New Jersey Film Festival

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This article by Jack Florek was prepared for the October 10, 2001

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

At the Movies: Hitchcock

Think of Alfred Hitchcock as the Elvis Presley of the

movie world.

Putting aside the obvious disparity in physical beauty, and the fact

that Hitchcock made good movies and Elvis made dumb ones (but hey,

Hitch couldn’t sing "Hound Dog" to save his life), Elvis

Presley

and Alfred Hitchcock have something very important in common:

Hitchcock’s

fame and influence, like that of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, has risen

dramatically in the past 20 years despite the inconvenient fact that

he is dead.

As a kind of popularity yardstick, fire up the computer and head on

out to Amazon.com. Type in the name "Francis Ford Coppola"

and run a search to come up with a total of 39 titles of books by

or about the director of "The Godfather" and "One From

The Heart." Typing in the name "Steven Spielberg,"

probably

the most famous director alive today, yields a mere 86 titles. But

type in "Alfred Hitchcock" and Amazon.com comes up with 435

different books by or about the director and his work. (I’ll leave

it to you to check out Elvis.)

County Theater in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a non-profit art movie

house, is devoting four evenings in October to screenings and

discussion

of the life and work of Alfred Hitchcock. Film scholar Warren Day

leads the "Delving Into Hitchcock" series.

The series begins Wednesday, October 10, with Day leading a film forum

entitled, "Everything You Need to Know About Cinema You Can Learn

From Hitchcock." Day will lead a discussion and show film clips

from such Hitchcock classics as "Notorious" and "North

by Northwest," as well as clips from some of his early British

films such as "Sabotage." Hitchcock’s 1951 film,

"Strangers

On A Train" will be screened on Monday, October 15, and Day will

be on hand to introduce the film, lead a discussion, and answer

questions.

Additional screenings, without discussion, are offered Sunday and

Wednesday, October 14 and 17.

On Monday, October 22, Day will lead another film forum, entitled

"Inside the Mind of Alfred Hitchcock." Using clips from such

films as "The 39 Steps" and "The Birds," Day will

try to uncover just what Hitchcock had to say about the nature of

evil and innocence and the dark side of morality.

Day will again be on hand for the screening of a recently restored

print of the 1954 film "Rear Window" on Wednesday, October

24. He will also show a portion of a documentary on the making of

this Hitchcock classic and discussion will follow. Additional

screenings,

without discussion, are offered October 25, 28, and 29.

Day’s shows each begin at 7 p.m. And although each one can be enjoyed

on its own terms, together the four evenings will provide an in-depth

look at the technique and mind of one of the world’s great directors.

County Theater is a non-profit, community-owned

organization,

founded in 1993, that presents a full program of art and independent

films. "Delving Into Hitchcock" is a part of its Fall

Cinematheque.

Although many of the films shown at County Theater are available on

VHS or DVD, County offers a rare opportunity for film lovers to see

these films the way they were intended to be seen — on the big

screen.

"I’m not on the staff of County at all, but I’ve done a number

of things there," says Day, in a phone interview from his office.

"It’s really great that we have something like the County where

you can go and see these types of films on the big screen in 35mm.

Even seeing them on DVD isn’t sufficient, although it is better than

broadcast television and videotape. But DVD is only 450 lines

resolution

and a 35mm is 2,000 lines resolution. So you see the difference."

Alfred Hitchcock was born in Leytonstone, England, in 1899, and began

his filmmaking career in 1919 by illustrating title cards for silent

films at Paramount’s Famous Players-Lasky Studio in London. He worked

in England until 1939, directing such early successes as "The

Man Who Knew Too Much," "The 39 Steps," and "The Lady

Vanishes."

He then emigrated to the United States, making his Hollywood debut

in 1940 with "Rebecca."

Day says he chose to screen "Rear Window" and "Strangers

On a Train" as examples of Hitchcock at his best. "A lot of

people consider `Rear Window’ to be Hitchcock’s most accomplished

film," he explains. "It has great stars, a great script. He

was really clicking on all cylinders when he made it."

