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Wild in Bologna

Greetings from Bologna, Italy, where the Cineteca di Bologna’s annual festival of archival films, Il Cinema Ritrovato, is about halfway through. I’ve helped to program a selection of rarely seen Raoul Walsh films, and today had the pleasure of presenting the first public screening of MOMA’s newly restored print of Walsh’s 1932 comic western “Wild Girl.” There are a lot of other interesting series going on here, including a Lois Weber retrospective, a survey of the work of a stylistically accomplished but unabashedly Stalinist Soviet-era director named Ivan Py’rev (curated by Olaf Moeller), films related to the stock market collapse of 1929, a survey of the films of 1912, some rareties from Jean Gremillon, and too much else to mention. It’s really a remarkable event — an opportunity to see some of the latest preservation work from around the world, as well as to pass time with a warm community of journalists, scholars, archivists, distributors and filmmakers. If you ever have a chance to attend, don’t pass it by.

This week’s New York Times column takes the home video release of “The Artist” as an opportunity to encourage readers to see some genuine silent films, with Criterion’s recent release of Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush” serving as a convenient example of same. Here in Bologna, where an open air screening of the 1930 Louise Brooks film “Prix de beaute” can fill the medieval town square, it’s hard to believe that the whole world doesn’t revolve around black and white films. I suspect it would be a nicer place if it did.

169 comments to Wild in Bologna

  • Alex

    Hey, some naturalism is great as is some mythopoetic High Modernism –and some fantasy.

    What approach an adaptor takes to a literary text depends on the specifics.

    In general, though this won’t get you very far with specifics, the proof is in the pudding.

  • Barry Putterman

    I see that we are Kehr-less in the Times again this week. So, we’ll have to make it up as we go along. And the paper offers us many possibilities. In addition to Hoberman’s Siodmak piece, the front page of the Book Review is an assessment of Larry Tye’s book about Superman. And there is a “thunk” piece on the editorial page by Maureen Dowd regarding John Ford and THE QUIET MAN with quotes from Joseph McBride.

    And so I implore you fellow inmates; leave us make up our own topics! Are we to be shackled to the conventional narrative of a Times review!? We can run this asylum ourselves!! We have nothing to lose but our chains!!!

  • Tony Williams

    Robert, Since the film and novel had the same title I did not make the distinction. But in relation to the points you make about Wollrich (who also used pseudonymns such as “William Irish” and “George Hopley”) the best source on the author himself is Nevins’ FIRST YOU DREAM, THEN YOU DIE. This pioneering critical biography will also supply some answers to the issues Barry raises in his 10:15 post.

    Also, it is interesting how this thread is developing. As to the photo image, I remember going to a nearby cinema and seeing a poster for a future attraction, some domestic comedy with Woods in it. A family looked at it. One recognized Woods. “Look, it’s the creepy guy!”

  • Brad Stevens

    One problem with ignoring the books that films are adapted from is that there’s a danger of attributing to the filmmakers things that might more accurately be credited to the novelist. Much of the greatness of Robert Rossen’s LILITH comes from its being a close adaptation of a remarkable novel.

    Needless to say, the reverse is equally true. Having read several of the books that were filmed by Richard Brooks, I find it fascinating just how fast and loose he tended to play with his literary sources: ELMER GANTRY is based on a short section in the middle of the novel (in which Arthur Kennedy’s character does not appear), LORD JIM takes its first 20 minutes and its last 20 minutes from Conrad, but everything in between is Brooks’ invention (there’s no equivalent of Eli Wallach’s character in the novel), WRONG IS RIGHT takes a few elements from Charles McCarry’s THE BETTER ANGELS, but is only intermittently recognizable as an adaptation, and goes in a completely original direction about two thirds of the way through. It’s been so long since I saw THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV that I really can’t recall how faithful it is to Dostoyevsky.

  • jbryant

    The Dowd article is fine, but many of the comments consist of the usual self-righteous dismissals of John Wayne’s entire career because of his politics, or his image, or his real-life failure to live up to his image (one poster calls him out for being a “chain-smoking alcoholic”!).

    I finally caught up with THE LONG GRAY LINE and absolutely loved it (despite little experience with military history). For someone who seems to have had no love for CinemasScope, Ford sure made excellent use of it. And I thought the blarney and slapstick in this one, though abundant, was more subdued than usual.

