoanalysis, one cannot underplay the importance of the human psyche when judging what we can and cannot see in films such as these. So much of what we have since learned from Freud deal with the conscious eye and the subconscious reaction (Norman’s attraction to Marion (conscious) plus ‘mother’s’ violent reaction to his sexual desire (subconscious)).

In The Times article celebrating the 50th anniversary of Psycho, directors were asked to recall their experience and interpretation of the film. Wes Craven the director of Nightmare on Elm Street and the Scream movies explained how Psycho was “almost pornographic in the way it impacted on people at the time.” This statement is still true today. More than any one scene in the picture, the film as a whole was an overwhelming visceral experience aimed at alerting the senses, especially sight. Whether you want to or not, you just can’t stop looking:  and as Thelma Ritter concludes in Rear Window (1954), “We’ve become a race of peeping Toms.”

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‘Hitchcock’ starring Anthony Hopkins as Hitch, Helen Mirren as Alma Reville and concerning the making of Psycho is in UK cinemas on 8th February 2013. Watch the trailer.

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‘Absinthe Minded’ Girl on Film

The lovely people at Absinthe: New European Writing have featured my analytical article on Kieslowski’s Three Colours: Blue on their constantly updated and widely informative online blog ‘Absinthe Minded’. Here’s the link.

Absinthe: New European Writing is a print journal featuring the best contemporary European writers. The journal includes poetry, prose, essays, interviews, book reviews, art, author photos, and more.

 Absinthe: New European Writing is published biannually in the spring and fall.’ [Source]

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Paris on Film: a selection of films set in the French capital

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Girl on Film is taking a trip to the ‘City of Lovers’ this month. Below is a list of films set in Paris that should get any European explorer longing for the romantic promenades of one of the world’s oldest cities…

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)

Les Enfants du Paradis (1945)

An American in Paris (1952)

Sabrina (1954)

Funny Face (1957)

Gigli (1958)

Breathless (1960)

Bande à Part (1964)

Paris When It Sizzles (1964) 

Last Tango in Paris (1972) (Note: beautiful setting, terrifying use of butter)

La Maman et la Putain (1973)

Trois Couleurs: Bleu (1993) (Girl on Film review)

Léon: The Professional (1994)

Everyone Says I Love You (1996)

Code Unknown (2000)

Amélie (2001)

Moulin Rouge (2001)

The Bourne Identity (2002)

The Dreamers (2003)

The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

Before Sunset (2004)

Caché (2005)

Paris Je t’aime (2006)

2 Days in Paris (2007)

Ratatouille (2007)

Julie and Julia (2009)

Hugo (2011)

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Feel free to add in the comment box or to tweet your own favourite films set in Paris.

‘The Girl’ (2012): The Birds, the blonde and Mr Hitchcock.

I don’t know about you, but I rather am intrigued to watch ‘The Girl’ on Boxing Day which is based on a book I read recently, 2009’s ‘Spellbound by Beauty’ by the controversial Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto.

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Advertised as an insight into a genius’ troubled psyche and it’s dangerous manifestations, I am most eager to seeing how the testimonies of Tippi Hedren are used. Testimonies, which have already caused much heated discussion and derision over the years.

The source material, ‘Spellbound by Beauty’ runs an introduction which tantalisingly declares how the book was only given permission to be published once the eye-witnesses and key sources were deceased and could no longer be party to the speculation which would subsequently arise. It is telling then, that ‘The Girl’ focuses on the now famous ordeal between Alfred Hitchcock and his leading lady, Tippi Hedren, whilst Tippi is very much still alive to reinforce her view of events.

No one doubts (even the most ardent of Hitchcock fans) that Hitch struggled with personal issues which both informed and affected the work we have eventually come to love. Hitchcock’s work breathed life into psychological problems and perversions, both the utterly fascinating and terrifying, and it would be naive of ourselves to assume Hitchcock was over and above these human urges, no matter how repulsive they may seem.