"Rear Window" is a thriller starring James Stewart who plays

an injured photographer, confined to a wheelchair and stranded in

his apartment, who uses a pair of binoculars to spy on the

neighborhood.

He comes to suspect that a murder has been committed in a neighbor’s

apartment. The film also stars Grace Kelly and Thelma Ritter. Day

says it epitomizes the kind of psychological cat-and-mouse game that

Hitchcock devised to play with his audiences.

"`Rear Window’ is a prime example of Hitchcock turning the movie

back onto the audience," he explains. "Of course, on one

level,

it’s about a guy with a broken leg who simply enjoys looking at his

neighbors from his rear window. But the movie also resonates on deeper

levels. It’s really a film about voyeurism, about finding

entertainment

in the problems of your neighbors. And one of the questions that

Hitchcock

is asking in the film is — Why is it that we as a society come

to see movies about the problems of other people and why do we find

this so entertaining? Thelma Ritter has a line in the film that says

flat-out, `We are a nation of Peeping Toms.’ Also, the movie literally

begins with a window curtain going up, as if we were the voyeurs.

It really is Hitchcock making the audience very uncomfortable about

going to see movies in the first place."

"Strangers on a Train," Day’s other selection, shows Hitchcock

at the height of his powers. Starring Farley Granger and Robert

Walker,

it is the story of a young man who meets another man on a train.

Although

the stranger at first seems personable, things take an eerie turn

when he introduces the idea that the two strangers commit

"exchange

murders" for one another, and then proceeds to put his words into

action.

"`Strangers on a Train’ was made at the height of the Cold War

and McCarthyism in America," explains Day. "The Korean War

was raging. People were building atomic bomb shelters in their

backyards.

In the midst of all this, Hitchcock did a film that showed that the

most evil person you might ever meet could be the nice chatty guy

in the expensive suit who lives in a mansion on Long Island and whom

you just happen to meet on the train. That was one of his constant

themes — that evil is often not as easy to spot as we

imagine."

"Hitchcock is the only major director to have successfully

combined

entertainment and art," says Day. "I think this is the secret

to why he has lasted so long. Throughout his career he was very

concerned

with the meaning of evil, the relationship between guilt and innocence

— how guilty people are often innocent and innocent people are

often guilty of something. This may have originated in part from his

Catholic upbringing, the concept that there is no such thing as a

truly innocent person. Hitchcock had a very strong sense of original

sin."

It may come as a surprise today that not all Hitchcock films were

immediate hits on their first release, either with the public or with

the critics. "`Rear Window’ and `Strangers on a Train’ were

praised

when they came out," says Day. "But other films that are now

considered classics were just torn apart by the critics. Time Magazine

originally called `Vertigo’ a `Hitchcock and bull story.’ `Psycho’

was originally ravaged by the critics whereas now, just this year,

the American Film Institute named it as the number one best thriller

of all time ever made in the world."

Day cites "The Wrong Man" as another release that was savaged

by critics and is now being rediscovered. He judges it Hitchcock’s

most underrated film.

Day says the reasons for these conflicts are twofold. "Hitchcock

was simply ahead of his time," he says. "He was also

considered

by many to be quite vulgar. `Psycho’ just shocked people. Critics

would write a bad review because they didn’t like the experience of

watching it. Of course, that was exactly how Hitchcock wanted people

to feel. Just because the movie made you feel bad doesn’t mean the

movie is bad."

Day had the opportunity to conduct an extended interview with

Hitchcock

in 1969. "Two years before I interviewed him, I had the

opportunity

to watch him do a 30-minute interview with someone else," he

recalls,

"and I saw he had his routine down pat. The interviewer thought

he’d gotten something good; he didn’t realize that all he’d gotten

was a bunch of canned answers."

Two years later, Day was working for ABC television and Hitchcock

was promoting a film that he knew was not very good, "Topaz."

Day’s interview took place over 14 hours over two days. "The

reason

why I wanted it like that was because I assumed that on the first

day all I would get was his canned answers, and I was hoping for

something

more interesting on the second day. This is the way it happened. He

became different. He was able to step out of his well-hewn persona

of the austere gentleman who held you at a distance."

