New Issue of SENSES OF CINEMA

 Film Studies For Free brings you the ever happy tidings of the new issue of Senses of Cinema.

It’s a fascinating collection of work, and very wide-ranging: from part one of an interview with, and an article by, Jean-Louis Comolli, film theorist and Cahiers du cinéma editor in possibly its most political period (1966-1978) through Murray Pomerance on Hitchcock to a number of articles on the Oscar-laden French film The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011).

Links to all the great contents are given below.



Senses of Cinema, Issue 62 Contents

Editorial

Feature Articles

Great Directors

Festival Reports

Book Reviews

Cteq Annotations

Garden of forking paths? Hitchcock’s BLACKMAILs – a real-time comparison

Having begun production as a silent film, the studio, British International Pictures, decided to convert [Blackmail (directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1929)] to sound during shooting. A silent version was released [probably only in Britain] for theaters not equipped for sound (at 6740 feet), with the sound version (7136 feet) released at the same time.[*] The silent version still exists in the British Film Institute collection.[**] [Blackmail Wikipedia entry, last accessed March 12, 2012]
Critic and historian Charles Barr, in his 1976 article “Blackmail: Silent and Sound”, in which he closely compares the two versions, notes that the silent version shows Hitchcock striving to escape a ‘theatrical’ style in which the action is generally viewed face on, with the camera occupying the position of the ‘fourth wall’. In a theatre, this represents the position of the proscenium arch, which marks the boundary between a conventional stage and the audience.
     In the silent version, Hitchcock experimented with changing the position of the camera within a scene, and tried to avoid ‘face-on’ set-ups, that is, where the camera is placed at ninety degrees to the action. Because of the limitations of sound at this early stage – for example the need to position the microphone where it can pick up all of the actors in the scene but cannot be seen – Hitchcock was obliged to adopt a less experimental approach in the framing of the sound version. [Mark Duguid, ‘Hitchcock’s Style’, BFI Screenonline]
Although 1929 was rather late for a “first” sound film, the delay enabled Hitchcock to produce an advanced meditation on the possible uses of sound. The text incorporates silent footage (lifted whole from the original silent version, made immediately prior to the sound version), which allows for a series of comparisons/contrasts between sound and silents/silence. The conceit of this early sound film is an attempt to keep a man silent (paying off a blackmailer). The heroine spends over a third of the film virtually speechless. When she finally speaks, her boyfriend urges her to keep quiet. The dialogue is laughably banal, yet the right word can cut like a knife. The opening scene, an exciting silent chase, is immediately contrasted with a poorly dubbed, confusingly cut dialogue scene that seems as if it will never end. But before we glibly assume silents were “better” movies, sound becomes a moral force, while silence is linked with corruption and moral lassitude.
     The text’s position on “sound plus image” versus “image alone” is carefully paralleled with the depiction of Alice. Thematically, she veers from one extreme to the other. She is introduced as a chatterbox. After a violent assault, she becomes almost catatonic. Finally, she accepts speech as a moral imperative, achieving maturity and the audience’s respect before slipping back under patriarchal control and enforced silence. Alice White becomes Hitchcock’s personification of the course the sound film must take. [Amy Lawrence, Echo and Narcissus: Women’s Voices in Classical Hollywood Cinema (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), p. 119]

Hitchcock first makes us aware that he is distorting the sound track subjectively when he exaggerates the loudness of bird chirpings to stress Alice’s agitation on the morning after the murder. When the mother enters Alice’s bedroom to wake her, she uncovers the cage of Alice’s canary. Once the mother leaves the room, the bird’s chirping is loudly insistent while the girl takes off the clothes she wore the night before and puts on fresh ones. The chirps are loudest, unnaturally so, when she is looking at herself in the mirror, the most “interior” action she performs while dressing. The sound reminds us of the tiny, birdlike jerkings that the girl made immediately after stabbing the artist. Just after the knife sequence there is another subjective distortion of sound, when a customer rings a bell as he enters the store. We are in the breakfast parlor, and yet the bell resonates much more loudly than it does elsewhere in the film. The camera is on a close-up of Alice’s face to indicate that it is her point of view, once again, from which we hear.
     In a sense the use of bird noises in the bedroom scene should be distinguished from the other techniques mentioned here. Whereas aural restriction and distortion of loudness are related to character point of view, the choice specifically of bird sounds has a particular meaning for Hitchcock independent of the film. This sequence marks the beginning of an ongoing association of murder and bird noises in Hitchcock’s mind that accrues meaning from film to film, from Blackmail and Murder through Sabotage (1936), Young and Innocent (1937), and Psycho, and culminates in The Birds. [Elizabeth Weiss, ‘Chapter 2: First Experiments with Sound: Blackmail and Murder in The Silent Scream – Alfred Hitchcock’s Soundtrack (Rutherford, Fairleigh: Dickinson University Press, 1982) p. 46]

One of the elements that Film Studies For Free appreciates most about online audiovisual film studies (film studies in digital video forms) are the phenomenological possibilities they offer viewers for the experiencing of moving image and sound juxtapositions in real time. We can synchronously feel, as well as know about, the comparisons they make. In other words, unlike written texts, they don’t have to remove themselves from film-specific forms of meaning production to have their knowledge effects on us.

