8/14/2007

All Movie Talk, Episode 46

Posted in Episodes at 5:00 am by Sam

Show contents, with start times:

  • Director Spotlight: Alfred Hitchcock, Part 3 (2:13)
  • Trivia Question: Batman Actors (24:39)
  • Top 6: Plot Holes In Good Movies (25:01)
  • Industry Trend: History of Editing, Part 1 (42:36)
  • Closing: Trivia Answer, Preview of Next Week (63:41)

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Show Notes:

Director Spotlight: Alfred Hitchcock, Part 3

We look at the rest of Hitchock’s filmography this week:

  • Strangers on a Train (1951) is a good example of Hitchcock taking a great premise — two strangers agree to swap murders, only one of them doesn’t realize it — and making the most of it.
  • Rear Window (1954) is one of our favorite Hitchcock films, in which we are turned into voyeurs as we watch a housebound Jimmy Stewart spy on his neighbors and attempt to solve a murder that may have not have even happened. A wonderful, engaging thriller — even despite its endless parody in pop culture — that also has quite a lot to say. Possibly the best example of how Hitch was able to work both highbrow commentary and entertainment into a single work.
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) is fascinating for nothing else than it offers an example of a filmmaker revisiting his past work (it’s a remake of Hitchcock’s own movie from 1934). It also makes very memorable use of music provided by composer and frequent Hitchock collaborator Bernard Herrmann.
  • Hitchcock’s most critically acclaimed film is probably Vertigo (1958), which follows Jimmy Stewart as a former cop overcome with a bad case of acrophobia. It’s one of Hitch’s darkest movies, a deeply personal look at phobia and obsession. If you don’t know the plot, don’t spoil it for yourself — it’s a twisty, twisted movie that needs to be seen by every film buff.
  • For his follow-up to his most acclaimed movie, Hitch made one of his most popular: North by Northwest (1959). A rollicking thriller adventure starring Cary Grant as the wrong man (one of Hitchcock’s favorite themes). It features a few of the director’s most famous images, including Grant running from a crop duster in a field and a climax on the top of Mt. Rushmore.
  • Vertigo, North by Northwest, and then Psycho (1960) all in three years. You probably know all about Psycho already, but audiences in 1960 had no idea what they were in for. Pretty much inventing the slasher flick, this is a movie chock full of surprises and shocking moments, but it also features some amazing editing and camera work.
  • The Birds (1963) was next, a great scary movie that has a weird sense of humor to it. Hard to describe, this is the sort of film that only Hitchcock could make work. Birds suddenly start attacking people without explanation and it’s still considered a classic.
  • Hitchock became less productive by the mid-’60s, but considering that Torn Curtain (1966) was his fiftieth movie, that’s understandable. His last few movies are decent but hardly as interesting as his best. One notable exception is Frenzy (1972), a very dark and graphic film that is a return to London for Hitchock.

Trivia Question: Batman Actors

The first (and possibly only) movie to star more than one Batman actor in the cast was this cool crime flick, featuring this Batman and this other Batman.

Top 6: Plot Holes In Good Movies

See our separate Top 6 entry for more information about our picks.

Industry Trend: History of Editing, Part 1

In the earliest days of film, there was no editing to speak of — movies were very short, single takes. As movies began to be used for narrative storytelling at the turn of the 20th Century, early movies took many of their cues from live theater, with each a film being divided into a scene or two, each shown in a single take.

The American filmmaker Edwin S. Porter was one of the first directors to really work at advancing editing. Life of an American Fireman and The Great Train Robbery (both 1903) both feature edits that leap around in time. Porter’s films even use cutting to hint at thoughts and emotions of individual characters.

Several British filmmakers were also experimenting with the techniques of cinema. One famous example of early editing is the 1905 film Rescued by Rover by director Cecil Hepworth. This is one of the earliest examples of elliptical editing, leaving events out using cuts to denote the passage of time.