Day clearly made a positive impression on the director. At the end

of the interview, he was presented with a gift. "He presented

me with a first edition copy of the book of interviews he did with

Francois Truffaut, and at the beginning of the book he drew that

famous

profile of himself for me and wrote, `To Warren Day’ and signed his

name underneath."

Day was born in Montgomery, Alabama, and grew up in Mississippi where

his father worked as a mechanical engineer and his mother was a

homemaker.

He attended Vanderbilt University where he earned his master’s degree

in psychology in 1963, and then went on to Columbia University, where

he received his doctorate in 1967. He worked at ABC Television,

originally

in the news department, before becoming a producer and then going

into public relations. He then went on to teach film at the University

of North Carolina, NYU, and Pepperdine University.

Of Hitchcock’s 53 films, there were bound to be a few clunkers.

"There

are some films that were not very good," says Day. "Hitchcock

made a screwball comedy called `Mr. & Mrs. Smith’ with Carole Lombard

that is fairly painful to watch. The thing is, he was great on humor,

because every one of his films has some comedy in it, but I think

his comedy works best when it is a secondary thing and the comedy

is only underneath the tension and suspense. Also `The Trouble With

Harry’ is another example, it just doesn’t work."

But clunkers aside, Day believes that Hitchcock’s films will still

be studied a hundred years from now, but perhaps in a more limited

form.

"Technology-wise with film, we’re still in the beginning stages.

I think that in hundred years we may have advanced so far technically

that it may be very hard for people to watch. Even today, look at

George Lucas, he’s doing the next `Star Wars’ film on digital tape,

there’s no film at all. And look at the past, there were some

wonderful

movies made in the years 1914 to 1917, but you just try to get people

to watch them now. We’re not use to the black and white, the lack

of sound and sharp focus, they have a different kind of acting style.

People just can’t relate to them."

"But I like to think that for anyone really interested in film,

Hitchcock will always be studied," says Day. "I think the

basic principles behind his films will live on."

Then after a long pause, Day chuckles and adds, "They don’t call

him the master for nothing."

— Jack Florek

Everything You Need to Know About Cinema You Can Learn From

Hitchcock, County Theater, 20 East State Street, Doylestown,

Pennsylvania, 215-345-6789. Film forum features Warren Day with

audience

discussion and technical information on how famous scenes were made

illustrated with film clips. $7. Wednesday, October 10, 7 p.m.

Strangers on a Train. $7. Monday, October 15, 7 p.m.

Also screens Wednesday, October 17.

Inside the Mind of Alfred Hitchcock. Video interview and

audience discussion led by Warren Day. $7. Monday, October 22,

7 p.m.

Rear Window. $7. Wednesday, October 24, 7 p.m. Also

screens October 25, 28, and 29.

Top Of Page
New Jersey Film Festival

New Jersey Film Festival screenings are Fridays through

Sunday in Scott Hall, Room 123, College Avenue campus, near the corner

of College Avenue and Hamilton Street. Thursday screenings are in

Loree Hall, Room 024, Douglass College campus, near the corner of

Nichol Avenue and George Street; with selected free events at Borders

Books, Route 18 South, East Brunswick. Admission $5; all programs

begin at 7 p.m. Call 732-932-8482 or on the Web at:

www.njfilmfest.com.

Tabu, F.W. Murnau’s 1931 film, set in Tahiti, about a

pearl fisher and his love for a beautiful woman, Thursday, October

11. A Clockwork Orange, back by popular demand, director Stanley

Kubrick’s dark 1971 vision, October 12 to 14. Performance, 1970

feature starring Mick Jagger, directed by Nicholas Roeg and Donald

Cammell, Thursday, October 18.

Lumumba, Eriq Ebouamey plays African freedom fighter

Patrice

Lumumba, October 19 to 21. W.I.S.O.R., set in underground New

York City, Wednesday, October 24. Creature from the Black

Lagoon,

3-D twist on the 1954 horror feature about the amphibious Gill-Man,

October 26 to 28.


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