Archive | October, 2013

The Lady Vanishes (1938) Hitchcock

28 Oct

Aaah this is still a draft

Historicism is something to salivate over. Most modern cinema is too recent for its historical content to be worth scrutiny, passed onto digital formats for the supposedly anti-decaying properties, which personally I think is erroneous. I’ve seen faint beams of light, in more than one online image, become crystalline. Ultimately time alone will tell how presence occupies digital reserves. Film corrodes and alters in time. Who knows what will occur with other mediums? How could we possibly tell? The Lady Vanishes for free on was a real eye opener, mainly because it’s set in 1938, when tensions between European nations were a paramount media topic. The historical content, both direct and indirect, a thing of beauty for the viewer or a cinema historian.

The opening titles are played over what resembles a black and white interpretation of an alpine oil painting. Then cue the action and the camera pans round from a height: this is real not some painting. There is slight movement juxtaposed against the still backdrop. The camera moves out impossibly off the edge of the precipice. We’re above a train lying half buried in snow, growing closer, zooming closer, until we’re almost level with a moving car. Then we reach the first location of the movie: a hotel.

Inside the hotel we’re introduced to the main characters: a bickering couple; some young assured ladies; a couple of Englishmen; a middle-aged governess; and a folk-dance historian. We’re also introduced to some English idiosyncrasies that are to become themes throughout the movie. Marriage is a theme: one of the young ladies is to return to London to be wed because ‘what else is left?’ for her, the couple (who are married to other people we learn) consist of a dissatisfied, disempowered woman and her decisive partner. Carelessness and disregard are also a theme with the peculiar Englishness of giving the appearance of caring and expecting this to be reciprocated.

The Englishmen muse upon the importance of showing respect for another’s culture by standing for the Romanian national anthem and then humorously reveal that they were the only people standing. They certainly show no regard or respect for the hotel yet demand a level of hospitality that is beyond the proprietor’s power; they’re given the maid’s room, sulking ironically rather than with gratitude, when she needs to use it momentarily. The folk-dance historian goes beyond rude to become ‘the most disagreeable person I’ve ever met in all my life’ according to the young lady who is to be married.

Then the mystery begins with a shadowy pair of hands wrapping round the throat of a musician outside, still unnoticed as the inhabitants of the hotel board the train the following morning, when another creepy pair of hands pushes a wooden plant container off a windowsill directly above the governess but unfortunately striking the young lady upon the head instead.

The setting changes to the train. The governess accompanies the lady for tea, where the Englishmen are debating cricket, writing her name casually in the steamy window: Froy. She hands over her own herbal concoction popular in Mexico to be prepared by the steward. The lady takes a turn for the worse and the two women enter a compartment with several Victorian looking Europeans. She falls asleep. When she awakens, not only is Miss Froy nowhere to be found, but nobody on the train has seen her at all.

The Europeans deny she was ever in the compartment; the steward shows the lady a bill to prove that she took tea for one, regular tea, not herbal; the married couple, whom Miss Froy stumbled upon, have no knowledge; the Englishmen, not wanting to be delayed for the test match, say they have no recollection…


THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (1990) dir. Jud Taylor

17 Oct

Do you have any fleeting memories of films that you saw and enjoyed as a child? There are two that stand out for me: in one, people are on an island crossing rope bridges over a steady lava flow, while in another a man has caught a fish that grows and grows, pulling him out to sea. It was in search of the latter that I stumbled upon The Old Man and the Sea, a television movie made in 1990, starring Anthony Quinn.

Without checking the 1958 version, I can’t be sure that this is the film from that afternoon at my grandparents house, although the man wrestling with a giant marlin out at sea was a familiar shot. The movie is based upon the Ernest Hemingway story of 1952 and had previously been dramatized starring Spencer Tracey. At this moment, I’ve neither read the story nor watched the other movie, so can’t draw any comparisons or analyze too much the symbolism that the director was trying to give the viewer a sniff of.

The plot is that an Cuban old man, Santiago, has gone 84 days without a catch on his line. The other fisherman are saying he is unlucky and to stay away from him. A boy, Manolo, remains loyal. His daughter is trying to persuade him to give up fishing and move to Havana to live with her. Meanwhile, a American couple – a writer and his wife – are in the village, asking questions about the old man.

The old man goes fishing alone. He is gone for three days. The giant marlin that he eventually reels in – tied to the side of the boat – gets eaten by sharks. He returns with the skeletal remains attached to the boat. There is the strong impression that it all means something more than what is presented on the surface. It has the quality of a parable.

The deeper symbolism is hinted at by the director during a cheesy retrospective of the man’s life as he drifts out at sea. As a young man, he sneaks off with his newly wed wife: “This morning, at our wedding, I gave you my heart and now I give you…”. Cut back to the old man talking to himself about fish, dedicating himself to fish, giving his life to fish. What’s a fish about, huh?

Like all great made-for-TV movies, there is the cheese-factor, you know, lines that are way too rehearsed, acting that isn’t really acting rather ego jutting out here and there from behind a casual newspaper, wobbly walls and feigned surprise. My favorite of these cringe-worthy moments is the boy talking about Mr and Mrs Marlin to the American tourists. It’s so bad it’s brilliant. The way the woman pulls her face away from the camera when she asks how long the male fish stayed by the boat with the female fish on it and the boy replies “until she was butchered”. It’s a cinematic classic!