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Entries in Rope (4)

Saturday
May212016

National Gay Killers Day. What? Ewww!

Because we're having fun with this little feature we'll continue. On this day in history as it relates to the movies...

1881 Ahead of her time Clara Barton founds the American Red Cross. She doesn't get a biopic because Hollywood is only interested in "Great Man" biopics
1916
Happy Centennial to author Harold Robbins who penned 25 best-sellers some of which became famous movies like The Carpetbaggers (1964), the Elvis flick King Creole (1958), and the notorious Pia Zadora Razzie winner The Lonely Lady (1983)

Rope (1949) and Swoon (1992) - two great movies inspired by the Leopold & Loeb case

1924 Chicago college students Leopold & Loeb murder a teenage boy in a "thrill killing." Their crime inspires the story of the gay deviants in Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1949), the Cannes Best Actor winning Compulsion (1958) and is recreated in the New Queer Cinema classic Swoon (1992)
1926 Kay Kendall of Les Girls (1957) fame is born
1952 Two time Oscar nominee John Garfield (best known for The Postman Always Rings Twice and Gentlemen's Agreement though those were not his nominated films) dies unexpectedly at the age of 39. The stress from the blacklist and Communist witch hunts (he'd refused to name names) were said to cause his heart attack.
1959 Gypsy opens on Broadway starring Ethel Merman. Mama Rose becomes the defining female role of musical theater, as Hamlet is to male drama thespians. Dozens of divas play her thereafter on stage, tv, and film. The best of them is Imelda Staunton, no joke. 

1960 Jeffrey Dahmer is born in Wisconsin. Becomes an infamous gay serial killer in the early 90s just in time for America's obsession with serial killers to go truly perverse and mainstream. Within a decade or two they're the heroes on television shows for f***'s sake (This has always bothered me about showbiz - assassins and serial killers are professions as popular as being a doctor or a waitress.) Jeremy Renner plays Dahmer in the eponymous movie which yours truly has never seen. Have you? the general critical consensus is that Renner was very very good in it. But nobody was annoyed by his total franchise sellout-ness back then because it hadn't happened yet.

1970 FINALLY some role-model gayness for May 22nd, redeeming the day from infamy. Harvey Milk picks up Scott Smith in a subway station as a 40th birthday present to himself, as lovingly reenacted by Sean Penn & James Franco in Milk (2008)
1974 Fairuza Balk is born. As soon as she can speak she calls the four corners to insure that no other actresses gets her signature role in The Craft years 22 years later. 
1979 "White Night Riots" in San Francisco because the gays are rightfully furious about the "manslaughter" conviction in the assassination of Harvey Milk
1980 Star War: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) released in theaters. It's still the best one.


1992 Johnny Carson welcomes his last guest on "The Tonight Show," Bette Midler, after 30 seasons on air. She wins the Outstanding Individual Performance Emmy for this performance. Two years later she is nominated for Gypsy and loses. 
1999 Susan Lucci spoils her fame-boosting status as the ultimate awards show loser by winning on her 19th consecutive Daytime Emmy nomination

Sunday
Jun212015

Meet the Panelists for 1948's Smackdown

The next supporting actress smackdown is just one week away. UPDATE 06/28: HERE IT IS The panelists are watching John Huston's Key Largo, the immigrant drama I Remember Mama, and best picture contenders Johnny Belinda and Laurence Olivier's Hamlet. 

MEET THE PANELISTS
Here's a little bit about our panel to prep you for our conversation as they finish up their screenings...

First Timers

ABDI NAZEMIAN (Screenwriter / Novelist)
Abdi Nazemian is the screenwriter of The Quiet, Beautiful Girl, Celeste in the City, and the short film Revolution. His first novel The Walk-In Closet recently received the Lambda Literary Award for Best Debut. He and his children live in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @Abdaddy.

What do you cherish about 1948?

In my 1948 fantasy, I am dancing at the Mocambo with Rita Hayworth to Ella Fitzgerald's How High the Moon, then going home to my private screening room to watch Ava Gardner in One Touch of Venus before retiring to bed (next to Gary Cooper, obviously) to read Truman Capote's debut novel on my Kindle. Wait, what year is it?".

 

CATHERINE STEBBINS (Film Blogger)
A librarian and professional film obsessive living in Providence, Catherine is best known for her in-depth Top Ten By Year project which can be found at her site Cinema Enthusiast (active since 2010). Contributor to Criterion Cast & Verite Magazine. Idols include Louise Brooks, Leonard Cohen, Joanna Newsom, Jim Henson, Isabelle Huppert, Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns, and drag queens. 
[Follow Catherine on Twitter

What do you cherish about 1948?

