My week in film: Knife in the Water and The Trouble with Harry

cap429Despite 2012 being the year Alfred Hitchcock was consistently celebrated; with a retrospective at the BFI in London, including restorations of his early, silent films – the ‘Rescue the Hitchcock 9’ project, which was part of the Cultural Olympiad; and two films The Girl (Julian Jarrold) and Hitchcock (Sacha Gervasi, released on 8 February), I still didn’t manage to catch up on the great director’s entire work. So, to continue my efforts The Trouble with Harry (1955) was this week’s Hitch selection. Set in a quiet and picturesque New England town, the film opens with Captain Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwenn) talking to himself as he seeks the victim of a morning’s hunt, whilst young Arnie (Jerry Mathers) plays alone nearby. The Captain’s chatter can be taken as an idiosyncrasy of the character or more likely – a self conscious way to guide the viewer as to his thoughts Trouble With Harry Hitchcock pic 1and motivations as he goes about trying to decide what to do with Harry’s corpse.
A true dark comedy in keeping with Hitchcock’s oeuvre, but without any pretensions towards being his usual thriller; the main attraction in this uneven film is the debut of Shirley MacLaine as Harry’s widow, Jennifer Rogers – mother to Arnie. MacLaine manages to raise herself above what results as an unnecessary romantic through-line, pretty much upstaging the arrogant (and annoying) Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe) – at least until the inevitable matrimonial union. Its undoubtedly enjoyable and The Trouble with Harry may feature some gorgeous landscape shots, unusually for the studio-loving Hitch, but it can’t escape the throwaway nature of the script which tries too hard to tie up all loose ends. knife

Starting this week at Filmhouse and the BFI Southbank is a retrospective of works by esteemed director, Roman Polanski, including some lesser-seen early gems. Knife in the Water (1962), his first feature film as director is a tense tale with a very simple plot – a couple go sailing and take a hitchhiker with them. What results is a struggle of power as Andrzej (Leon Niemczyk) essentially shows off in front of their student guest, testing the loyalty of his patient wife, Krystyna (Jolanta Umecka). The claustrophobia of the boat – staying onboard and being confined by the water surrounding them – is suggested perfectly in Polanski’s use of deep focus, never letting the immediate interactions lose association with the activities of the other character(s). tumblr_mc5z8twngl1qzbahzo1_1280

There’s also a wry sense of humour on display such as a visual gag that sees the unnamed ‘young man’ as Christ, implying the initial parent-child dynamic of this unlikely trio. At the screening I attended in Edinburgh the audience were also most amused by the jibes at Krystyna’s inflatable crocodile and her unexpected deception of her oblivious husband. With a screenplay by Jerzy Skolimowski, one couldn’t help noticing his influences elsewhere, such as Andrzej listening to a radio broadcast of a boxing match and the liberal use of frenetic Jazz on the soundtrack for moments of high tension. Skolimowski also co-wrote the screenplay for Wadja’s Innocent Sorcerers (1960) in which he appears as a boxer, (alongside Polanski as a musician) making Knife in the Water a clear product of the director’s then regular collaborators amongst the Polish Film School. trading-places-original

Also watched: John Landis’ comedic take on The Prince and the Pauper, Trading Places (1983) which brought to mind the legacy of slavery (now with added pop culture thanks to Django Unchained) in its depiction of men’s clubs staffed exclusively by African Americans.

My week in film: Keep the Lights On, The Girl, Jennifer’s Body and an assortment of fairytales.

