Posts tagged ‘Alfred Hitchcock’

September 1, 2012

Orson Welles… the quest for perfection

“A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet” – Orson Welles

Of course I’m sure you’ve heard the news this month that the latest Sight And Sound Magazine poll unseated Orson Welles’ first movie 1941’s ‘Citizen Kane’ from it’s half-century as the semi-official “Greatest film of all time”Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film ‘Vertigo’ now sits at the top and I’m looking forward to its imminent re-release at the cinema and onto Blu-Ray but for me ‘Citizen Kane’ still stands far above it.  For one thing I’d rate Orson’s own ‘Touch Of Evil’ as a better film from 1958 and for another ‘Citizen Kane’ is a film where every sound, every edit, every angle and every composition invented a new cinematic language.  Where as in comparison Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ is just one great thriller in a career heaving with such great thrillers.

I’m a little saddened by ‘Citizen Kane’s fall to second place because Welles’ filmography still needs attention focused on it.  All but the most obscure of Hitchcock’s films are widely available in every high street in superior editions (With a Hi-Def box set in the pipeline) but to obtain even sub-mediocre versions of Welles’ films requires time, money and dedication.  Some of his work like the still unreleased 1976 film ‘The Other Side Of The Wind’ remain stuck in legal limbo and unless fans around the world keep on shouting… it may never be released.  The rest of his work is unavailable to the average shopper, even his acknowledged masterpiece ‘Citizen Kane’ is only sporadically available in a extremely poor quality bargain-basement edition.

So for Welles’ collectors like myself obtaining his complete filmography for home viewing is an ongoing quest for perfection.  A quest that requires lengthy research, reading of reviews, weighing up of opinion and then searches of the catalogues of many distributors and the sites of Amazon and Ebay.  I’ve already traded up or double purchased several of his films as newer and better versions become available.  So it was the other week that I decided to place an order with Amazon for three of the latest versions of Welles’ first three films on import from the US:

The Warner 70th Anniversary Blu-Ray Boxset Of Citizen Kane – A truly astonishing set packaged with postcards, replica telegrams, two feature-length films about the making of ‘Citizen Kane’, a hardback book and even a facsimile of the budget report.  The level of detail on the screen is simply gorgeous, click on the comparison shot I’ve done below to see the upgrade from my Special Edition Universal UK DVD.  I’ve noticed new things like the snowglobe being in the background of Susan’s apartment the first time she meets Kane or the reflection of the Rain in the marble desk of Mr Bernstein.  Like Eureka! Video’s Blu-Ray of ‘Touch Of Evil’, this is only the second Welles’ release that I cannot imagine looking any better.

The Film Chest ‘Remastered’ Blu-Ray Of The Stranger – Of my three new imports the Blu-Ray of ‘The Stranger’ has the greatest increase in quality but also is the weakest looking, which says it all about the shoddy way Welles’ films are often released (Click image below for comparison).  The image has more detail, clarity, stability and contrast but looks like digital smoothing has been used to excess in a misplaced effort to reduce some of the pops and scratches.  I adore the noirish thrills of ‘The Stranger’ but it’s not held in the same critical esteem as Welles’ other works, so this will probably be the best it’s gonna look for a long while.

The Warner Restored DVD Of The Magnificent Ambersons – I first saw ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ at The BFI and sat open-mouthed at the visual beauty of their pristine 35mm print so naturally I had to get a copy to watch at home.  When I purchased the Universal DVD I was so disappointed by the blurry image quality that I just couldn’t bring myself to sit through it.  So the new Warner restoration comes as a revelation and a godsend allowing me to enjoy this film any time I like.  In particular I was struck anew by the gliding poetry of Welles’ camera work during the party scene.  I was unable to capture a still comparison that really showed the huge upgrade in picture quality as my original was not only blurry but unstable (Look at the detail in the dress in the lower right).  It’s only a shame that it comes unaccompanied by any features or that it wasn’t a Blu-Ray.

I thought it might be helpful to other Welles’ fans out there to publish what is in my opinion the best editions available throughout the world of his movies (By ‘Best’ I mean best, which is not the same as good!).  I’ve included Amazon links for your convenience:

1941 Citizen Kane (Warner 70th Anniversary US Blu-Ray Boxset + UK Universal DVD (Great special features))
1942 The Magnificent Ambersons (Warner US DVD)
1946 The Stranger (Film Chest US Blu-Ray)
1947 The Lady From Shanghai (Universal UK DVD)
1948 Macbeth (Second Sight UK DVD)
1952 Othello (Leevision Korean DVD)
1955 Mr. Arkadin (Criterion US DVD Boxset)
1958 Touch Of Evil (Eureka UK Blu-Ray + Universal 50th Anniversary US DVD (Great special features))
1962 The Trial (Studio Canal UK Blu-Ray… coming soon)
1965 Chimes At Midnight (Mr Bongo UK DVD)
1974 F For Fake (Eureka! UK DVD)