To take the minute approach; little Bobby Henrey adorably saying 'Baines' and 'MacGregor' over and over in The Fallen Idol; varying degrees of homoeroticism in Rope and Red River; Joan Bennett narrating in the Freudian-laced Gothic melodrama Secret Beyond the Door... ("this is no time for me to talk of danger; this is my wedding day"); Laurence Olivier making a hot blonde Hamlet. And most of all, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Max Ophüls's unparalleled story of unrequited love, in which Joan Fontaine's Lisa reflects on her life through the romanticized facade of fate.'

Returning Panelists

JOE REID (Freelance)
Joe Reid never went to film school, unless you count the film school of hard knocks, which he also didn't go to. That hasn't stopped him from writing about movies (and TV, but don't think less of him) for places like The AtlanticGrantlandSlate, and more. One day, he'll have written about his love for The HoursGo, and Mermaids enough that he can finally close his laptop, satisfied that his work is done. You can experience the best (and worst) of him via his Twitter. 

What do you cherish about 1948?

1948 brings back so many memories; the Marshall Plan, the London Olympics, the Alger Hiss hearings, the Costa Rican Civil War. What a time to be alive. Or so I've heard. In reality, it would be one more year before my father was born, and while if I ever have a kid, I'll be certain to make sure he watches Kramer vs. Kramer, the shameful reality is that before this Smackdown, I'd only seen one film released in 1948. Alfred Hitchcock's Rope. It's too bad that one isn't reflected in the Oscar nominations of 1948, but part of the reason I wanted to participate in this particular year was to beef up my 1940s film vocabulary. Maybe I can move on from Olivier's Hamlet to Welles' Macbeth....

 

TIM ROBEY (Film Critic)
Tim Robey has been reviewing films for the Daily Telegraph since 2000, alongside a few interviews, book reviews, and more or less whatever else they throw at him. He turns up periodically on Radio 4's The Film Programme and Front Row, Monocle FM radio, and BBC Film Twenty-Whatever, as long as he has a new jacket to wear on it. His writing is mostly here. His recommendations series is here. A picture of a half-grown labrador squishing a cat is here
[
Follow him on Twitter] 

What do you cherish about 1948?

1948 is the year my mum, Wendy, was born, so I'm trying to imagine her early years in filmgoing and immediately skipping a decade. She told me once she used to be a great fan of Lee Remick, which makes sense, as this is ten years before her big breaks in movies; ditto James Garner, a favourite of her late sister Jill. They would have been right there for Mary Poppins and Darling and The Graduate, if they weren't out rocking the new Dusty Springfield look, with a strict curfew from my grandfather. I can't imagine them having an iota of time for Star Wars, the year before I was born – mum's always been allergic to science-fiction films, horror, or anything not set in a plausible version of the real world. These days, if we go to films together, it'll be for Milk, or a Christmas screener-viewing of Philomena. I think she started to watch Under the Skin on a holiday flight and practically had to call the attendants to come and switch it off. Here's to mum and our barely-overlapping movie tastes! Love her loads.

 

And your host...

NATHANIEL R (Host)
Nathaniel is the founder of The Film Experience, a reknowned Oscar pundit, and the web's actressexual ringleader. He fell in love with the movies for always at The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) but mostly blames Oscar night (in general) and the 80s filmographies of Kathleen Turner & Michelle Pfeiffer. Though he holds a BFA in Illustration, he found his true calling when he started writing about the movies. He blames Boogie Nights for the career change. [Follow him on Twitter]

What do you cherish about 1948?

True fact: I cannot live without Montgomery Clift in Red River. I did not exist before seeing it. Or, rather, him. '48 also marks the technicolor reunion of my two favorite musical stars (Judy Garland and Gene Kelly) in The Pirate. Finally, Alfred Hitchcock's Rope and Vittoria de Sica's The Bicycle Thief were important discoveries on VHS when I was trying to learn about the movies as a teen cinephile. And now a shameful confession: I chose this year because it's the only one we've ever done, to my recollection, from which I'd previously seen none of the movies involved. No, not even Hamlet. Not sure how that happened but now my shame is public!


What does 1948 mean to you dear readers?

 Perhaps you have a favorite film or a movie you are ashamed to say you've never seen?

NOW PROCEED TO THE SMACKDOWN

 

Thursday
Apr262012

Link. Link. Link. Etcetera

The Wrap Glee's Chris Colfer is Struck By Lightning in a darkly comic high school movie which he also wrote. It's a Tribeca hit. Will it transfer outside the festival?
Art of the Title Saul Bass' work on Bunny Lake is Missing 
Stale Popcorn starts a 1994 project (great year) with one of my personal favorites Reality Bites and, yes, I think that's Winona Ryder's single greatest performance.