    I have TWO RODE TOGETHER waiting in my DVR queue as well, so I’m really looking forward to that. “Late Ford” has proved to be much more worthy than I would have thought years ago, when so many of the films seemed to be more or less dismissed by “serious” critics.

  • David Cohen

    John Wayne’s name can certainly start an argument, can’t it?
    The funny thing is, if you drew up a list of 49 Hollywood figures who served in World War II and threw in Wayne’s name as the 50th, then polled some movie fans as to who had played the largest role in the war, he’d probably win in a landslide.

  • Robert Garrick

    Tony, the Nevins biography on Woolrich is indeed comprehensive and recommended. Francis Nevins, Jr. (aka “Mike Nevins”) was a law professor at St. Louis University, now retired, who was entrusted with handling the Woolrich estate. That got him interested in Woolrich, and also gave him access to all of the primary source materials, and Nevins became the top world expert on Woolrich.

    Back in the early ’70s Nevins produced a Woolrich anthology with a long biographical essay, called “Nightwebs.” If you can find a copy, it’s a good introduction to the author.

    Woolrich was certainly an odd character, and a lot of what makes his books and stories interesting comes from his life and from his personality. He was a recluse, a homosexual who knew he needed to stay closeted, who died rich from his pulp stories and left a bucket of money to Columbia University, which named a creative writing scholarship after him. For much of his life (roughly 1930 until her death in 1957) Woolrich lived with his mother, at the trashy Hotel Marseilles near Columbia.

    I read “Phantom Lady” back when I was at NYU, in 1976. I’d forgotten that it was told by the killer. That trick had been done before, by Agatha Christie in “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.”

  • Brad Stevens

    “I finally caught up with THE LONG GRAY LINE and absolutely loved it (despite little experience with military history). For someone who seems to have had no love for CinemasScope, Ford sure made excellent use of it.”

    It’s one of my favourite Fords. I was thinking of it recently when I finally had the chance to see Michael Powell’s THE QUEEN’S GUARDS, another CinemaScope film in which the director’s admiration for military institutions struggles with an awareness of the neuroticism of those institutions.

  • Tony Williams

    Robert, Mike Nevins is a very good friend of mine and I’m acknowledged in the book for supplying him with information concerning the UK ABC adaptation of “You’ll Never See Me Again” starring Ben Gazzara, that I saw twice. Since many late 50s UK Armchair Theatre productions are now re-appearing after having been presumed being “lost”, this, hopefully, may resurface. Also, on PHANTOM LADY, I doubt whether the future Dame Agatha would display Woolrich angst in her narration.

    Brad’s comments on THE LONG GRAY LINE are really insightful. Although Ford may have wished to celebrate the career of Marty Maher, the whole mood of the film is one of tragic loss and waste. Despite the celebratory parade at the end, Ike is not going to extend Marty’s retirement. The climax also evokes that mournful climax to THE WINGS OF EAGLES where Spig and everyone realize that he must leave the Service and his remaining time is limited.

  • Tony Williams

    Ernest Borgnine has now left us.

  • David Cohen

    Should I have the authority to do so, would start any TCM tribute to Borgnine with “The Wild Bunch,” “Bad Day at Black Rock,” “From Here to Eternity,” “The Dirty Dozen,” “Marty,” “Johnny Guitar” and “Violent Saturday” – that’s a pretty good day of viewing.

  • Alex

    John Wayne was a great star, actor and alter ego for Ford, central to what seem to me more than half Ford’s masterpieces — and seldom more impressive than in THE QUIET MAN.

    Dowd dismissive of Wayne for politics and life style? Odd that she should write so irrelavntly of Wayne in her best style — that of the put down artist.

    On Wayne’s drinking and smoking, of which I’ll assume the worst, I’d quote from William Gaddis in THE RECOGNITIONS: “artist– dregs of his art.”

  • jbryant

    Alex: Not Dowd; her commenters.

  • Robert Garrick

    Fran Lebowitz said: “People smoking in bars–that’s the history of art.”

    On John Wayne, we should note that he lived a nice long life, dying at age 72, which was probably twenty-five years longer than the average life expectancy for a male when he was born. Also, he was on the set of “The Conquerer” (1956), near St. George, Utah, when the radioactive tail from a U.S. open-air atom bomb test went directly overhead. Nobody thought it was a big deal, but a notably high percentage of that film’s cast and crew died from cancer within the next 25 years, including (besides Wayne) Dick Powell and Susan Hayward. It’s a fascinating story. Howard Hughes unwittingly compounded the danger by shipping the radioactive dirt from Utah back to Hollywood for additional shooting.