The festive week’s film viewing, rather than including the usual Christmas fare (I didn’t even manage to watch A Muppet Christmas Carol!) for the most part; either reinforced exactly the same ‘magical’ feeling that Christmas is supposed to be about – only in fairytale form or; centred around issues of female identity and gender stereotyping – depending on which way you look at it.  JENNIFERS-BODY-photos-lesbi

On Christmas eve whilst many round the country were at midnight mass, I was thoroughly enjoying Jennifer’s Body (2009), the Megan Fox starring high-school horror/comedy in which Mean Girls’ Amanda Seyfried dons spectacles to play the titular cheerleaders’ BFF. Diablo Cody’s witty screenplay and Karyn Kusama’s thoughtful direction combine to produce a hugely enjoyable critique of the female teen experience. Not to mention a nice satire of the ubiquity of US indie rock bands. A comment about the myth of PMS comes to take on new meaning when Jennifer (Fox) is possessed by a blood-hungry devil, who – when not satisfied – reduces her appearance to dank hair and pallid skin; or does this ‘beauty’ simply look like every other teenage girl at their ‘time of the month’. Needy (Seyfried) must then find a way to stop Jennifer’s murderous rampage, whilst keeping the friendship intact (or not). Rather than a will-they won’t-they love story, Jennifer’s Body puts female friendship at stake and refreshingly examines loyalty across presumed social barriers. It’s also very funny indeed. Giselle-enchanted-1992210-1024-768

Next up – fairytales and parody in Tangled (2010), Enchanted (2007) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993) – the latter being a film I’ve seen more times than I care to mention. Tangled on release followed The Princess and the Frog (2009) in being a fairytale princess tale harking back to the times of Snow White and Cinderella, but with the twist that their heroines are more autonomous and quit-witted than previous incarnations of the Disney female. Tangled’s Rapunzel may be surrounded by fairytale archetypes such as the mean witch/mother who won’t let her out of her tower but she determinedly breaks out of her comfort zone to pursue her own goal.


Likewise, in Enchanted, Giselle – having been pushed out of fairytale land Andalasia and into Manhattan – ends up fighting the evil queen to save the man she loves, rather than marry the traditional prince with whom she is supposed to share true loves’ kiss. In Sleepless in Seattle, Meg Ryan’s Annie fantasises that a man she has never met could be ‘the man of her dreams’ and we, the audience are complicit in the fantasy as Nora Ephron’s sweet and clever film persuades us of the couple’s compatibility with a huge bucket of charm. Believing in a fairytale, whether you’re aware of it or not is a simple part of life, apparently. In my festive line up of fantasy females though, I think Jennifer and Needy win.

the-girl-ay_99779624HBO/BBC’s The Girl also dealt with female autonomy and male sexual fantasy whereby the fairytale of Hollywood stardom comes with a heavy price.  Sienna Miller and Toby Jones portrayed Tippi Hedren and Alfred Hitchcock during the making of the legendary directors iconic films, The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964) and Hitch is shown to have manipulated his star, sexually harassed her and put her under physical and emotional distress. Based on interviews with Hedren and members of Hitchcock’s crew, Gwyneth Hughes and Donald Spoto’s screenplay nevertheless makes it hard not to question the veracity of the events portrayed, as Hitch comes off as a sleazy, impotent creep, an image contrary to the loveable, black-humoured national treasure he is considered by many to be. Indeed it has been reported that Hitchcock’s former crew have spoken out about his portrayal in The Girl claiming that he has been misrepresented. Truth or fiction aside, the level of period detail and recreation of film sets and locations is a singular achievement and Miller and Jones both perform with conviction and authentic emotion.

2_e_Ira-Sachs-_Keep-the-Lights-OnGetting back to the cinema I was thrilled to see Keep the Lights On by Ira Sachs. Unfortunately I hadn’t managed to avoid the praise for this film (I like to keep an open mind) but nevertheless it proved to be an intelligent and mature approach to a contemporary romance about a couple, one half of which is struggling with drug addiction. Thure Lindhardt as Erik was a luminous, enchanting presence on screen and well matched by Zachary Booth as his troubled boyfriend, Paul. That it was shot on super 16 film not only renders the whole film completely gorgeous but lends the aesthetic a romantic feel and grounds the form in line with its protagonists profession as a filmmaker – cinematographic warmth translates to deep affection for the characters, indicating a very personal story. The use of Arthur Russell on the soundtrack is also an excellent element that coheres with the emotion of the screenplay demonstrating a freshness that saves it from sentimentality.

Coming soon, my most memorable – rather than best of – 2012 and a list of those I’d rather forget.