Movie|Line asks you to a caption a new pic of Nicole Kidman from Paperboy. Damn, I wish I'd seen this for Say What before they did.
MNPP (NSFW) Les infidèles with Jean Dujardin gets even more notoriety: Dujardin takes it like a man
MNPP ...and of course Jean Dujardin is all hilarious about it in a promo 
Self Styled Siren is hosting another film preservation blog-a-thon and as a little appetizer a piece on Farley Granger and Alfred Hitchcock. Ugh, I love Rope (1948) so much.
Chicago Tribune yesterday's it girl Rooney Mara replacing last week's it girl Carey Mulligan in the new untitled Spike Jonze movie, his first since Where the Wild Things Are. (No word on if today's it girl JLaw was ever discussed). 

Four Avengers moments
Pajiba the most deplorable comments on a negative review of The Avengers on rotten tomatoes. Every time I read a piece on superhero movies not getting the respect they deserve I think: the fanboys bring it on themselves. 
In Contention Kris stumps for The Avengers under the "best ensemble" category at SAG 
Joe Utichi interviews Joss Whedon on his ups and downs and downs and downs and back up again in Hollywood 

Finally... What if The Avengers had been made in 1978? 


My ears. My ears. Bleeding. (The eyes on the other hand enjoy their 70s kitsch)

Wednesday
Jun222011

Personal Canon #100: "ROPE"

This article was originally published in 2006 when I kicked off the Personal Canon Project but I'm trying to get all the articles back online. 'The 100 movies I most think about when I think about the movies.'

Rope
(1948)  Directed by Alfred Hitchcock | Screenplay by Arthur Laurents, Hume Cronyn, and Ben Hecht based on the play "Rope's End" by Patrick Hamilton | Starring: James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger and Cedric Hardwicke | Production Company Transatlantic Pictures and Warner Bros | Released 08/28/48


Hitchcock and the Continuous Shot
Alfred Hitchcock served as auteur-theory training wheels for me. I doubt I'm alone in this. Perhaps it's the confines of his chosen genre that throw his presence as a director into such unmistakable relief. Or maybe it's his celebrity, cultivated through that famous profile, press-baiting soundbites, celebrated fetishes, and television fame. But what it comes down to is this: when watching a Hitchcock film, even uneducated moviegoers, even movie-loving children can suddenly wake up to the notion of the man behind the curtain. Movies do not merely exist. They are built. The realization can be thrilling: Someone is actually choreographing this whole spectacle for my amusement!


And on the subject of choreography I give you Alfred Hitchcock's Rope. I gave myself Rope, actually, it being the first Hitchcock I sought on my own as a budding film fanatic. 'Let's see what else this man behind the curtain, this wizard, can do.' In this case what he could do was quite a lot. Though Rope obviously represented a complex coordinated puzzle for the filmmaking team, the plot is unusually simple. Two former prep school mates kill a third for the thrill of it (this is no spoiler, just the opening scene). They chase their "perfect murder" with a cocktail party to which they've invited the victim's loved ones.

The film's claim to fame for whatever meager fame it has managed --and I'd argue that that's disproportionate to the elaborately perverse buffet it serves up as well as its pivotal place in the director's career (first color film, first post-fame failure, second attempt at a confined space thriller, a form which would reap perfection for the auteur on his third attempt: Rear Window, 1954) -- comes from Hitchcock's formal experimentation. For Rope he uses one camera, one set and only nine actors. And then, here's the famous part: Hitchcock films it all in one continuous shot. Or thereabouts --there are five or six noticeable edits (and a few more I'm told) but why quibble? Jimmy Stewart's reliably grounding charisma aside, Hitchcock is Rope's true movie star and Rope's continuous shot is the mythmaking close-up. It just happens to be stretched across the entire 80 minutes.
the soundstage filming of Rope
The continuous shot is not for the feint of heart. It requires mad auteurial skill and also, one could argue, exhibitionist tendencies: These days when we see lengthy tracking shots we're most likely looking at an opening sequence meant to show off (think The Player's smug Hollywood-mocking) or a climactic setpiece (Children of Men provides a strong example), but they're never demure filmmaking tools. Filmmaking without coverage, without the escape of "we'll fix that in the editing room" is a highwire act, much closer in spirit to live theater than regular old movie-making and as such, it feels expectant of your applause. The performers and crew must be perfectly in synch to pull this showmanship off. While Rope's technical bravado looks quaint when compared to a recent epic like Russian Ark, and its jaw dropping parade of a hundred extras, it isn't an entirely fair comparison. That art house hit doesn't have much in the way of plot points to navigate and it wasn't out to please the mainstream either.
 
