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PostPosted: Wed May 24, 2006 12:18 am 
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davidhare wrote:
I still think an interesting direction for this thread is the REASONS for an artist's decline.


Sure, but I don't think we'll ever get there if people don't accept the fact of the decline in the first place, or recognise it as the norm.

What the hell, here goes. . .

Some reasons that spring to mind are:
- loss of key collaborators
- complacency / staleness
- failing health
- loss of power / authority

The first one has already been invoked in the case of Hitchcock, but I'd be interested in exploring the second.

It seems significant to me that he would go from making two of his most innovative and experimental films - in terms of narrative form, mode of production, use of special effects, and method of exhibition - in Psycho and The Birds, to films that are simply lazy in key ways.

Even in Marnie, so good on most of the levels that count, there are slapdash process shots, and that wharf backdrop that even the art director wanted to scrap. I wonder if the special effects work on The Birds was so draining and tedious (we know how impatient Hitch was when it came to the execution of his ideas) that he rebelled. In Torn Curtain, the process work is even more intrusively awful.

Another key factor, which may be related to the fourth, above, is the double blow Hitch's ego took with the critical response to The Birds and Marnie. Hence his retreat to the theoretically 'safer' terrain of Torn Curtain (an international spy thriller with two huge stars). When this doesn't work, it looks like he's flailing (Topaz), and then he engineers a much more strategic retreat (a 'wrong man' film, with a frisson of Psychotic explicitness, which even returns Hitch to England) with Frenzy. The result is a much better film, but it's certainly not on the level of his last great works, if only in terms of their originality. And I'm afraid I can't see Family Plot as much more than an embarrassing mess - even its runaway-car set piece is inane.


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PostPosted: Wed May 24, 2006 12:50 am 
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Yes, Hitch's post Marnie pictures are a result of the director's failed confidence - yet he had faced negative crits previously, in the late forties and early fifties. Certainly he projects a steady confidence in the Truffaut book at the time of Marnie. So I guess his row with Hermann and other personnel and artistic decisions were poor choices made for commercial reasons.

I actually like the Boston ship/wharf backdrop in Marnie - I love it for its dreamy unreality and it's pairing with those ghastly children singing menacing nursery rhymes at the top and tail of the movie.


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PostPosted: Wed May 24, 2006 1:06 am 
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davidhare wrote:
I actually like the Boston ship/wharf backdrop in Marnie - I love it for its dreamy unreality and it's pairing with those ghastly children singing menacing nursery rhymes at the top and tail of the movie.


You're not alone, and it doesn't actually bother me as much as the sloppy driving shots, but I draw the line at the Truffautesque hailing of every technical problem as the Deliberate Decision of Genius. ("Ah, but the really bad process shots are intentional. He wants to remind us that we're watching a movie." Oh yeah, I forgot. Whenever I normally hop on a bus I'm surrounded by Julie Andrews and a bunch of bad actors.)


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PostPosted: Wed May 24, 2006 1:28 am 
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Yes but Julie Andrews makes even the location shots of Sound of Mucous seem like confectionaried set designs. Still no excuse for Hitch, t'be sure.


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PostPosted: Wed May 24, 2006 1:52 am 
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Hitchcock's use of matte paintings and backdrops was about 50/50, sometimes breathtaking, sometimes caught in 'matte painting hell,' which is still 1,000,000 times better than the CGI hell of now. "Marnie's" mattes are fine (though the best mattes in that film are completely unnoticeable...indeed I probably wouldn't have noticed half of them had I not studied a lot of Albert Whitlock's matte shots as a kid), and that's a good film, too.