Toby Jones is twinned once again, not with Phillip Seymour Hoffman this time, but with Sir Anthony Hopkins in also playing the Master of Suspense in the big-screen adaptation of the mythologised shooting of Psycho due to be released in the UK in early 2013. We shall wait and see if Toby Jones will trump Sir Anthony’s performance as he did with Mr Hoffman’s own Truman Capote (but with much less fanfare for ‘Infamous’ in 2006).

Together, the two films should make a fantastic double-bill for film fans who wish to see a snapshot of a director’s most daring creative period.

Prosthetics-wars aside, for the ‘The Girl’ at least, it will be great to see Alfred Hitchcock on the small screen once more, a place he made his home just as much as the silver screen.

‘The Girl’ will be shown on Boxing Day on BBC Two at 9pm. A host of Hitchcock classics are also doing the telly rounds during the Christmas period, check TV listings for more details. 

We Have All The Time In the World: a ‘Skyfall’ and James Bond retrospective.

Film fans,

I was recently commissioned by Soundsphere Magazine to write a short article on the legacy of James Bond and the staggering success of Skyfall.

Needless to say, the film is an absolute triumph, but if you’d like to read more, here’s the original article: ‘Skyfall’ and the History of Bond.

WordPress readers and bloggers, be sure to follow the Soundsphere website for all your latest news on music and everything alternative! You can also like their Facebook page!

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Into The Blue: Kieslowski’s ‘Three Colours: Blue’

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‘Three Colours: Blue’ is the first film in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s celebrated ‘Three Colours Trilogy’ produced in 1993 and starring Juliette Binoche in the role of ‘Julie’. The collected: ‘Three Colours: Blue’, ‘Three Colours: White’ and ‘Three Colours: Red are all said to represent the three colours of the French flag and the ideals they represent: ‘liberty’ (blue), ‘equality’ (white), and ‘friendship’ (red). ‘Three Colours: Blue’ is perhaps the most well-known of the three films and both boosted the popularity of French New Wave cinema, the career of Juliette Binoche and the work of Krzysztof Kieslowski outside of Europe. This article will begin to analyse the film in greater detail, particularly focusing in on its successes.

The plot is set in Paris, and centres on Julie’s struggle to recover from a horrific accident she was involved in that resulted in the death of her husband and a beloved young daughter. After suffering such a terrible trauma, she begins to devote the rest of her life trying to completely erase her past from her memory: from moving to Paris, to selling all the furniture and belongings that inhabited her former life with her family. At the time of his death, her husband, a famous and respected composer, was in the middle of a new musical composition written for a newly united Europe to celebrate the end of the Cold War. Consumed with grief she destroys the musical sheets on which he was working.

It is a film that is rich in textures, which is fairly typical of French cinema. It is atmospheric, multi-layered and more meaningful with every viewing. As expected from the title, the colour blue features predominantly – a significant use of mise-en-scene throughout the piece. The use of the colour in, for example, a blue chandelier or a blue-lit swimming pool, allows the director to permeate the colour’s meaning in the film, blue being a colour that connotes great sadness as well as liberty. The title also prepares the viewer to look out for the colour, which heightens its effect.

Julie’s struggle for freedom from her grief and former life is the main strand of plot. In one particular, seemingly stand-alone scene, Julie sits in a cafe and the camera shoots a tight close-up of a sugar cube absorbing coffee from her cup. It may seem insignificant, but Kieslowski’s decision to focus on this moment infers how Julie has begun to take notice of the mundane in exchange for the more pressing matters of her life such as her burgeoning grief for the loss of her family.  Kieslowski expanded on this in a master class saying,

“Quite simply, we are trying to show how the heroine perceives the world…We show a close-up of a sugar cube soaking up coffee to show she is not interested in anything outside…in other people, their business, in the man who loves her and has found her after a long search. She’s not interested in anything at all- just the sugar. She concentrates on it in order to be able to discard other things.”