But while many editing techniques had been played around with, it was D.W. Griffith who did more to advance editing than any before him. Generally considered one of the greatest directors of the silent era, Griffith was an intuitive genius when it came to film technique who showed an interest in editing from his very first film The Adventures of Dolly (a 1908 ripoff of Rover).

What Griffith really realized is that editing can completely reshape a story. How a filmmaker cuts a story can be as important as what the story is about, and Griffith began experimenting with this in his early short films. One of his most famous, A Corner in Wheat (1909), includes techniques such as cross cutting, editing back and forth between two different scenes to slyly comment on the action (in this film it is used to denote the difference between impoverished masses and the elite landowners). Griffith knew that editing could be used to build emotional resonance in addition to driving action.

1915’s The Birth of a Nation was the first true smash hit feature film and probably did more to change the industry more than any film before it. Griffith employs a wide range of shots and maneuvers — irises, close-ups, pans, traveling shots, etc. — to illustrate his story. By this time it is clear that the shot, not the scene, is the central unit of film.

Intolerance (1916) also shows a distinct understanding of the power of editing. Here Griffith was able to cut between four stories (unconnected in plot but strongly linked by themes) in completely different times, building a tapestry that is stronger than any individual parts.

It was Intolerance that became the subject of study for several Soviet filmmakers and editors under the leadership of Lev Kuleshov, the head of a newsreel production company. Without easy access to new filmstock during the Russian Civil War, these filmmakers became very interested in editing existing footage. Kuleshov’s group experimented with the effects of editing on the audience and formalized a theory of editing they called montage, borrowing the French word for editing.

The most prominent member of the Kuleshov group was Sergei Eisenstein. Griffith and Eisenstein are generally considered the fathers of modern editing, and once filmstock became available again, Eisenstein put the montage theory into practice to great effect. His most famous film is Battleship Potemkin (1925), which features a number of astonishingly put together sequences.

Using shots as short as 1/4 of a second, Eisenstein used editing to convey motion and conflict like nobody before. The silent Potemkin, with its many sequences made up of short shots rhythmically edited together, helped give rise to the “Hollywood montage,” the sequence of shots showing some actions over time set to music.

 
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5 Comments »

  1. Nyperold (116) said,

    August 14, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    I have to say, if North by Northwest had retained that title, it would have been almost impossible to work into last week’s intro. :)

  2. Aaron (35) said,

    August 14, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    Hmm, the show notes seem to talk about a different trivia question than was actually given.

  3. Sam (405) said,

    August 14, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    Good catch, Aaron. Methinks Stephen got a little ahead of himself. Fixed now.

  4. Rifty (64) said,

    August 14, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    One of my favorite stories about Hitchcock came to me by way of Stephen King. In his book “On Writing,” he tells the following story:

    In her role as critic and first reader, Tabby often makes me think of a story I read about Alfred Hichcock’s wife, Alma Reville. Ms. Reville was the equivalent of Hitch’s first reader, a ssharp0-eyed critic who was totally unimpressed with the suspense-master’s growing reputation as an auteur. Lucky for him. Hitch say he want to fly, Alma say, “First eat your eggs.”
    Not long after finishing Psycho, Hitchcock screened it for a few friends. They raved about it, declaring it to be a suspense masterpiece. Alma was quiet until they’d all had their say, then spoke very firmly: “You can’t send it out like that.”
    There was a thunderstruck silence, except for Hitchcock, himself who only asked why not. “Because,” his wife responded, “Janet Leigh swallows when she’s supposed to be dead. It was true. Hitchcock didn’t argue anymore than I do when Tabby points out one of my lapses.

    -Rifty

  5. siochembio (82) said,

    August 23, 2007 at 9:03 pm

    I just wanted to add that my experience with appreciating editing in early films was exactly as Stephen described: I didn’t fully “get it” until I saw another, non-D.W. Griffith film, and that was one of the most static films I’ve ever seen. I watched all 8 hours of “Les Vampires” from 1915, and while the plot was crazy fun, the camera work and editing was definitely inferior to anything else by Griffith. Indoor room scenes were basically done in a medium shot that showed the whole room… and that was about it.

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