To Hitchcock's credit, Rope never feels much like a stage play despite the lack of edits and its apartment set. It's too alive for that. It's a movie through and through. The director dresses it up in every possible way he can: the sound design is particularly smart, splitting the party into separate conversational layers. There's a great sequence with only one actor, the hired help, walking to and from the foreground cleaning off the living room chest cum coffin as the murderers and the guests continue their conversations. The amount of tension Hitchcock manages to build by doing so little is admirable. He also makes elegant use of music. Another great moment occurs in a conversation between James Stewart and one of the killers, with the canny use of a metronome to add to the time bomb effect of the deadly evening. Light is also put to clever mood-enhancing work by varying the amount the curtains let in, and allowing artifical light from neighboring signage to enter at crucial moments.
My point, though I meander is this: Hitchcock doesn't even need editing, one of the chief tools of movie making, to breathe life into his creation. Thrillers these days often use editing as a crutch, particularly sharp jagged cutting which serves as a shortcut to provoke fear in the audience. But it's really only disorientation and startled seat jumping that's achieved: this kind of fear almost never outlasts a movie. Once the lights have gone up, equilibrium is restored. Unless you carry a working strobe light around with you, your life has no jump cuts. Outside the theater the world is lived in one long continuous shot again. For my moviegoing dollar, there's nothing as enduringly disturbing as something you're allowed a good uninterrupted look at. Whether a film is traipsing in true horror territory: I think of "Bob" stepping over the couch --fully lit (!) --to strangle Maddy in Twin Peaks or Samara emerging fom the TV in Ring for one last murder, or working a psychological nightmare: I think of that hypnotic endless close-up of Nicole Kidman in Birth, a woman on the verge..., nothing beats a movie that refuses to let you look away. Rare are the directors with the balls to say: This, and this alone is what you'll stare at. Though it pains you to look, this is what you'll see.

I hadn't watched Rope in a very long time and returning to it I found it sicker, funnier, and a bit sloppier than I remembered. Today it plays a little like an indie black comedy with a nasty dollop of winking gay panic. The relationship between the murderers is of the Leopold & Loeb school of evil homosexuals. Though this thriller was made in 1948, it could only read gayer if the men where shirtless or wearing leather harnesses.

This, for instance, is how the post murder scene plays out...

Two men, having just done the dirty deed, argue. The more aggressive man, Brandon, complains that they couldn't do it with the lights on, in the sunshine. His partner in crime, Phillip, has instant regrets. He could only do it in the dark. A cigarette is lit. More small talk and then they stand uncomfortably close together popping the cork (yes, really) on a bottle of champagne. 
Phillip: [guilt-ridden] Brandon, how did you feel?
Brandon: When?
Phillip: During it.
Brandon: I don't know really... I don't remember feeling much of anything. [suddenly excited] Until his body went limp and I knew it was over!
Phillip: [trembling] And then...
Brandon: And then I felt...tremendously exhilarated. [Pause] H-h-how did you feel?
Dirty. Hitchcock, the mainstream's most reliably twisted auteur, clearly intends for this post-murder dialogue to double as post-coitus chatter. Sadly, Rope was neither the first film nor the last to casually demonize two of Hollywood's favorite targets: the homosexual and the intellectual. Both types, according to Tinseltown's ignorant mindset, are prone to acts of violence. Combine the two and bingo: You've got a serial killer! Rope is but one movie in a long chain of them, a continuous shot of Hollywood fear-mongering if you will, that shamelessly harness audience phobias of 'the other.' Even now, though, this troubles me less within the confines of a Hitchcock film than it would anywhere else. For let's be frank: What is any Hitchcock film without dark psychologies, sociopathic behavior, and sexual crises of multiple varieties?

When I was younger, most of Rope's sexual content slipped by me, anyway. The contact high I got from it was unrelated to adult naughtiness. It provoked no juvenile tittering. No, the thrills came from Rope's easy to grasp experimentation. I simply loved the gimmick. I caught another glimpse of the man behind the curtain. I still feel the same way when I watch it: give me more of this. Provide me with an uninterrupted supply of auteurs who want to challenge themselves. Give me more Hitchcocks, Von Triers, Haynes, Soderberghs. Experiment with the form. And then I'll feel... tremendously exhilarated.