  • Robert Garrick

    Two years ago, Ernest Borgnine was one of the featured guests at the Palm Springs noir festival. (The film was “Pay or Die” (1960), which wasn’t bad.) His speech were strong; so was his walk, and his brain was as sharp as ever. There was no sign of age in his voice.

    The next morning, I woke up at a fairly early hour, but Borgnine was already in the hotel’s breakfast area, greeting people and signing autographs.

  • The first person narrator as the murderer – “I the murderer”: Cornell Woolrich’s predecessors in this device include not only Agatha Christie (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) but also Anton Chekhov in his early novel The Shooting Party (1884). Douglas Sirk directed one of its film adaptations as Summer Storm. George Sanders plays the judge who commits a crime of passion, murdering Olga (Linda Darnell) and confesses everything in his autobiography. In Chekhov’s novel the shocking revelation is saved until the conclusion.

  • Robert Garrick

    It’s probably worth noting that Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1959) also features a “first person narrator as murderer.” Hitchcock gets us to identify with Norman Bates early in the film, and for much of the movie we sit there, sweating, as Bates nervously munches on peanuts and waits for the car to go into the swamp.

    It’s one of the reasons the ending is so shocking. We know that guy, we like that guy, we are that guy.

  • Ernest Borgnine: from here to eternity.

  • Barry Putterman

    In the interest of clarity, it should be noted that the novel “Phantom Lady” is not a subjective, first person “I the murderer” story. Something along those lines from a writer comparable to Woolrich would be Jim Thompson’s “The Killer Inside Me.”

    “Phantom Lady” is structured more conventionally in the sense that it has contains both first person and third person sections and continually shifts viewpoints from among the accused (Alan Curtis in the movie), the girlfriend (Ella Raines), the policeman (Thomas Gomez) and the close friend who turns out to be the killer (Franchot Tone). In the book, the killer doesn’t give an account of himself. He rather is captured by the policeman who explains the crime with details which (I at least) didn’t see indicated in either what the killer says or does or what is said or done in regards to him.

    Structurally it is more like Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, although I’m not quite sure that I fully recognize the film that I saw in Robert’s description. As in “Phantom Lady,” Norman Bates doesn’t enter the story until it is well under way and the story isn’t told from his first person viewpoint, but he does become the dominant character as the story moves towards its climax. And we have the psychiatrist wrapping up the explanations and plot points which may or may not have been indicated as we went along.

    As I said, being thoroughly familiar with the Siodmak film, i felt safe in assuming that I knew who the murderer was going to be even if, objectively speaking, I would never have figured it out had I read the novel first. By the same token, I was thoroughly familiar with all of the analysis and mythology regarding PSYCHO before I actually saw the film.

    I would be interested to hear from those who were around to be conscious of the initial reactions to PSYCHO when it played first run whether there was bafflement regarding whether Hitchcock had played fair with the audience in giving enough foundation for the conclusion that Norman Bates was the actual killer.

  • Another first-person killer story is Dorothy B. Hughes’ IN A LONELY PLACE — source of Nicholas Ray’s very different film. Hughes had a real knack for portraying the self-justifying paranoid perspective.

  • Robert Regan

    Hughes’ In a Lonely Place takes Dix’s point of view throughout, but it is written entirely in the third person.

    Does anyone know who decided to change the matter of Dix’s “guilt”? And when? Eisenschnitz and Polan aren’t telling.

  • Another of our most treasurable film veterans is gone:

    YAMADA Isuzu (5 February 1917 – 9 July 2012)

    Reported in Daily Mainichi: (Japanese only)

    As far as I can tell, her first major roles were in the films pf Mizoguchi — Downfall of Osen, Oyuki the Virgin, Osaka Elegy, Sisters of Gion. she also played major roles in films by Naruse, Kurosawa, Ozu, Gosho and Kinugasa. She remained active as an actress into the latter 1980s.

    While her work for Mizoguchi and Kurosawa may be better known in the West, I love some of her work for Naruse even more (e.g. Song Lantern and Flowing). Her runaway-mother in Ozu’s Tokyo Twilight was also wonderful.

