It’s rare that I post a short here and play the essential card. Surrealism works differently on different people. Not everyone will react identically to all films, much less this one. However, the first, boldest attempt to have film function as a dream is worth making note of and studying. Enjoy!
This article is a partially fictitious account wherein I imagine myself in conversation with two of the greatest minds in cinema: Truffaut and Hitchcock. This work was inspired by the series of interviews the two conducted which was later turned into a book. The quotes from the two are real though the context isn’t always. If you are interested in the book it can be purchased here. If this alternate history premise insults your sensitivities please move on.
This is part three of a series which started here.
I then sought to get a few pointers on my favorite aspect of filmmaking:
B.V.: The screenplay is your favorite part of the production. What thoughts do you have about screenwriting?
A.H.: For me the film is 90 percent finished with the screenplay. I’d prefer to not have to shoot it. You conceive a film you want and after that it goes to pieces. The actors you had in mind are not available, you can’t get the proper cast. I dream of an IBM machine in which I’d insert the screenplay on one end and film would emerge on the other end complete and in color (330-331). To me, one of the cardinal sins for a script-writer when he runs into some difficulty, is to say, “We can cover that with a line of dialogue.” Dialogue should simply be a sound amongst other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms (222).
B.V.: I disagree, to the extent that I think you oversimplify. If dialogue was as irrelevant as that we’d still be making silent films. Many films have shown how essential dialogue can be such as Last Year at Marienbad, your very own film Psycho was greatly enhanced by the ironic use of dialogue especially in the scene where Janet Leigh is eating with Anthony Perkins.
B.V.: I am trying to devise a system that ranks films based on how they stem from a type of dream. Being either daydreams or nocturnal; nightmares or fantasies. I believe all these playful delusions are the genesis of creation. This is why I think Spellbound is such an accomplishment because it makes dreams and the workings of the psyche tangible. You worked with Salvador Dalí yet avoided being too surrealistic which, is a trapping of dream-based films.
A.H: I was determined to break with the traditional handling of dream sequences through a blurred and hazy screen (163). Since psychoanalysis was involved there was a reluctance to fantasize; we tried to use a logical approach to the man’s adventure (165).
F.T: I hope you won’t be offended, but I found the picture something of a disappointment (167).
A.H.: Not at all. The whole thing’s too complicated, and I found the explanations toward the end very confusing.
B.V: Not at all! Plus, I prefer some explanation rather than none as in The Birds.
F.T.: I’m glad you didn’t give a specific reason for the attacks. It’s clearly speculation, a fantasy (286).
B.V.: I found that Spellbound combined a whodunit aspect which you hate with one of your favorite themes of the innocent man wrongly accused and with great psychoanalytic deduction that Arthur Conan Doyle would’ve used had it been at his disposal. I also find it interesting that in Spellbound you killed a child, albeit in flashback, yet in that instance you don’t look at it as a mistake like it was in Sabotage, why is that?
A.H.: I don’t know. (167).
B.V: A remake is always a difficult and dangerous task to undertake. How then did you remake your own film?
A.H.: Despite the similarities, they’re really quite different from each other (228).
B.V.: So in essence you feel it was like making an entirely new film?
A.H.: Naturally (228).
B.V.: Charles Chaplin is perhaps one of the greatest minds in the history of cinema, he thought film was akin to ballet and was against the advent of sound. Yet in 1940 he wrote and performed the most moving speech in film history. What do you think of sound?
A.H.: Well, the silent pictures were the purest form of cinema; the only thing they lacked were the sound of people talking and noises (61). Many films now being made there is very little cinema: They are mostly what I call … Photographs of people talking.” In other words since all that was missing was simply natural sound, there was no need to completely abandon the technique of the pure motion picture, the way they did when sound came in (61).
F.T.: I agree. In the final era of silent movies, the great filmmakers […] in fact almost the whole of the production — had reached something of near perfection. The introduction of sound in a way jeopardized that perfection […] In this sense one might say that mediocrity came back into its own with the advent of sound (61).
A.H.: I agree absolutely (61).
B.V.: I disagree to an extent, I believe that as film has evolved; the lines between the arts has blurred. Film is now the most complete art-form. In your films you demonstrate this in Rope you capture some of the essence of theater, in a film like Fantasia music is the driving force, Le Chien andalou and Spellbound illustrates painting’s impact, any number of literary adaptations would show the impact of the written word. Statues coming to life have long been a popular motif in the arts and film is not immune; animation is a medium of its own in the realm of film. Even still photography has made its mark and while I hate the “freeze-frame ending” as a rule, the momentary freeze frame is wonderful as illustrated in Jules and Jim. What this all means is that the cinema is now the ultimate art-form and as such the quality of films suffers because there are too many incomplete artists and cannot handle all the disciplines film entails, having said that I believe this represents a paradigm shift, meaning that film is no longer “purely visual” but “primarily visual.”
A.H.: It seems unfortunate that with the arrival of sound in the motion picture, overnight, assumed a theatrical form (61).
B.V.: Film is the most theatrically contrived art-form. Nowhere else can the final product be so meticulously planned before hand. What occurred is that sound was used as a crutch for lazy and or less than competent visual artists. This conversation is rather moot since sound is dominant because the audience demanded sound. I don’t think they would’ve been satisfied with piecemeal sound, however, I agree that it is sad that many films were less visually interesting. Yet the slide continues. In the ’30s Hollywood made many dialogue-heavy films but the set design and cinematography were interesting so there was something to look at. The audience is dictating to studios who dictate the artist and when the audience will shell out money for subpar films money rules so quality won’t change. It’s a hard cycle to break. They say “We want sound! We want color! We want Cinemascope!” and they get that and story is thrown out the window.