I actually think the mattes in "Torn Curtain" are some of the finest in a Hitchcock film (as is that wonderful murder scene)...I also really like Newman and Andrews, but (and this is really the only film I feel this way about) I have a difficult time getting past the fact that Bernard Herrmann's score was rejected. Hitchcock was somewhat crazy to just burst in there, cancel the recording session, send the musicians home, and fire Bernard Herrmann on the spot just because his score didn't have "a tune." John Addison's replacement score sounds like more a Henry Mancini score, which means it's good music but it doesn't fit the film. The worst part about this is that Herrmann wrote a great score for it that the film really needs. Hitchcock was under a lot of pressure at the time to have songs in his films, and Universal urged him to hire more popular composers. John Addison won an Oscar for "Tom Jones." Maurice Jarre for "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Zhivago." Henry Mancini (original choice for Frenzy) had three Oscars and several nominations under his belt. After Mancini was fired Hitchcock got Ron Goodwin, one of the best selling composers of the 60s. John Williams, who scored "Family Plot," won an Oscar for "Fiddler on the Roof" and at the time had an Oscar nomination every year since the late 60s. Actually, all of these post Herrmann Hitch scores are good, but they don't come close Herrmann.

With that said, I think "Frenzy" isa really good film, and "Topaz" is probably Hitchcock's worst.


Last edited by Dylan on Fri Jan 21, 2011 11:33 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed May 24, 2006 2:12 am 
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Dylan as I recall the only matte painting shots in Birds are Tippi and Rodd on the hill at the kids' party, and a couple of long shots across Bodega Bay which are combo, "Shuftan" type mixes of real and matte. (And very beautiful). All the town shots are a mixture of location and outdoor sets. There's also (I forgot) the opening which cuts from location at Union Square panning across to a pet store with a seamless cut to the identical petstore as studio set (with a noticeable lift in PQ and drop in grain.) I have to confess I love, if not all his process shots, at least the determination to remain in the studio which gives his mise-en-scene complete freedom. And all that ended with Marnie.
Agree the Gromek murder is the best part of Torn Curtain but I think the lead casting is just as diabolical as the Addinsall score.


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PostPosted: Wed May 24, 2006 3:03 am 
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All the town shots are a mixture of location and outdoor sets.


I know for a fact there are at least 50 matte shots in "The Birds" because I watched those shots over and over as a kid and, around the same age, I met and discussed those shots with some matte artists (again, maybe I only notice these because I was looking for them at the time). The most successful of the mattes in "The Birds" is definitely the final shot, which is very nice.

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I have to confess I love, if not all his process shots, at least the determination to remain in the studio which gives his mise-en-scene complete freedom. And all that ended with Marnie.


Not quite...say what you will about it, but "Torn Curtain," with its museum sequence, is actually Hitchcock's most radical use of Albert Whitlock's matte paintings (I mean, shit, he has Paul Newman literally walking and running inside of several matte shots, one after another...yeah it's kind of hokey, but also kind of neat). Such extensive use of mattes only really lasted three films ("The Birds," "Marnie," and "Torn Curtain"). But after "Torn Curtain" Hitchcock limited to using only two or so, which (as much as I enjoy matte shots) I think was a wise decision, as none of those last ones needed a matte painting overkill.

In my opinion, the finest matte shots in a Hitchcock film are in "The Paradine Case," which I enjoyed.

Image
(yes, everything here is painted except for Peck, the doorway, and some of the floor in front of him...pretty cool, I think)

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I think the lead casting is just as diabolical as the Addinsall score.


I may be completely overestimating this, but I believe that any flaw "Torn Curtain" has would be rendered totally minor had Herrmann's score been left in...listening to it, it seriously sounds like the glue that would've held this film together and made it something (in particular he would've made the more romantic parts sound lovely and tragic, instead of Addison pulling out "Leave it to Beaver"...and, of course, Herrmann also scored the murder scene, which is one of his most harrowing cues, utilizing, I believe, twelve loud flutes the moment the man is stabbed).


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PostPosted: Wed May 24, 2006 4:27 am 
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Dylan - je suis desole!!!! Tu as raison!!!! I totally forgot the matte shots of the birds, although these are processed into shots with several other means. Indeed the movie, I recall reading somewhere has the largest number of single shots of any Hitchcock - well over 1200, as aginst the average movie count - for that time - of 700 or so.
Assume you also watched the extremely interesting docos on this and Marnie DVDs. The Production manager mentions how they had to sneak into Disney to "borrow" the technocology for Birds, and the "More lifelike"
mechanical horse for the CU riding shots in Marnie. Of course the process backgrounds during the riding shots look pretty ordinary, don't you agree.