Embedded above is FSFF‘s homemade example of this kind of simple, more or less medium-specific, eloquence: a real-time video juxtaposition, made for the purposes of scholarly comparison, of corresponding sequences from the silent and sound versions of Alfred Hitchcock‘s Blackmail (1929). It is a work intended to supplement the contribution of an earlier blog entry here, entitled Thrilling the Ears: Sound in Hitchcock’s cinema in which the two sequences were separately embedded.

But it is also intended to publicise FSFF‘s support, as ever, for the very relevant For the Love of Film Preservation Blogathon which will take place this year between May 13-18, 2012 . The blogathon has a Hitchcock theme and will support an important film preservation and dissemination project focusing on an early ‘Hitchcock film’: The White Shadow (1923).

You can read more about the blogathon below, and much more about it at the linked-to websites. But suffice to say this may not be the last Hitchcockian video study here at Film Studies For Free this Spring!

It’s time to reveal our fundraising project for 2012: Online streaming and recording of the new score for THE WHITE SHADOW, directed by Graham Cutts and everything else done by Alfred Hitchcock. It’s all about access this year, folks. [For the Love of Film Preservation Blogathon Facebook page, February 1, 2012]

The good people at National Film Preservation Foundation are committed to making many of the films they have rescued available for cost-free viewing by streaming them on their website. But online hosting ain’t cheap. NFPF estimates that it will cost $15,000 to stream The White Shadow for four months and record the score. It is the mission of this year’s For the Love of Film Blogathon to raise that money so that anyone with access to a computer can watch this amazing early film that offered Hitchcock a chance to learn his craft, with a score that does it justice. [Marilyn Ferdinand introducing the cause supported by this year’s For the Love of Film [Hitchcock] Blogathon at her website Ferdy on Films]

    v

    Vertigoed! The film scholarly value of mash-up?

    Last updated January 20, 2012

    A psychosexually obsessed man wanders the streets of 1950s San Francisco; he spies [on] seemingly unavailable blonde women; he makes a woman fall from a height; she drops into water; the scene is filled with circle imagery, especially circles within circles…..  [See the original sequence]

    As Film Studies For Free‘s readers may have heard, Kim Novak, co-star of Vertigo, took out an ad in trade magazine Variety to protest about the recent use of an excerpt from Bernard Herrmann‘s score for Alfred Hitchcock‘s 1958 film in Michel Hazanavicius’s 2011 modern silent film The Artist. “I want to report a rape,” went the headline. “I feel as if my body – or at least my body of work — has been violated by the movie, The Artist,” Novak wrote. She went on to criticise the “use and abuse [of] famous pieces of work to gain attention and applause for other than what they were intended.”

    There was quite a strong international reaction to Novak’s intervention. Some were dismayed by her recourse to the lexicon of rape; others were more sympathetic to her stance and background as someone very much not from the digital age of remix and creative appropriation; still others remind us that, in ‘Scene d’Amour’, the musical Vertigo theme in question, Herrmann was, of course, inspirationally reworking some of Richard Wagner‘s motifs from his Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal. Good artists copy; great artists steal?

    Enter the story the PRESS PLAY blog which launched a contest inviting readers to re-use Herrmann’s “Scene d’Amour” music in their own mash-up, inspired by the idea that “Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo score is so passionate and powerful that it can elevate an already good scene — and a familiar one at that — to a higher plane of expression.”

    Film Studies For Free‘s author was only too happy to have a go, joining the legions of those who, like Hazanavicius, have used Herrmann’s music in their work, in large or very small ways. Her choice of film sequence? One borrowed from The Sniper, Edward Dmytryk‘s 1952 film noir, with its own, obsessed, wandering male protagonist and San Francisco setting.

    The Sniper was one of the films that probably directly inspired Vertigo, as well as Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho — see critic Dave Kehr’s thoughts on this. The above mash-up chooses, then, to marry Herrmann’s lush Wagnerian romance with the key ‘amusement park’ sequence from Dmytryk’s brilliant film, with its astonishing performance of overt misogyny by Arthur Franz as Edward “Eddie” Miller — perhaps the perfect, filmic, mirror-image of James Stewart‘s unforgettable, unconsciously misogynist, John “Scottie” Ferguson.

    FSFF‘s author was excited to experience at first-hand the scholarly possibilities of remixing film clips in this way (the contest rules state that the original film sequence cannot be re-edited in any way — except, if you choose to, by removing its sound — in order not to cheat with the creative re-juxtaposition process).