  • Alex

    Although baloney is Bologna only when we are thinking of sauage, it is still the case that Bologna is near the birthplace of Bernardo Bertolucci, creater of NOVECENTO – and that film is hardly baloney, whatever Pauline Kael may have thought of it. Neither is Bob Wickersham’s 1945 much neglected PHONEY BALOBNEY with Frank Graham (master impersonator though he may have gone on to be).

    The question becomes whether Robert Siodmak’s useof Woody Bredell as light sculptor should be paired with Bernardo Berolucci’ use of Vittorio Storaro as an example of art or ostentation, which is to say phoney Bologna.

  • Mark Gross

    “I would be interested to hear from those who were around to be conscious of the initial reactions to PSYCHO when it played first run whether there was bafflement regarding whether Hitchcock had played fair with the audience in giving enough foundation for the conclusion that Norman Bates was the actual killer.”

    It’s funny you should ask that, Barry, for I was watching PSYCHO the other night, and remembering my first reaction to the film when I was 11 years old. I’m not certain how I managed to see PSYCHO at such a young age. I do remember that it was in the spring of 1962 at a neighborhood theatre, on a very odd double bill with LOVER COME BACK. It’s possible that my parents allowed me & my brother to go, was because they assumed we were seeing a Doris Day comedy, not realizing that PSYCHO was playing afterwards.

    What really disturbed me was the murder of Janet Leigh. All through the shower scene, I was certain that something would happen to bring her back to life. Even when the camera slowly moved away from her staring, dead-eyed visage, I was certain she was still alive.

    When Norman first appeared, I though he would give Marion mouth to mouth or call a doctor who would find a way to revive her. Instead, he began cleaning up all marks of the murder, in such a precise manner, that I was appalled.

    Because it was clear that Norman wasn’t there to help Marion Crane but to erase all evidence of her existence, I figured he must be the murderer(even though I got caught up in whether or not the car would be hidden in the bog). In fact, that compulsive way that Norman ate peanuts convinced me he was up to no good.

  • I saw PSYCHO for the first time in 1969 when I was fourteen, and I still remember the primal shock because I would never have expected something like that from a mainstream Hollywood film: the identification with the sympathetic Marion Crane as played by Janet Leigh and what happens then. I still haven’t recovered, and at some level I’m still hoping that she wasn’t really killed and drowned in the mire.

  • PSYCHO was made before the rating system was introduced in the U.S. Didn’t that mean that even children were allowed to see it?

  • Mark Gross

    “PSYCHO was made before the rating system was introduced in the U.S. Didn’t that mean that even children were allowed to see it?”

    Antti, there were films in the early 60’s that were only for”mature audiences” such as Kubrick’s LOLITA, Russ Meyer’s FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL! KILL! & Radley Metzger’s CAMILLE 2000, though the restrictions seemed more about films with sexual content. I don’t think PSYCHO was adults only. The only restriction was you weren’t supposed to tell anyone what the film was about.

    Anyway, I went to a kiddie matinee at my neighborhood theatre of LOVER COME BACK at 2 PM on a Saturday, which was followed after a brief intermission by PSYCHO, which was the regular scheduled film that week. The reason I was waiting was because they usually showed an hour of cartoons after the kiddie feature, either Donald Duck or Bugs Bunny. Instead, I got to see PSYCHO.

    It was a very interesting experience watching PSYCHO as a child, because I couldn’t believe that Janet Leigh was dead, and kept expecting her to be revived by some plot device, in other words, the unrealistic conventions of Hollywood movies that I took for granted. When it was clear that she wasn’t going to come back to life, and her car slowly sunk into the mire,I had this giddy sensation of somehow being liberated for the first time from the oppression of images; that anything could happen. And I began looking very carefully at every part of the image on the screen, seeing how abstract these black & white compositions really were, and yet understanding how deeply they managed to affect my emotions.

  • Robert Garrick

    People today–who weren’t there–simply can’t imagine the effect that “Psycho” had on virgin audiences back in 1960. In my lifetime, there’s only one other mainstream film that has left its viewers as messed up, and that was “The Exorcist” (1973).

    I saw “Psycho” (for maybe the tenth time) in Andrew Sarris’s class at Columbia, circa 1977. Sarris said he had no idea what to expect when he first watched the film, and “it scared the hell out of me.” He said the film went to something basic, the “fear of our mother turning on us.”

    But today–kids watch “Psycho” and they’re bored, mostly. It’s so slow, it’s black-and-white. It’s no big deal. I’m not talking about kids who watch a lot of horror movies, either. I’m just talking about your typical television- and internet-savvy middle-school child.

