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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 Most modern cinema is too recent for its historical content to be worth scrutiny, passed onto digital formats for the supposedly anti-decaying properties, which personally I think is erroneous.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 The historical content, both direct and indirect, a thing of beauty for the viewer or a cinema historian.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…


LOOPER (2012) directed and written by Rian Johnson

30 Sep

Starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe, Looper was an entertaining way to have spent the evening. Joe exists in 2072 and 2042 simultaneously. The younger Joe works for a man called Abe, who is from the future, living in 2042. The majority of the film is set in this year with one short sequence explaining what happens to Joe in the thirty year interim.

I’m scanning my mind back to this flashing glimpse of a man’s life.

In 2042, Joe is a hitman – a ‘looper’ – who has signed up to Abe’s gang who are concurrently operating in 2072. By then time-travel is invented and available. But the lawlessness of everything means that it’s highly illegal. Victims are sent back in time bagged and bound, and assignated by loopers.

A bizarre part of the employment contract of a looper states that when the risk to the gang’s operations becomes too great, the looper will be sent back in time to the barrel of his own gun, to close the loop by death. By way of recognition, the payment is gold bullion strapped to the victim on these occaisons, rather than silver. From this moment the looper is granted thirty years left to live as a free man.

However, Joe returns to himself and escapes. By not killing his future self he has put both their life-united in danger. He continues to try to track himself down in the hope of appeasing his mistake. What happens is that they meet, the older Joe is madly in love with his wife, and wants to change 2042 so that he can live to see 2080 with her.

The younger Joe and the gang fail to kill the older Joe. But the gang also fails to kill the younger Joe. Before the older one flees he passes the details of the gang leader in 2072 on to his younger self. It turns out to be a little boy who lives on a farm. This is where they meet again.

Rian Johnson’s vision of a future is depressingly believeable: a world filled with poverty and extortionate wealth. The tragic story reminded me of The Door in the Wall by HG Wells. All the characters are trying to find something that has already found them.

On the surface not that much was different about the future to 2012 but the detail was blackandwhite better version of our technology. Keeping sets as they are today but more extreme was a touch of class. It will ripen as a film I expect. There is plenty to think about beyond the end; not everything is immediately crystal clear.


15 Aug


It is so sad that no one has made The Wasp Factory by Iain M. Banks into a film. It’s a visual novel: the opening sequence, dwelling upon a pale setting sun for just a moment too long, the creaking gate, the expanse of golden sea, a heightened sense of forboding and loneliness, weird totem structures, a dark gentle breeze preparing us for all things warped and ritualistic to follow.

If you haven’t already then read the book. It’s a dazzlingly easy read. They say the earlier the writing of an author the closer to the heart. Judging by this, his first novel, Iain Banks is a lunatic. Or maybe a genius. Frank is a teenager who lives on an island in Scotland. He has murdered three people (in bizarre ways like placing an adder in a false leg). He performs little magical rituals that I expect all isolated children are prone to enacting. If not in his style then in another. His father might be called eccentric, whilst his brother has escaped and is on the run from an asylum.  

The book was a best-seller and the film might be described as a ‘long-awaited’ classic. Banks is quoted elsewhere on the internet to have said:

“I’m in litigation at the moment over The Wasp Factory. Originally it was going to be made into a film by an American film company, but we didn’t want it to become a typical American film, so we sold it to an Irish company. And then they got taken over by an American company. There was nothing they could do about it, of course, but there were lots of things we weren’t very happy about – lots of technical stuff that I don’t really understand. We told them we thought we should have the rights back because they had no intention of making the film: ‘No, no, no, we have – honest!’ So we’re in litigation. Lots of money wasted… but it means, with a bit of luck, we’ll get the rights back. To sell them on again. But I suspect the shelf life of The Wasp Factory is coming to an end – it was published in 1984, after all.”

I wonder who might direct. Imagine a Sam Raimi version? The sinister vibes, the precision and melodrama of the clock (the opening credits just have to be of the clock; the clock is the factory), the bizarrely delineated characters, twitchy and fantastical. Terrifying!  I can taste blood from chewing my own face in excitement. The murders are becoming misty animations; the ending exploding down a rabbit hole, one made by a specimen with ‘eyes like coiled slugs’.

Or a psychological, uncomfortable yet tasteful, Kes-but-much-better Steve McQueen version. As long as the Highlands are kept as a quaint natural wilderness, not merely becoming a place where everyone has ginger hair and wears tartan, then whoever eventually makes The Wasp Factory could bring a treat. Let’s hope the litigation can be speeded along, if, of course, such litigation actually takes place. I doubt that the story is past it’s sell by date: it’s timeless.