But then, so do things like Bergman and Grant after the opening party in Notorious when they get pulled over by the cop but - to quote Sarris - who cared when Bergman and Grant were in the frame!

The original Hermann score would have definitely elevated Torn Curtian to another plain altogether. BUt I still can't accomodate the performances. At least Julie has a lot of wide shots with little dialogue, but Newman is intolerable. (Sorry, back to Froglaise - "insupportable".)


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PostPosted: Wed May 24, 2006 10:40 am 
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tavernier wrote:
Can someone explain to me what is so special about The Dead? I found it to be Huston's biggest disappointment and a complete comedown after Prizzi.


Since noone has answered your question yet, Tavernier, I'll take a quick stab at it, though I may not be the best person to do so, since I definitely prefer the starker Under the Volcano. What I do admire about Huston's work on The Dead is what I admire about his adaptations of preexisting literature in general. He just has such a great sense of mise-en-scene. The world he creates in this film is very narrow (because it's the world of a relatively short novella), but it's also very rich, lived-in, and clear. You never lose track of who the characters are, what their social/class background is, what their relationships to one another are, etc. In fact, for me, The Dead works as a great adaptation because, while remaining faithful to the source, it enhances my understanding of the source -- in that it helps recreate the setting, the bourgeois turn-of-the-century Xmas dinner party, so palpably.

I also greatly admire Huston's taste and restraint in this film. It's not overly serious or operating in that I-am-now-adapting-a great-work-of-literature mode (to borrow from Schreck). It's fairly straigthforward; indeed, it's more of an actor's movie than anything else. And here again, Huston exercises great taste because, apart from daughter Anjelica, the entire cast is Irish (and generally drawn from some of the finest Irish theatrical institutions), even though none of them are big names. For a man who had directed some of the biggest, this choice must have required restraint.


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PostPosted: Wed May 24, 2006 11:10 am 
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zedz wrote:
davidhare wrote:
I still think an interesting direction for this thread is the REASONS for an artist's decline.


Sure, but I don't think we'll ever get there if people don't accept the fact of the decline in the first place, or recognise it as the norm.

What the hell, here goes. . .

Some reasons that spring to mind are:
- loss of key collaborators
- complacency / staleness
- failing health
- loss of power / authority


I find this topic very interesting but also very vague. I've often wondered if there's even a biological/chemical/neurological explanation for how the brain functions differently after a certain age in terms of creative capacities. Because this problem of "artistic decline" is one that many creative types outside of film complain about frequently: poets, painters, authors, actors, etc. Just as a point of comparison, filmmakers have it relatively well-off in comparison to poets, whose career highs seem to be so short before their eventual decline. (It's a bit of a cliche, but apart from Yeats, how many poets have retained their powers into old age, let alone actually improved?) And to broaden it out a bit, a number of studies have demonstrated that, after a certain point, most adult brains have increased difficulties grasping new abstract concepts.

So I don't mean to offer this as an excuse, but it would seem that a decline in faculties is normal, at least to some extent, because of the way our brains develop and work.

Of course, this offers absolutely no explanation for those artists, including filmmakers, who do improve with age. So I don't know.... But like David, I find this topic intriguing.


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PostPosted: Wed May 24, 2006 12:40 pm 
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I totally forgot the matte shots of the birds, although these are processed into shots with several other means.


There is even some traditional animation in a few of those shots, I believe. And yes, it definitely has the quickest cutting of any Hitchcock film.

Quote:
Assume you also watched the extremely interesting docos on this and Marnie DVDs. The Production manager mentions how they had to sneak into Disney to "borrow" the technocology for Birds, and the "More lifelike"
mechanical horse for the CU riding shots in Marnie. Of course the process backgrounds during the riding shots look pretty ordinary, don't you agree.