    Remixing is an astonishingly good (and amazingly easy) way of really — almost literally — getting inside a film sequence. It is thus a truly great exercise for all students of film with access to the right digital tools. Analysing just how the mash-up adapts the meaning of the original music and original sequence is rather educational and fun, too!

    If you get your skates on with the Vertigo score exercise, there are still three days left for Press Play’s contest entries. Click here to watch the (over 60) entries at present.

    FSFF‘s favorite entry to the contest, so far, is a mash-up which, rather like its own, plays on the conscious or unconscious connections between an earlier film and Vertigo. It’s Matthew Cheney‘s wonderful work with Mädchen in Uniform (the brilliant 1931 film by Leontine Sagan). But there are loads of other imaginative and highly satisfying remixes that you will enjoy checking out. UPDATE: the videographic legend that is Steven Boone just added a late Vertigoed entry which is FSFF‘s new favourite: a scene from Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

    If you want to see even more brilliant, Vertigo mash-up work — actually, a work of remix in a completely different, utterly sublime class — you simply must check out The Vertigo Variations by remarkable critic-filmmaker B. Kite.

    And, for more vertiginous sublimity, don’t forget FSFF‘s very own Study of a Single Film: Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo entry.

    The mash up video at the top of the post was made according to principles of Fair Use/Fair Dealing, with non-commercial scholarly and critical aims, and was published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License in January 2012. 

    Latest issues of KINEMA: von Trier, Czech cinema, Romanian cinema, Woody Allen, cult cinema, de Mille, Schnabel, Practice vs. Theory

    So bad it’s good? Framegrab from The Room (Tommy Wiseau, 2003). Read Rod Stoneman’s study of cult cinema “Inside The Room and Beyond”

    Film Studies For Free continues to catch up with (fairly) recently published issues of online Film Studies journals. Below are links to the articles from the Spring and Fall 2011 issues of Canadian journal Kinema.

    Lots of good stuff here, and even some good stuff on bad stuff, but FSFF especially recommends Mette Hjort’s wonderful article on Lars von Trier.

    Fall 2011

    Spring 2011

    New Issue of MOVIE: Lang, Preminger, découpage, PSYCHO and its remake, and filmmakers’ choices

    Frame grab from Bonjour Tristesse (Otto Preminger, 1958). See Christian Keathley‘s article on découpage in this film here

    Film Studies For Free was thrilled that a new issue of MOVIE: A Journal of Film Criticism — the best yet of this relaunched journal — has recently hit the online newstands.

    Issue 3 contains part 2 of the marvellous Fritz Lang Dossier, with contributions by, among others, V. F. Perkins, Adrian Martin, Peter Evans, Stella Bruzzi, Ed Gallafent, and Deborah Thomas.

    There are also excellent articles on Preminger‘s film art, Psycho and its remake, and filmmakers’ choices by Christian Keathley, Alex Clayton and John Gibbs.

    Links to all items are set out for you below.

    This issue edited by Douglas Pye and Michael Walker. Designed by Lucy Fife Donaldson, John Gibbs, and James MacDowell.

    Thrilling the Ears: Sound in Hitchcock’s cinema

    Hitchcock’s use of sound in Blackmail and Murder is important in three respects. As historical documents the two films overturn some accepted notions of what was technically possible in filming with immobilized cameras and uneditable sound systems. As personal documents they represent Hitchcock’s first major experiments in combining sound and image in ways that would not subordinate pictures to dialogue. As films that extend Hitchcock’s expressionistic interests into the sound era, they reveal Hitchcock’s earliest efforts to use aural techniques to convey a character’s feelings. In addition, Blackmail already establishes Hitchcock’s predilection for integrating music and sound effects with plot and theme, and it introduces most of his favorite aural motifs. Both films are interesting historically, but Blackmail is the more successful work of art because its aural techniques and motifs are an integral part of a stylistic whole. [Elisabeth Weis, Chapter 2: “First Experiments with Sound: Blackmail and Murder”, in The Silent Scream – Alfred Hitchcocks Soundtrack (Rutherford, Fairleigh: Dickinson University Press, 1982), p. 28]

    A new academic year is upon us and Film Studies For Free‘s author is very happily gearing up to teach, inter alia, Alfred Hitchcock‘s film Blackmail for the umpteenth time.

    It’s a truly great teaching topic, one which usually takes off from the fact that Hitchcock converted his silent film to sound during its production. And it has very fruitfully inspired today’s entry on scholarship about sound in Hitchcock’s cinema.

    There are some excellent, openly accessible resources linked to below, most notably Elisabeth Weis’s wonderful book on this topic, now added to FSFF‘s permanent listing of online and freely accessible Film Studies e-books.