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#45 January 12, 2011

Marie writes: I love cinematography and worship at its altar; a great shot akin to a picture worth a thousand words. The best filmmakers know how to marry words and images. And as the industry gears up for the Golden Globes and then the Oscars, and the publicity machine starts to roll in earnest, covering the Earth with a daily blanket of freshly pressed hype, I find myself reaching past it and backwards to those who set the bar, and showed us what can be accomplished and achieved with light and a camera...

Cinematography by Robert Krasker - The Third Man (1949) (click to enlarge images)

Ebert Club

#34 October 27, 2010

Welcome to a special Halloween edition of the Newsletter! Marie writes: the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise in Paris is considered one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, in addition to being the final resting place of many a famous name. From Édith Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt and Chopin to Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and Georges Méliès, the well-known sleep on the tree-lined avenues of the dead and which you can now explore in a virtual 360 degree tour...

ENTER Père-Lachaise

Ebert Club

#31 October 6, 2010

Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh at a Charity party in 1957 with Frank Sinatra and his then-wife, Ava Gardner. (click to enlarge) Marie writes: the best celebrity photos are invariably candid shots. :-)


In memory: Tony Curtis, 1925 - 2010

When his handsome face and a stroke of luck brought Curtis to Hollywood in 1948, he was 23 years old and felt as if he was in heaven. That wasn't because of the acting opportunities. It was because of the women, and Tony was one of the town's best-known lotharios for decades. He loved acting, too, and made great films and bad ones with the same sense of fun. He was also a lifelong artist, whose paintings commanded decent fees, and a party animal until he got clean and sober in 1982. One thing you will not notice in the obituaries is anyone with a bad word to say about him. He was fun, and few had more fun than he did himself.

Far Flungers

A boy's best friend is his mother

It's quite easy for someone to enjoy film. Loving film is completely different. For those who see films enjoy them, yet only those who can read film truly love it and understand it as an art form.

Hitchcock is probably the most well known director of all time. There is no absolute answer to what his crowning achievement is. A lot of critics prefer "Vertigo." Taste varies from one film lover to the other. "North by Northwest", "Notorious", "Vertigo", "Rear Window", "The Birds", "Shadow of a Doubt", "Strangers on a Train", "Rebecca", "Suspicion", "The 39 Steps" and "Psycho" are among his most loved.

The truth is there is no such thing as one ultimate Hitchcock masterpiece, there are only favorites.

May contain spoilers

Roger Ebert

Stars under the stars, for free

Great movies under the stars for free. The lineup has been released for this summer's 10th annual Chicago Outdoor Film Festival, presented by the Mayor's Office of Special Events and programmed by the Chicago Film Office. In honor of two recently passed movie giants, Paul Newman in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and director Sydney Pollack's "Tootsie" are included. And a John Ford classic will screen in honor of the Abraham Lincoln centenary.


Psycho: Murder in close-up (without bodies)

View image Flushing away evidence of guilt in the toilet. A big drain.

View image Shower. Head.

Imagine the "Psycho" shower scene without Marion Crane or Mrs. Bates. Alfred Hitchcock's (and Saul Bass's) rapid-cut sequence is renowned for its use of close-ups to suggest the slicing of flesh when, in fact, there is none on the screen. You create that illusion in the cuts.

View image The plumbing continues to function as it is designed to, without regard to Marion's trauma.

View image The ripping of a membrane, like flesh (keeps the wet inside), as Marion (below frame) reaches out, clutches at life while it slips from her grasp.