    Mark Gross, you were certainly precocious to figure out that Bates was the killer. I don’t know anyone who saw the film “blind” who didn’t just accept that the mother was the murderer and that Norman was the dutiful son, protecting her. We’re not real comfortable about identifying with Norman, but he’s all we’ve got. Janet Leigh (our original point of reference) is dead, and the focus immediately turns to Norman, and we are all alone with him for some time. I believe Dave Kehr, on these pages, said that Hitchcock identifies with Bates. Most viewers did too, at least until the final scenes.

    By the way, I sat next to Sarris as he watched the last half-hour of the film. (That’s when he entered the classroom.) He chuckled through almost all of it. He particularly thought the Simon Oakland “explanation” at the end was hilarious.

  • Robert Garrick

    When “Psycho” was first rated in 1968, it received an “M” rating (equivalent to a “PG” today). So yes, children could see the film without their parents, even after the advent of the MPAA ratings, though I imagine quite a few theatres back in 1960 applied their own restrictions. That “M” (later “GP,” later “PG”) rating was changed to an “R” only in the mid-1980s, as violence started to acquire the same taboo treatment as sex.

    And indeed: the original problems with “Psycho” for the Production Code censors mostly involved sex and scatology, not violence. The opening scene, with Janet Leigh and John Gavin committing lunchtime adultery in a state of semi-dress, was the film’s biggest problem. Another trouble spot, believe it or not, involved the scene where Janet Leigh flushed pieces of paper down a toilet. Toilets were just not shown in films back then.

  • Mark Gross

    Robert, Hitchcock had a great deal of fun with that toilet scene, especially referring to it in the trailer.

    As an eleven year old, I didn’t identify with Norman. I was fascinated by him, and certainly had an emotional stake in what he did, for that is the way the film is structured, and it is very difficult to resist the emotional appeal of Hitchcock’s montages & point of view shots. In particular, one has an emotional stake in whether or not Norman is revealed, so when Arbogast is murdered, it’s almost as if our gaze brings this moment to pass.

    But I didn’t identify with Norman. I was still identifying with Marion Crane, and her death created a kind of negative space which Norman seemed to thrive on, but also allowed me to watch and think. Norman is a fascinating portrait of evil as a kind of quotidian, instinctive force. It’s the narrator of THE KILLER INSIDE ME brought to another, more metaphysical and yet more basic level.

    When I was at NYU I wrote a paper for a class on Hitchcock that focused on the shower scene, in particular, how the angle of the knife contrasted with closeups of Janet Leigh and formed a kind of negative space that was psychologically “editing” Marion out of the film so Norman could take her place.

    But as an 11 year old, Marion didn’t leave my viewing of the film, but resided in every frame as an absence, bringing a serene yet frightful gravity to the shots of Norman meticulously scrubbing away every scrap of her identity, in much the same way as Bach’s music illuminates certain scenes in Bresson’s MOUCHETTE.

    The psychiatrist’s lecture at the end of the film is so funny and yet so deeply radical in conception (I’m certain all those straight-on, single take lectures in Godard that are found in UNE FEMME MARIEE & WEEKEND were inspired by the scene)that it lies in a place beyond analysis, other than to say that I saw PSYCHO once at MOMA, and I’m pretty sure that I heard Andrew Sarris laughing a few rows behind me.

  • x359594

    Sad news indeed about Yamada Isuzu, a last link to the first golden age of Japanese cinema and a major presence in the second golden age of the 1950s. I watched the NHK obituary/tribute on TV here in Los Angeles where there are two Japanese language channels. I last saw her in a taiga drama (52 episode historical epic)6 or 7 years ago, and she was still active.

  • patrick henry

    I saw PSYCHO at age 17 and I remember thinking (and still think) that the most disturbing moment was the last shot of Norman making with a sick smirk as a skull is superimposed over his face, an exact match with his facial outline. I think this was an in-your-face taunting of the audience: “You’re all going to wind up like this—as just a skull. You can’t escape it any more than Norman can. Ha-ha-ha!”

  • Sad indeed to learn of the passing of Yamada Isuzu, a last link to both golden ages of Japanese cinema. NHK TV broadcast a tribute/obituary to her aired on one of the Japanese channels available here in Los Angeles. I didn’t realize that she survived her daughter Saga Michiko (seen in Inagaki’s “Miyamoto Musashi” trilogy.)

