Friday, March 7, 2014

Hitchcock

In 1890 Ambrose Bierce wrote a story called "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" which involves a man about to hanged. He escapes and comes back to his wife and family, only to realize that he didn't escape at all, and was just lost in a dream before his death. A hundred years later, the film Jacob's Ladder came out, which featured a very similar plot with a soldier being shot in Vietnam. He dreams up the entire movie and at the end you learn that, again, it was just a dream he had in his final moments.

Despite having pretty similar plots, these two things should have different places in our culture, and comparing either one of them to North by Northwest makes me realize why I don't like Hitchcock.

Let's start with "Owl Creek", which I would define as having one unique idea that was more or less executed poorly. I can't be entirely sure that the twist ending of "he was dead all along" first came from Bierce (in fact, I'm relatively certain it didn't), but we can be sure that the appeal to the story is the twist ending. There's really not much else to the story, and really no reason that anybody should read it in an undergraduate literature class except for the twist ending, the gimmick.

Jacob's Ladder, on the other hand, took the same twist, but added a lot to it. For one, you really get a feel for the character, Jacob, as he tries to sort out his life and doesn't know where he's going, what he's doing, and what's important to him. He has an actual journey. Also, there were a lot of stylistic choices that make that journey a creepy ride. Observe:






This one's good too. Thanks Google!





What I'm getting at is all about notoriety. "Owl Creek" did something first (maybe) and didn't do it well, but gained notoriety for being the first. Jacob's Ladder did something that's been done before, but did it better than anyone else. I would recommend the latter, but never the former.

So what does this have to do with Hitchcock? Well, I don't really like Hitchcock. I admit when he does something cool...





...especially with the camera. If you've never seen that scene before, let me assure, it holds up even today. It's a camera technique that you don't see too often, but gives you a really...dizzying feeling. There are film critics out there that I'm sure have written whole books on this scene, so I won't bore you with my plebeian analysis, but, it's good. However, when you think of the film Psycho, you don't really hear about this scene, do you? It's the shower scene. You know the one.

But why is that scene so familiar with everyone? Well, it is not poorly shot or anything, but the reason that scene was so famous was because that actress, whose name I don't even know, was pretty popular at the time, so it was unthinkable that she'd be killed off in, what, the first 30 minutes of the movie?

That's my main issue with Hitchcock, I guess. He wrote a lot of twists into his movies, and became famous due to those twists, but a lot of those movies don't hold up to today's standards. He's basing his movies around star power and story twists that modern audiences don't get or appreciate. Or, I don't know, maybe I'm just dumb and don't get Hitchcock.
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