At four key moments in the film, Kieslowski includes moments of a fade out and a fade in back to the scene. They appear to occur when Julie experiences a breakthrough in her recovery or at a significant turning point in the plot, for example when she meets her husband’s pregnant mistress and decides to give her family home to her. Here, Julie accepts her husband’s infidelity and chooses to do good in order to learn from her past. Another fade in occurs earlier on the film whilst Julie is still in hospital recovering after the accident. A journalist comes to speak to her, wishing to talk about her husband. She refuses, unwilling to face her past. These pivotal moments in Julie’s life are pinpointed in the editing of these scenes – the viewer is shown her emotional state explicitly in this way. The editor of ‘Three Colours: Blue’ Jacques Witta elaborated by saying:

“…punctuating the film with fades in order to gives the music more space and highlight the emotions… Traditionally the fade-to-black is not used for this; traditionally it is used to show time. With a cross fade we show a short time between two moments, for a longer time we use the fade-to-black….we used the fade-to-back in the middle of a scene, to quickly create a space, a suspense…to quickly create a pause with significance.”

Music also plays an important part in the plot, as well as in the director’s creative vision. At various parts of the film, Julie’s husband’s unfinished composition plays, and it appears that despite destroying much of it herself, the memorable tune still plays on her mind. There is a particular scene where Julie is in the blue-lit swimming pool (a returning example of mise-en-scene), and she goes under water presumably to drown out the music she continues to hear, but it is no use. Another example of this is in an early sequence when Julie is stood by a piano. She hears her husband’s composition, and yet no one is sat playing the piano. She slams the piano down and the music stops, which challenges the idea of diegetic and non-diegetic sound. The final composition, completed by Julie’s husband’s business partner (who also incidentally is in love with her) is played in full at the end of the film over a montage of all the different people Julie has encountered over the course of the film, despite her attempts to isolate herself from the rest of the world. It is a touching and fitting moment in the film. As Annette Insdorf in her book ‘Double Lives’ explains:

“Since the sequence begins and ends with Julie, it seems as if all these people are now part of her. There is genuine closure as the film ends: she has completed the concerto and fulfilled the mourning…Having tried to live in “liberty” – without memory, desire, work, or commitment – she is ironically returning to love.” (p.51).

Though it is often said that this film must be watched along with the other two films in the trilogy, ‘White’ and ‘Red’ (as one Amazon reviewer joked “why buy the trousers and not the whole suit?”), I believe that ‘Three Colours: Blue’ can stand alone in its own right. If viewed solely as an interesting tale of one woman and her coping with grief, then the film is entirely satisfying and is one that can be universally appreciated. By the end of the film as we see a hint of a smile on Juliette Binoche’s face and we believe as a viewer that her character has made a turning point in her development. ‘Blue’ is a visual and arousing cinematic experience, one that deserves repeated and in-depth viewings. It is a film that people return to again and again and continues to be celebrated and talked about nearly 18 years after it was first made.

  • Annette Insdorff, Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski, New York: Miramax Books, 1999

Review: Rear Window (1954)

After another long break (blame university) Girl on Film is back with the movie that graces the header of our beloved site…Rear Window (1954).

It tells the story of a magazine photographer, L.B. Jeffries (played by James Stewart) whom after breaking his leg in a reckless and dangerous photographing accident, is bound to a wheelchair in his two-room apartment in New York for several weeks. Whilst confined for this period of time, his boredom leads to a peculiar interest in his neighbours who occupy the courtyard of city apartments which can all be seen from his window. In particular, he becomes intrigued by the suspicious behaviour of the occupants of the apartment directly opposite, whose mysterious activities lead Jeffries to believe that a husband has brutally murdered his wife. Along with his beautiful socialite girlfriend, Lisa (played by the stunning Grace Kelly), his wise visiting insurance company nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter) and his cynical ex-army friend now police investigator, Detective Doyle (Wendell Corey) they begin to investigate what really happened. Through this we delve into the private lives of the strangers who live alongside him, inviting us to question the legitimacy of being a voyeur and the enduring fascination with other people’s business.