  • David Cohen

    A fun way to remake PSYCHO would be to start out with Marion Crane stealing the money, fleeing and landing at the Bates Motel, where she has a perfectly agreeable time before returning home with the money. Now that would be a twist …

  • x359594 —

    I guess one could argue that Setsuko Hara is one last link to the golden ages of both the 30s and 50s. But Yamada was the last surviving star of the silent era to continue starring through the second golden age (and after).

    Note: Yukiko Inoue (who I think is still alive) might be the last link to the silent era, but she retired in the mid-30s (and made only one belated last hurrah after that — in 2005) and never played any role in the second golden era.

  • Noel Vera

    Sad to hear about Yamada Isuzu.

    Also there’s the death of Rodolfo Quizon, a.k.a. Dolphy, a major Filipino comic actor. His role as an openly gay man in Jack en Jill (1954) may be a first in Philippine cinema. Don’t know if there’s an earlier equivalent in Hollywood.

    Posted something about Psycho, for some reason it disappeared. I’m somehow unsatisfied with the shower scene there–in my opinion the scene would have worked better with just incidental sounds and Marion screaming. I suspect Hitchcock thought so too–I submit he tried to repeat the experiment in The Birds, with Tippi Hedren, and how that played out–with just the whirring of the birds and Hedren gasping–is how Psycho’s shower scene should have played out.

    Far as I can see Psycho was the first time Hitchcock ever used that fast a cutting rate; in suspense sequences he might speed up the cutting a bit but it’s deliberately paced, a matter of a few seconds, not jagged fractions of a second, and not for so long.

  • jbryant

    I was about ten when I first saw PSYCHO, on TV circa 1967 or so. I recall buying that Mother was the killer and Norman was covering up for her, up until the big reveal. The moment that stuck with me most vividly was Lila Crane discovering Mrs. Bates’ cadaver, and that swinging light bulb. Scared the living daylights out of me.

  • I hadn’t realized before reading the obituaries that the same wonderful actress, Isuzu Yamada (1917-2012) was both the unforgettable protagonist of Kenji Mizoguchi’s first masterpieces (OSAKA ELEGY, SISTERS OF THE GION) and Akira Kurosawa’s formidable Lady Macbeth (THRONE OF BLOOD). Both she and Ernest Borgnine reached the age of 95.

    In PSYCHO Marion experiences deep guilt at the theft she has committed by a momentary impulse. During the journey into the night she decides to return the money. The rain and the shower are visual expressions of her purification, comparable to a transfiguration in the Christian tradition. That she is killed at such a moment of tranquillity heightens the shock infinitely.

    At first viewing I, too, bought the idea that there was a mad mother who did the killings. And in a way it is so. Having read Hitchcock biographies I realized how personal PSYCHO is and that there may be a black humoristic exorcism of Hitchcock’s own mother’s ghost in “the mother’s” dialogue. Andrew Sarris may have been chuckling with Alfred at that dimension of black humour. Didn’t Hitchcock call PSYCHO “a fun picture”?

  • It’s interesting that both Hitchcock and Michael Powell made their most shocking and radical films the same year: PSYCHO AND PEEPING TOM (1960), and that they both use the extreme skull motif subtly as a hidden image. And of course the protagonists in both are related as psycho killers traumatized in quite similar ways.

    I enjoyed Stephen Rebello’s book on the making of Psycho when it came out, so it’ll be fascinating to see what kind of a film they’ll make of the material: Making of as cinema. And what will be the dvd extra like? The Making of of the Making of of Psycho…

  • Alex

    Antti Alanen ,

    Yeah, Hitchcock told Truffaut, “I didn’t start off to make an important mvoie. I though i could have fun with this subject.”

    An interesting aspect of PSYCHO is what it can tell us about film making in light of the virtual quasi-experiment provided by it and Van Sant shot-by-shot remake, once the latter is available. Abstractly, the differences in the quality of the two films should boil down to director, casting, B&W/color, and in idiosyncrasies (e.g., differences in design). Yet the Hitchcock film is vastly better. Why? If it’s Hitchcock’s skill with actors, that’s interesting. One hypothesis I’d offer is that it has a lot to do with casting (which of course overlaps with acting and its direction): in particular, Hitchcock’s performers are so iconic, and iconically resonant. Gavin’s Loomis is such a classic narcissistic womanizer, Leigh’ Marion Crane such a classic Hollywood Perkin’s Bates so much the stereotypical sissy schizoid (or schizoid sissy) of classical and early post classical Hollywood, Balsam’s Det. Arbogast such an archetypal post-WWII bureaucrat detective. (Not that Hitchcock’s gift for verisimilitude fails to make the characters convincing.)