Yes, I watched those docus a few years ago. I love rear-screen projection in old films, and I love it when I see it in new films as well...there's something about it I like, something cinematic, the same reason why I love big, dramatic matte shots. But yes, the riding scene in "Marnie" certainly is more 'natural' than most of them.

Back to "The Birds," did you read Evan Hunter's book "Hitch and Me?" He had major issues as to why Rod Taylor's character is still living at home and the age discrepancy between Taylor and his sister, and argued with Hitch about this. He also worked a long time on "Marnie," but was eventually fired.

As for "The Birds," I really like the sequence with the gas running all over the place and the guy lighting his cigarette. Personally, the cutting gag of the people watching the fire erupt, then their reactions in a series of freeze-frames, doesn't work, but it's interesting. I also love the lead up to the first major bird attack, with Melanie sitting in the foreground smoking a cigarette, and the schoolhouse in the background with the kids singing that repetitive nursery rhyme song, while birds are landing all over the phone wires and monkey bars behind her. Then again, I think that's the most popular scene.

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The original Hermann score would have definitely elevated Torn Curtian to another plain altogether. BUt I still can't accomodate the performances. At least Julie has a lot of wide shots with little dialogue, but Newman is intolerable.


I'd actually have to see it again to comment further on the performances, but I remember liking them (but personally, I like Paul Newman in anything). It definitely was a commercial cast though, which was one thing leading as to why Herrmann had to go.


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PostPosted: Wed May 24, 2006 1:30 pm 
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tavernier wrote:
Can someone explain to me what is so special about The Dead? I found it to be Huston's biggest disappointment and a complete comedown after Prizzi.


Those who admire it pretty much do so I'd wager because they feel its a beautifully acted, beautifully photographed, beautifully directed adaptation (which is quite well-done) of a magnificent short story by Joyce. If you don't see it or feel it there's nothing wrong with that. My feeling is that the ending in particular is as fine an elidiation of the melancholy of mono no aware as can be found anywhere.

I on the other hand think PRIZZIS HONOR a complete waste of time, one of the dumbest & least entertaining films of it's era.


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PostPosted: Wed May 24, 2006 3:13 pm 
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Another reason for a downfall....

I've recently become obsessed with Jerry Lewis, and he's a director that most turn to as completely going downhill. As for the reasons, I attribute this to his self-awareness as a filmmaker and as a clown. As a filmmaker he took his art seriously, often using subversive gags and satirical jabs aimed at stereotypical comedies. But he was also known as a clown. Aren't most filmmakers defined incorrectly, or at least feel they are defined incorrectly. Spike Lee was the militant black director, Spielberg is the family adventure director, Scorcese is the vulgar crime director, etc etc etc... and a lot of times directors feel the need to fight off this generalization about their works. Jerry Lewis, as a clown, also run the risk of his main audience outgrowing him. So not only was Jerry Lewis fighting off his stereotypes as nothing more than a comedian, but he was also trying to keep is younger audience... the mixture became a mess that few enjoy.

Spielberg's use of more pronographic form of violence in films like AI and Munich are attempts to break out of his friendly Indiana Jones reputation. I think it works well but I'm not sure many are going along with him. Spike Lee on the other hand is becoming more mainstream, where as Scorsese isn't really changing at all.

Could it be that directors sometimes get better or worse over time because they are unhappy of their image as an artist?


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PostPosted: Wed May 24, 2006 3:22 pm 
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I don't think it's accurate to claim that John Huston's career ever went into a distinct decline because his work was never consistently excellent in the first place; its quality rose and fell, from picture to picture, sometimes drastically so, right from the beginning. Huston is, in fact, one of the most wildly erratic filmmakers in the history of the medium, with good and bad movies—even great and awful ones—evident in every decade of his creative life.