The film was generally very well-received by critics and Hitchcock fans, and is often regarded as the perfect example of Hitchcock’s technical genius and ability to craft an effective suspense thriller. However, after attending the premiere in August 1954, The New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther noted: “Mr. Hitchcock’s film is not “significant.” What it has to say about people and human nature is superficial and glib. But it does expose many facets of the loneliness of city life and it tacitly demonstrates the impulse of morbid curiosity. The purpose of it is sensation, and that it generally provides in the colorfulness of its detail and in the flood of menace toward the end.” In the end, Crowther still gave it a 4 out of 5 rating and the film continued to impress critics even thirty years later. Roger Ebert reviewed the film after its re-issue in 1983 and said that the film:  “develops such a clean, uncluttered line from beginning to end that we’re drawn through it (and into it) effortlessly. The experience is not so much like watching a movie, as like… well, like spying on your neighbours. Hitchcock traps us right from the first… And because Hitchcock makes us accomplices in Stewart’s voyeurism, we’re along for the ride. When an enraged man comes bursting through the door to kill Stewart, we can’t detach ourselves, because we looked too, and so we share the guilt and in a way we deserve what’s coming to him.”

It is this instant affinity with the characters of Jeffries, Lisa and even the killer Thorwald which makes Rear Window one of the more perfectly realised of Hitchcock’s films. The film features a cast that share just as much screen time as the main speaking cast and prove integral to the film’s atmospheric, even claustrophobic feeling which the audience experiences just as much as the wheelchair-bound Jeffries. The sophisticated screenplay by John Michael Hayes (a young writer who wrote four of some of Hitchcock’s most celebrated and distinctive films) is a huge part of this; a true team effort in terms of real technical ingenuity and artistic creativity. As Steven DeRosa describes in his book “Writing with Hitchcock: The Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes” (2001): “Hayes loaded the script with crisp, witty dialogue that included some typically Hitchcockian black humour during a meal. As Stella serves Jeff breakfast, she thinks aloud: ‘Now just where do you suppose he cut her up? Oh- of course, in the bathtub. That’s the only place he could wash away the blood.’”.This is a great example of how Hayes completely understood Hitchcock’s quirky sense of style and sense of dark, macabre humour from their very first collaboration. Hitchcock himself was known for his interest in real-life English crime, and it is believed that the famous case of Dr Crippen especially inspired Hitchcock with DeRosa adding: “Hitchcock was always fond of the Crippen case and enjoyed constructing Rear Window so that the chief piece of evidence incriminating Thorwald was the jewelry left behind by his wife, particularly her wedding ring.”.

Visually, Rear Window is a stunning film to watch. To be able to produce a film which is set entirely within the confines of a small apartment and yet still manage to convey the vast possibilities of the outer world from a window was an impressive feat. As a viewer we too feel imprisoned like Jeffries in his “plaster cocoon” and the sophisticated camera work manages to allow us to travel down the lens of his camera and explore the world just beyond him which at first seemed morally out of bounds. The sets were all constructed at Paramount Studios, with the entire courtyard and all the apartments fully furnished and built to the exact measurements of real apartment buildings. This attention to detail pays off as the real claustrophobia of city living is inextricably felt by everyone who encounters the film, and even more so when experienced in a darkened cinema theatre. Hitchcock’s understanding of an audience’s cinematic experience played a part in his camera shots and angles: we see ‘Miss Torso’ from Jeffries point of view which instantly implicates us in the voyeurism of the lewd and to the dangerous (‘Lars Thorwald’). As Stella explains to Jeffries, “We’ve becoming a race of peeping toms”. Writer Robin Wood in the documentary Rear Window Ethics: Remembering & Restoring a Hitchcock Classic- Making Of, explores this idea further, saying “Jeffries, and at times, other characters, use the apartment as a kind of cinema screen. And they do what I think most of us do when we watch movies, they partly identify with other people, they partly compare their lives to the other people’s lives. They use these lives to talk about their own lives in various ways.”