  • Well, I think one might argue that Mizoguchi’s _first_ masterpiece (that still exists) was Taki no shiraito / Water Magician (with Takako Irie — who also played a marvelous role in a Kurosawa film in her later years). Irie (would now be 101) died back in 1995. In any event, Yamada herself was already quite splendid by the time of her appearance (in 1935) in Mizoguchi’s Orizuru Osen / Downfall of Osen.

  • Barry Putterman

    Noel, I think that you underestimate Hitchcock’s concern regarding audience reaction in relation to the PSYCHO sequence. The situation is of a nude person being trapped in an enclosed room and being repeatedly stabbed with a knife. Had he not abstracted the soundtrack with the music, the only other sound besides the screaming would have been of the knife ripping the naked flesh apart. Had he not abstracted the images with the rapid montage, he would have had to show much more graphic pictures of blood, gore and knife wounds. The reaction in 1960 would have been much more of disgust rather than shock. In fact, much more like Michael Powell’s audience reacted to PEEPING TOM.

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised that the PSYCHO sequence led directly to THE BIRDS sequence you mention. But consider the changes in the circumstances. Here we have a fully clothed person trapped in an outdoor phone booth which is situated amid a very loud general pandemonium. And while the birds repeatedly smash into the phone booth glass, they hardly ever pierce the victim’s flesh. Indeed, when the birds actually do manage to physically assault the victim later in the attic, Hitchcock goes back to the rapid editing technique from PSYCHO to distance the pain.

    Of course, if Hitchcock was around to shoot these scenes in 2012, he wouldn’t have to take into consideration an audience which would be repelled by such actions. So we can all congratulate ourselves regarging the amount of progress we’ve made in the fifty plus years since PSYCHO.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘I guess one could argue that Setsuko Hara is one last link to the golden ages of both the 30s and 50s. But Yamada was the last surviving star of the silent era to continue starring through the second golden age (and after).’

    That is true. Yamada Isuzu never retired from acting in theater, movie and TV. She gave interview to researcher, journalist and fan. Hara Setsuko will not talk to interviewer but she must have much to tell.

  • Michael Kerpan (July 11, 2012 at 11:33 am), I admire THE WATER MAGICIAN and THE DOWNFALL OF OSEN, but OSAKA ELEGY and SISTERS OF THE GION are for me the first fully mature and accomplished films by Mizoguchi, the ones where he really finds himself as an original and unique artist.

  • Antti — Maybe I’m an easier grader. ;~}

    Truth be told, there are so few Japanese films available (or even remining in existence) that are older than Water Magician, it is hard to assess just how original and unique The Water Magician may have been.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘Truth be told, there are so few Japanese films available (or even remining in existence) that are older than Water Magician, it is hard to assess just how original and unique The Water Magician may have been.’

    Only description and still photo remaining for many early Japanese movie. But there is much written material, and TAKI NO SHIRAITO is described there as exceptional movie. Those critics was saying something about framing actor in mise-en-scene that was unique difference from other movie at that time.

  • Junko — I was willing to make that assessment of Taki no Shiraito based on pure faith (or maybe intuition). Glad to hear that here is, in fact, some contemporaneous confirmation. ;~}

  • Noel Vera

    “the only other sound besides the screaming would have been of the knife ripping the naked flesh apart”

    Ah, well. He did suggest much of this later in The Birds, only of beaks ripping human flesh.

    Whaddaya think of Dolphy or Mario O’Hara, Barry?

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, I’m afriad that I am more familiar with Surroundsound and Maureen O’Hara, Noel. Although, to keep this within the current context of Asian obituaries, possibly I should refer to her as Maureeno Hara.

    In any event, for the benefit of myself and countless other Western oriented cinephiles, you may want to expand on our knowledge regarding these gentlemen. Flesh it out, as it were.

  • Noel — The only Mario O’Hara film I’ve seen (I think) is Woman at the Breakwater — which I saw in only partially subbed form. Even so, it was a pretty interesting film. I really wish there was more subbed classic Filipino cinema available.