But what really makes the sequence work, I'd argue, is the way Hitchcock uses plumbing. Back in 1998, I published an extensive web article on Plumbing in the Cinema, in which I quoted from Stephen Rebello's book, "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho": "The script is shot through with obvious delight in skewering America's sacred cows -- virginity, cleanliness, privacy, masculinity, sex, mother love, marriage, the reliance on pills, the sanctity of the family... and the bathroom.'' Rubello quotes screenwriter Joseph Stephano on the subject of primal-screen plumbing: "I told Hitch 'I would like Marion to tear up a piece of paper and flush it down the toilet and SEE that toilet. Can we do that?' A toilet had never been seen on-screen before, let alone flushing it. Hitch said, 'I'm going to have to fight them on it.' I thought if I could begin to unhinge audiences by showing a toilet flushing -- we all suffer from peccadillos from toilet procedures -- they'd be so out of it by the time of the shower murder, it would be an absolute killer. I thought [about the audience], 'This is where you're going to begin to know what the human race is all about. We're going to start by showing you the toilet and it's only going to get worse.' We were getting into Freudian stuff and Hitchcock dug that kind of thing, so I knew we would get to see that toilet on-screen.'' Just the sight of the flushing toilet was considered shocking enough to mildly unsettle and disorient audiences of the day.And the same is true today, though perhaps less noticeably so. In the same plumbing piece, here's the way I described what happens next:Hitchcock's guilty fugitive protagonist, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), having totaled the sum of her indebtedness, monetary and karmic, on a slip of paper, rips up the evidence of her culpability, flushes it down the water chute (although a telltale piece of it misses the bowl, as Detective Arbogast [Martin Balsalm] will later discover) and steps into the shower. Just as she's figuratively washing her the sins of her recent past down the drain, Mrs. Bates pays her a visit with a butcher knife. Marion pays for her sins in blood. And the image of her blood swirling into the blackness of the drain dissolves into an image of her now-lifeless eye. Her head lies on the bathroom floor next to the toilet. For what is a human body itself -- its arteries and intestines and organs and other viscera -- but an elaborate piece of organic plumbing?

View image Following the blood and the water down the drain.

That cold, hard biological reality underscores the whole scene, from the time Marion, looking for someplace to dispose of her accounting besides the wastebasket (where that nosy Norman would undoubtedly discover it), first glances toward the bathroom, hesitates, and then decides to take a shower. The hollow sound of the tiled room echoes through the scene -- and, of course, Marion's physical vulnerability is emphasized by her nakedness and the noise of the shower drowning out the rest of the world. She's even made a point of closing the door firmly before stepping into the shower.

View image Into the drain, and out of a lifeless eye...

You can make all the Freudian jokes you like about the phallic showerhead, but it works. Yeah, it's sexual, and Marion seems almost orgasmic when she slides under its spray. It's also cleansing, even cathartic after all Marion's been through since her furtive afternoon quickie (in bra and panties) with her boyfriend in the hotel room at the start of the picture: Since leaving work the previous day, she's made a rash and fateful decision to steal cash from her employer and skip town. She exchanged cars, had a close encounter with a cop beside the highway in the desert, drove in the dark and pouring rain, and then had that strange little talk with the young man in the back room full of stuffed and mounted birds -- the boy with the mean old invalid-ed mother locked up in that spooky house looming behind the motel. Who wouldn't like to take a nice hot shower after a day-and-a-half like that?

[images missing: insert your memory of Marion's murder here]

What you see on this page are just the close-ups of insentient bathroom fixtures in the sequence. All images containing organic matter have been stripped out. Marion is about to become one of these inanimate objects. The image of her blood swirling in the tub, and her dead face mashed against the white tile floor, shocks us even as it prepares us for the clean-up scene, where we will shift our identification from Marion onto Norman. To Hitchcock's perverse delight, we will soon be rooting for Norman to scrub away and dispose of the evidence of our (ex-) main character's murder. The drain is metaphorical, but it's also the abyss. Marion has been our surrogate; and now her pupil is as void and lifeless as that hole. We peer into it, unable to fathom where it leads, and the blackness beckons...

This is another contribution to the Close-Up Blog-a-thon at the House Next Door.

Roger Ebert

Ebert: The Night Watcher

Of M. Night Shyamalan's handful of movies, the one Roger Ebert reviewed most favorably was "Signs," and the one he hated, hated, hated was "The Village." Here's Ebert's career overview of the director of "Lady in the Water" and "The Sixth Sense."