Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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Relieved expenditure

I managed to see my grandfather today after his operation. He seems fine at the moment. He's in pain, but they're compensating, and apparently the operation went smoothly.


After the hospital, I felt like going home and vegging for a little while; I wanted to check out Coupling, a series suitboyskin had recommended to me. However...

Yesterday Universal released a box set of the Hitchcock films that they have in their library with new remasters. Of the greatest significance in terms of improvement over the previous DVDs are Vertigo and Psycho, the first DVDs of which were simple ports of the Signature Collection laserdiscs, which were excellent in terms of special features (they didn't carry over the laser's isolated score track on Psycho, though), and looked decent for that format, but they were not anamorphically enhanced and thus one of Hitch's landmark films (Vertigo) and one of his most influential (Psycho) were not being presented in the best condition. As strange as it may sound, this disturbed the collector in me, and I never ended up picking up much Hitch on DVD because of it. Considering the esteem in which I hold Hitch - indeed a master of the art and craft of filmmaking in my opinion - this has always been kind of a sore spot for me. The new box set, however, rectifies this situation by offering both films in 16:9 transfers, and bundles a ton of other films together with all of the special features from the original Universal special editions.

Of course, I never had a completely Hitch-free collection. I did pick up some of my favorite Hitch pictures because of how enjoyable they are - the dark Shadow of a Doubt, which I believe to have inspired much of the career of David Lynch; the twisted Frenzy, which is kind of a guilty pleasure... and of course his other magnum opus, Rear Window, which is just everything that I love about cinema. I also have the (excellent) Warner DVD of North by Northwest, but that is not replicated in the box set. Now, however, I have Marnie (love that Bernard Herrmann score!), The Trouble With Harry, Rope (the filmmaker in me adores this one), The Man Who Knew Too Much remake (Herrmann conducting the "Storm Clouds Cantata") and a whole bunch more.

I'll be trading in those other three DVDs for the Criterion Spellbound and Notorious, I think... you see, the box set satisfied a great yen for me, and also put the concept of collecting Hitch - a daunting project up until now with all the individual individual releases from several different companies - into easy reach. As a film fanatic, this is awesome.

And how nifty is this...

Alfred Hitchcock Presents is being released on DVD in season box sets!

* * *

I was thinking on the way home about how nice it is that something like this has become "spending a bit more than I intended to" as opposed to "spending more than I really could afford" which was such a running theme in my life during my leave of absence. Having to learn how to do without has made me much more appreciative of my income, and so I have been much more careful about spending money. This pays off in being able to do things like buy fifteen disc box sets on a dime or go on trips to Nantucket during peak season and it not being too much of a dent. It's not about being miserly, it's about making choices that reflect a longer view rather than instant gratification.

Every once and a while, instant gratification is nice to have though. Hence the Hitchcock box set.

* * *

To my sensibilities, the apex of Alfred Hitchcock's achievements as a filmmaker are Rear Window and Vertigo, both of which are phenomenal films on so many levels. I've discussed Vertigo before, but I haven't really summed up my thoughts on Rear Window here, and since it was on my mind, here it gets dumped:

Rear Window is one of the most interesting explorations of voyeurism, one that not only ingeniously succeeds in forcing the viewer into the mind of its protagonist, but that holds up a mirror to the audience and challenges the viewer to confront that aspect of themselves for the very act of watching the film itself and being so entertained by it. Hitch puts the camera in James Stewart's apartment as his character Jeffries recuperates from his broken leg, and relentlessly doesn't let it leave until the very end. It sounds like a pretty boring premise, but Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly and the delightful Thelma Ritter are such fun company that you don't mind... but Scotty has taken to idly watching what is going on in the titular rear windows of his apartment complex. And because you're with Jeffries, who has nothing else to do, you start to watch it as well. Hitch knows what he's doing, and there are a few moments in the film where the viewer simply has to acknowledge the pleasure in following these little stories and playing connnect the dots with them. This is exacerbated by the fact that, while there is no doubt textually that Thorwald did what he did, there is no direct evidence of this in the film until the very end. As Lisa (Kelly) says, "Jeff, you know if someone came in here, they wouldn't believe what they'd see? You and me with long faces plunged into despair because we find out a man didn't kill his wife. We're two of the most frightening ghouls I've ever known." And damn if you're not right there with them at that moment.

The little semi-silent stories playing out are so often mischievously funny, but sometimes they're painful, and it is interesting important the film's pacing is. The geographical boundaries on the scope of the film works because it makes much of it feel languid, a brilliant effect because it focuses the audience's attentions to through the protagonist's experience, but managing to tell several mini-stories as well. This is a film that rewards with continued viewing because it is so detailed that there is more to see each time. It is perhaps the pinnacle of Hitchcock's experiments, such as Lifeboat (where all the action takes place on the titular craft - that's a really brutal picture, too) and Rope (where the only cuts in the film are at the reel changes, and the film unfolds in real time).

I've had the opportunity to see this film projected a few times, and let me say that it is probably one of the strongest arguments for seeing a movie on film. Every single apartment in the building is a different world, and while this is seen on the television screen, on film it is experienced. The film is also a glorious demonstration of how to use star power to tell a story, and... I guess the best analogy I can make here is that star power is kind of like vinyl. Vinyl all about amplification, so the louder you make it, the better it sounds. Star power is something that is best experienced on the big screen. We don't see much of it these days... cinema has changed, as has pop culture, and there is a quality about it that alters the way that stars play and are percieved. I'm not saying that is a bad thing. An art form evolves with its culture. However, I feel that there is something lost along the way. Hitch created his films to be seen on a large screen (except for Psycho, which he wasn't sure whether he would release theatrically or air as part of Alfred Hitchcock Presents) and the way that he presents things benefit from the larger size; this was a main topic of conversation between Raz and myself on the way home from seeing North by Northwest at the midnight showing at the Paris a couple of months ago, and the star power is part of that. There's just something about the way that Hitch used the innate charisma of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, perfectly integrating their screen presences with the presentation of the story that gives the movie a sheen that isn't really translated well onto video, especially the sequence on the train, which looks fairly bouncy on the television screen but sizzles on a movie screen.

Trust me.

You just watch Grace Kelly's entrance in Rear Window being projected, filling a movie screen and tell me that there is anything quite like it.
Tags: alfred hitchcock, cinema, family, reviews
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