Over just one hour and fifty minutes, we are witness to all walks of life. ‘Miss Lonely-hearts’ is a lonely, unmarried woman prone to drinking and taking pills, the songwriter and composer struggles to make ends meet or find inspiration, the married couple who sleep on their fire-escape during heat waves and whose dog meets a fateful end and the newly married couple who spend most of their time with the blinds drawn and seemingly in bed, amongst others. Much can be said in comparison between Jeffries and his relationship with Lisa and the lives of his neighbours whom he sees daily from his window. It is clear that Jeffries is frightened of the commitment and compromise that comes with marriage, and the horrors he imagines of married life is laid out right in front of him. Of course during 1950s America in which the film was set and made, marriage was seen as the bedrock of society and an institution that all respectable people should enter at some point of their lives. But also during this time, new ideas about the right reason for marriage and true compatibility were beginning to emerge, and Jeffries’ conversation with his editor at the very beginning of the film is rather telling of the conflicting attitudes of the time.

Jeffries does not want to be tied down to the mundane of married life and can only imagine himself as the adventurer that his job has required him to become. Even his serious injury has not persuaded him to reassess his life and consider settling down. Lisa has a more traditional ideal of 1950’s marriage and respectability, saying: “I could see you looking very handsome and successful in a dark blue flannel suit.” It is clear that Lisa loves him very much, and we expect he returns this love, but is unwilling to give up a lifestyle for one that would be more conducive to married life. He views Lisa’s work as frivolous and excessive, and their inability to see eye to eye is a strain on their relationship:

Lisa: Well, if there’s one thing I know, it’s how to wear the proper clothes.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah. Well try and find a raincoat in Brazil, even when it isn’t raining. Lisa. In this job, you carry one suitcase; your home is the available transportation. You don’t sleep very much, you bathe less, and sometimes the food that you eat is made from things that you couldn’t even look at when they’re alive.
Lisa: Jeff, you don’t have to be deliberately repulsive just to impress me I’m wrong.
Jeff: Deliberately repulsive! I’m just trying to make it sound good. You just have to face it, Lisa, you’re not meant for that kind of a life. Few people are.
Lisa: You’re too stubborn to argue with.
Jeff: I’m not stubborn – I’m just truthful.
Lisa: I know, a lesser man would have told me it was one long holiday – and I would have been awakened to a rude disillusionment.
Jeff: Oh, well now, wait a minute. Now wait a minute. If you want to get vicious on this, I’ll be very happy to accommodate you.
Lisa: No, I don’t particularly want that. (She rises and moves away.) So that’s it. You won’t stay here and I can’t go with you.
Jeff: It would be the wrong thing.
Lisa: You don’t think either one of us could ever change?
Jeff: Right now, it doesn’t seem so.

At this point in the film, Jeffries and Lisa seem incompatible, but during the events of the film, we see them become a formidable team, with Lisa revealing a more adventurous and valiant side, and Jeffries realising just how much Lisa means to him just as Thorwald puts her in gravest danger. Robin Wood believes that the conflict between men and women “seems to be one of the absolutely central themes of Hitchcock’s work….the terrible incompatibility of male and female positions as they’ve been defined and have evolved within our culture….I think Hitchcock’s view of romantic love is sceptical to say the least.”

As mentioned earlier, Rear Window is a crime and suspense thriller at its best which includes some of Hitchcock brilliant and best-loved actors and is truly a film that proudly belongs as part of his golden age in Hollywood. It is a perfect example of Hitchcock’s artistic ability to manipulative and thrill visually. ” This respect for true craftsmanship has continued right up to the film’s recent restoration which has seen the film being restored faithfully to the original film-maker’s wishes over 50 years later. Rear Window is a film of rare perfection, class and sophistication that many regard as a yardstick against which films of a similar genre should be measured against. It is still an exceptional film made by some of Hollywood’s greatest directors, actors and film crews. Such great talent has produced a film dealing with the terrible flaws of humanity and yet continues to conjure up such a warm fondness years later. Rear Window succeeds in this time and time again.

Review: Carve Her Name With Pride (1958)

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After an unexpected hiatus, I’m pleased to announce the next classic to grace the Girl On Film blog is Carve Her Name With Pride (1958) starring Virginia McKenna, directed by Lewis Gilbert and based on the book of the same name by R.J. Minney.