As it stands the available releases of Orson’s two mid-career ingenious shoestring Shakespeare adaptations ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Othello’ are most in need of serious restoration.  I’m sure there are others out there that will gladly part with the cash if only they could be made available.  Of course my collection will never be complete without a copy of the legendary ‘The Other Side Of The Wind’ or perhaps the ultimate cinematic holy grail… the lost original Welles cut of ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’.  But really what I want to see is for Welles films to be widely available in every high street so new generations can enjoy his work.  Hopefully this day will come but then again, remember what the fellow said…

“I think an artist has always to be out of step with his time” – Orson Welles

(Finally, click below to watch the award winning feature length documentary ‘The Battle Over Citizen Kane’)

April 12, 2012

The 39 Steps (1935 – Blu-Ray)

“There are 20 million women in this island and I get to be chained to you”

In another step in my quest to watch all of the BFI’s top 100 British films, I come to number five, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 thriller ‘The 39 Steps’.  I must declare a bias towards Robert ‘The definitive Jesus’ Powell’s 1978 version that I spent a rapt sunday afternoon watching as a nipper.  However I still enjoyed this less pacy but perhaps wittier version.  It feels like the earliest template for the classic Hitchcock film; innocent man is wrongly accused and relentlessly pursued across the land by shadowy forces, while still finding time for a spot of romance before ending with a tussle in/around or atop a famous landmark.  A formula that reached its zenith in 1959 with ‘North By Northwest’.

Robert Donat cuts an immaculately tailored profile as the dashing hero and Madeleine Carroll plays his love-interest/hostage.  As usual Hitchcock indulges his love of pushing sexual boundaries (For the time) in several scenes including an amusing discussion between two lingerie salesmen and the sight of Carroll slipping off her wet tights while closely handcuffed to Donat.  Sadly this Blu-Ray presentation disappoints, looking little better than my DVD version and the sound is atrocious.  While I certainly wouldn’t rank ‘The 39 Steps’ as the fourth best British film ever I did throughly enjoy it.

March 10, 2012

Shadow Of A Doubt (1943 – DVD)

“We’re not talking about killing people, herb’s talking about killing me and I’m talking about killing him”

I was more attracted to watch 1943’s ‘Shadow Of A Doubt’ by the presence of actor and Orson Welles alumnus, Joseph Cotten than by it being Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The premise of it is that an American family gets a visit from a much loved but estranged uncle who may or may not be a serial killer. As federal agents track his moves, his once adoring niece (Teresa Wright) begins to suspect him.

Cotten squeezes every ounce of creepy, murderous charm out of his character. His scenes are electric as every smile or comment is imbued with a possible menace. Hitchcock always one who delights at finding perversion everywhere he looks, hints at incestuous feelings between uncle and niece.  The only bum note is the the twee burgeoning romance between the niece and the Federal agent which feels like an afterthought. But fortunately the action soon switches back to the murderous intrigue that always peaks Hitchcock’s main interest. Brilliant support is offered by Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn as kooky neighbours that plan (But never carry out) murders as a hobby. ‘Shadow Of A Doubt’ isn’t in the same league as Hitchcock’s later thrilling 50s and 60s Hollywood blockbusters but it certanly ranks alongside ‘Rope’ as the very best of his earlier career.

See if the chilling look Cotten shoots the camera in this scene doesn’t shit you up!:

March 1, 2012

OSS 117: Lost In Rio (2009 – DVD)

“Some people have adventures… I am an adventure!”

With Jean Dujardin crowned as 2011’s Best-Actor and Michel Hazanavicius hailed as 2011’s Best-Director at both the BAFTAs and the Oscars, I thought it was time to view the second of their Spy spoof films, 2009’s ‘OSS 117: Lost In Rio’. This time the action shifts from Cairo in 1955 to Rio in 1967.  We find charming yet brainless Secret-Agent OSS 117 is once again taking his cover story (This time as a photographer) too seriously and consequently missing all the intrigue around him (Check the end credits to see his terrible photographs).  For my tastes the humour seems a little broader than the first film but this was made up for with a string of Hitchcock film references.  The best gags are still based around OSS 117’s ridiculously Nationalist, Colonialist and Sexist outlook. Dujardin’s leading lady is Louise Monot who gets plenty of laughs as a Mossad Agent who is given the bewildering task of working with OSS 117.

I’ll be revisiting both OSS 117 films until I can get my hands on ‘The Artist’ on Blu-Ray but, luckily there’s also still a few older Hazanavicius films to catch up on before next year’s ‘The Search’ remake hits our screens.