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PostPosted: Wed May 24, 2006 10:01 pm 
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Rambling thoughts...an old, dying neighbor said to me years ago, 'the harder I look, the softer it gets. It's all putty in the hand, eyes and ears these days.'
I can't help but recall Donen's speech when collecting his Lifetime Achievement award a few years ago at the Oscars, when he said it would be easy to make the films he made today, except for the fact there's no Freed, Astaire, Kelly, Hepburn, etc. etc. Just about all the key directors of the Studio era relied on their writers, technical collaborators, surroundings and stable bosses to keep up the momentum of high achievement. When these relationships start to crumble...at least their is still a vision and personal interest in the final works of Chaplin, Ford, Minnelli, Wilder, Hitch etc. to keep us going back again and again.

I'm with David on the final days of Hitch. On Torn Curtain you can sense the dread Hitch felt on dealing with Newman, too old to fight the fight, and just giving up completely. From then on, Hitch would go on without a key component of his work - the Star. But times change. If only more of the seniors club today would rid themselves of the star nuisance. DeCaprio may need the prestige of working with Scorsese, but it is Scorsese's ego and need to keep playing with the big boys that he finds himself paddling frantically to make vital work these days.

Outside the studio system, I've always loved how Agnes Varda and David Attenborough (an assessment of his work as producer/director/presenter in his field is surely needed) grow old and continue to go about their work. Individual to the last pore, Varda's loving documents to Demy (who also had trouble in the final years) and The Gleaners and I proved that an open mind to what's new (and what goes on in the real world as against the reel one) and a willingness to stay honest is all it takes to really matter.


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PostPosted: Sun May 28, 2006 10:32 pm 
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devlinnn wrote:
Outside the studio system, I've always loved how Agnes Varda and David Attenborough (an assessment of his work as producer/director/presenter in his field is surely needed) grow old and continue to go about their work. Individual to the last pore, Varda's loving documents to Demy (who also had trouble in the final years) and The Gleaners and I proved that an open mind to what's new (and what goes on in the real world as against the reel one) and a willingness to stay honest is all it takes to really matter.


Varda's a good example I missed, though she does seem to be relegated to documentary nowadays. Her recent films (specifically Gleaners and Ydessa) exhibit the same wonderful liveliness and curiosity that animated her early works.


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PostPosted: Mon May 29, 2006 3:42 am 
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As a reminder of Hitch's decline there's the very sad AFI awards video from the late seventies when the assembly did a standing ovation. The camera cut to Sean Connery and cut back to Hitch with (I think) Alma. He visibly mouthed the words "who's that" clearly not remembering.


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PostPosted: Mon May 29, 2006 4:25 am 
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Frenzy is a really ugly film, but it is teeming with innovation - the transition from studio set of the house to real street exterior is pretty clever. Mancini's original score is fantastic and the film would cast a deeper spell if it had been used. I really can't stand Ron Goodwin's style and his score here is overly decorative. Mancini's is quite mesmerizing.

Sam Fuller was still full of beans on The Big Red One and White Dog (which I saw for the first time a few months ago) is pretty daring.

Andre De Toth's, Play Dirty (1968) is terrific, daring and witty.

Fred Zinnemann never really lost his touch. Julia (made when he was 70) could have been grittier, but overall, it's a success.

Bresson certainly never lost his touch or became jaded. 82 when he made L'Argent - incredible. And he was planning a film based on the Book of Genesis. Mindboggling.

Carol Reed ran out of steam in the 50s, really. Personally, I feel that the greatness in The Third Man has little to do with him. Greene's story is obviously the key, but the team of cinematographer Robert Krasker and operators and future ace DPs, Edward Scaife and Denys Coop are what really raised it to greatness and Cotten, Valli and Orson hardly need much direction. Still, Reed was good, but the later films are decidedly undistinguished. Oliver!? Horrible.

Anthony Mann died too young, but I reckon that he would have made interesting films in the 70s.

John Frankenheimer made solid, exciting films right up to his death. Path to War is terrific.

Joseph Losey stumbled a few times, but he was still taking chances late in his career.

Sidney Lumet is more than capable of pulling off one last masterpiece with either Before the Devil Knows You're Dead or Whistle.


Too much like a list? Yeah, but whatcha gunna do, huh? :|


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