Monday, September 6, 2010

Day 151: “I have a perfect cure for a sore throat: cut it.”

As I sat down to write this piece, I was thinking to myself that I’m far from an Alfred Hitchcock aficionado, I’m not even what you’d call a fan, but then I stopped and thought a moment longer. Of his fifty-three films, I’ve seen a quite a few, and amongst those, are four that I adore: The Thirty-Nine Steps, Rear Window, Dial M For Murder and Vertigo.

A dream pleasure of mine would be an old cinema all to myself, a choctop (an Australian confection of a vanilla ice cream cone coated in milk chocolate) and a screening of Vertigo. Call me shallow or maybe easily-pleased, or something, but the idea of a private screening of an old detective movie with the picture house all to myself is my idea of heaven; and it’s happened.

About seven or eight years ago, there was a new print of The Maltese Falcon (1941) - this the most famous version, directed and adapted for the screen by John Huston (from the Dashiel Hammett novel), starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Peter Lorre - showing at one of Sydney’s last remaining old, independent cinemas. the Chauvel. There was a screening late one Friday afternoon, but the times published in the daily newspapers were later than the scheduled time posted at the cinema and I was the only paying punter that turned up for the earlier screening time. Hence, I found myself, choctop in hand, sitting in the middle of the middle row, from where I could have waived to the projectionist to commence the screening. It was paradoxical in that, at one point, I thought it might be good if there were other people there to enjoy the screening, but that thought was fleeting and soon was lost, once more, in Sam Spade’s quest to understand the import and meaning of “the falcon”.

Hitchcock has always been a popular filmmaker and one of the few directors that could be named, at a time when the general public weren’t exactly familiar with the names of many film directors, maybe still not? Indeed, we are all familiar with his silhouette, are we not? Psycho, North by Northwest, The Birds, those titles I’ve mentioned, plus many more and the television series 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents', are part of my generation’s film diet and education, as it was too, for the generation before.

Hitchcock influenced many filmmakers and yet, again paradoxically, he wasn’t maybe taken “seriously “ by “serious” film commentators. Nominated as Best Director (Academy Awards), for Rebecca (1940), Lifeboat (1944), Spellbound (1945), Rear Window (1954) and Psycho (1960), he was beaten by John Ford (The Grapes of Wrath), Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront) and Billy Wilder (The Apartment) amongst others. His only individual win, was the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, in 1967. The Irving Thalberg Award is not a statuette “won” so much as it is “bestowed” upon an individual “whose body of work reflects a consistently high quality of motion picture production.”

Given that Hitch’s films earned fifty Oscar nominations for his collaborators, yet garnered not one win for himself, he was due something, sort sort of nod from the Academy of Motion Picture and Arts Sciences, hence “the Thalberg”. He was the recipient of one or two more of those lifetime achievement awards from august film bodies, right up to his death in 1980, four years after he’d stopped being active in the industry. 'Moviemaker' rates him as the most influential filmmaker of all time, and in a 2007 poll of critics taken by the UK’s Daily Telegraph, he came out on top “unquestionably, the greatest filmmaker ever to emerge from these islands.”

Day #151 Tip: “Just add dialogue”
Robert McKee quotes Alfred Hitchcock at this point in his suggested method for writing screenplays. Having now spent five months on a Step Outline and then a Treatment, he invokes the master of mystery and suspense, who said: “When the screenplay has been written and the dialogue has been added, we’re ready to shoot.”

What Mr McKee has led us to, through this five month process, is an imaginative filmic world in which, no character has, as yet, spoken. With the treatment that I now hold in my hand, I’m going to convert treatment screen description to screenplay screen description (“the big print”) and, literally, “add dialogue.”

My characters have been gagged for 150 days, often more, champing at the bit to speak; only now as they are relieved from their state of mute'ness, are they free to talk and it is my experience that they will only say what is vitally necessary, nothing more, nothing less. They leave the pictures to paint a thousand words.

As Hitch once said: “Dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms.”

No comments:

Post a Comment