Recently, I flew to London to attend several days of the two-month-long The Genius of Hitchcock festival held at the British Film Institute’s Southbank campus.
Starting in June and ending after London’s yearly October film festival, the BFI pulled out all of the stops to honor one of their own…a British director who became an international sensation by helming such movies as Rear Window, Vertigo, Notorious and Psycho.
The Genius of Hitchcock celebration caps off the year-long fund-raising push entitled Rescue the Hitchcock 9, a campaign to save nine of Hitchcock’s early British silent films. These nine films are in dire need of restoration…without it, there is the chance they might be gone forever.
Being a BIT of a Hitchcock fan (OK…a little understatement —I’m obsessed), I would have loved to hunker down in London all four months, savoring classic after classic. But, there is this little thing called WORK, not to mention MONEY, of which staying in London requires a lot. So, alas, I settled on cramming in as many movies as I could in my limited time (five films, to be exact).
Have I seen all five before? You betcha. Do I own all five on DVD? Yes, I do. But, somehow, traveling over 3,700 miles to see movies I know by heart doesn’t seem all that silly to me. Obsessed, I tell you!
Like I said, I saw five of Hitchcock’s masterpieces (sadly none of the restored “Hitchcock 9” were playing when I was there). I watched a double feature of Shadow of a Doubt and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) on one night, followed by a double feature of Mr. and Mrs. Smith (no, not THAT one…the 1941 film with Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard…the only romantic comedy Hitchcock ever made) and Strangers on a Train on the next.
But, the crème de la crème, the pièce de résistance was the 3D showing of Dial M for Murder. No, this is NOT NEW 3D…this is old, classic 3D. This is when 3D was done for effect and not financial gain. This is when 3D was not a marketing ploy.
I have a strong distain for the new wave of 3D films sweeping through Hollywood, though I am much more against 2D films being re-released in 3D, such as Titanic (1997) and Beauty and the Beast (1991). When I saw Scorsese’s Hugo (which I heard nothing but great things about in 3D), I specifically sought out the 2D version.
Maybe I’m equating my lack of interest in modern 3D with my lack of interest in most contemporary animation. Look at Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs —imagine how tedious and superior the animation process was back in 1937 and compare that with today’s inferior “computer” animating. So OK, modern 3D is not that bad…but, RE-RELEASING already-shot films just to capitalize on the 3D bandwagon is the last straw. Where will it end?
Dial M for Murder is different. Hitchcock filmed it in 3D but it was released in 1954 in mostly 2D. Aside from a limited 3D re-release in the early 1980s, most people have not seen Dial M for Murder in the original 3D Hitchcock intended it to be shown. And, among filmies, it is supposed to be one of the best, if not THE best, example of 3D filmmaking. And, after seeing it, not only does it not disappoint but I would have to agree that the use of 3D was amazing.
Unlike much of 1950s’ Hollywood 3D, nothing here is done just for the 3D effect (such as no paddleballs bouncing at the screen, a la The House of Wax (1953)). Everything here is done for a reason…the use of foregrounds and backgrounds become more of a 3D element than in-your-face effects. In one scene, the infamous purse that becomes a key item in the plot stands boldly in the foreground, with character action going on behind it. The purse, a simple inanimate object, looks as if it is right in the audience’s lap. And that is how Hitchcock uses 3D throughout the entire movie…subtly but OH SO effectively. But then again, would we expect anything less from the Master himself?
Keep in mind that as long as Hollywood keeps making money off of 3D, they will keep making these so-so 3D movies and…even worse, keep re-releasing existing 2D movies in 3D. If The Bridge on the River Kwai in 3D comes out in cinemas, I’m moving to Mongolia and living in among the yak herders in a nice yurt!
Madness, Madness. Soapbox over.