Acting as a precursor to films such as Female Agents (2008) and Charlotte Grey (2000), Carve Her Name With Pride tells the true story of Violette Szabo and her heroic achievements as a Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) in occupied France during World War Two. Having lost her French husband in battle, Violette uses her resourceful, natural aptitude for espionage and unsurpassable bravery to become the one of the first women to be awarded the George Cross.

The film is surprisingly gritty for its time, shedding the sometimes predictable and jingoistic tendencies of many post-war films. For Violette it seems, it is as much about fighting for honour of her husband’s sacrifice and memory as it is for the good of her country. Virginia McKenna is superb in the role, and has highlighted Carve Her Name With Pride as one of her most challenging performances as an actress. By the time we reach Violette’s torturous days as a prisoner, we cannot doubt McKenna’s dedication and commitment to the role. McKenna is the all-round star of the piece, shooting, parachuting and out-smarting her way through many difficult situations with both sophistication and absolute realism. The film is a testament to her acting talent and certainly surpasses A Town Like Alice (a film which always felt half-finished when matched with its original source) for her portrayal alone.

With a number of gripping set pieces, ranging from a violent machine gun shootout across the French countryside to a burning train wreck, Carve Her Name With Pride illuminates the scope of Violette’s journey in David Lean-style proportions. Away from the action, the scenes within the family home of her parents and young daughter are remarkably convincing and never appear to simply serve as an emotional trigger for the audience. Her provincial home is the setting for one of the most effective scenes: as Violette receives the telegram announcing her husband’s death, the door simply closes and the camera pans back down the hallway, leaving the heartbreaking sentiment unheard but understood.

A romance blossoms between Violette and fellow secret agent Captain Tony Fraser played by the charming Paul Scofield (whom I imagine to be a cross between Dominic West and Dougray Scott). An interesting relationship develops between the two, both encouraging the other to fight on and face their fears. Some amusing scenes which trace Violette’s development at the S.O.E. training camp provide the obligatory sexism for her to rise above and exceed all expectation. Captain Fraser however, refreshingly sees Violette as an absolute equal and soon falls in love with both the woman and the spy.

Carve Her Name With Pride has absolutely stood the test of time, owing to its true story roots and a pitch-perfect recount of the events helmed by a solid performance (which also won McKenna a BAFTA award). Its appeal lies with the compelling stories of those asked to go beyond the call of duty and forge their names among the list of extraordinary people we ought never to forget.

Finally, the poem ‘The Life That I Have’ by Leo Marks which serves as both a plot point and a motif throughout the film is especially touching:

The life that I have

Is all that I have

And the life that I have

Is yours.

The love that I have

Of the life that I have

Is yours and yours and yours.

A sleep I shall have

A rest I shall have

Yet death will be but a pause.

For the peace of my years

In the long green grass

Will be yours and yours and yours.

Carve Her Name With Pride is available for a limited time to those living in the UK on BBC iPlayer.

Review: As Good As It Gets (1997)

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Who have thought that Jack Nicholson’s devilish grin would suit the smart comedic and heart-warming charm of James L. Brooks’ As Good As It Gets? Before 1997, Nicholson’s grin was suited to the sadistic humour of the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman reboot. But as with that fine turn, the casting of Nicholson as Melvin Udall is one of genuine genius.

Indeed the evil traits of the Joker and neuroses of his former characters aren’t all that far from our memory when we meet Melvin Udall in the opening act of As Good As It Gets when he throws his neighbour’s dog down the garbage chute in an apartment building. A misanthropic, obsessive-compulsive germ-a-phobe (note: not the technical term) and novelist, Melvin Udall goes on to encounter a series of characters and forms unlikely friendships which throughout the film prove to be a catalyst for his recovery and change of personality. It all begins when Melvin is enlisted to help his gay artist neighbour (who has been brutally attack in an attempted robbery) by looking after his dog- forcing him to confront his crass homophobia and his irritation of animals.

