This week I will delve into the depths of Alfred Hitchcock, and the lack of theatre based films available today. But first I must once again give mention to my trivia questions that I’ve been posing to my fellow readers. Last weeks question again developed no answers; the correct answer being The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. So this week will probably be my last trivia question I bother setting unless any reader hazards a guess. So this week’s question is as follows: who cameos in every one of Hitchcock’s films?
So back to the blog. This week I tackle Hitchcock and theatre based cinema. Now when I say theatre based cinema, I don’t mean films that are based on plays, instead I mean films which retain a theatre like approach to them. I came to thinking about this when watching over a handful of Hitchcock films the past week. I decided that I should catch up on some gems which I hadn’t yet seen and re-watch some classics. I noticed that with the majority of the films I watched most of the narrative unfolds within one or two locations. Films such as ‘Rear Window’, ‘Dial M for Murder’ and ‘Psycho’ are all set in very few locations. Now ‘Dial M for Murder’ is based on a play, therefore this makes sense as the stage cannot be set and reset continuously, the length of the play would last a ridiculous time simply because of the set changes. A similar argument could easily be put forward for both ‘Rear Window’ and ‘Psycho’ in the sense that Jeffries and Bates are bound to their locations, either by wheelchair or their mother’s personality. These are however plot devices put in place to ensure that the main character doesn’t or can’t leave the location they are bound to. It acts as a way of being able develop character on a far more intimate level, few new characters can interact with the lead on this scale, predominately because what reason would be given for hoards of characters to congregate in one location (‘Psycho’ has more of a reason being set around a motel, however its eerie and secluded so isn’t visited a lot), this intimate relationship couldn’t be achieved if they are constantly meeting new characters.
As the central characters are all based in one or two locations it also means that there is less possibility for action to occur on a vast scale. This means no explosions or car chases. Yet in most Hitchcock films murder is the central theme. The murders are never that brutal or violent. Part of this could well because due to the era in which the films were made such depictions of murder were never how they are now. But it also allows for more attention to be played on actual acting, the lighting and mise-en-scene of the film; what the director wants the audience to see and not see. It shines a light on current films that contain nothing but action sequences, and makes it blindingly obvious that the main purpose to this is so that the audience are distracted from the lack of quality in other areas, plain and simple. I must make it clear here that I do enjoy watching some action films, and that not all action is for this purpose, but most films like ‘The Expendables’….. well that pretty much sums everything up.
It seems almost a shame that there aren’t many films that are released nowadays that are based entirely within one location like a residence or shop. Films like ‘Clerks’ and shows like ‘Spaced’ developed a great connection between audience and characters simply by revolving most of the narrative content in one place. The characters were developed as three dimensional, it made even the more ludicrous events or stories told to be believable, such as Randal’s cousin dying via a broken neck for trying to suck his own dick or Mike appearing randomly in Sheffield after a speed induced night. Back to Hitchcock, the murders are extravagant; they are always fueled by either monetary gain or desire/jealousy. The planning of the ‘perfect murder’ as it always worded (watching ‘Dial M for Murder’ then ‘Strangers on a Train’ to see just two completely different takes on this), but of course something goes afoul which brings the word ‘perfect’ out of the equation and instead simply a murder has happened. Either way the planning at least seems believable, when in other situations it may not. By this I mean that placed into a different film where by less of a connection is established between character and audience the crime wouldn’t appear as believable, instead more of the reasoning behind why the murder should happen would be given. The jealous husband following the suspicious wife around town. The conclusive evidence that she is cheating on him, and then the crime executed not quite to plan, this plan of course is rarely ever given and if it is it’s rushed over, much more like a flashforward event (a flashback like sequence but showing the events unraveling, like in ‘Hero’). The audience may well be entertained, how will he escape or pin the crime on someone/thing else? Back to the world of Hitchcock and the audience feel the suspense and tension that the central character feels, even if he is guilty of murder. The audience are intrigued and suspenseful for what Wendice will do next to try and clear his name in ‘Dial M for Murder’ even if he is the bad guy. The spin being that the audience still want justice to be served and Wendice to face punishment, they just want to see how far it will go.
It therefore is a shame that such cinematic devices aren’t used anymore. That films have to become far more complicated. Basing the film in once location simplifies most matters, of course Hitchcock seemed quite the expert on making a simple convention complex via the amount of misleading and trickery used around his murder plots. It shows that many films out there today don’t have the creative drive to hold the story completely in one place. I may now hear people proclaiming ‘what about Friends? That went on for 10 seasons and was mainly based in Monica or Chandler’s apartments!’ This of course is a great example, to prove that some of this creative thinking of developing narratives within one or few locations still exists (even if ‘Friends’ did finish years ago), however it isn’t present enough. I would welcome anybody to list to me more than 5 films this year that have been released where by most of the narrative is based within one location. I’m not asking this to prove a point, I honestly would like someone to inform me so that I can be proving wrong as I love films where a strong character-audience connection is established and would like to watch more.