Furthermore, one of the few stable ‘friendships’ (if at the start of the film we can dare to call them that) in his life is with the waitress at his regular eating place (with his own plastic cutlery) called Carol played by Helen Hunt. Her own story becomes clear as we learn that her young son suffers from acute asthma and is as much a debilitating victim of the illness as of a poor health insurance policy. Melvin becomes fond of Carol and her ability to kerb his grouchiness with finesse, and when events transpire that Melvin’s daily routine which has allowed him to settle into a life of cantankerous behaviour is disrupted, Melvin sets out to fix it- insulting and surprising a lot of people along the way.

Despite all the signs which indicate that Nicholson’s character is bound to be dislikeable to watch, the sharpness of the script written by Mark Andrus and James L. Brooks turn this film from two hours of the grumbles of a matured man stuck in his ways into a cinematic gem of a similar kind which made actors like Walter Matthau so enjoyable despite their character’s obvious flaws. Brooks clearly knew how to direct and write for Nicholson (having worked together previously on Broadcast News and Terms of Endearment)- every line seems to have been meant for Nicholson to utter and have all the snarling style that fits the timbre of Nicholson’s voice and technique. One also cannot forget Helen Hunt as Carol who becomes Melvin’s human element and the driving force behind the decision to change his life. Hunt and Nicholson are equal sparring partners on screen, and though some critics have seen the journey of their relationship as being overly sentimental towards the end of the film, I think it a fitting end to a film which at least to some extent alludes to optimism from the outset- the movie posters after all graces a hopeful Nicholson smiling towards to the sky. Both actors won Best Actor and Best Actress at the Academy Awards, and deservedly so. Greg Kinnear (who plays Simon, Udall’s neighbour in need) was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and his character gets a significant amount of screen time in order for us as viewers to fully comprehend his character’s plight and own eventual emotional salvation during the course of the film. A scene in which Simon learns of his near-bankruptcy from his friend who has to use prompt cards in order stop herself from crying is particularly heart-breaking.

During his acceptance speech at his AFI Life Achievement Award ceremony in 1994 Nicholson ended what was already a rapturous evening with the words: “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”. Three years later he would win third Academy Award for this film and go on to become the second most nominated actor of all time. As Good As It Gets is a film with a star still at the top of his game. And he knew it.

Review: Random Harvest (1942)

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We begin our classics series with Random Harvest, the 1942 Oscar-nominated black and white film starring Greer Garson and Ronald Colman. Set during the years after the end of World War One, Random Harvest is a sentimental, tear-jerker movie which delivers shocks and heartbreak aplenty.

Shellshock and amnesia victim John Smith (Ronald Colman) escapes from the asylum in which he has been recovering on the night World War One ends, after suffering terrible injuries in combat. Showgirl Paula (Greer Garson) takes pity on a disorientated and near-mute ‘Smithy’ and almost instantly falls in love with him. After a remarkable recovery, the two decide to marry and seem to live the perfect life together with their newborn son and a promising writing career ahead for ‘Smithy’. After a call to Liverpool for a permanent post at a newspaper, ‘Smithy’ travels up north and is caught in a shocking road accident which brings his life before the war hurtling back. John Smith becomes Charles Rainier, an industrial businessman with a fortune.  And that’s just the start of it.

Charles Rainier’s and Paula’s (now Margaret) lives continue to spin along and meet once again (for reasons which I shan’t reveal) and reach a conclusion which will surely have the hardest of hearts reaching for a box of tissues.

Perhaps overshadowed by Garson’s other film Mrs Miniver released the same year (which was a winner of six Academy Awards including Best Actress and Best Picture), Random Harvest still earned a healthy seven nominations including Best Director for Mervyn LeRoy. The film is an emotional spectacle with twists and shocks-aplenty, perfect for those unused to the genre of Classic Hollywood or reluctant to watch a black and white film (how very dare you!). Greer Garson’s staggering beauty and Ronald Colman’s appealing vulnerability and emotional journey throughout the piece capture the sentimentality and dogged hope of a mid-Second World War period.